What with Covid locking us down off and on for the better part of 2 years, my plans to visit the States kept being put off. I knew that my sister, who lived in Ohio, was in and out of the hospital and since I hadn’t seen her for 5 years or more, I wanted to make sure that I visited her when I was finally able to go.
For the last 8 months or so, I have had a few health problems, the latest of which was an operation on my right eye to slow the spread of glaucoma. The operation was a success, but I had to see my doctor every week for the next 5 weeks, so I finally made my reservations to fly to Boston at the end of the 5-week mark.
I made my flight reservations for the end of April with a return on 19 May. That should give me enough time to see my sister, check in with my Gastroenterologist in Boston and have a nice visit with my daughter and my friends, especially Sue and Carol with whom I would be staying.
The visit to the American doctor was occasioned by the reappearance of a hiatal hernia, for which I was operated on ten years ago and my Italian doctors advised me to have re-operated on. If I needed the operation, I would schedule it in Boston because my insurance would cover all the costs, but in Italy I would pay about $20,000 and my insurance would reimburse me only 75% of the cost.
ENOUGH with my health challenges! I’m totally bored! But I must mention that in September 2021, I had a little heart attack that was diagnosed as Tako-Tsubo (look it up). 95% of those who suffer from this are women. It is brought on by stress-Imagine that!These challenges may or may not generate another story. But this story is about my INCREDIBLE TRIP.
THE DAY BEFORE
As Dante will attest, I am always somewhat anxious when I’m going on a trip, especially a long trip to the States. But this time, I was in full panic mode!
I had to get a covid test within 24 hours of my flight, so I went to the farmacia and got the test. They gave me 2 pieces of paper. The first stated that the test came back Negative. The second had the famous QR code for the airline to scan. At the bottom of the QR code was a section with the obligatory small print, which I did not read until later that night. That’s when the panic set in!
In both Italian and English, the small print read “This certificate is not to be used for travel”
WHAT? I didn’t understand. Travel is the reason I had to get the test! I showed it to Dante and his typical response was “Don’t worry, it probably means nothing”. It’s an attitude that I envy but can’t seem to adopt.
To me it meant a sleepless night and a request that Dante take me to the airport another half hour earlier than the required 2 hours prior to flight time. I’m sure he thought I’d finally gone over the edge, but he reluctantly agreed. My thought was that if I get to the check-in window and the agent points to the offending paragraph, I would have enough time to go to a drug store and get another test. Of course, Dante was right and the agent never even looked at my covid test, my green pass, my passenger locator, or anything else except my passport.
Being so early at the airport meant that the gate was not yet posted for my flight to Paris. I have flown out of Florence many times so Dante left me at Security and I headed downstairs to “All Gates” where you wait for a bus to take you to your plane. I had plenty of time and so ordered a sandwich and a cup of coffee. I never mind hanging around an airport waiting for a flight. In fact, I much prefer that to running through the GD Duty Free section looking for the gate.
Anyway, a glance at the monitor told me that the gate for my flight was still not announced. I settled down with my Kindle and waited to hear the announcement to board. Next time I looked at the board it said my flight would leave from Gate 1…Good! I was at Gate 1, but there was nothing posted on the Gate 1 screen. Hmm, strange, I thought. Another 10 minutes or so it was 3:00 pm. I turned around and saw that the whole area was empty!! My flight was for 3:30! Panic once again! I saw 2 gate agents still there and asked where the flight to Paris was. They said “Gate 1” Then they said “Upstairs”. So, they had moved Gate 1! I took the elevator up and started looking for Gate 1..Of course, there was the obligatory Duty-Free area through which all must pass! I stopped at one and asked where Gate 1 was. She pointed and said “dritto” (straight ahead). I didn’t see any gates. I stopped and asked another, same response, “dritto”. Finally, I saw the gate. I ran the last few yards.
Of course, the gate was closed. No more boarding they said. The gangway had already been detached. Panic again!! Tako-Tsubo, Tako-Tsubo! Talk about stress!! There were 2 agents still at the gate and I begged them to check and see if I could get on. The man seemed willing and he instructed the woman to call the pilot, which she reluctantly did. “OK”, he said and he opened the barrier and took my bag. We went downstairs to the tarmac (near to the original Gate 1, where I had spent 2 ½ hours waiting for my flight to be called) and crossed to the plane. He carried my bag up and I was on board! As it turned out, I was not the last person to board and we took off 25 minutes late!
