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Bad news to report

We came home very late last night from our Costa Rica tour with Odysseys Unlimited. This was our first trip internationally in 2+ years. We haven’t been anywhere except basically the grocery store twice a week and have had little contact with our family. There were six of us on the tour plus the guide and the driver. Midway through the tour, one of the passengers who was having symptoms tested positive for covid using a home test one morning. She was immediately whisked off to a local lab by our guide to be retested that day. The second test said she was negative. We all continued on our trip although she was still coughing which was worrisome. We all wore our masks and distanced from each other on the 24 passenger bus to the best extent that we could and ate separately at meals. My husband and I had N95 masks and were good about wearing them unless we were outdoors and away from others. Some of the tour members were wearing cloth masks, however, and were sometimes lax about how they wore them. We were all also fully vaxxed and boosted including the guide and the driver. There were hand sanitizers everywhere we went or hand washing stations and we all did that diligently. At the very end of the tour my husband and another tour member were exhibiting some symptoms. My husband had a slight tickle cough and a runny nose which is not unusual for him as he is on a medication that has that side effect so we didn’t think too much about it. The covid test arranged by our final hotel for our return to the US showed a negative result for all of us. I don’t think the test was very well done as the tester barely swabbed our noses. I have done the test before and know that it has to be a thorough swabbing. At any rate, we were cleared to come home. We had aisle and window seats on the planes with no one between us. At the airport, we distanced ourselves from others especially those who were not wearing masks properly or inappropriate masks. When we got home, we tested ourselves with a home test kit. I was negative but my husband was positive. I suspect he was positive in Costa Rica and the test didn’t catch it. I called Odysseys this morning to let them know about my husband’s positive test result so they can alert the others that we were in close contact with. I am not blaming Odysseys for this situation as they did the best that they could. We all knew the protocol put forth by the company but some did not follow it as well as perhaps they should have. This is a very transmissible disease. My husband is doing ok for now and is isolated in our bedroom and getting lots of chicken soup, tea, orange juice, tlc, etc. by “room service”. He is resting and his symptoms have subsided so hopefully he will make a full recovery. I am grateful that he was fully vaxxed and boosted and so far that seems to be working well. It seems that no matter how careful you are, you can still get covid. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. For those of you who are waiting on getting the booster, don’t wait. Get it asap.

Posted by
7190 posts

yes thanks for the reminder don't let your guard down, i am glad you are ok; we just resumed coming back to the office 3 days a week mandatory I work in higher ed and one person is coughing from 7am to 3pm another I can here clearing there throat every 5 minutes for 8 hours

Posted by
5262 posts

Sorry to hear about your husband, despite all the precautions you took. Apart from Covid, I hope the trip went well otherwise. Best wishes for his recovery (and yours, if necessary).

Posted by
7597 posts

Mary, I can only repeat what Dick said. I am sorry that your husband has tested positive, hope that his case remains mild with no long-term effects, and that you have somehow avoided catching it.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks, Dick. Yes, it was a wonderful trip otherwise. We saw and learned so much. My husband studied up on the birds and animals for months before the trip and he was so excited to get out there and see them in real life. He got some amazing photos of sloths, monkeys, birds, snakes and amphibians. I will write the happy part of the trip report later. I am taking care of my husband and doing laundry and unpacking at the moment.

Posted by
9706 posts

Oh my goodness, Mary! So sorry to hear hour husband tested positive. In case you don't have it, here is the link to the CDC guidelines to be released from isolation. Basically if no fever and other symptoms are getting better, he can be out and about with a mask after 5 days.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html#isolate

I hope the trip was fun anyway, in spite of the threat of Covid which I am sure was hanging heavily over all of you.

PS. You should re-test yourself as well with a home kit if you've got an extra.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks, Kim. I hope I don’t get it either. I obviously have been in close contact with him. He’s normally the one that catches something every trip. Me, not so much. My problem right now is keeping you know who in confinement as he can’t sit still for a minute.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks, Jazz. Yes, all it takes is one unguarded moment. This virus is so contagious. I am thankful for the vaccines.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks for the info, Pam. Yes, it was an amazing trip. Costa Rica’s wildlife is wonderful and the people are, too. Edited to add, we have the four free tests from the gov’t so will use those as needed. I believe I should retest in about four days regardless of whether or not I have symptoms.

