Covid-19 diary: Part 11

May 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 27, 2020

Lucky, my parent’s lovely aging yellow Labrador retriever, has a chronic condition that requires regular veterinarian visits. After a 14-and-a-half-day stint in Durham, N.C., I drove back up to my parental unit’s house in the greater New York metro area on Wednesday, May 20. The trip took about eight and a half hours, with two stops. I gassed up twice and used the bathroom once; there was also a detour to avoid traffic on Interstate 95, which I probably could have avoided altogether if I’d used one of my phone’s navigation apps after the second stop.

My parent had a doctor’s visit on Thursday the 21st, but I elected to skip it. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the facility wasn’t going to let me into the building. I had a vision of sitting in the car for a minimum of half an hour, needing to use the bathroom and not having anywhere to relieve myself.

The following day, it was the dog’s turn to go to the doctor. Once again, I called the vet’s office from the parking lot. A few minutes later, a tech came out to collect the dog. The tech asked me to remove her harness and collar, which I expected from our April visit, but said it was fine to leave on Lucky’s flea and tick collar, which is usually hidden beneath her fur.

That was probably around 11:10 a.m. on Friday the 22nd. I started reading on my phone and playing Boggle, a game I downloaded in mid-March once it became apparent that I’d have to entertain myself at home for a great deal of the foreseeable future. I also spent part of the time listening to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC.

Lucky was seeing two doctors, her general practitioner and a cardiologist, so I knew I’d be waiting for a while. For a lot of the time, I had my phone plugged into the car. I didn’t run the engine because idling generates pollution and contributes to climate change.

The sweet dog was brought out to me around 1 p.m., wagging happily. I threw a bag containing her medicine refills and some paperwork into the car and walked Lucky around the parking lot so she could pee. Then I loaded her into the car.

This has been a longstanding issue with Lucky. For years, she’s been a bit squirrelly about getting into my parent’s vehicle, which is an SUV. This used to be some kind of mental hangup, or so I think, but in recent months Lucky has lost some strength from her rear legs, and she basically won’t even try to get up onto the back seat.

I spent a few minutes trying to coax her into the car, but I would up lifting her up. After making sure she was attached to her harness, I closed the door and got behind the wheel.

And that was where things took a turn for the worse, because the car didn’t start.

I turned the key repeatedly. I waited a few minutes and tried again. I made sure everything was off — the radio, the automatic headlights and so forth — and repeated the process. All to no avail.

I thought about asking someone to jump-start the car, but, well, there’s a pandemic on, and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, even though I was covering my face. So I pulled out my AAA card and dialed the number.

Since I expected to be waiting the better part of an hour, I unloaded the dog. We strolled around the parking lot for a bit before I found a seat on a retaining wall in the shade. Lucky lay down on the wood chips at my feet.

The mechanic showed up after 35 minutes or so. He was quite friendly and had the car ready to go in a few minutes.

It had been nearly three hours since my arrival in the parking lot. I cranked up the air conditioning and drove off with a mixture of embarrassment and relief.

I have a tangent and two codas to this story.

The tangent: While in the vet parking lot, I twice attempted to dial my parent’s number without any success. Also, my parental unit couldn’t reach my phone from P.U.’s cell phone, although dialing from the traditional wired house telephone line got through.

The vet’s office is located within half a mile or so of both a major highway and a major shopping mall in a densely populated Northern New Jersey town. So what’s up with that, AT&T wireless?

The first coda: My parent, it emerges, has been advised not to use the radio without running the engine. The battery just doesn’t have enough capacity to power the electrical systems without getting input from the engine. And of course, once the battery runs low enough, it doesn’t have the juice to start the engine.

The next time I have a long wait in that car, I’ll have to do things differently.

The second coda: I didn’t have to use the bathroom during this experience.

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