5th July

Yesterday. Worst Sunday in memory.

We were collected by ambulance crew and ushered into an ambulance by a nurse wearing Extreme PPE. She asked us to dispose of our face masks and had us take fresh ones. She then sprayed our hands with sanitizer. Clearly, we represented a walking biohazard. Our suitcases were stowed near the resus equipment and we clambered onboard. The ambulance made its slow journey down Pitt Street and through the deserted CBD. Being down on terra firma, albeit in an ambulance, felt grounding (if alarming)… yet owing to the desolation of the inner city due to tightening lockdown measures, I felt our spirits sink to new lows. In my haste to pack I remembered what I’d left behind in the laundry, ( in what we will soon remember as the nice place); Tom’s Arsenal shirt along with my best swirling skirt. When did I think I’d be swirling in the Second Chapter of The Pandemic? Anyway, these items, according to medical staff, wil be incinerated as they are considered to be contaminated. 

We are about to go high again…but this time we will be sequestered in a quarantine facility of a darker nature.

Here we are, on the 20th floor of the Wellness (Quarantine) Hotel in Zetland. Though in shock as we were ushered through, I noted the ‘hotel’ was dotted with resus equipment, it bore arrows and fluoro markings on the wall along with oxygen cylinders and wheelchairs and nurses stations and the bay outside ‘reception’ as we pulled up was clogged with ambulances. An ambulance jam. So, it would seem to be more Wellness Hospital, than Wellness Hotel, but it bears evidence of some tattered remnants of somebody’s holiday past.  Would someone holiday in a Zetland ‘Hotel’ perched precipitously over a roaring freeway? Perhaps this is a place where they would put up film crew while they worked on a big budget film at the nearby film studios? An exhausted crew member who would work an 18-hour day then come here and fall into bed… wearing earplugs.

But not four almost adults for an indeterminate period. 

So, anyway this moment represents a worst-case scenario even I hadn’t dreamed up. I try to remind myself things could be worse. Someone could be properly seriously ill and in need of the oxygen in the hallway. We’ve been moved from the comparative luxury of an inner-city quarantine apartment to a part-hospital part-prison where we will be confined for…no one knows. Best case scenario, Tom’s blood test returns a false positive. That’s not going to happen though. I believe he’s the one in a billion who has had Covid twice. 

‘Second Covid’, as Jack calls it. 

Anyway, the ‘Wellness Hotel’ is on the eastern suburbs freeway and we have unimpeded views of it, well, we are basically on top of it, the trucks beneath us make the windows rattle, we also have pristine views of (deserted) Randwick Racecourse. A child’s footsteps echo above us. Why is the child pacing with such commitment, in the suite above? Chasing something. Being chased?

The carpet is an oppressive, blackish grey and is already a tyrannical presence, it heaves with dust. This ‘suite’ is a modest space within thin walls. Two small bedrooms and a tiny kitchenette. A slender bathroom. The boys share a bedroom and Anthony has converted ours into his office, dragging in the wobbly desk upon which the all-important black phone that links us to the outside world used to sit.  We lob our suitcases in the space where the desk used to be and carefully balance the black phone back on top and wait for it to ring. Our suitcases remain packed bar a few items we’ve pulled out of each. Optimistic thinking? 

There will be no call for swirling skirts here.

I wonder how many other Chairmen are trying to get enough Wi-Fi to power their Zoom out of the tiny bedrooms of Wellness Hotels. Anthony is hot spotting off his Australian phone for now, juggling and juggling, work and case workers. The trucks roar beneath us. I couldn’t hear a magpie if I tried. Nurses in full PPE come and take our vitals in a ‘wellness check’ twice per day. My heart rate is high and seems set constantly on high for now. Tom is not feeling too good and seems now to be coughing consistently, though Jack insists that he himself is feeling ‘chipper’. I wonder if he’s trying to boost the family mood? I’m so confused about Covid. I’m p-r-a-y-i-n- g that was Covid Jack had in London around the time of my second jab when we both had a heavy cold and night fevers. If not, we are waiting here at the Wellness Hotel for him to produce a positive test and then we’ll have to start the counting again from there.  14 days plus 14 days plus 14 days and on and on. I can’t think about any of it but I can’t not think about it. I am so effing sick of Covid.

Edie texts from London.

How funny I’m in primrose hill and parrots escaped from the zoo and they’re flying around haha

I text back later.

keep thinking about those escaped parrots (seems metaphorical as we are in prison)

She texts back.

Soon u will be those parrots

6th July

Hard to put pen to paper. A terrible evening with Tom’s results (positive) and subsequent projection of our fate.  Much anxiety. I went into a cold shock. Anthony diagnosed it via Google and told me to get in a hot bath. And poor Tom. This churning anxiety knowing we are locked in here for …worst case scenario 30 days as they seem intent on making us do Close Contact Isolation here, even after Tom is better?  No, the worst, worst case is Jack develops Covid in 10 days and we start again from there, so 45 days? It is possible but doesn’t bear thinking about.

Little girl’s footsteps thud at intervals above our heads. I imagine her (?) and her parents confined in the room above, saying ‘come on, sweetie, do your exercise,’ and off she goes up and down and up and down. 

 In the narrow corridor on the tyrannical (and dusty!) black carpet we do an exercise workout with the TRX that Anthony mercifully packed and lift the (undrunk) wine bottle in lieu of weights. I’m so fricking jittery I couldn’t imagine drinking ever again. We open the windows and run up and down the short corridor which makes us feel marginally better.  Anthony, ever the optimist, emails the case worker we’ve been assigned in the hope of getting a clearer picture of our outlook. They count Day 1 as Day 0 (why?) so the day of our first swab was Day 0. More counting. There’s no leniency AT ALL.