After spending the night with my daughter, Phyllis, I had an early flight to Ohio to see my sister. I had made the flight plan for 2 reasons. 1) To make a multi-stop flight from Italy was too expensive and too complicated. 2) Phyllis had a flight out of Boston the next day at the same time. However, her trip was cancelled but she still had to get up at 0:Dark-Thirty to take me to the airport.
This short flight (1 ½ hours) went fine until I arrived at Detroit International (the closest airport to Toledo, Ohio, where my sister lived). I had downloaded the Uber app and told my niece, Karen, to not pick me up, as it’s a long drive and she was very busy. I tried the Uber app while I was still in Italy and the price from Detroit International Airport to Toledo, Ohio was $65-$75. With the price of gas up around $5 a gallon, it would probably cost Karen near that much in gas for the round trip.
I found the place where the Ubers pick up passengers and called the number. Nothing happened. I tried 2-3 times more and had to go inside to warm up. It was freezing there! Under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and I had just my leather jacket. BRRR! I went back out and tried again. This time I did get a connection but the price was $130! Basically, the same as a cab. I went in to get warm again and when I came out, a lovely guard-type man asked if he could help me. I told him my problem and he took me to a spot and called a cab. It arrived immediately and I asked the price. He said it was on the meter but thought it would be around $120. “Let’s go”, I said, desperate to get out of the cold. I gave him Karen’s address but then saw a text message she had sent the day before saying Elsie (her mother, my sister) was back in the hospital. Karen had also sent the name and address of the hospital, so when we arrived at the empty house, I asked the cab to take me to the hospital. It was not very far and the total fare was $110. Less than the Uber! It was early afternoon and I was able to see and talk to my sister.
Larry (deceased), Karen, Kenny, Franny, Wayne, Stephanie, Paul, Danielle
Please memorize this list. There will be a test!
All 4 of Elsie’s daughters were there at the hospital and her 3 remaining sons (Larry, the eldest son had died some years before) came to see her. So, all of her children were together and she was content. They, plus her 45 or 46 grandchildren and great-grandchildren were her whole life. The latest of her great-grandchildren, a 2-day old girl named Mataya Grace, visited her on Saturday. Elsie was able to hold her and kiss her before the nurse threw the mother and baby out. Not a place for a 2-day old baby!! But Elsie was happy.
I had come to the hospital directly from the airport, so I was a bit tired and still trailing my suitcase behind me. I asked Franny (another of Elsie’s daughters) to take me to Karen’s house, where I’d be staying and also to take me to a supermarket as I’d promised Elsie, when she was still home, that I’d cook for her and Karen. Now, I’d be cooking for Karen and Danielle, the oldest and youngest of Elsie’s daughters.
Elsie was an incredible person. I won’t go into much detail here because I’m told that her grandson, Jerell, is writing her biography and I’ll leave him to it.
Elsie had been living with her oldest daughter, Karen ,in Toledo, Ohio for the past 2 ½ years. In that time, she was in and out of the hospital mostly for respiratory problems. She was intubated twice, the last time within a few months of her passing. Although she survived that, she decided to not do it again, and so she signed a DNR. Danielle, her youngest daughter, was her health proxy and she handled everything very well.
I had arrived Thursday night in Boston, then in Ohio Friday morning. I stayed at Karen’s and Elsie’s house Friday night, where Danielle was also staying. Karen and Danielle stayed at the hospital Friday night and Saturday, I decided to use Elsie’s car to return to the hospital. Bad idea! I got lost, of course, and only after I had completely given up and was retracing my steps to return to the house, did I see the hospital. I had passed it at least 2 times! But I did make it. it took me 45 minutes to finally arrive to the hospital, which was no more than 10 minutes away.
THE LAST DAYS
Elsie was being transferred to Hospice Care and Karen and Danielle accompanied her there. I drove back to the house without incident and cooked dinner for them. After getting their mother settled in Hospice, Karen and Danielle came home and decided to try and get a good night’s sleep, but we were called back to the Hospice at 6 am. This was Sunday, May 1. I had been in the States for 2 ½ days. Elsie died that evening. I was with her as well as all her daughters and one of her granddaughters. She died in peace and although sad, I was also happy to see her at rest. She had one hell of a life!!
May 2, 2022
I changed my ticket back to Boston so I could spend a few days with Karen and Danielle, who were making all the arrangements for Elsie. She did not want a funeral and so they made arrangements for a cremation and distribution of ashes to themselves and all their siblings. Elsie had requested that the major portion of her ashes be sent to her son, Paul’s house, where the ashes of her oldest son, Larry, were kept. So, arrangements were made for that to happen. I stayed at the house and cleaned and cooked.
