So, what do you say, nearly 8 weeks into a trip that you dreamed of for about 8 years … and officially coming into the last week of the planned trip – and coronavirus has completely upended everything you were trying to do! I last blogged a couple of weeks ago, when New Zealand was a couple of weeks into Level 4 lockdown. At the end of Monday, it will go to Level 3 Lockdown, which is basically the same as Level 4, but with takeaways (or any other business that can manage to run contactlessly).
I still have my deadlines, and last week was making some decent progress as I’d accepted that I was likely to be in New Zealand til June/July, and then was hoping that flights would start to open up again. Last weekend, however, the UK government announced that they were putting on five charter flights for ‘the most vulnerable‘ – which in one way seemed strange to me, but on the other hand, there is a real possibility that things may lock down for months, so … I got an email saying we were being given 48 hours to decide if we wanted a flight, otherwise they’d be opened up to anyone else wishing to get home … but no other charter flights are planned.. and I’ve been watching Emirates – 3 weeks ago it was showing flights on 2nd June, then last week was 23rd June, this week is 2nd July. Everyone’s just trying to work out the best of a bad situation with lots of unknown factors… (sounds rather like the unsettling-ness of cancer, but with even more unknowns)
NZ or UK?
Over the past week, in amongst the conversations I have had with medics, the consulate, and the insurance company (plus work, who I am out here on behalf of) my brain has flip-flopped between:
NEW ZEALAND is safe, getting a flight is not risk free (and original GP letter said didn’t want me to get a commercial flight because of infection risk – medivac only), I am safe/fed, have access to wifi, it’s beautiful here, the country is one of the safest in the world, insurance are suggesting that they can support medical costs ($10k+ every 3 weeks), and I have a lovely ‘bubble’ to hang out with…. and although it’s going into winter, I have been lent some warmer layers.
THE UK is where my home is, my friends/family, my job, and most importantly at present, where my medical treatment is (having already paid out around $1000 in medical fees in last couple of weeks, which I hope I’ll get back, very thankful for the NHS) – and will definitely be continuing. To be honest, I am scared about coming back to a country that seems to have done many things wrong around coronavirus, and whilst it’s still at the peak, but there is a window of opportunity to get home here – and it literally could be months before another opportunity (no one knows), and as New Zealand opens up again, Vaughan Park will open up again with a range of guests (and who knows if NZ will get a few more cases as restrictions loosen) – and my house I can be totally isolated in (as we know from the past 2.5 years), and I will at least be on the same time-zone as others. Super thanks to friends/family who have looked after my house/mowed my lawn…
So, for all those who think I’m racing to get home, this has been a really challenging week trying to work out what is the best out of two not-risk-free options – and I’m very thankful to Andrew and Jane who I’ve talked to every morning for the last few weeks, as he’s looked after my house, and checked in with the hospital, etc. and to other friends who have messaged, etc. as the process of decision making has been made – even if it’s just to say ‘thinking of you’.
On receiving the email about flights for the vulnerable, I immediately checked with my friendly local GP. Although the commercial flight was not seen as a good option, the fact that this flight is chartered means it HAS to get to its final destination, the people on it will all have come from NZ (where coronavirus is low) and the flight won’t get mixed later, and everyone is getting a temperature check en route onto the flight. I was told to ask a few more questions, and contacted CTM, who passed me onto the consulate, as I said I needed to get medical clearance to fly. The consulate agreed to hold a business class seat til Friday 4pm, whilst I sorted this out. Insurance have me down as too much of a flight risk (infection-wise) at present, so don’t want me to fly … so I had to talk to the New Zealand oncologist ($575 thanks) who wrote a letter and said that although all the treatments I have are available in New Zealand, he thought this was a good opportunity to get home. The insurance company wanted to hear from my UK oncologist, so got a letter from him last night/yesterday, and he very much wants me to get this flight, so long as as much social distancing as possible (the consulate agreed that I can have one of the business class seats – obviously there’s no lounge/and I think a packed lunch only). £800 for a seat (whichever seat).
Over the past week I’ve had quite a lot of pain in my shoulder blade (right side), and a couple of days ago this translated into huge pains across the chest. This very much felt muscular … and the GP gave me tramadol and celecoxib to try and manage the pain – it’s definitely helping, but she also wanted me to get blood tests and an x-ray (to check that it’s not cancer bouncing back up). I’ve still not heard from the x-ray people, but went to a walk-in for the blood tests today – results should be under 24 hours, but with Anzac day tomorrow, and a public holiday monday… The insurance company wants to know that my neutrophils are high enough (aka my white blood count/infection fighters) before they will support the flight home, but I had to organise the booking today, so hopefully the bloods will come through OK – assuming they do – then the insurance will ensure I can get to the airport, and can get from Heathrow to home. The consulate said if for some reason this is a problem, then up to 36 hours before the flight (about 1.30pm on Sat 2nd May) can cancel, as they have a huge waitlist of people who still want to get a flight. But very much the expectation is that my oncologist, who I trust, says I should get home, so if insurance won’t cover it, I’ve offers of lifts to/from airports, and work would support my repatriation… <edit, Fri eve> Work are 100% behind this and will ensure that I can get back to Manchester even if insurance don’t!
So what can I say, I’m not very good at asking for help, but I’ve appreciated the help and support I’ve had, and continue to get, from the UK and from New Zealand, and – all being well, I’ll be back in my own home in a few days … and once I’ve slept off some jetlag, will need to get on with the reading/writing I wanted to do here .. as my deadlines still exist! Also need to sort out my MoT – sod’s law is mine was due 29th March (so had it booked in for day after I got back), so doesn’t get the extra 6 months from 30th March … but think my garage should do a pick up/drop off…
I feel that cancer has prepared me very well for isolation – I have got very used to working at the points at which I feel well enough, and I’m very used to working from home … to protecting myself whilst immunity is low, and to talking to people on Facetime (although love having f2f dropins), and from having most of my shopping delivered (although I love a supermarket shop, but hopefully I’ll be able to sort a delivery slot or two, but I already have a Milk delivery with extras for basics)… also sod’s law I always have too much food in the house, but had run it down to start afresh post New Zealand. It’s weird, hopefully someday coronavirus will disappear, but I’ll carry on with cancer treatments/tests until there’s no more treatments left. There’s also quite a lot of fear about the impact of this on everyone (we know people are dying), and, aside from anything else, there’s a worry about the effect on my (and other people’s) jobs.