Stressful periods of seemingly endless waiting and counting. (A meditation with the Calm app helps.) The nurses come fully geared up for the wellness check, they check us all, my heart rate is too high I can feel my heart about to burst out of my chest. I can’t explain how shit awful I feel about the situation. Tom has been quite unwell today with a cough, headache and low energy. He has been solely assigned a cheerful and very kind paediatric nurse with a strong Aussie accent and he speaks to her via Zoom every day. The black landline that cuts in and out when you try to conduct a life or death conversation via it sits mainly silent on the pile of suitcases but when it rings we jump. It is on this phone that doctors and nurses and case workers and receptionists and psychologists and one day, scientists will reach us. When it rings my heart-rate climbs higher still. I am raw with guilt for bringing the family into this situation, though Anthony needed to work here in Sydney it does little to assuage my feelings of remorse. My mind keeps on throwing up best- and worst-case scenarios which I go over and over. 

I make a lot of tea. There’s so much tenderness in a cup of tea. We have very few spoons here, and strangely, one spork. We brought pasta with us from the other place but there are no cooking facilities as the oven is disconnected. We try pouring boiling water on it and swirling it round in one of the (three) bowls. Even the thought of coffee, once the life blood of my days, makes me shudder. As does news, social media, texting or talking to anyone about this family disaster.  A high point today is having been allowed blood tests. Jack, ever understated, remarks ‘anticipation’ of the big needle ‘is annoying’. Anyway, now we are p-r-a-y-I-n-g for news of antibodies. Another sleepless night lies ahead.

July 7th

Finally got a call from the nurse around 8 p m this evening. Anthony, Jack and I are positive for antibodies. Tom is not. Nevertheless, I take this as a VERY GOOD SIGN that they will release us.  But then another part of me, or an invisible quarantine persona I now call ‘Mrs Whatif’ (she wears a long dark cloak and looks a bit like the Edvard Munch emoji), whispers it might not mean anything… apart from Jack (hopefully) not developing Covid. But what ARE his antibodies specifically, Wuhan, Kent, Delta? And what will they tell us? The days of the Alpha variant seem positively utopian. We’re swabbed again and await results. We’ve now been locked in and coughed all over for a couple of days and should have developed symptoms of Second Covid by now. I just don’t know anything at all anymore …these thoughts fly around my mind like darts. We meditate and do our prison workout in this confined space, the short corridor, the carpet grazing our knees. When I meditate I see a stream. On the other side of the stream are great female writers from the Victorian period. WTF? Am I losing the plot? But yet, there they are, battling Mrs Whatif armed only with their mighty pens. 

8th July

The pillows are rocks. The sofa is ungodly.

Good news bad news good news bad news, phone rings, heart jumps out of chest. Need heart rate to go down. Cups of tea. Trying to read Middlemarch but the words keep walking off the page. Tom teaches me FIFA. The traffic throbs the lift rattles all night. The Wellness Hotel is full of Covid patients coughing and patient nurses swabbing.

Traffic throb lift hum yoghurt tower, juice, juice, juice, juice. I wake at 4am and try to meditate. Virginia Woolf has joined them on the other side of the stream (though she is not of the Victorian era she seems to be getting on with it).

10th July

We can’t bear the news here. Just can’t take it, need to switch it off. We were at Freedom Day in the UK having been through Full English Winter Lockdown, cancellation of everything including final exams, work trips, landmark occasions, weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals… isolation, then inching through the very, very, very gradual unlocking that came with the vaccination roll out and then, PING, a glitch in time as we flew across the globe. We’ve slid down  a snake on the board of Snakes and Ladders and it has sent us all the way back to the beginning of the lockdown and we are in Jail and Cannot Pass Go. Mixed board game metaphors but you get the picture. Instead of 6 p m news we have decided, as a family unit, on Friends, from the Very Start. We can handle three episodes in one sitting till the saccharine overwhelms, the (infrequent) laughs (mainly Chandler Bing derived) do provide a release from the grim reality of the cell. Traffic throbs in a vein down below, and it’s not even full-strength traffic, as the lockdown restrictions here keep getting tighter and tighter and the roads and freeways emptier and emptier. I can see the SCG and Randwick Tafe and the house where we brought our babies  home from the hospital. All right there right before me yet so far away.

Dreamt I was in an empty room full of packing tape and smoke. Like a lounge in the Afterlife. I woke up sort of silently screaming into the rock pillow.

Each day we do medical tests and, in the evening, we wait for the phone to ring, hoping it will be the (terribly overworked) case worker with news of our release.

The advice I’ve had from psych health support via the black phone is that we are in an unreal situation, but we are to remind ourselves that everyone eventually gets out. That we are in a safe place. This temporarily relieves the giant balloon of dread that has lodged in my chest. I feel so guilty and ashamed that I have caused stress for my parents when what I most desperately wanted was to see them and hug them.  Emails from my brother in LA are a great support. I can’t bear to tell what’s happening to anyone other than my immediate family and oldest friend. 

Sometimes I kid myself it is an Escape Room Gone Wrong Holiday. We have a Weekend Schedule this weekend to get us through. This is broken into hourly increments. Routine is key. I scrub the toilets with the upgraded toilet brush sent in a care package from a caring P A. We desperately needed a toilet brush ffs, and dongles, bigger and bigger dongles, these are what is required. 

Maybe tomorrow someone will see sense and give their verdict. I’d just like a definitive release date to work towards. 

The black phone is ringing. I need to answer it. This may be the news we’ve been waiting for.