My parents and me in Germany, Christmas 2019. Who would have known…

What Metallica has to do with me pondering whether I should travel to Germany for Christmas and spend time with my parents.

In a normal year, I would see my parents (70 and 68 years old) at least twice. They would fly to the best city in the world for a summer vacation, spend a few weeks with me and take videos of Central Park squirrels and firetrucks passing by. In December, I would travel to my small hometown in Germany near Cologne for Christmas and sleep in my childhood bed (I’m 6'4), right under a fading, dusty ‘Ride the Lightning’ Metallica poster (teenage rebellion, you know?). In a good year, my brother Johannes who works as an anesthesiologist in Zurich would also return to the family basecamp, if his schedule permits, and by 11 pm on Christmas Eve, us four would snuggle up under the XMAS tree (not made of plastic), stuffed with turkey, Spätzle, and Haribo Goldbears.

Quick reminder: it’s 2020. My parents didn’t make it to the US this year, a) because they didn’t want to die from a respiratory virus and b) even if they wanted to, they couldn’t enter the states thanks to restrictions on travel from the EU to the US. The only way for me to spend time with my parents this year is to book a flight to Germany this December (which technically works because I have a German passport).

Do I want to go? “HELL YEAH!”, says the metalhead son who loves his parents and didn’t have a chance to hug them for almost 12 months. “HELL NO!” says the metalhead son who loves his parents, but also went to med school, and understands that Covid-19 is no joke — especially for a 70-year-old man and a 68-year-old woman. I really want to see my folks and convince myself that “Nothing Else Matters”. But I also know that there’s a small but real chance that I could be an asymptomatic carrier and bring home “Creeping Death” in the form of Covid-19. Sad but true. I’m banging my head.

Well, emotions aside. This doesn’t have to be as dramatic, destructive, and thunderous as a thrash metal album. Let’s look at the science. There’s actually a way I could fly to Germany this year and see my parents while minimizing the risk of exposing them to the novel coronavirus (I’m aware that there’s no zero risk scenario, but as a scientist, I’m comfortable with 99.9%).

Here’s what I would do:

  1. Make sure that my parents and I got the annual flu shot (that already happened last month!) so we don’t have to worry about influenza
  2. Quarantine 10–14 days before my flight from NYC to Frankfurt
  3. Get tested in NYC three days before my flight
  4. Get tested at Frankfurt airport upon arrival
  5. Quarantine in my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house, listen to Metallica, and wait for my test results
  6. If my NYC and Frankfurt tests are negative, I will minimize the already negligible risk of me having picked up the coronavirus during my trip (i.e. on the plane to Germany) by getting another test after 7-10 days of quarantine
  7. In the meantime, before getting my third test result, start decorating the Christmas tree while wearing a mask and interact with my parents socially distanced
  8. Once the third test comes back negative, I will enjoy carefree family time (yes, carefree — cause we deserve that after all these precautions), stuff my face with turkey and Haribo Gold bears and snuggle up under the Christmas tree

I haven’t made a decision, yet, but writing this post really helped. In the next few weeks, I will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Europe, talk to my parents on FaceTime and gauge their level of risk tolerance.

’Til then, Fade to Black.

Health Nerd

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