C16: Do we stay or do we go? (Answer now: we go)

We've had nearly daily discussions about whether to stay put in Sweden or to return to the US from March until now. A series of events has tipped us over the edge and into returning home despite the lovely spring weather and chance to see Sweden re-awakening after a gray winter.

The short answer is we're flying back from Stockholm via Frankfurt to Newark on 2 May. Our realtor, serving as our local point of contact for our house and renters, has our car. She and her husband have agreed to shuttle the car to Newark and leave it for us- thank goodness we still have our own car keys here in Sweden. Maybe we can renew our driver's licenses online, but maybe not since they have lapsed. Either way, I can live with driving our own car home. We've rented a house for a time being in part of State College (Houserville).

What caused us to get here?

1. the kids' school - demanding the kids go back. That's still not resolved despite parents writing a letter. Much better response from the school CEO but still expecting kids to return on 27 April. We were dealing with that when...

2. The NYT published an article about the impact of covid on one's lungs. I read it on Tuesday and went to the pharmacy to get an oximeter (easy way to feel better by having more information, yes?). After telling them that my husband has had covid (they recoil), they inform me that they don't sell oximeters in Sweden- you have to go to the hospital to get your blood oxygen levels tested. Crap. Tuesday, Chris calls 1177 (the national # for health related issues- they tell him that to rest at home until his symptoms go away or to contact our neighborhood clinic for an appointment. Resting at home is fine but we're 50+ days into lungs feeling crappy-- well past the point of infection, but not recovering fully).

Chris reads the article on Wednesday. Skateboarded over to the walk in clinic. They no long offer walk in hours. He mentally shuts down, worried about things. Eventually, he tries to contact the clinic- they say to register for an appointment through 1177. He never hears anything. Sweden's health care system is managing to keep up with those needing hospitalization for covid. Not apparently available is help for those who are not in need of acute care.

Early evening our time, we call our friend Jamie, an ER doc in Seattle. She cheerfully takes our call while dispensing telehealth advice- she was even wearing her lab coat! She assures us that the issues described in the article are most concerning around 7-10 days into the infection, and Chris is well past that. Lung damage- from what we're seeing, apparently yes. Crisis- no. We feel better (thanks, Dr. Jamie!). Stephen makes popcorn for dessert- Elizabeth and Chris are off sugar for the week. Tough with the nice weather.

3. At this point, it's hard not to feel alone here. Colleagues keep checking on us, but we don't really have back up if something goes wrong. The mental fatigue of daily discussions of this is wearing us both down. I burst into tears last week while washing windows. The kids have been great about offering hugs and cups of tea. They seem to be rolling with the ever shifting dynamics. Cat videos to the rescue, along with Trevor Noah as our televised news source.

4. But it continues to be weird to be here. I biked to the nearby shopping district with the kids yesterday. Stephen's toes are sticking out of the end of his shoes, and Elizabeth's feet have grown. We parked our bikes and walked through Stureplan, one of the city's "shopping" and nightlife areas. Outdoor restaurants and cafes are a thing here- a new pop up restaurant was packed with people. Distant by maybe 6 inches, but certainly not the recommended distancing at all. We dodged people and a massive traffic jam as we bought new running shoes, amply sized for kids' growing feet. Managed some fabric from masks at the craft store, new sunglasses for Elizabeth (hers were lost sometime in the last few weeks, though her jump rope reappeared- tied to a picnic table leg near the rope swing).

We dodge more people. Crowded, busy Stockholm. What the fuck, people? A lovely warm day - sun shining, flowers newly planted- doesn't feel so lovely if you are thinking pandemic, they are thinking mimosas.

The Prime Minister warned that if people didn't abide by the recommended distancing, more draconian measures would be taken and asked that if people saw crowded places, they report them to the authorities.

Is the Swedish experiment paying off, or is it not? Time will tell... As of 22 April, 1,937 have died with the coronavirus in Sweden. Cases are leveling off in Stockholm, but increasing elsewhere in the country. 

