Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘Changing Jobs, Moving Cities & Trying to Cope – All During Lockdown’: A Kiwi Woman’s Guide to Life During a Pandemic as a Close Contact

Being a close contact of a Covid case is bad enough. Try doing it amidst changing jobs, changing flats and while a relationship is ending. Guest writer Hayley Gillespie recounts the last few weeks of lockdown – the good, the bad and the breakup.

There’s no doubt we’re living in a wildly politically-charged landscape that’s divided even the best of friends. Pro vax? Anti vax? Selfish? Scared? We’re all different and all have different experiences with this pandemic. This is mine.

The stress and tension has been clear. And while it’s not been all bad, it was very hard to deal with as an Aucklander who had wound up in a regional area before lockdown and ended up sticking around. My life changed dramatically in this time, and what I didn’t expect was the feeling that came by being associated with a confirmed Covid case.

Ok, some context:

I’d been living at my second home in the sunny land of level three and two prior to coming back to Auckland. Things were great – bike rides to the beach, spending time with my long-term partner at our home and catching up with friends in almost normal settings again.

I’d been fishing, diving, eating, drinking… the normal stuff. I had recently resigned from my job, given notice on my house in Auckland, started to change my address and joined the local yacht club in preparation for my new life, finally! Life was good and, I’ll admit, I was a bit ignorant to the struggles our Auckland friends were having this time around.

Profile photo of Hayley Gillespie
Hayley Gillespie

Long story short, my relationship ended abruptly (?!… I know). So I made the speedy journey ‘up levels’ back to Tāmaki Makaurau and into level four where my second (or perhaps, now first) home is.

(And yes, I did put $60 worth of McDonald’s in a chilli bin from Paeroa to Auckland; yes, I did enjoy seeing the looks on my Auckland housemates’ faces as they bit into a burger and yes, the air fryer does wonders for nuggies and chips hours after purchase.)

The day after arriving home, I was walking (masked-up) in level four, through the busy boardwalks of Westhaven taking in some ocean air, when I was notified of being a close contact to a case of Delta from exactly one week earlier.

I was shocked… What are the chances that I would come from Covid-free regional New Zealand, and have visited a petrol station within 10 minutes of a confirmed case??

What I certainly wasn’t prepared for was the associated guilt which flooded quickly into my already anxious and recently-single mind. Immediately, I felt awful for my housemates who had been enjoying their time at my Auckland address until I arrived. They were in the swing of things and getting through- they had had it tough by comparison. And here I was, potentially carrying Delta into our home.

As I made my way back home through hundreds of people, I couldn’t help but start to worry about what I could be giving them. It all started sinking in. What if I was literally an asymptomatic idiot who travelled into Auckland and infected all these innocent people without knowing. I chose to walk on the road, rather than the boardwalk and away from others. Naturally, in the process, an angry woman and her partner yelled at me as they drove past on their tiki tour … if only they knew!

I quickly went for my second ever Covid test. The first time had been a breeze – albeit with a three-hour wait. This time I had just spent a day crying and sniffling after a breakup and didn’t expect the feeling of the swab entering an undeniably raw nose. Ouch!

I went home and began my isolation. I don’t know how else to explain this other than it was HARD. I had a new-found appreciation for those in the same position, or those who had contracted Covid.

I had done nothing wrong, I was simply unlucky, but boy did I feel bad. I felt like I was holding up my housemates (they couldn’t leave until my first negative test), like I was endangering them, and like I had to tip toe to my own bathroom. I now have so much more understanding for anyone who has an association with – or is! – a case.

And when you add the life changes I’ve been experiencing, it’s fair to say I hit an all-time low. The nervousness that comes from this is huge. And others perhaps don’t understand it.

I wanted to write this, to share an experience with thousands of other Kiwis who have been close contacts, because I get it now. I also want to commend our Ministry of Health.

From day one in isolation, I have been thoroughly monitored and looked after. When you’re a close contact, you receive really special treatment. Each day I got a call from someone’s personal cell phone on behalf of the health system. “Hi Hayley, it’s Julie from Nelson, I wanted to check in on you as you have been in contact with Covid and I know it must be tough.”

When you add the life changes I’ve been experiencing, it’s fair to say I hit an all-time low

I was also proactively connected to free wellbeing services – I did mediation, grief counselling, art yoga and more with the exceptional team at ‘Changing Minds’. Until now, I didn’t realise such a wonderful array of learning and support was available for anyone and FREE. Check it out here

Information was quick and convenient, and my day seven and day 12 tests were incredibly efficient. I found the same beautiful humans working on the frontline both times, both of whom made me feel calm and who waved and smiled at me, saying, ‘thanks so much Hayley’ as I drove off. They were very professional but also weren’t afraid to be human and have a laugh with me. Please be grateful for these people and try to make their days better too if you encounter them.

With all of this, I had almost forgotten about the things I had been worried about when I escaped back into Level 4. Being close to COVID really changes your perspective. Mostly, the support I felt from our government agencies and from the brilliant people putting their health at risk for us was just so heart-warming. I think a lot of us have looked at this as political, but in my view (especially now) it’s just the right thing to do for our friends, whānau and communities.

I’ve now received a negative day 12 test and have just two more days isolating before I can once again enjoy the salty air in Westhaven. I am lucky. I’m about to begin conquering the rest of life’s challenges, but now I know how much support is out there and readily available. Visit the Ministry of Health website and tap into it. Try it, then try it again. It could be life-changing.

I wanted to end this with a couple of key messages…

  • If you get sick, or if you come into contact – It is absolutely not your fault. You did your best. Delta isn’t picky and it can choose anyone.
  • Please be kind to our ministers, health workers and professionals leading this response. They’re experts and they are doing an incredible job in incredibly difficult circumstances. We should all be eternally grateful.
  • Good friends and flatmates are everything. Keep your community in mind and keep them close. Reach out to your friends and neighbours who are struggling – just a smile or conversation over the fence goes a looong way.
  • Try to avoid life-changing breakups in the midst of a pandemic!

Finally, this virus really is serious, and everyone needs to treat it that way.  Please, be kind – mask up and get a jab, if not for you, then for everyone else.


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