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Nurse Stranded In Peru During COVID-19 Shutdown Shares Story

When nurse Linda Scruggs BSN, RN, and her partner, Mike Rustici, booked a bucket list trip to Peru, they’d planned a four-day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. They never imagined they’d be stranded at Peru’s border because of COVID-19. But on March 15th, Peru President Martín Vizcarra announced that Peruvian borders would close at 11:59 p.m. on March 16th due to the spread of coronavirus. Nearly a week later, on March 21st, Scruggs and Rustici were able to return to the US. We caught up with Linda to discuss what she described as a learning experience.

PW: Tell us about your nursing journey. 

LS: I’ve been a nurse since 2005 and chose it after 9/11. I work in fertility and women’s health and family wellness. I’m self-employed as a nurse consultant and focus on patient education and effective practice communication.

PW: Tell us about your trip? Why did you choose Peru? When did you decide to go on the trip?

LS: We decided to go on a bucket list trip and had been training for months to hike for 4 days on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We were registered with STEP (Smart Traveller Enrollment Program) before we left and the US Embassy. Our kids (we each have two) were with our respective co-parents for spring break. We figured we’d have a few days to get back IF anything should happen and didn’t realize we’d be given no time to get out. It escalated so drastically in the US within a few days. There were far less cases in Peru at the time. As far as social distancing? Well, we were going to be in the mountains.

PW: What was your reaction to the spread of COVID-19? Were you worried about traveling outside of the US? Did you have any reservations about your trip?

LS: Yes, I was concerned as an active mom who travels frequently, but with the information we had at the time, I think hindsight is 20/20. The US had more cases than Peru, and we were not as concerned. We have to pause and look back to just two weeks ago when this was not nearly communicated with the same sense of urgency as it is today. The President even changed his tone after realizing the severity of the situation. But we all were at least a week behind in accepting and realizing what was going on.

PW: How did you learn of the Peruvian shutdown?

LS: There was no indication that anything was going to change up until the Peruvian President made an announcement on Sunday (March 15th) evening. We had hiked up 1200 feet and zip lined and were touring the beautiful Sacred Valley. The next morning we were trying to figure out all options with other hotel guests when the hotel manager informed us we had to be evacuated as the hotel was exposed to the mountains where ‘armed groups could come target us.’ After that, it was a harrowing few days. 

Things were tense. Peru doesn’t have the medical care or services to handle this. The Peruvian President gave Americans less than 28 hours to get out before sealing the borders and putting the country on lockdown. That’s misleading because most flights were already canceled. We were trying every possible option to get through to airlines and do anything we could. We were fortunate to be able to get out of Cusco, which is about a two-hour flight to Lima and is crowded with very limited medical facilities. Peru was trying to control it by creating a lockdown, and we could only go to one store that was open to get food or supplies.

PW: How was your access to medical care?

LS: We were told by local Peruvians that medical care was extremely limited there–especially outside of Lima. We took precautions:

Thorough and frequent handwashing
Social distancing
Hydration
Attempted to reduce stress to maintain our immune systems 

PW: What was the response from the Peruvian and US government?

LS: The Peruvian government did take a hard line, but the Peruvian people were so helpful. Unfortunately, the US government was shockingly absent with no response. I connected immediately through my social media channels to hundr in the same situation in Peru, and a WhatsApp group was formed. Everyone had the same experience, it wasn’t just us!

No one could establish any help from the US Embassy. I spoke to the State Department late on the afternoon of March 18th and was told to “shelter in place, there is no governmental response planned to evacuate Americans. Plan to seek shelter for the duration of the quarantine.” It left hundr of us feeling abandoned, and that is a very unnerving feeling.

Linda and Mike were able to charter a flight from Lima to Miami, FL, with the help of their touring company. Linda tells “Today” they received no flight assistance from the US government and they paid more than $700 per ticket.

PW: Now that you’ve returned home, what was that process like?

LS: Miami airport did not check us at all. There were 

No masks being worn by airport personnel
No questionnaire
No health check

In Peru, they were doing temperature checks, and everyone was wearing masks. We walked right through Miami airport as if everything was normal. We’ve decided to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

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I focus on family wellness as a nurse and feel that we could do more for each other. 

Kids could be making cards for those in nursing homes
Neighbors could be checking in on the elderly and getting supplies to leave at their door
We could start a “Secret Santa” type mission through Amazon
Go back to basics and craft something at home to send to family and friends
Virtual book clubs
Reconnecting with those we love to just feel connected

This experience has taught me that rules aren’t static and situations can change on a dime. I’m so grateful I was traveling with my companion, who is an amazing teammate. It’s left me realizing how important it is to stay flexible, trust our instincts, and support and take care of each other during the most difficult times.

As a nurse, it is disheartening to see that the US doesn’t even have masks for healthcare workers. Something has gone terribly wrong, and I hope we can all look back at this as a learning process, not only to improve healthcare but how we can be more compassionate to one another.

Find Linda on all social media platforms as @unboxedmom

 

Portia Wofford is a nurse, copywriter, content strategist, and nurse consultant. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for development–while helping healthcare organizations and entrepreneurs create engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.