5. The folks renting us our apartment are coming back from Australia on 4 May. They are trying to figure out their own quarantine, where to live. If we leave now, we can free up the apartment for them. We've had a good dynamic this whole time on figuring out the dynamics of housing. They were willing to honor the lease through June 30th if needed. I have to assume they are also happy to get their apartment back. My guess is that it will feel weird for them to come to the more open Sweden- Australia is taking its quarantine so seriously that when an Uppsala student returned home, the military & police enforced her mandatory 14 day quarantine. That's not happening in Sweden or the US as far as we can tell.

So where are we now? Super sad to be leaving Sweden, esp. this abruptly. The gorgeous weather lately reminds of the spring and summer that will be coming, and the flowers are coming up everywhere and gorgeous.

The US is a scary looking place right now, but being able to access a bike that shifts gears might be a good thing. We have no idea what this spring or summer will bring, nor even what the kids are doing for school as of Monday. Still need to work out more than a few details, but hey... we'll get there.

Again, the kids seem to be taking this all in stride. Even if it means doing lunges around the kitchen during "online PE." We asked Stephen to move his jumping jacks around- can only imagine our neighbors downstairs wondering what's happening. Fair trade for opera singing practice.

Going forward, we do need some help. Stephen's 13th birthday was a few weeks ago. Elizabeth's 10th is coming up on May 5th. If you have a chance, can you send a birthday card to either or both? Our home address in State College should work (don't send anything to Sweden- a birthday card sent more than month ago by my mom still hasn't made it). If you need our address, let us know via email. Trying to figure out a creative way to do a quarantine party for Elizabeth in State College- she wants to see her friends, but that is the one thing she cannot do (zoom birthday party again?!) Drive by kids waving from a car? For those in the State College area, we'll share the physical address of our rental house when we have it.

We are already figuring out when and how we might be able to come back to Sweden or this region- in another day and time, when we can have fika with friends and see people. Maybe then Chris and Stephen can manage to see the Vasa (they still haven't seen it). That time is not now, but will hopefully come again.

In the meantime, wish us luck finishing up, packing up and moving on... I'm sure more posts will be forthcoming.

[Oh, and Chris and Elizabeth have decided that they are back to eating sugar- they can try their no sugar experiment in the states. Today's a good day for more gelato from Stikki Nikki's...]


  1. Lara -
    What a sad blog! We're so glad you're coming back soon! Going back when things are better to enjoy the spring and summer will at least give you an unsullied and more enjoyable experience than staying on now with the albatross of COVID - there won't be that awful link.
    Here is SC you'll have the separation you need as people are respecting the distance and when in the grocery store everyone is now (not before time) wearing masks. Wegmasn wouldn't let their employees wear them until about a week ago 'because of the fear factor!' If some are afraid of people in masks, get over it!! In Centre county the cases are 77 so far and only 2 deaths.
    You'll have much more respect from the medical people than in Sweden certainly. I'm so sorry that Chris is still sick - I hope the journey back won't be too hard on him. It will be hard enough anyway as I'm sure there are extra precautions and red-tape.
    Is someone going to lay in supplies for you in your Houserville house? If there's any way we can do that for you we'll be glad to.
    Wes asks 'Will the house be sugar-free??!!' Makes it sound like a ginger-bread house! He's off wine for Ramadan and no, he's not a Muslim!!
    May is supposed to be hot here so when you arrive the weather should be better than now - raining! Our wisteria was nailed by a freeze last week so we won't have those beautiful flowers this year - sad.
    We were supposed to have gone to England for 3 weeks this month - good thing we didn't as we'd have to be there longer than we planned! At least my family has been sending me photos of bluebell woods - my request when we had to cancel!
    Look forward to communicating on a closer level soon. Enjoy your last days there are much as you can, best, Christine and Wes


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