So, when I got on a plane to New Zealand around 4 weeks ago, who knew that by this point at least 1/4 of the world would be in lockdown, and there would be so much uncertainty about when this would all finish

Yesterday I spoke to John Pantry on Inspirational Breakfast (Premier Radio) about being overseas, high risk, and not quite sure when I’ll be back in the UK:

I came out to New Zealand for a writing scholarship, to work on a second edition of Raising Children in a Digital Age (please do complete my survey), and the first week was largely jetlag, and working on PowerPoints for planned speaking engagements, and wrote a bid on digital transformation in the church. In the second week, I had my birthday, worked my way through my previous draft of my book, read a load of online articles, was mentioned on Radio 2 twice, worked on social media and cancer bid, met with Arrow Leaders, Philippa, Stephanie, Jen, and hung out with Stephen/Kim and their family as it started to become clear the COVID19 was going to be a much bigger problem than anticipated. When I wrote last week, it seemed on balance it was a better idea to stay, and even squeezed in an event at Laidlaw (before everything else got cancelled, although we’re looking at doing some in another form online) ….

After a Zoom chat with my cousins, the Saturday morning brought a notification from the UK Foreign Office that anyone who could get home should try to do so, so started looking at flights and over the weekend spent most of the time flip-flopping between which was the best option, especially as I could see lockdown coming to New Zealand, and Vaughan Park then having to shut – whilst also making the most of where I am. After talking with Andrew, I spent quite some time on the phone to the insurance company, and got a letter from a GP which said that, because I need to get home for cancer treatment, I should be prioritised for flights (because there’s the possibility that if I end up here, it could actually be for months – we’re thinking July earliest, longer if people can’t learn to stay in for non-essential tasks).

By Monday morning, whilst I went to get my portacath flushed, things seemed to have changed – it was clear that it was chaos at the airports, Emirates was pulling all their flights several days before advertised, most flights available were ‘self-transfer’ (so if you miss this, could end up stuck in an airport) and very long/convoluted routes, were expensive/being cancelled swiftly. If I was supposed to be in quarantine in the UK, then why is it a good idea to get on a plane at the height of the pandemic… all medical friends seemed to think this was a crazy idea. When I got back from the outpatients clinic (whilst Sapati took me to Countdown), met with Lesley, director of Vaughan Park, who had been on the phone to the trustees of the centre most of the morning – and it was made clear that even if the centre has to close, I would have accommodation, food, and support. We reckoned that lockdown might come within about 10 days. Jacinda’s press conference that afternoon was that New Zealand was going to Level 3, and would be going to Level 4 at the end of Wednesday (full lockdown) whilst there are still minimal cases, and to try and flatten the curve (here’s today’s stats)!

Insurance still wasn’t clear, but, working on the assumption that it was now safer to stay, with flights rarer than hen’s teeth, we moved my stuff up to a room in the central building – closer to Sapati and his family who are my ‘household’ for this time.

Tuesday morning started with a chat with Andrew (we’re planning on doing this every day, for sanity and some routine – although today he’d had a chance to speak to my oncologist who was not yet too worried about me being in NZ longer, and my neighbours are keeping an eye on the house), and the gift of a bottle of port from Vaughan Park to help get me through isolation. We had a socially distanced tea, as everyone was zooming around getting themselves ready to work from home or go onto furlough for the next 4 weeks (at least), whilst Paul cooked up 4 batches of meals (84 meals!) and some cheese scones plus planned a fruit/veg/milk/bread delivery.  We set up a desk in the meeting room in the main building with an amazing view, and set up a sofa/the data projector so can watch some Netflix, etc.

An image of Long Bay in New Zealand

Everyone else then disappeared and I am in quarantine/isolation in the main building (not received my text, probably a letter at home) – in some ways this doesn’t feel that different from locking down for chemotherapy, although typically people came to see me for short chunks on most days! Good old Zopiclone gave me 11 hours sleep. Wednesday was a chat to Andrew, joining my Durham housegroup, and finding the cheese; and trying on the clothes I’ve been lent on the basis that I may be here for New Zealand winter, plus a swim (getting chilly, but hey, I dipped in the Lake District in January) – as well as clearing out a load of emails, and small tasks.

Thursday morning I woke up (and yes, getting some sleep) to a message from insurance saying that early flight home had been authorised, but as I’d said to them I had provision here/that flights not such a good idea, they said that I’d ‘decided’ to stay and therefore may not be covered insurance wise. So that was quite a stressful day, talking to various friends and experts – and got another letter from the GP to say that the previous advice given on getting home asap had changed in view of poor/non-existent flight options, and that medically advised to stay put and see if can ride things out til the curve drops in NZ/UK. I enjoyed my cookies made by Meiolandre, and some port with my meal, after a walk around the boundaries of the centre:


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Loooooong day trying to sort out insurance. On @premierradio around 8am UK time talking about #COVID19, being in #NewZealand, uncertainty, digital … I suspect!

