New York's Central Park occupies the lower right corner, with a few skyscrapers in the immediate foreground. The buildings of New York's Upper West Side are seen on the diagonal, with New Jersey in the upper left across the Hudson River.

New York and Leiden

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We arrived at my father’s house just after midnight, to find my stepmother trying and failing to handle a plunger. My stepmother uses a walker; she can’t stand up and do much with her hands at the same time. She especially can’t put any power behind them. I took the plunger from her and did in five minutes what she hadn’t been able to do in the last hour.

I was worried about my father, who wasn’t feeling well. The symptoms didn’t seem flu-like, though; more like an extension of something that’s a known chronic condition of his. So we didn’t really take the possibility of Covid seriously until the next morning, when he began coughing and I showed him how to use one of the tests I had carried with me.

New York's Central Park occupies the lower right corner, with a few skyscrapers in the immediate foreground. The buildings of New York's Upper West Side are seen on the diagonal, with New Jersey in the upper left across the Hudson River.
View of the Upper West Side from the Top of the Rock Observatory at Rockefeller Center. — Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

That test turned positive faster than I’ve ever seen one do. Whoops. Well, now we’ve got a problem: four people in a three bed apartment, and my father needs to isolate. M and I could have shared if necessary, but neither of us sleep well that way. But Dad remembered what I never knew in the first place: that their living room sofa unfolds into a bed, as well as the sofas in the two studies (which were what we’d been using so far).

So I stripped my sheets off the sofa bed in Dad’s study and moved them out to make up the living room sofa bed for myself. Then I remade the bed in Dad’s study for him with fresh sheets, and he closed himself into that room; while I stripped, replaced and laundered the sheets from the bed he’d been sharing with my stepmother so that she’d be as safe as we could make her at this point. By the time I was done making all those beds, I flopped on my living room sofa bed and lay flat for about twenty minutes… and felt like I had earned it. That’s a lot of sheets!

Dad had to be reminded to put his mask on whenever anyone was at his door, and I began teasing him: “You have ONE JOB, just not to get anyone else sick here! Don’t mess it up!” But I half meant it. I truly didn’t mind taking care of both of them for a few days — any time I even began feeling cranky inside myself at how much work was involved, I just remembered that image of my stepmother trying to handle that plunger because Dad wasn’t feeling strong enough to do it, and I immediately became just plain grateful that I had happened to be there at the right time to be able to help.

But I still had more than two more weeks of this trip, and I did not want to get sick for them. So I chased Dad back into his study, with good humor but meaning it as well, every time he came out without his mask. He got used to it and began remembering on his own after a day or so.

From there, it was just three days of constant hard work. Cooking dinner for everyone, running laundry, doing dishes, hauling garbage out and deliveries in, running out to fetch prescriptions and more tests and food and whatever else anyone needed. I told M that I would ask if I needed their help but that otherwise, I mostly just wanted them to relax and get their own energy back… while staying at a safe distance from Grandpa. Since the second study where M was sleeping was all the way in a different wing of the apartment, this wasn’t difficult.

I also helped my stepmother test herself, shortly before we left, so it had the best possible chance of being accurate. It was negative. Thankfully, she hadn’t caught it from him (and according to later retests, she never did).

The day we left, Dad’s symptoms took a turn for the better. His throat wasn’t as sore, and after three days of being unwilling to consume anything except weak apple juice and Ensure supplements, he actually ordered and ate a cheeseburger. I had made sure they had plenty of masks, a few additional tests, a lot of groceries, and whatever else they might need; and I helped Dad set up one of the delivery apps on his phone so that he could order from the drugstore if he needed to. They live on the Upper West Side — everything else they could possibly want delivers anyway.

Zabar’s Deli, in New York’s Upper West Side. Fuzheado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So I felt good about leaving them in a solid position, as we boarded a plane for Amsterdam.

At Schiphol Airport, we encountered a problem: we weren’t on the list for wheelchairs. M and I both use wheelchairs in airports, but despite having requested them when I booked the flight, there were no wheelchairs assigned to us when we landed. We were asked, after a bit, to walk to a nearby wheelchair depot… easy enough, because most of the way was taken up by one of those flat escalators that all airports use.

So we rode to the wheelchair depot… but things stalled out there. Apparently, none of the actual attendants were allowed to take us anywhere, because they had not been assigned to do so, and if they took us without orders, they might not be in the right position when they next were ordered to take somebody someplace. Several of them called in on their radios to beg permission to take us, and finally one was allowed to carry us as far as the central waiting area for wheelchairs. There, we had seats, and waited in relative comfort for wheelchairs, although it took a bit. The attendants were awesome, though; and they not only got us to baggage claim and picked up our bags for us, but took us out into the train station and told us how to get on a train for Leiden.

The Leiden Centraal train station; a decorative lattice of white cubes fronts the building. A plaza of brown cobblestones occupies the foreground
C messier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the other end of the 45-minute train ride — the southern Netherlands isn’t very big — our hotel was within two blocks of the station. Even we could walk that far, so we set out, suitcases and all, and we checked into the Golden Tulip, which was a hotel I had used before and really liked.

Our first full day in Leiden, we stayed put and just SLEPT. It would have been nice to be able to do more there, but we were neither of us capable of dealing, after three hard days in New York.

Our second day? That was more interesting, and it’ll begin the next post.

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