MARYSVILLE — For Susan Anabel, a 15-day Asian dream cruise turned into a six-week odyssey, thanks to the coronavirus.
The 67-year-old Marysville woman spent almost a month in quarantine after a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for what was then a mystery illness in early February.
Anabel was trapped at sea on a cruise ship with 3,700 people, a suitcase of dirty clothes, and no Diet Coke.
To mentally escape from the enforced solitary confinement in her windowless room for 23 hours a day, 4,800 miles from home, she watched reruns of “The Love Boat.”
She was allotted an hour a day to go on the deck with other captives in her room-block for a daily dose of freedom.
“You had to have gloves on and a mask,” Anabel said last week from her Marysville home. “It was really weird, like a zombie movie. Everybody was looking at the ground and walking slowly.”
Images of the Diamond Princess anchored in a Japanese harbor near Tokyo made international news in those early days when many people were hearing the word “coronavirus” for the first time. There were about 400 American citizens on the ship.
Seven people on the Diamond Princess ultimately died from COVID-19. Fortunately for Anabel, she was not one of the 700 infected, including 46 from the United States. She returned home on March 2 with a full refund and coupon for a free cruise.
During 47 years of marriage, Anabel and her husband went on about 25 cruises together, mostly around North America. This was her first faraway cruise without him.
“I was trying a solo adventure,” she said.
Boy, did she get one.
Word of the quarantine came the last night, after the ship had cruised a two-week loop from Japan to Vietnam, Hong Kong and back to the Yokohama port.
Anabel had been to dinner and an opera show when passengers were told to go to their rooms and expect a knock on the door to have their temperature taken. Anabel had a small interior cabin to herself.
“The first few days, I was really scared,” she said. “The food was slow coming and when it came it was really awful and we hardly got anything to drink. Mentally, I was like, can I stand this or not?”
Things got better when she was able to get a diet cola from the beverage cart that made the rounds. The cruise line workers did their best to make their stay as comfortable as possible, providing guests with origami paper, plush bathrobes and flavorful meals. Anabel has nothing but praise for the crew, who received numerous thank-you notes, including from her.
She was able to order a care package from Amazon, with good coffee and cosmetics. She face-timed with her kids and grandkids about three hours a day.
“That was the only time I saw a full face,” she said. “Everybody had a face mask (on the deck). All I saw were eyeballs.”
Passengers commiserated and gossiped on a closed Facebook group chat.
The only escape from the boat was if you were ill. The sick were whisked away by teams of medical workers cloaked in hazmat suits.
That was Anabel’s first quarantine. Next stop: Travis Air Force Base in California.
After all the seclusion and protection she endured for nearly two weeks, she was loaded on buses with other passengers.
“There was a lady with coronavirus right next to me,” she said. “And the guy in front me was hacking away the whole time.”
A cargo plane chartered by the U.S. State Department took the evacuees to America.
The plane had two working portable toilets for some 170 passengers. On the 9.5-hour ride there was no in-flight entertainment or pretzels. The Japanese Red Cross provided extra-warm blankets for the cold plane.
At Travis Air Force Base, Round 2 began.
“I was pretty upset about having to do 14 more days,” she said. “I had to stay in my room for 48 hours. The isolation started over again.”
At least she had windows this time. And there was a yard, of sorts.
“So I looked out my window and there’s a big truck with a lot of portable chain-link fencing and it’s setting up a fence all around us. I just started crying at that point, because I felt like a little dog in a kennel,” she said.
“They had four U.S. Marshals in each corner of our compound, day and night. They were always watching you. They had about 25 huge floodlights that lit up the whole place.”
After processing, their daily dose of freedom was extended.
“We were able to go outside with our masks on, and stay six feet away from each other. Everybody kind of settled in for two weeks to figure out how to get through it,” she said.
“We all did a lot of pacing and chatting. Every once in a while I would just take a chair outside and enjoy soaking up the California sunshine. I tried not to get a face mask tan line.”
She got another Amazon delivery, this time with hair color and shorts.
At times, she drank coffee in the yard in her Diamond Princess bathrobe or took a short jog. This time, there was no “The Loooooove Boat” refrain blasting from the TV in her motel-style room. Her grandchildren’s school classes sent her cheery handmade cards.
She was tested for COVID-19 and monitored daily for symptoms.
“They would come at 7 in the morning and at 5 in the evening to take our temperatures,” she said.
She said those who became ill were taken out in the middle of the night in ambulances that stood at the ready by the curb. Workers in protective garb collected the trash and laundry in biohazard containers.
Finally, it was time to go home.
“If our temperature was fine they put a green wristband on us,” she said. “We were able to finally take our mask off and throw it in the garbage can as we boarded the bus for the airport. They gave us a letter from the CDC that we had successfully completed our quarantine.”