Posted by
1143 posts

Fingers crossed for a quick and complete recovery for your husband.
And for you as well, that you remain healthy.

Posted by
9706 posts

"I believe I should retest in about four days regardless of whether or not I have symptoms."

Yes, the CDC suggests self testing 3-5 days after travel so that would mean between Friday and Sunday even with no symptoms. Fingers crossed you continue to be well and good luck with keeping him contained, lol!! That will be harder than anything else!

Posted by
3186 posts

Mary I am so sorry this happened to you, but glad that your husband is doing ok so far. I'm glad you enjoyed the trip itself and honestly, with this variant being so transmissable, I think any of us could get it anywhere at any time.

Posted by
4462 posts

Mary, I hope your husband recovers quickly and you stay well!

I was wondering about this sentence you wrote:
“Some of the tour members were wearing cloth masks, however, and were sometimes lax about how they wore them.”

I heard from another local person who took a European tour recently (not a RS), and she also mentioned that people on her tour were mixed on their compliance in the tour bus, etc. Did you feel that the group of people were generally trying to be considerate of each other? Just trying to gauge all of the options - traveling independently vs. with a tour group right now. Thanks!

Posted by
1739 posts

Hi Jean,

We were supposed to be wearing N95, surgical masks and the like. I can’t answer as to why they let their guard and mask down other than it is hard to wear on for such a long period of time. Everyone was considerate of each other and we all agreed to dine separately as well as spread out on the bus after the initial incident. There were only six of us so it wasn’t hard to do. Maybe it was the feeling of “It won’t happen to me.” We also felt we were in our own little bubble and knew that we had all been vaccinated and careful before the trip. The person who got sick initially was a doctor’s wife who should have been more cautious. They were both very nice but each time she coughed and I could see her mask wasn’t tight against her face I cringed. I was also disconcerted to see so many in the airport and on the (United Airline) flights disregarding the mask rules and no one enforcing them. Maybe the airlines feel it isn’t worth disrupting a flight because of one or two jerks. Or having a violent confrontation.

Posted by
11246 posts

Odysseys sent a note out last week that all of its customers must be vaccinated and boosted. Additionally, cloth masks are no longer allowed.

Posted by
1739 posts

Frank II,

That is the message we got as well pretour.

Posted by
1739 posts

Frank II,
This message was received on January 23 before our tour began on Jan. 26.
All guests, Tour Directors, and drivers are required to wear medical grade masks for both indoor activities and while on the motorcoach; acceptable masks include flat surgical masks, KF94, KN95, N95, and equivalent. Cloth masks will not be acceptable.

Posted by
3024 posts

Gotta ask... what kind of masks did the doctor and doctor's wife wear?

Posted by
3024 posts

Also... sorry your husband got COVID... wish him well in recovery... it's going to happen to all of us eventually.

Posted by
325 posts

I'm sorry your husband got sick, and hope he recovers quickly. Did you keep the same seats on the bus, or did you switch up daily? I've been subbing for four weeks for someone at school who took several days to finally test positive while having symptoms. I would encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Posted by
9706 posts

"I was also disconcerted to see so many in the airport and on the (United Airline) flights disregarding the mask rules and no one enforcing them. Maybe the airlines feel it isn’t worth disrupting a flight because of one or two jerks. Or having a violent confrontation."

I think it must just be United. I flew Alaska from Spokane -> Seattle -> Kauai and back in the last 10 days. On ALL segments the flight attendants made multiple announcements before they left the gate and during the flight that masks were to be worn. In fact on the last leg home from Seattle to Spokane they made an especially emphatic announcement saying that if you could not be compliant with masking you could get off the plane. I gathered there was someone toward the back who was either expected to give them trouble or was giving them trouble.

They also made intermittent announcements on the long flight that you were to put your mask back up in between bits and sips.

I did not notice any non-mask wearers in Spokane, Seattle and Lihue Airports.

Posted by
4462 posts

Thank you for your reply, Mary! Similar to Pam, we just returned from Hawaii. (See a theme that Hawaii is lovely to visit in January/February when two people from our snowy North Idaho travel group were recently on the islands?) 😉

We flew Southwest Airlines on the Spokane-Oakland-Kahului route to Maui and there were multiple announcements about masks pre-boarding and also on-board & after our snacks. They also had the choices of beverages on a card and asked us to point to our choice - specifically announced not to remove our masks to eat until the flight attendants were past our rows.

