As I made plans to travel to Manchester to defend my PhD Thesis, I was looking at airline tickets and discovered that if I flew to Milan, Italy and then to Manchester, UK, my fare would be about a fifth of the price than to go directly. Of course this meant taking very different airlines. Since it was so much cheaper to fly this way, my wife decided to accompany me for the first leg and we would spend some time together in Italy. We made travel arrangements and some lodging for the both of us in Italy. We hoped to see several sites before I had to defend.
As we were on the final hop from Portugal to Italy, we realized something new was happening. We got sprayed along with all the passengers. And then when we landed, people in white suits were taking temperatures and aiming weird lights at us. I could hear some people talking about a viral outbreak. We saw the news while we were getting our luggage, that indeed an outbreak of Covid-19 had emerged in 12 towns of the Italian province we were in. We went on to our hotel near the airport, but outside Milan itself to see what to do next. We had brought with us the allowable size of hand sanitizer and had a few face masks and bleach wipes. We asked at the hotel, but became certain that our travel plans inside Italy would be vastly different. On the internet, we could see closures of most of what we wished to see, and some town closures for where we had lodging. We asked to extend our hotel for the duration of our stay, and changed plans to go see local scenery in more remote towns. We also could not get revised departure dates, so we were stuck.
We picked up some gloves as well, but could not find more hand sanitizer. We stayed away from people and explored away from the city. We did get to see Lake Como, several churches, and a monastery. All were beautiful. Then my wife boarded her plane to go home while I boarded mine to go to defend in Manchester. As soon as I landed I obtained my lodging, and got groceries for roughly a week. I visited NTC campus to let others know I had arrived, but was soon chased into self-isolation since I had just arrived from Italy. It was a good call, as by the evening I did not feel so well. I had enough food and I needed to prepare for my defense so I stayed in my room. After a three days of low-grade fevers and a sense of general feeling of being drained, I started having high fevers and realized I would soon run out of medications. I had plenty of water. Several friends dropped off more medications and food. I had nearly 10 days of uncontrollable fevers, along with many symptoms that were consistent with others had reported with having Covid-19. I could not get a test, though, as those were in short supply, and at that time were only being used upon entry to a hospital. On the night of the tenth day of high fevers, I was in a fight for my life. My heart was racing at 150, my pulse was also stronger than normal. I could see my veins and arteries bulging. This went on for a few hours, and I called for medical help. Then my lungs started to work less and less, along with a feeling of numbness in various parts of the body. I could not get an ambulance to arrive. I started passing out and coming to as morning drew near. Finally the Covid squad arrived in full suits and gave me air and something to slow down everything that had been racing away. My fevers also broke around that time. They stayed with me about 8 hours, until my breathing and heart rate were stabilizing and headed back to normal. This was a Friday morning (Friday the 13th). I was happy to be alive! They told me I must remain in isolation for 7 more days.
My practice defense (mock viva) had been planned for the following Monday, and my supervisor offered to postpone this, since I had been so ill. I was still delirious on the morning of the mock viva and was barely coherent mentally. I was still in isolation so the meeting was over Zoom. I knew my material in my dissertation well enough though, and did okay in my mock viva. I prepared a bit more over the next two days. My real viva was planned for Wednesday, March 18. The dean offered to postpone it, but I was keen to have it happen as my mind was getting clearer late into Tuesday. I did my best to prepare for questions designed to throw me off and rehearsed my responses to questions in my thesis.
The actual defense was also to be over Zoom. On the morning of the defense, I discovered one of my examiners had also been ill, and had felt a recovery while reading my thesis. Both of them were thrilled to have read my thesis. The questions ranged from elements in my thesis to related items outside my thesis that could be impacted by the discoveries within my thesis. I believe it went twice as long as expected, with lots of follow-on questions after each question. At the end they put me into a break-out room, and had a discussion. Then they pulled me back in and told me I had passed. I was given a grade of A2, which meant I would have a few corrections to make in the thesis. These would need to be approved by the internal examiner before my degree would be final, but my defense was complete.
When Friday arrived, I went outside for the first time. I went in the park outside my window. I was happy to be alive. I was out for a 15 minute walk and that was all my lungs could handle. I found out that borders were about to close and the President had mentioned that all Americans needed to get home. Also most airlines were shut down, including the ones I needed to get home. A friend got me on a Sunday flight from London to Atlanta, on one of the few still running. My dean got me on a train to London for Saturday along with a hotel for Saturday night. I made both the train and plane, and got home on 22 March.
About a week later, I received the list of corrections required. It contained several typos, and a substantive rewrite of one example I had given. Altogether it was much less than I anticipated. I made all the corrections in about 90 minutes. I still waited a couple days to send them back as I wanted to be sure I had fully addressed the concerns. Plus, I like to review whatever I write with a fresh mind. I submitted them, and the internal examiner approved them. My degree was complete, and I later received certificate and transcript that dated my award of PhD as April 1, 2020 (April Fool’s Day)!