Well, I guess you could say I was lucky. The evening before the ship’s arrival in Copenhagen, when I was beginning to feel almost normal again, the medical people called to inform me that the covid test they had given me that day turned out to be negative. That meant I was free from quarantine and “able to enjoy all the activities and amenities on the ship,” plus I would not have to join those with positive covid tests who in the wee hours of the next morning would be surreptitiously whisked off the vessel before anyone could see them.
I could imagine what the next chapter would be for those unfortunate souls. Certainly no “hotel” would take a boatload of miserable, covid-infected passengers, some near death. I figured it would probably be a makeshift medical ward in some abandoned, ramshackled warehouse with 100 beds lined up on one side and another 100 beds on the other, separated only by inches with overworked doctors and nurses going from bed to bed as patients groaned and gasped for breath. You have seen pictures showing makeshift hospitals in obscure African or Indian villages–ceiling fans whirring to reduce the agony of sweltering heat and flies everywhere. Dead bodies carted off, covered by sheets.
And what would have happened to Embry or other spouses or cabin mates who did not have covid? Where would they go? How would they get home? And how would I get home when I was finally released? Indeed, if I was finally released.
Those hypothetical questions remain thankfully unanswered. It was all I could do to keep from letting out a cheer as I set foot on dry land.
But situations like this do happen. Embry and I took a cruise around South America in the early fall of 2019—before anyone had heard the name, “covid,” starting in Fort Lauderdale and after a dozen or so stops in Panama, Peru, Chili, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, we spent two weeks on our own in Rio and then Buenos Aries before flying home to the U.S. It was a fabulous trip. This was also a Holland America cruise on the vessel, Zaandam. In October that ship took on new passengers in Rio and then returned to Fort Lauderdale on the reverse of the route that we had taken. By late fall, however, covid had showed up. The very same ship we had been on was the ship where covid raged with most of the passengers and crew getting very sick and many dying. No port would allow the boat to enter, and they went weeks without docking before they finally made it through the Panama Canal and back to Florida. Food had to be brought in by supply ship or helicopter, and all passengers on the ship were quarantined. On the first day of our cruise this time, we chatted with a very friendly bar tender who was on that doomed ship and described the experience as something worse than hell itself. Several of his close friends died.
Situations like this do happen.
We thanked our lucky stars, boarded a bus with other relieved passengers and were taken to the Clarion Hotel at the Copenhagen airport. And I have to say that looking back on it all, this “cruise from hell” was not so bad and could have been a whole lot worse. I only missed two excursions, one in Iceland and one in Scotland to Loch Ness, and the food delivered to our room was actually very good. I did feel terrible, especially during the first four or five days—sore throat, cough, chills, body aches, fatigue, etc.–but never felt I was not going to make it. Our cabin had a balcony, which we used when I began to recover, and if it was not too chilly. Embry and I watched a bunch of good movies (“Here Today” was my favorite.). Embry was able to come and go. Many others on board must have had a much tougher time. I estimate that over 80 cabins had been converted to isolation wards, and many other afflicted passengers, like me, remained in their rooms because there was no more quarantine space. Since the dreaded c-word was never mentioned nor any formal acknowledgement that there might be a problem on board, there is no way to know exactly how many passengers had been affected. I figured it had to be in the hundreds.
Following the intervention by our children, who were now taking over all decisions from their distressed, elderly parents, the plan was to ditch the original trip we had planned to Edinburgh, Scotland, where we were supposed to meet old friends and instead to take the first flight out from Copenhagen to Washington. After we understood that all our flights and accommodations would be cancelled, we heard from Andrew the next day that it actually was not possible to get a direct flight from Copenhagen to anywhere in the U.S. due to the major Scandinavian airline, SAS, not flying. Rebooking from Copenhagen to Washington was said to take weeks.
What? All our plans cancelled and now we find we are not even able to get to the U.S. from Copenhagen? Surely, he must jest.
Well, he did not jest, but fortunately we had not lost our reservations on the flight to Edinburgh or the flight home. Back to the original schedule.
The two days we spent in a B&B, stately townhouse on a quiet street within walking distance of charming, downtown Edinburgh were fabulous. We met our British friends, Roger, and his wife, Geraldine, there, who joined us in the B&B and spent a wonderful two days with them– dinner at a nice restaurant a few blocks away, a tour of this fabulous, ancient city on a hop-on-hop-off bus, followed by a spectacular ride along the coast in their car. I was feeling weak but able to enjoy the time with them immensely.
What eventually did me in, however, were the airports. We had to take two flights. The first was on a British budget airline, Easy Jet, to Edinburgh from Copenhagen. The second was on a United flight from Edinburgh to Washington Dulles. The huge Copenhagen airport was in chaos, with thousands of distressed passengers trying to deal with the SAS crisis. Lines could be measured in miles rather than yards. We arrived at 9:00 AM for a 12:30 PM flight and barely made it. My iPhone pedometer measured the distance from the check-in to the gate at 1.7 miles. By the time we stumbled into the packed airplane, we were both exhausted.
Even though the Edinburgh airport is only a small fraction of the size of the Copenhagen airport, it was just as crowded and woefully understaffed. It took over an hour standing in line to get our bags checked, an hour and 20 minutes to get through the security check point, and another 45 minutes to get through passport control, then a run to the gate to catch the flight with only a few minutes to spare. The widebody airplane was jampacked. Finally, arriving at Dulles was not much easier. I had never seen so many people in line to get through passport control. My guess was well over 500 people and almost a two-hour wait, standing in line.
And by the way, at none of these airports was anyone wearing a face mask except the Iron Lady and her beleaguered traveling companion. Ok, maybe a few, but still you had to look hard to see anyone masked.
“What on earth is going on?” we asked each other. “Don’t they realize covid is still here?”
Well, you can imagine by this time what my body was saying: “Look, I rallied and got you off the ship. I got you to Edinburg. I got you back to the U.S. I even gutted it out so you could have a good time in Scotland. And you put me through this? I’m done.”
I collapsed on July 9th, the day we stumbled into our apartment. Today, July 14, is the first day I have been able even sit up. Some of the same covid symptoms returned with a vengeance, but mostly for the last five days I have been overcome with complete and total exhaustion. You don’t mess around with covid. I could have been a dead duck. But what were the options? I pictured myself in one of the beds in a converted warehouse begging for food and a cup of tea.
And as for the overall experience?
“Well, Mrs. Lincoln, other than that, how did you enjoy the play…?”