A post shared by Bex Lewis (@drbexl) on

We also heard that the fresh fruit/veg delivery guy isn’t allowed to continue his round (surely that sends more people to busy supermarkets?). Exhausted – mentally and physically – went to bed straight after the interview with Premier Radio, though like most of us, taking time to fall asleep…

This morning have not heard from insurance, but put washing away, filled the pill box, done the washing up, spoken to Andrew (whilst on what was a planned empty beach walk, but it started to rain), so come inside, chatted to a friend online, checked Aimee’s graphs, emptying some more emails, writing this update, looking at pictures of the NHS great clap (don’t forget to ensure that we campaign for it to be funded properly – it was never going to cope, but without underfunding, it could have coped better)… NHS have been fabulous for me obviously over the last couple of years, but it’s worrying hearing of friends that are having treatment delayed, or cancelled altogether, and those who have been told to go home and make the most of time with their families as e.g. trials have been withdrawn. Then I hear of people having what sounds like ‘pandemic parties’, ignoring the rules over social distancing, having BBQs on the Yorkshire Moors (no at any time, people), though I hope this video from NHS Nightingale will make some realise the seriousness of it…

Some just think it won’t affect them, whilst others are confused by the guidance, so I was glad to see the Archbishop of Canterbury taking the lead on saying that churches should set the tone and stay shut to everyone – the church is the people, not the buildings TBH (although the buildings have years of history behind them). There’s a lot of confusion in the UK, and I think here, about whether one drives to walk, or stays at home and walks locally (which is how I interpret it). To be honest after 2.5 years of walking my Pokemon around various blocks near my house, you do go into a different mode and brain starts thinking about different things, so STAY LOCAL. This video I think gives the best explanation:

I like this article ‘That discomfort you’re feeling is grief

‘There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.’

As I said in my Radio 4 piece for Lent last year, this feels very similar to going through similar for cancer, especially the second diagnosis:

Diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017, and again with metastatic spinal cancer in January 2019, I am at once bored by the tedium of constant appointments, and a myriad of side-effects from the treatment – few of which really warrant complaints on their own. I am exhausted from the constant uncertainty of being involved in ‘the cancer journey’ – although I’d describe it more as a treadmill, and you’re not sure when the speed is going to ramp itself up! Another metaphor that occurs frequently, is that I feel as if I’ve been caught in the surf, as the waves pull backwards and forwards, and just as I thought I might be able to get onto the beach, along comes more bad news, and drags me back into the treatment maelstrom.

We especially feel like we’re in the hands of the politicians, and I’m not sure that there’s that much trust in them, and how they are communicating what is happen, which means people are less likely to follow the instructions.

You have an opportunity to provide data via an app, whether you’re well or showing symptoms, as King’s College London is seeking to track and collate data which helps them to help feed into policy and decision making.

I’m sure I had lots of other things whirling around my head (and on the internet), but this will do for now … and if you’ve read to the bottom of this, you’re probably someone who has said you want to have a chat to me – so – assuming that I am staying – I have experimented with a scheduler – saves trying to work out timings – I know which platform to go to at what time as it puts them in my Google Calendar. Looking forward to speaking to a couple of friends this weekend – and if I’m definitely here – a chance to catch up with the last week’s work that feels rather lost! Assuming lockdown is another 4+ weeks and I can get my head straight, I could get a lot of work done… (but also not a fan of ‘this is an opportunity to get your head down’ and ‘Newton invented gravity’ or whatever … spent my life trying to aim lower, let’s see if I can do it now!)…

I was due to be here for another 4.5 weeks anyway – Melbourne clearly isn’t going to happen, so assuming theatre or (extra) insurance will pay out on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, my non-refundable trip to Paris have been told can move the date, and I’m guessing the fabulous Climbing Out week in Wales for people with life-limiting chronic conditions to combine exercise and life coaching in early July is probably not going to happen either – well. not now anyway 🙁

I think Greenbelt and Premier Digital were the only other things in my diary so far other than work … but we’re all working and praying in the dark as to what is the best step to take day by day as we seek to #FlattenTheCurve (to avoid direct and indirect deaths) … remember it’s not necessarily about you (and you can be spreading the disease even if you feel well … so keep an eye on the WHO myth busters information (and it’s been kind of fascinating to watch social media platforms evolving to direct people to good information, and squashing poor information …

Oh, and you can still fill in/share my survey related to Raising Children in a Digital Age until 12/13 April – I’m also interested on how the pandemic has impacted your thoughts!

3 Responses

  1. Hi Bev i met you when our group spent the weekend at V.Park recently. Sorry you’re having such a worrying time.
    V.parks a great place to be stuck tho! Hang in there thinking of you, regards Irene Brodie

    1. Hi. There’s definitely worse places to be stuck – it’s a bit like trying to work out when/how to get home as things become available! Hope you’re keeping safe. Bex

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