Those who follow me on Twitter may already have seen that I had the hardest time travelling to Dublin. I got up at 4 AM and my plane left Bremen at 6:20 AM. I was supposed to reach Dublin at 11 am local time with a stopover in Amsterdam. But when I finally reached my hotel in Dublin, it was 10:20 PM, i.e. sixteen hours after I left Bremen.
By the time the plane from Bremen landed in Amsterdam, everything was okay. My Mom, who was supposed to travel to Dublin with me, and I disembarked. We had two hours of transfer time and headed to our next flight.
Now anybody who’s ever been to Amsterdam Schiphol airport will know that it’s a huge and sprawling airport and that depending at which terminal your plane arrives and leaves, it can be a lot of walking. Normally, this isn’t much of a problem, because the terminals at Schiphol airport are equipped with moving walkways, which are very reminiscent of the ones often found in golden age science fiction (think Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”). Yesterday morning, however, three of the moving walkways in the terminal building were out of order. And our flight had arrived at a gate at the far end of the terminal. So that meant a lot of walking.
Again, this wouldn’t have been much of a problem, at least for me. But my Mom is 77 years old and cannot walk very well. She also has a known problem with a heart valve not functioning properly, though her doctor cleared her for travelling last month. I asked my Mom whether I should request assistance services for her, but she said, “Oh no, I’m not sick. I can walk and besides, it’s mostly moving walkways anyway.”
However, as mentioned above, three walkways weren’t working yesterday morning. Two of the broken walkways came after a stretch with no walkways at all, so that was a pretty long stretch without any walkways and also nowhere to sit down. And as it turned out, that stretch was too long for my Mom. Because at the beginning of the third non-functioning walkway, she became dizzy and held on to the handrail. I tried to coax her forward with “We’re almost at the main building, then you can sit down.” My Mom slumped forward and I said to hear, “Now please don’t fall down here.” But of course, she did and collapsed right there on the non-functioning walkway.
The next minutes were something of a blur. I asked a male passenger if he could help me pick my Mom up, but she had passed out. A cluster of people arrived, passengers and airport personnel. Two nice people, a man and a woman whom I took for medics at first, asked me questions about my Mom’s medical history which I answered. I wondered why medics at Schiphol airport were wearing armoured vests and it was only when I noticed that the “medics” also had handcuffs and guns that I realised they were airport police. Someone fetched a wheelchair and – when my Mom threw up – a pitcher from a nearby smoothie shop. The real medics arrived and I answered all questions again in a mix of English, German and Dutch, the latter usually to explain that I do speak Dutch, but don’t know the medical terms. My Mom was responsive again by now and said she was tired. She also had a bruise on her forehead from the rough surface of the walkway.
The medics hooked my Mom up to a mobile monitor and took her to an ambulance and then to the first aid station at the airport that the doctors there could check her out. The doctors at the first aid station were very nice and checked her out. My Mom was feeling a bit better by now, but still very tired. Meanwhile, I explained her whole medical history again. Now my Mom is taking anti-coagulant medication and so she bruises easily and the small bruise on her head looked more lurid than it normally would. This worried the doctors at the airport and so they wanted to do a CT scan of my Mom’s head to make sure that she didn’t have any intercranial bleeding or other damage. Alas, the airport first aid station doesn’t have a CT machine, so they had to send my Mom to a regular hospital. This was around the time the gate for our flight was about to close.
So we were both loaded into an ambulance and taken to VUmc, the Amsterdam University Medical Center. It’s supposedly the best hospital in the Netherlands and also happens to be only about ten minutes from Schiphol airport. Coincidentally, this was the first time I’d been outside Schiphol in twenty-five years or so, though I’ve been inside many times, because Schiphol is the most convenient hub for me. After a short ride past some very science fictional architecture (but then most big Dutch cities are a curious mix of very old and very futuristic architecture) we arrived at the emergency department of VUmc.
A very nice young doctor from the neurology department arrived to do some tests. Actually, all of the doctors we saw at VUmc were on the young side, probably because it is a university and teaching hospital. I explained my Mom’s medical history again. The nice young doctor was satisfied with the tests and didn’t think there was any intercranial bleeding, but we still needed to wait for the CT scan. Meanwhile, the medical monitors to which my Mom had been hooked up showed the heart valve problem, which drew another nice young doctor from the cardiology department. I explained again that yes, it’s a known problem and yes, it’s under supervision. The young cardiology doctor wanted to know which hospital had diagnosed my Mom and the name of her cardiologist. I told them which hospital it was, but I couldn’t remember the name of the cardiologist and didn’t have her number either, so I told the nice Dutch doctor that she should call my Mom’s regular doctor, because he has all the info.
By now it was almost noon. The plane would have just touched down in Dublin, if we had made the flight. I was also really hungry, because I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in hours. I ate a joghurt at 4 AM at home and later I had a stroopwafel and water on the plane from Bremen to Amsterdam. Eventually, a nice orderly (who was about twice the age of most of the doctors) brought me a Cup-a-Soup, tomato-flavoured, and pointed me to the coffee machine in the hall. My Mom wasn’t allowed to eat anything until the doctor had cleared it.