Of course, these things take time, and as always, there was squabbling among siblings as to when and how they would each get the ashes and other mementos of their mother. Suffice to say that Karen and Danielle handled things very well but were subjected to an awful lot of pressure. Something they did not deserve, but nevertheless had to suffer.
It was Thursday and I had a flight back to Boston, Danielle had decided to return home also. She is the only remaining child of Elsie to stay in the Boston area and she had a husband and children of her own to return to. So, Karen drove us both to the airport. I felt bad leaving Karen on her own, but her children and grandchildren live close by. Danielle’s flight was an hour before mine so I would be early, but as I said, I don’t mind hanging around airports.
Immediately upon entering the terminal, I saw a Delta agent. I approached her with my phone in my hand, open to my boarding pass. She looked at me and said “You don’t have pre-check”. Not knowing what pre-check was, I asked her what I must do. She said nothing but pointed in the direction of what appeared to be the security area. When I approached the 2 security guards there, I showed my boarding pass again and asked where the pre-check was. “You don’t have pre-check”, said one. “What do I do?”, I asked. He said nothing but pointed to the entrance for security. So, once again, I was showing my boarding pass to 2 other Delta agents. I was noticing how long the line was to pass through security, when one of the agents asked if I would like to go through the fast lane. Of course, I said “yes”, who wouldn’t?
The agent led me to an area where there were 3 machines, all of them occupied with a person being assisted by a Delta agent. As I waited my turn, my agent explained that this would cost $160 per year, but that it was free for the first 30 days and you could cancel at any time. Dah!!Light dawns on Marblehead! This must be pre-check, I thought. It’s what allows you to go through the fast lane at security. It would certainly be of value for frequent flyers, and I’m not one of them. But as long as I can cancel with no cost, I’m in!!
We didn’t have to wait too long for a machine to be free and the agent (I think I’ll give her a name. How about Linda?) asked me for my driver’s license. I’ve lived in Italy for 20 years, so I no longer had a State-side license. “How about an Italian license”, I asked. “No, that won’t do”, replied Linda. “OK, how about a passport”, I asked. “Yes”, Linda said. So, I handed her my passport and she put it in the machine. Failure, Reject! The machine spit it out! What?? Why would the machine not like my passport? Linda told me to wait there and she took my passport to another area. She returned with an armed guard, who looked at me and then looked at my passport and said, “That’s not you”. What? “Of course it’s me”, said I. Granted, the photo was 5 years old and I have lost some weight. But no one ever questioned me before! Linda insisted that we continue with the process and try again with the passport or some other identifying document after everything else is entered. I then realized that Linda must be working on commission for signing people up with pre-check because she really wanted to get this done.
Back to the machine… Linda entered my name and asked for my address. Whoops!! This will be another problem, I was sure. Linda would be hailing that guy with the gun again. So, instead of giving my Italian address, I gave her my daughter’s address in Boston. Then she asked for a telephone number. Again, a problem. You almost never have to punch in someone’s telephone number, they’re all memorized by your Super-Intelligent Smart phones! I couldn’t remember my daughter’s number, so I just made one up. That did it…Failure! Reject! Once again! I’d had enough. I’d spent a half hour with Linda in order to use the fast lane. In that time, I’m sure I would have already been through the very long security line. I thanked Linda and headed back to that very long security line.
May 6, 2022
I landed back in Boston exactly one week after I had first landed. Once again, I stayed with my daughter, Phyllis. I would stay longer with her, but she has a small 1-bedroom apartment and she works from home. So, when I visit the States, I usually stay with my friend, Sue. However, this time, Sue had a houseful with her daughter and granddaughter living with her.
Luckily, my friend, Carol, lives right across the street from Sue and had offered to let me sleep there. She has a large house and she lives alone. Since Sue usually sleeps the mornings away, rarely stirring before 11-12 am, this arrangement allowed me to visit with Carol in the mornings and then spend the rest of the day with Sue. I’m lucky to have such good friends. It worked out very well. Carol gave me a key and when Sue would go to bed, I’d head across the street.
On Saturday, there was a graduation party at one of Sue’s neighbors. Sue, Carol and I went there around 5 pm. There were a good number of people there and George, the graduate’s father was barbequing up a storm. The only problem was that it was very cold and windy! George had set up heaters and a barrel fire, but people were still wearing their winter parkas. I was sitting by the fire, but still cold. Sue came and sat near the fire also. Then she asked me to bring her some food. This was a bit strange because Sue is the ultimate social butterfly, always circulating and stopping to talk to everyone. But I brought her some food and she seemed content. Then Karen, the graduate’s mother asked me if Sue was OK. I said I thought so because I hadn’t noticed anything. I then went back to Carol’s house because I couldn’t stand the cold. I told Carol to tell me when Sue was going home. When Carol called me, I went to Sue’s house.
