Europe Taboo Travel

I picked up SARS-CoV-2 at Chernobyl and brought it to Auschwitz

It’s a Friday night in Krakow when I feel the first symptoms I suspect to be SARS-CoV-2. It feels like I’m about to get sick, but something is different. I feel hot, like I have an allergic reaction. Immediately, I suspect Covid.

I’ve just been in Ukraine, which is experiencing a spike in the number of people with the virus. I calculate at some point that by the numbers Kyiv has 1/150 of its residents positive for SARS-CoV-2. That sounds high right now, maybe I am bad at math. Either way, pretty sure that’s where I picked it up.

I’ve been safe. I wear an N-95 mask. I avoid crowds and take precautions. I’m a full-time traveler and borders closing around me and forced quarantine scare me far more than the disease. 

My mind flits to Chernobyl. The night before my visit to Chernobyl my Ukrainian hosts keep me up until 2am finishing a bottle of horseradish vodka. On 4 hours of sleep the next morning I show up to the tour bus that will take me into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. I feel exhausted and intensely hungover. My immune system suffers. I wear a mask the entire time, but I’m still riding on a bus full of tourists – the majority of which are unmasked. 

I also expose myself to a fuckload of radiation, but I do that whenever I fly so that’s not new.

I’ll never know whether I contracted the virus at Chernobyl, because we have paltry ability to trace SARS-CoV-2 at the time. We can’t even reliably tell if someone has it or has had it, despite all the money in the world being thrown at testing and vaccines.

I decide to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep, hoping that whatever it is will pass in the morning.

It does not.

I feel hot and cold. It’s not intense enough to describe as “fever and chills”. It’s just hot flashes followed by a slight chill. 

I’ve been traveling with a rapid antigen test that I picked up in Finland. This seems like the best time to use it so after breakfast I take it out of its packaging and look at the instructions. It says it will take fifteen minutes, which seems reasonable compared to the dozens of PCR tests I’ve had this year.

I follow the instructions and take the test. There are two lines, one for control and one to show if you’re positive. I chuckle a bit at the similarity to a pregnancy test.

Within seconds the line for the virus is dark, bright red.

I have Covid.

I have Covid.

What now?

Today is the day I’m scheduled to rent a car and drive myself to Auschwitz. I feel relatively fine. The pickup for the rental car is contact free. Auschwitz is outdoors. Knowing that most of the world will hate me for potentially killing people by not isolating, I decide to not isolate. Who am I to keep people on a planet that created Chernobyl and Auschwitz? Buyer beware.

And so, having picked up SARS-Cov-2 at Chernobyl, I bring it to Auschwitz. 

There’s a huge crowd of people standing by the entrance. I don’t want to be in a crowd so I hang back. I refuse to follow any orders, simply stating that I wouldn’t be alive if my family had followed orders in Poland. 

Keeping 6 feet of distance I come around from the side and peer through the window into the building. It’s just a set of turnstiles and some security, the first step to entering is going through this building where you show your (free) ticket. 

My jaw drops. They have set up a sterilizer at the entrance. A frame which will spray you with who knows what. 

In what world is it okay for a concentration camp to sterilize people on arrival? I forget about having Covid and am outraged. I refuse to get close to people or to pass through the building. The only other place I’ve been sterilized in the last 30 countries is on entry to Comoros, which was arguably the worst country I have ever been to after Belgium. Trash Island. I can’t believe that someone would put this shit here, of all places. They don’t even work.

Instead of screaming at the staff and possibly giving them Covid or ending up in Polish prison, when no one is looking, I hop the exit turnstile. 

After this, I see the irony in it all. Sterilizing me wouldn’t do a damn thing to prevent me from transmitting, but walking through that crowd would be a risk to everyone in it. Also I just broke INTO Auschwitz. 

I wander around, trying to keep my distance from people. The camp occurs as distasteful. It’s Death Camp Disneyland. There’s much of it re-built. All of it is maintained. The buildings have been restyled into fetishistic exhibits. The energy of tourism and the thousands of people who have passed through since it was used to kill my distant relatives is more palpable than the energy of death.

All of my family is Jewish. Much of my family is probably from Poland. Definitely at least a few great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents came to the US from there. My last name is a word in both Czech and Polish. There’s no double that my extended family was slaughtered during the Shoah. There’s no doubt that both my Polish family and my family from Latvia and Lithuania were killed here at Auschwitz.

Somehow walking through the re-built showers and crematorium I am the only one in that building. I say a brief gratitude for that. 

Surgical Mask Litter at Auschwitz

Don’t want to isolate. Don’t want to kill people.

The next day is Halloween

Guess what I was for Halloween? A Covid+ airline passenger.

I still keep my distance as best I can. I’ve read the studies on air circulation in airplanes and justify my trip based on that. I have months of travel stacked on the back of this trip, I can’t afford to miss any of the flights I have booked, for any reason.