I’m planning to go to Europe twice this year and hoping all of the pre-trip healthy choices aren’t wiped out by something avoidable.

Posted by
5157 posts

Shame on this tour company (really responsibility falls on the guide) for not enforcing their own rules. If they are not going to enforce rules, don’t make them in the first place.

Travelers use the stated protocols of a tour company to make decisions regarding participating. The guide should have stepped up and done his/her job.

Posted by
1739 posts

Dave - they wore cloth masks and at one point layered them with surgical masks. Perhaps it is human nature to think you are ok and not transmitting a disease. Certainly we thought that with my husband initially.

mnannie - we kept the same seats although initially were asked to switch around to give others the chance to sit up front. The bus driver disinfected the bus with a blue light every day. I think keeping the same seats is a good idea.

My only experience with airports since 2019 was Houston and Sacramento and mask compliance was better in CA than in TX.

Carol now retired - I am not going to blame the guide. The past two years has been incredibly tough on those in the tourism industry. Odysseys’ guides depend on tips from happy customers and they are being placed in between a rock and a hard place. Our guide was wonderful to us and went above and beyond the call of duty. He has a tough job.

Yes, it is unfortunate that we will all get covid eventually and more than once. Perhaps a saving grace is that my husband will now have enhanced immunity from covid although he will not be impervious to getting it again. And so far his case is not severe but it is a little early to tell. Thanks to everyone for your good wishes. I appreciate it.

My point in this post was to let you know that these things can and will happen and to be aware and prepared. No matter how careful you are, this can happen to you. I think a lot of us have just been lucky so far.

Posted by
1937 posts

I agree with Carol. Not enforcing the rules that were expected to be enforced puts a big X thru this tour company.......doubtful I would EVER travel with them after hearing this. A company only gets ONE chance to do it right, especially during a global pandemic, and prior to leaving for the tour, you expected a certain level of caution and that was not provided. You did your part, but other guests did not, and the guide did not do his/her part.

I tend to be politely assertive, and I would have approached the tour guide quietly (or slipped the guide a note) suggesting that what was promised to be enforced, be enforced, even if it meant purchasing and providing to anyone who did not have an N-95 or KN-95 an appropriate mask. Those not complying should be nicely warned, then removed from the tour.

Vaccines do not totally keep people from getting covid; they are merely designed to help keep the illness at a level that would likely not require hospitalization. Boosters are now, months later, (I believe I read) maybe 35-40% effective. Much better than not having them, but good masks are needed to provide a serious level of protection.

Yeeeesh!!

I do hope your husband recovers quickly and that you are able to avoid it. The Wall Street Journal (I think it was yesterday) had an article that mentioned there has been a higher count of omicron cases so far than the total number of covid cases the entire first year (2020) of the pandemic!!

Posted by
65 posts

Peer-reviewed medical research shows that even PCR tests give false negative results 21% of the time. Antigen (rapid) tests are at least that inaccurate.

My husband was sick in August and we're positive that he had covid, despite a negative PCR test. One very telling fact is, even after the negative result was transmitted to our local clinic, they wouldn't let him come inside. If a person thinks they have covid, they should take all precautions including isolation, despite negative testing.

Posted by
3024 posts

Dave - they wore cloth masks and at one point layered them with
surgical masks.

Grrrr. That makes me mad. Every doctor knows that cloth masks are useless (and surgical masks only marginally better). I appreciate you trying to give the doc and his wife the benefit of the doubt, but they exhibited wanton, knowing disregard for the health of their fellow travelers from the get go with their mask choice. I'm super disappointed in them, but also super disappointed that the tour company did not enforce its own rules.