Sue was sitting in her easy chair and I immediately saw what Karen must have been talking about when she asked me if Sue was OK. Sue’s right hand was flying up uncontrollably and her right foot was also moving in strange ways, So I said, “Let’s go to the hospital”. Of course, she resisted, insisting that she’d be fine. I waited for around 10 minutes, then repeated that we must go. She didn’t want to go. Who does want to go to the emergency room? But I kept insisting and when I threatened to call an ambulance, she finally consented. God forbid her neighbors should see her go out in an ambulance!! Her daughter, Amber, had come back from the party and I asked her to drive.
Everyone’s first thought was stroke, but Sue did not have a stroke. She spent 4 days in the hospital and had a million tests, but still no definitive diagnosis. She is back home and following up with more tests.
MOTHER’S DAY, THE FALL
It’s been many years since I’ve spent Mother’s Day with my daughter, so when I realized that I would be in Boston this year for that holiday, I made plans to spend the day with Phyllis. I didn’t really want to go to a restaurant, but thought we could go into town and walk through the Gardens or something. Just spend time together. But the weather continued to be too cold for me and we decided that Phyllis would bring some food to Carol’s and we would eat there and then go visit Sue in the hospital. As it turned out, on the way to the hospital, Amber called us and said Sue had been taken for testing so we wouldn’t be able to see her.
We returned to Carol’s house where I promptly fell down the stairs. Well not exactly. I fell ON the bottom step of the stairs. I was distracted and just placed my foot on the edge of the stair and fell on my bottom. It wasn’t too bad. Just a bruised left foot and a sore right hand that I had used to break my fall. Happy Mother’s Day!
The day that Sue came home from the hospital, I stayed with her until she went to bed, around 11 pm. Carol is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person and I had completely forgotten to take my key to her house so I wasn’t surprised when I rang her bell and called her phone, that she was already sound asleep in bed.
Reluctant to wake anyone at Sue’s, I returned there, watched TV for a couple of hours and then slept on the couch.
HIT AND RUN
Carol has a 90-year-old cousin, Marion, who lives nearby. Not only a cousin, Marion is also a good friend of Carol’s. I’ve never met Marion, but she seems like a very lively 90-year-old. Evidently, she lives alone, she tends her garden and she quite recently bought herself a brand-new car!
Carol and I had made plans to visit with Sue in the hospital, but Carol got a call saying that Marion had had an accident and was in the hospital undergoing surgery for what was probably a minor stroke. It seems that Marion sideswiped a couple of parked cars, then got out of her brand-new car and started walking. The police happened to be on hand and picked her up for Hit and Run!!! I guess it sort of looked like that from their point of view, but of course when the police understood what had happened, they took her to the hospital and didn’t charge her.
Anyway, we put off our plans to visit Sue for a few hours until Carol assured herself that Marion was in good hands but unable to have visitors right then. So, instead of visiting with Marion, we went to the hospital to visit with Sue.
I SMELL GAS!
Just a few days before I was scheduled to return to Italy, I had another late night at Sue’s. Well, late is a relative term. It was probably near midnight, which at home is my regular bedtime, when I returned to Carol’s house. This time, I did have my key and I let myself in to an overpowering smell of gas. I rushed upstairs and banged on Carol’s door. °I smell gas°, I said. That got her up and down the stairs in a heartbeat to check the stove. In fact, the pilot light had gone out and she immediately lit it.
I didn’t even know that pilot lights existed any more. But then I remembered that Carol’s kitchen and especially the stove were quite old-fashioned. In fact, her retro-kitchen has used in two films. Once in a TV Public Announcement commercial with Congressman Joe Kennedy, and very recently in the HBO series °Julia°, about the life of Julia Child. Julia Child had a very famous TV show about cooking that ran for 10 years in the 60’s and 70’s. Ergo: Carol’s stove and Pilot Lights.
It seemed that everything had quieted down. Sue was home and although the involuntary movements had decreased, they were not gone. So, except for sleeping and early mornings, I was spending most of my time with Sue. But I wanted to spend a few days with my daughter, whom I hadn’t really seen except for the 2 nights when she picked me up at the airport. But when I called her, she told me not to come over. She had COVID! Dear God! What else can happen on this trip? Phyllis was quarantined for 5 days, meaning I would not be able to see her for the rest of my trip. She would not be able to take me to the hospital for my visit to the surgeon, also she would not be able to take me to the airport I was able to take her some food, which I left in the hallway and then we chatted a little bit with her through her front window. But, once again, it was too cold for me to stand outside for any length of time.