Finally, they did the CT scan. Then the first young neurologist showed up with another nice and slightly older neurologist in tow. They ran some more tests and said everything was fine and that we could travel onwards. “What about the cardiologist?” “We’ll talk to her”, the two young doctors said and left. A few minutes later a nurse showed up to unhook my Mom from the monitors. One of the nice young doctors brought a letter for my Mom’s doctor at home and reception called a taxi to take us back to the airport. By now, it was maybe twenty past two. A lot later than we thought we’d fly, but it should still be possible to rebook and fly to Dublin on Tuesday.
While we were in the taxi and almost at the airport, my phone rang. I thought it was my Dad, whom I hadn’t been able to reach, and answered. It was the nice young cardiologist from the hospital. “We wanted to do a heart ultrasound on your mother”, she said, “But you were already gone.” I explained that the neurologist had cleared my Mom for travel and that I assumed she’d talked to the cardiologist as well. And then I asked, “How important is this heart ultrasound?” I asked, “Do we need to do it now or can we do it at home or – if need be – in Ireland?” The cardiologist insisted that we needed to do it now, just in case my Mom’s collapse had been caused by the bad heart valve. My Mom’s German doctor agreed. And if it was caused by the heart valve, travelling onwards could be dangerous.
So we told the taxi driver to turn around and return to the hospital. We already were at the exit to the airport by now. At the hospital, I got another bad surprise, when the taxi driver told me the prize, because it turned out that this ten minute (and back) taxi drive cost 64 Euros plus tip.
Then we were back at the hospital. The neurologist apologised for the mix-up and then we waited. And waited. My Mom dozed on the gurney and I dozed a little in the visitor’s chair. And it got later and later and no sign of any cardiologist or heart ultrasound. My Mom and I decided that even if she couldn’t go to Dublin, I should travel onwards, because the hotel, the flights, etc… had already been paid for anyway and two days in advance was very late to cancel all my WorldCon commitments, etc…
And we still waited. It was getting later and later and it looked increasingly doubtful that anybody would go to Dublin that day. I had no luggage beyond a handbag with spare underpants. Worse, cellphone reception at the hospital was terrible and you had to go outside to even use your phone. And since there was no WiFi, there was no internet. I still hadn’t reached my father and I also needed to call the hotel to inform them that I’ll be late, but that I’m coming and that they shall hold my room. And if I couldn’t fly on Tuesday, I also needed someone to inform WorldCon, because I had promised to help with move in on Wednesday. Alas, I couldn’t reach anybody. In the end, I called a colleague of my Dad’s, because I knew they had gone together to Koblenz for work-related reasons. Some other person from the same company answered, because the cellphone had been reassigned to someone else. I told the other person that I really, really need to talk to my father and whether he could contact him and tell him to call me. “That’s difficult”, he said, “Cause I’m on a ship in the middle of the North Sea. But I’ll see what I can do.” Apparently, he did manage, because my father finally called me back, though I still couldn’t reach the hotel.
Meanwhile, an ultrasound technician was scanning my Mom’s heart for what seemed like a very long time. And after the first technician had gone, another technician appeared to do another scan. And then we waited again, while they evaluated the results. Finally, the cradiologist appeared and said that my Mom couldn’t go on to Dublin. She could either stay at the hospital in Amsterdam or return home. My Mom of course wanted to go home, because if you have to be in hospital, it’s better to be in a hospital half an hour from home than four hours away in another country. However, my Mom couldn’t go on a regular flight, but would need to be taken home under medical supervision in an ambulance. I asked the doctors to arrange everything and dumped two weeks worth of medication for my Mom, already prepared in day to day boxes, into the hands of the nice young cardiologist. Then I said good-bye to my Mom and asked reception to call a taxi.
Mind you, the hospital stay in Amsterdam and the many tests they did are all covered by my Mom’s German health insurance. The ambulance trip home might be a problem, but we’ll try to reclaim that from her German health insurance, because there is no other way for her to go home. Try to imagine the financial disaster, if something like this had happened to someone from the US.
The taxi back to the airport cost me another 35 Euros plus tip, so I paid an extra 100 Euros only in taxi fees (which I will try to reclaim from my Mom’s health insurance as well). By now it was 5 PM. At the airport I went to the KLM travel services desk and explained the situation. Turned out that there still was a flight out to Dublin that night. However, I needed to pay 202 Euros, because my ticket didn’t include schedule changes. I said, “Well, it’s not my fault that my Mom collapsed on your non-functioning walkways. Should I just have left her lying there and gone on to my flight?” The lady at the KLM desk apologised, but policy is policy. So I grudgingly whipped out my credit card and paid. I can probably reclaim those 202 Euros from our travel cancellation insurance.