Posted by
245 posts

"They were both very nice but each time she coughed and I could see her mask wasn’t tight against her face I cringed."
I don't see how someone can be "nice," yet so blatantly disregard the health of their travel companions and the safety requirements specified by the tour company. Weighing the risks of traveling with a tour vs independently during this ongoing pandemic, presumably a big benefit of a tour is that vaccination status is confirmed and compliance with N95 level masks enforced. Otherwise, with the close quarters of a tour you could be better off on your own with the general public.
It was the guide's responsibility to insist everyone wear the specified masks, with a supply on the bus (first one free, with a warning, as on a plane) in case of inconsiderate idiots who were not- I am surprised this simple solution wasn't in place?
With 6 guests on the tour, 50% got Covid- I hope you remain healthy and your husband is better soon. It's fortunate you were able to return home to the US as planned and thoughtful to offer your booster advice, having just returned home.

Posted by
7597 posts

What Dave and Karen said. And this is a DOCTOR and his spouse ! That just takes it to another level of incredulity.

Posted by
8401 posts

Mary, This is to wish your husband a very light case and quick recovery.

The tests are quite wiley. I tested negative three times including a PCR while I had a fever and sniffles but tested positive only after the fever was finished and my sense of smell had disappeared. So be sure to follow what you feel is going on no matter the results.

Posted by
1937 posts

Is the "doctor" a medical doctor? If so, maybe one who specializes in hands, feet, dermatology, etc. and has not kept himself well informed on infectious diseases? Or, is he a PhD doctor........philosophy, geology, etc. But, guessing most of those "other" type doctors might have acted more responsibly than he/his wife. Education and professional titles do not always translate into doing the right thing.

It only takes "one" to create a super spreader, even among 6 people.

So very sorry this happened to you all.

Posted by
619 posts

I hope your husband is on the mend.

We were to be in CR in early January for a family wedding, but had to cancel as I had foot surgery. I admit I was not eager to go as I was unsure what the medical care would be if we got sick there. Turns out quite a few people from the wedding caught Covid there.

We just got back the other day from Iceland. We did a bus tour one day and we too noticed that mask wearing was hit or miss, mostly miss. Thankfully we have so far managed to test negative and no symptoms, but will test again in a day or two to be sure.

That is too bad that the testing person was so casual about swabbing. We were tested twice during our trip, and they were thorough, but gentle.

I hope the rest of the trip was good!

Posted by
1739 posts

My final thoughts - I know a lot of you are angry at this situation. I just want to be clear that I am not angry at anyone - neither Odysseys, the guide or the other tour members. Odysseys Unlimited is a very good company. I will continue to travel with them. Rick Steve’s is just starting his tours. Let’s see what happens there. How well will that go? There is a learning curve here and hopefully RS is taking heed of the current situation of other tour companies. Things like this can and will happen. Everyone we were in contact with in Costa Rica were wearing masks albeit cloth ones and we were required to wash or sanitize your hands before entering into any establishment. They are not anti- vaxxer’s there. A lot of us are venturing out into this “new” world for the first time in 2+ years. We are navigating in new waters and are all human and make mistakes. All of us on that tour were very well educated and traveled. This was the first time out for all of us. We were in our own little bubble. Some of us may be in denial that this could happen to us. I just read a news report that Prince Charles just got covid for the second time. If someone who has the best medical care and advice and is well-protected can get covid again, then what does that say for the rest of us. IMHO if you have already been traveling and not gotten covid you have been just plain lucky so far. I know many who have been traveling all during the pandemic and gotten away unscathed. A good number of people are refusing the vaccine and refusing to wear masks and mask mandates are being lifted in a lot of places. My husband and I saw a good number in the restrooms in the airports who left without washing their hands. Some of us are getting lazy and lax. Perhaps now the onus will be on those who could be but aren’t vaccinated. I posted this as a cautionary tale. We are still scheduled for several tours this year and will be approaching them with increased caution. My belief is that N95 masks and only N95 masks should be a requirement on a tour. Omicron is on the decline here and in other places but will be ever present anyway. My husband is doing much better. So far it’s been like a little cold and very mild. Thanks everyone for your kindness. Stay safe.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks, Aimee. We are in complete agreement on this. I am going to do my tour review with Odysseys and mention that N95’s should be the only masks allowed and that the covid testing was merde as you would say. By all rights, we should still be in Costa Roca in quarantine right now.

Posted by
1071 posts

Mary,

I really like your attitude.
I also agree with the statements that others have posted.

Important take home message is: If you are going to start traveling, please understand the risks you are taking.