A SECOND OPINION
I know I said ENOUGH about my health problems, but dealing with 2 Health Care systems in 2 countries always throws up a few obstacles. This time, when I got back to Boston from Ohio, I got a call from the Mount Auburn hospital telling me that I had to have an Upper GI exam because the surgeon with whom I had an appointment on 11 May, insisted on it before she would see me. I explained that I had already had this procedure done in Italy and had faxed all my exam results and doctors’ notes, translated into English, to the surgeon. The week before I left Italy, I had been assured that the faxes were received. But her Assistant insisted that I have the exam, so I scheduled the appointment on 10 May.
After my test that day, I was told that the surgeon would need some time to go over the test results and so was not going to be available on the next day, necessitating a reschedule of my appointment to the next week, 18 May, the day before I was to return to Italy. This was not optimal because I had planned to have some time after seeing the surgeon, especially if she wanted more testing ordered. Well, as it turned out, she did need to see some more test results and in fact, she never saw the exams I faxed to her. The real reason she had to re-schedule my appointment was that she had Covid! This is, no doubt, the reason she didn’t see my faxes, even though her assistant had received them.
It’s all OK. Since the Upper GI X-ray showed something different from the one that I had had in Italy, I need to see my Gastro guy here in Italy and have a few more tests that I can send to her so she can give me her opinion as to whether or not I should have the operation.
19 MAY, RETURN TRIP?
I got a message at 7 am from Air France saying that my connecting flight from Paris to Florence had been cancelled. Both Carol and I searched for flights to get me home. It took us 3 hours and we were not able to find anything, so I called the Air France HELP number and the best they could find would be a flight to Luxemburg and then on to Bologna with a 7 hour lay -over in Luxemburg. NO THANKS… So, I asked them to cancel my flight from Boston and re-book me as soon as possible. It turned out that ASAP was 2 days later, 21 May. OK, I could do that and Phyllis would be off quarantine so she could take me to the airport.
2 problems with that arrangement. 1) I had purchased a seat on the original flight for the ridiculous price of $59.99 (anything less would have me eating my knees the whole way, and I’m not even very tall!) And, of course, I had to purchase a seat on the re-scheduled flight. When I tried to get re-imbursed for the first seat, it was just another pain-in-the-butt process because it’s evidently not the airline that handles the sale of seats, but some other company or department that I lost the email address to and didn’t get an answer. I eventually contacted my bank after I got home and disputed the charge, which they removed from my account.
2) Don’t EVER make a reservation from the States that goes through Paris CDG for a connecting flight that has a 1 hour 20-minute or less lay-over. It’s not enough time!! Just deplaning and getting to Passport Control will take at least 15 minutes. A half hour at Passport Control is optimistic. If you have to make a pit stop, forget it! It is a good 20-minute walk to whatever terminal you have to find (more if you walk as slowly as I do). You might make it if your plane lands on time. I was running the last few hundred yards and actually got to the plane 2 minutes before the posted take-off time. One of the flight attendants greeted me at the door saying with a smile (or perhaps it was a smirk), °did you have to run°? He handed me a bottle of water and I found my seat.
NOT A TOTAL LOSS
In the disaster-ridden 3-week trip, there were, however, a few bright spots. I was able to spend a little time with my long-time friend, Patty. We met in 4th grade when Patty’s family moved to my neighborhood. Patty is also my daughter’s Godmother. We keep in touch on line, but rarely see each other. When we do get together, we always have a laugh.
When I show up in the States, Patty usually makes arrangements to meet with some of our old CYO Softball team, which she did again this time. When I say °old°, I mean °old°! We played in the 50’s and early 60’s. We’re dwindling down to just a few, but we met for lunch and it was great to see them.
THE TRIP HOME
With all that had happened on this trip, I half expected some airline trouble before we landed in Florence, but it was a non-eventful flight and we landed on time. I will, however, recount a very funny announcement from our pilot.
I don’t know what type of aircraft we were in. I never notice those kinds of things. But when I chose the seat, which of course cost another 15 or so euro, I did notice that there were 2 designated °main° sections. Each one having 5-6 rows. Main 1 and Main 2. Main 2, which I chose, was, naturally, in back of Main 1. About half way through the flight, the pilot announced that we would be encountering some turbulence. He said that those in Main 1 probably would not feel it, but if you’re in Main 2, it might be a little bumpy. I felt the bumps and looked ahead at Main 1, but couldn’t tell if they felt it or not. I don’t know if the pilot was perhaps making a joke.
I’m happy to be home.