I keep my N-95 on at all times. Wash my hands. Try to stay away from everyone. I decline everything the flight attendants try to hand me. I’m relieved when I am the only passenger in my row. It’s a tense flight.

On arriving in Warsaw I still have no other symptoms. I’m glad I’ll be here for over a week and won’t be contagious by the next time I travel. Warsaw is a spacious city. It is easy to go places and see things without coming into contact with other human beings. 

And so I do. I order all my meals in or to take out, but I walk the streets and see as much as I can without coming into contact with humans.

Luckily I don’t really like Warsaw, so that helps me stay inside and rest more.

After the fifth day the symptoms subside. I no longer have hot/cold episodes. It feels like it’s almost over. But then, out of nowhere, my favorite lover and I go through a vicious breakup. He attacks me, publicly and privately. 

It’s here when I realize that SARS-CoV-2 has changed my personality. I have no patience. I am easily frustrated. My boundaries, I realize, have become too flexible. I already know I cannot have a relationship with a drunk, and my favorite lover has fallen back down into alcoholism. For months in Barcelona I ignored this. That ignorance made me gain weight, use concentrates constantly, and generally ignore my health and wellbeing.

It ends. All hypocrisy disappears. I’m done sacrificing myself for anyone else. All I care about is myself, in the best of all possible ways.

I cease enabling, and stop keeping my opinions quiet. He reacts in an emotionally violent attack, outing me on The Zoeverse twitter and accusing me of being complicit in my father’s death. He crosses lines there’s no coming back from.

I am still in disbelief and give him a few days. He waffles between trying to apologize and calling me a ghoul for traveling with Covid. I ask him if we can get on a video call to discuss it before we call it quits and he accuses me of demanding attention.

At this moment I realize I am absolutely done with him and block him everywhere.

The emotional blow is severe. I’m sobbing for hours. I can feel the saline pushing the virus deeper into my sinuses. I despair. How could he do this to me when I am supposed to be healing? Where is the love? Support?

Not there. Absent. He’s incapable.

I wake up the next morning and I can’t smell anything. My sense of smell is completely gone. It is unsettling. It’s not just gone, I can feel the actual cell damage. It feels like someone took sandpaper to the inside of my nose.

Soon I realize just how much I rely on my sense of smell. It gets me through the world.

I’m alone, in Warsaw, and my symptoms are worsening each day. There is pressure in my head. I never get congested but it feels like deep in my head is swollen and inflamed. My eyes ache from crying.

The next day that ache extends to all my sinuses. My entire head feels like it was routed. Everything begins to taste slightly of blood. 

I buy more tests and test myself again. Positive, again, immediately. Clearly.

It’s on fatiguing of the blood taste to the point of desperate frustration that I realize how this disease can be lethal. I see and feel the unpredictability. It feels like it’s poking around, looking for the weakness in my body that will let it live. It feels like an angel. Bestowing me immunity but possibly killing me. Behind my closed eyelids I see flowing white images of the spiked sphere that we all have come to know as coronavirus.

I curse my ex-favorite lover. I know in my bones that this stage in the disease wouldn’t have happened without the emotional trauma. Can feel the neurological impact. Every vibration gets magnified and fed back on. 

I begin using every healing modality I’ve ever learned, including TRE, which helps tremendously. Taking good care of myself. Herbal steaming. In 15 African countries I was told that herbal steaming is the cure for Covid. I believe in African wisdom.

I am ravenous. Throughout the entire course of the disease my appetite is there in ways I’ve never felt it. I eat exceptionally well. Lots of soup. I take vitamins. Anti-virals.

The next day, my lungs are raw. The day after that, I am coughing. Yet still, I ride scooters in the freezing cold to look at imposing Eastern Bloc architecture. I don’t like Poland in general. I’ll never know whether that’s because of SARS-CoV-2.

The next day, I can faintly smell my essential oils again. I realize at this that I’m still less than a week in, and rapidly healing. My cough subsides. The symptoms disappear more rapidly than they came on.

I take the third test. Negative. I’m clear.

Within a few days I feel 95%. Within another week I am 100% healed and my sense of smell has almost completely returned. I almost forget what it was like to have it gone. It feels like coming down off of LSD. There’s a similarity to the coating in my nose and throat and a high-frequency vibration that remind me exactly of the end stages of an acid trip

A few days later, I almost forget what it was like to have SARS-CoV-2. Almost.

It consumed my consciousness for a moment. Hijacked my vibrations. Forced me to build a strong wall.

But the worst part wasn’t the sickness at all. Even a common cold is worse in that it congests me and makes it difficult to sleep, which makes it difficult to heal. The worst part was that I was alone. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of judgment and stigma. I couldn’t ask for the support I needed.

There are a few people in my life who don’t care, and these helped me through it. Checked in on me. Made sure I was healing just fine. But in general it created a secret. 

Secrets kill more people than SARS-CoV-2.

The Life of a Digital Nomad:

The Breakup:


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