Our collective experience is that we cannot rely on others to look out for us. Every time we leave the house, there is potential for exposure. If you leave your house (permanently) for days/weeks on end, your exposure risk is high. It is true that it would be nice if everyone followed the rules and if the people in charge enforced the rules. However, I think we all know that isn't going to happen.

Something I have noticed in the posts of many folks here on the forum is that they are making plans based on best case scenario instead of likely case or worse case scenarios. I agree best case is the way to pack, but it isn't the best way to plan a trip.

Posted by
1739 posts

Thanks, vandabrud. We are of like mind. It seems many on this forum are blithely making plans and thinking this won’t happen to them and that things are back to normal. Things are not back to normal. I just did the tour review for Odysseys and gave them my honest opinion. I know they listen to their customers and will carefully consider making changes. They are a great tour company and we are all learning as we go.

Posted by
3186 posts

Aimee, I like your polite approach. I would absolutely comply if someone told me they were high risk.

Mary, there has been some speculation that the severity of the case might be affected by how large the dose was. Your N95 masks may well have had this benefit to you.

Posted by
1739 posts

Hi all,

I emailed RS Tours to let them know of our recent experience in Costa Rica so that we could all learn from it and this is their reply. I don’t think they will mind me sharing this info -

Thanks very much for your email and invaluable feedback Mary. We are very excited to start running our first tours since the start of the pandemic, and also anxious to avoid missteps. I know they’re inevitable, but the more we can learn from others’ experiences the better prepared we can be.

We do know that medical grade N95 or KN95 masks are often required at sights and venues, so that’s what we’ve instructing our participants to use on our tours—this information goes out to all of our tour members in the form of COVID updates and packing reminder emails.

We know that COVID protocols and regulations need to be taken seriously and that starts with the leadership of our tour teams of guides and drivers. Until local guidelines change, masks need to be worn properly and at all times when we aren’t in the privacy of our rooms or dining.

We are requiring our Feb-Apr departures to provide negative COVID tests at the beginning of the tour, and anyone experiencing COVID symptoms during the tour would need to test to continue the tour. We plan to have self tests available to administer (proctored by a guide) in situations where we are in remote areas or pharmacies are closed, but in those cases we’re requiring a second test to be taken once we get to a place where an official test can be administered by health care officials. Even in cases of double negative results, if a participant still has symptoms we’d want them to be seen by a physician to make sure they’re not contagious before returning to the group so we could be assured that the risk of others getting sick is minimal.

To incentivize participants to safeguard their health as well as the group’s, Rick has developed a new COVID Wellness Refund policy:

If a Tour Member tests positive for COVID within 48 hours of the start of a tour or during tour, we will refund tour payments in full or pro-rata respectively. If a Tour Member tests for COVID (takes a day off from tour activities because they’re feeling crummy and tests for COVID) and it’s negative we will refund that day.

We know that our reputation and people’s confidence in Rick Steves’ Tours is on the line, and we all want to do our best to keep everyone as healthy as possible on our tours.

This is very reassuring to say the least. And hubby is feeling much better.

Posted by
5157 posts

Thanks for sharing this. I like how RS tours is putting participant health as the top priority and eliminating financial roadblocks that might keep people from testing.

Posted by
1937 posts

Mary, thank you VERY much for sharing the response you received from RSteves Tours. I am very impressed with how they have chosen to establish enforcement protocols for the safety of the tour groups and how kind they are being with pro-rata refunds should someone become ill during the trip. That sounds very responsible, safe, and customer-friendly to me.

Hope your hubby is feeling better with each passing day.

Posted by
375 posts

I would like to throw a monkey wrench into this mix. People getting sick on tours is nothing new. On almost every Rick Steves tour I’ve been on, someone has gotten sick and by the end of the tour there were several more people sick. This is before we ever heard of Covid-19. My last trip was “Ireland in 14 days.” A group email after we all got home showed that over half of our group was sick. My husband and I always went to bed at a reasonable time and we always stayed healthy. Unfortunately, Covid is much more serious than a cold or flu.

Other than your husband catching covid, how was your trip vacation since you had to wear masks all the time. I am dreading this on my future trip next month.

Posted by
5157 posts

Janet, you can make the transition to mask wearing a little easier by practicing in advance. When you are used to wearing a mask it is no big deal.