I also asked what happened to our luggage and learned that it was still in Schiphol, because someone had informed KLM that we weren’t flying. “I still need both suitcases”, I told the lady, “Because my Mom’s and my stuff is all mingled up and whichever suitcase I get means I don’t have half the stuff I need.” So now our luggage and I were once more on the way to Dublin.
In the terminal at Schiphol, I bought a grossly overpriced phone charger, because mine had broken down the day before. I ate a ramen noodle soup – also grossly overpriced and no longer nearly as good as before the renovation of the international terminal. Alas, I still couldn’t reach the hotel and sent a text to my father and a cry for help via Twitter that someone really needed to contact the hotel for me. My father finally managed to reach the hotel and I went to my gate. I also called the hospital to ask after my Mom and ask them to tell her that I still got a flight tonight
And guess what? My already late flight to Dublin was delayed by half an hour. On the plane, I sat next to a very nice Dutch lady. I had a coronation chicken sandwich and a small bottle of red wine (which KLM gives you at no extra charge), because after everything that had happened, I really needed a drink.
The sun had just risen, when I left Bremen. It was about to set, when I left Amsterdam. By the time I finally got to Dublin, it was dark. At the airport, I had a new problem, because I had two pretty heavy suitcases. I could put them onto a baggage trolley at the airport, but getting them onto the airport bus was already a problem, though a kindly gentleman helped me.
On the Dublin airport bus, I also met the first WorldCon people, two nice Swedish fans who’d flown in on the same plane. The bus driver told us that he’d announce the stations so we’d know when to get off. Alas, because we were all attending WorldCon, he only announced the Convention Centre. However, I needed to get off at The Point, one stop earlier and approximately 800 metres away. Which isn’t that much of a walk under normal conditions, but I was bone tired and had two heavy suitcases.
So I thought, “Okay, I’ll just go into a Convention Centre and ask them to call me a taxi. I already paid 100 Euros in taxi fees, so what’s a few more?” Alas, the Convention Centre was already closed, because it was almost ten PM. I knew there was supposed to be a tram, but I could see neither a station nor tram tracks. So I did the only thing I could do. I took my two heavy suitcases and started to walk in what should be the right direction. I thought, “If I find anything that’s open – a pub, a bar, a restaurant – I’ll go in and ask them to call a taxi.” However, the Dublin Convention Centre is in a newish neighbourhood – reclaimed harbour land – which is full of offices and banks and a lot of buildings still under construction, but had neither pubs nor anything else that was open at 10 PM. There were hardly any pedestrians either and the first one I asked had never heard of either the Gibson Hotel or The Point. So there was nothing left to do but walk. And then, on top of everything, it started to rain.
By this point, I was pretty much close to crying. But just sitting down on the sidewalk in the rain or jumping into the river Liffey wasn’t an option, so I just kept on walking. I found another pedestrian, who at least pointed me in the right direction. I found tram tracks, too, so I knew I was on the right track.
Then I met a third pedestrian and asked him for the way. And this time I got really lucky, because the third pedestrian was Phil Dyson who’s on the Dublin con com and who was actually on his way to the Gibson Hotel himself. He helped me with my suitcase and I also got to meet his wife, whom he was meeting at the Gibson. Phil also showed me where the reception of the Gibson Hotel actually was (on the third floor, which was… unexpected). I thanked him and checked in. And I actually still had a room, because my Dad had managed to reach the hotel.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to be inside a hotel room before. And I was even happier, when I found a kettle and a tea tray. I unpacked some of my luggage – if only because many of the things I needed like my pyjama, new underwear, my toothbrush and other cosmetics stuff – was at the bottom of one of the suitcases. Then I hopped into the shower, unpacked some more and also separated my own stuff from my Mom’s. Then I finally went to bed, bone tired, but still couldn’t sleep.
Mind you, in spite of the truly hellish day I had, every single person I met – whether fan or mundane – was nice. Otherwise, it would have been even more awful.
I did eventually fall asleep. On Wednesday morning, I headed to the Convention Centre (and walked into the Central Bank of Ireland by mistake first, because both are buildings with jutting glass facades on the banks of the River Liffey populated by people with badges on lanyards, though I did wonder why do many folks were male and wearing suits) to get my badge and my programme participant and Hugo acceptor package. Then I spent the rest of the day helping with set up in the Point Square venue, assembling shelves, taping down tablecloths, carrying boxes and the like. I also talked to my Mom on the phone, who was doing much better, though still in Amsterdam. In the evening, I had a burrito with Shaun Duke of The Skiffy and Fanty Show who’d just flown in from Minnesota and had no luggage, because KLM lost an entire plane’s luggage. He’s far from the only one – almost everybody had problems getting to Dublin for WorldCon.
On Thursday, I had a the “International television” panel, which went well, as well as the speedcrafting workshop, which went pretty well, too, I think. I met lots of great people, though I was hastening from one location to the other and trying to find where everything was at the Convention Centre (I did know where everything was at Point Square, because I had helped to set up). I didn’t even get to see the dealers’ room yet. But I did meet a lot of great people.
And that was my WorldCon so far.