“Congratulations, you have matched,” read my e-mail at the beginning of the Match week marking it as one of the joyous days of my life. Having longed to see this message in my inbox, the competitive nature of the match instilled a sense of luck and accomplishment. But this year was unique, not only to the applicants but also to the entire world. The first case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, China, three months prior to Match Day, with subsequent spread worldwide making it a public health emergency. The Isle of Man, my home until mid-2020, a tiny British crown dependency with a population of 85,000 had yet to witness its first case. It came in the form of a traveler, who transferred via United Kingdom, the gateway of entry to the island via air and sea. Although the pandemic spread to British soil in January 2020, the inevitable transmission to the island occurred only two months later. The Isle of Man government imposed strict lockdown banning the entry of non-citizens to the island. With the air and sea borders sealed, the 314-bed hospital that I worked at geared up for the challenge. Soon I realized that securing a visa to travel to the United States for my residency training would be no easy task.
The functioning of the U.S. embassy in London was limited, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Interview appointments for visas were limited and were granted only on an emergency basis. A letter from my prospective residency program director supporting my request for an emergency visa interview and processing worked wonders. With these supporting documents, I was successful in securing a visa appointment. I bid adieu to the Isle of Man and sailed off with hopes of obtaining a visa, but with a palpable fear of being ineligible to return to this island if need be.
The U.S. embassy wore an unusually deserted look. With fewer applicants, it took little time to leave with the emergency visa approval. In less than 24 hours, I embarked on a flight to the United States. Landing on American soil marked the end of this adventurous trip and the beginning of a new phase of my life as an Internal Medicine resident. Assistance from individuals who continued to render services during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic made this possible. I am thankful to my program director and the program coordinator, who not only wrote to the embassy requesting emergency visa processing but also provided added documentation addressing the airport staff and immigration officers. The aviation industry which continued to provide emergency services during their toughest phase also deserves its share of commendation.