Posted by
1739 posts

Hi Janet,

Hmm. We have taken 13 or 14 tours with several different companies over the years mainly to non European countries. Other than this last experience in Costa Rica, the main complaint in our tour groups was turista from getting the local water in your mouth from something as simple as brushing your teeth or taking a tumble because you are just plain tired and can’t put one foot in front of another. We always travel with Cipro which takes care of the turista in a jiff and try to make sure we get to bed early so we are well rested. My husband aka the delicate flower seems to be the one who is most susceptible to this despite our best efforts (on 4 different trips) and I did a face plant hiking on a glacier in Alaska. Other than that I haven’t observed a lot of people getting sick or injured on a tour. This time we encountered the highly transmissible covid and luckily my husband’s case was more like post nasal drip than anything and he is back to his old self again now. Thanks to the vaccine and proper masking limiting the viral load IMHO he is going to be fine.

As to wearing an N95 mask, you get used to it. If you are in a hot, muggy place, you will need to change it more frequently as it gets wet. Would I rather not wear a mask? Of course. But we will need to do this for quite a while into the future. My state just did away with the mask mandate but I am going to still wear mine based on our recent experience in Costa Rica. I think we are doing away with the mask mandate too soon but time will tell on that one.

Posted by
6871 posts

I assume this was a largely outdoors-oriented trip...where were masks worn and/or required to be worn on this trip (bus, restaurants, hotel, inside areas...anywhere else?). Where were they not worn? I imagine that people want to gather around a guide closely outdoors when he or she is explaining something to the group so that they can hear/ see/ be engaged...in that case, are masks supposed to be worn outdoors as well the whole time you are outdoors?

Posted by
1739 posts

Agnes,

At the outset, we dined with our small group of 8 which included the guide and bus driver sans masks but masks were worn at all other times except when well distanced from others outdoors or in our own rooms. After one person had symptoms and initially tested positive, the decision was made that we would all dine separately with masks off only to eat. Entering and exiting a restaurant we were masked. While this trip was spent mainly outdoors, there were some long bus rides as roads there are slow going to get from point a to point b. Edited to add - we were masked on the bus and on the small boats that we toured the rivers on even though those were open to the air.

Posted by
1739 posts

Agnes,

I would also note that at the breakfast buffet in two of the five hotels, we were required to wear gloves before touching the serving tongs or the waitstaff took your food request and placed it on your plate. In the other hotels, you were required to cleanse your hands before using the serving tongs. I am not sure if that made a difference or not.

Posted by
375 posts

Mary,
I had to laugh when you said that you did a face plant while hiking on a glacier in Alaska. I didn’t do that, but I came close. We were hiking the glacier by Kenicott, Alaska which was probably one of the most memorable days in my life. We had just finished our lunch on the glacier and we walked by an area that had a small pool of turquoise water in it. The guide told us to carefully step across it. I lost my balance as I stepped across and I stepped in the middle of it! So, we all had to stop while I took my boot off, poured the water out of my boot and wrung my socks out of as much water as I could. Luckily, my socks were merino wool and were fairly dry in a few minutes. I put my sock and shoe back on and kept on hiking. The scenery that day was breathtaking. It was sunny and fairly warm. Unforgettable day for this klutz!

Posted by
1739 posts

Janet,

We were hiking the Root Glacier in Kennecott which is probably the same one you did. It was a gorgeous day for us, too. Before we left for the glacier, one of the guides told us to wear gloves or mittens in case we fell as the ice is really sharp. We were hiking off the glacier and I got a little overconfident, caught the toe of my crampon on the ice and down I went. I was using hiking poles so I couldn’t reach out with my hands to save myself. I remember sliding on my face on the ice for what seemed forever and thinking “Oh, no! This is not good.” I landed with my hands under me. When I got up, my face was a bloody mess and I instantly had a hematoma the size of a golf ball (no exaggeration) on my right hand. The guides wiped my face off and put an ice pack on it. There was plenty of ice available. LOL! Luckily I didn’t break anything and had put my camera in my backpack as if I landed with that on my chest I would have really been injured. The cuts on my face were pretty superficial so no scars. I managed to hike back to the lodge where the park ranger looked at my hand and said I was ok. This was all a month before I had total knee replacement surgery.