Dr Millie Wood / Foundation Year 3 / Perth, Western Australia
How does one survive without fresh air for 14 days? Dr Wood recounts her experiences of quarantine between the four walls of her hotel room in Perth, Australia back in the summer of 2020.
The year is 2020. To obtain the luxury of a Coronavirus-free life you must first complete a challenge beyond any Hunger Games writer’s wildest dreams. Close your eyes. You are in a cave. A deep dark cave. The cave has a door. You step inside. The door closes firmly behind you. The quarantine commences. You are told to only open this door three times a day when a knock comes. This knock signifies a food delivery. You peer around the door frame to find a brown paper bag tightly wrapped up on the immaculate carpeted hotel floor. You snatch the parcel up, and seal the cave up again swiftly in one breath. The tepid contents of the “government approved” polystyrene containers will soon become the highlight of your days in isolation. Sealed within four walls, you can only dream a waft of that sweet tropical air outside. You will countdown the seconds, minutes, hours, and days until that fourteenth day arrives. This is quarantine.
As one can probably imagine, the paperwork hoops requiring jumping through are plentiful and of variable difficulties. My top-tip is start early! A very helpful guide to follow is “Thinking of Straying to Straya? The Definitive Junior Doctors’ Guide to Living and Working in Australia” (article published by Adventure Medic in 2020) which I referred to on numerous occasions!
With flights booked and hotel reserved, the challenge now remains to obtain that all-important negative PCR Covid-19 test within 72 hours of departure. Numerous organisations offer this service; but with variable turnaround times. Posting this box containing the most valuable cotton-bud of your life was, without a doubt, the most stressful part of the whole process. 48 sleepless hours later and that all-important email arrived – a negative PCR test result – my green light to go!
A Covid-19 precautionary flight
Informed that we would be placed on a separate part of the plane, a small part of me hoped this may be that heavenly place that one is forced to walk through first when boarding. Alas, no business-class today. But, despite rumours of ‘restricted services’ due to the pandemic, I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of the in-flight entertainment, and the food and drink service – that strangely exciting novelty that comes with long-haul flying. However as always; crooked necks, swollen feet, and that mind-bogglingly empty yet bloated feeling plagued me. Extended toilet trips, calf raises and lunges down the aisle became the new normal.
But at last. Touch down in my new home for the next year! I leap out of my seat, remembering what it felt like to extend my knees finally…only to be greeted with “all passengers please remain seated for a further hour whilst we wait for the police escort”. And soon enough, the entirety of Western Australia’s police force it seemed turned up; ready for action. Once escorted through various checkpoints in the airport, we made it out into the blazing sunshine and met by numerous flashing police cars which would guide us to our hotel and final destination for the next 14 days.
I stepped in, closed the door behind me, and took a deep breath. Mentally preparing my fate for the foreseeable future. Despite being three days behind on sleep and feeling dehydrated to the point of nausea, I couldn’t help but be that excitable child just discovering the mystery of hotel rooms for the first time. I opened open every drawer, every cupboard, the fridge, assessed the bathroom facilities, before finally settling on the realisation that all hotel rooms really are the same.
A cold shower resurrected me after the long journey, but I still swooned over the ever-so tempting cool waters below; the hotel’s glimmering swimming pool shone in the evening sun directly below my window. I was determined to still live the next 14 days vicariously through those people outside – one of many bizarre mindsets I took on during this period.
Sure enough a knock came at last. I peered out and grabbed that brown paper bag without a breath leaking out into the hallway. As the days continued I realised I was lulled into a false sense of security on that first night by a gourmet spaghetti dish delivery. From then on, the reheated frozen vegetable medley (boiled until zero nutritional contents remained), or the tinned mushroom in gravy with rice would become prominent features in my diet. Sadly, food soon became one of the only things to look forward to in the day. But I found myself in an extremely fortunate position to have possibly the most generous family and friends who delivered ‘care packages’ of food and exercise equipment to fuel my 14 days. Otherwise I think I would have lost the plot.
Activities For Sanity
Day one consisted of a morning of home-making. Unpacking, interior decoration, personal touches etc. As the days rolled on it became clear that a structured routine would be key for survival.
Schedule: Wake up, breakfast, catch up on the latest news and drink numerous cups of tea. Allocating life-admin tasks to one or two per day meant I actually made progress. Ordering a sim-card and setting up a bank account for the rest of my stay in Australia were primary tasks to get sorted and are very achievable in this time. Looking for cars and arranging viewings for flats also became a daily occurrence.
Exercise: Having the bike set up on the turbo-trainer was a great addition to the room for me. Pedalling along to a podcast or doing a spin class used up time, and tested the air-con out! A daily workout, mixing it up and FaceTiming friends to sync workouts also kept me motivated. A skipping rope was also an extremely worthwhile piece if kit to pack and is small and lightweight in the luggage. However, after multiple skipping sessions I’d like to take this opportunity to personally apologise to room 528 (presumably below me!). Daily yoga practice and resistance band stretching also became a great way to unwind in the evenings.
Facemasks and FaceTime: A myriad of facemasks (think beauty; not PPE), feet exfoliation products, and bath-bombs proved again a great addition to the suitcase. An evening bath with a book made the stay actually feel like a holiday. And as soon as the afternoon approached and the UK stirred the time just flew; with schedule of people to talk to finally! With a cup of tea in hand, catch-ups with old friends, Zoom quizzes, and group calls all became crucial part of my daily routine and helped maintain my mental health. A daily call to my family gave me a sense of motivation and pride for being another day through this peculiar period. Podcasts, music, books, doodling, updating my CV, and sorting through old photos also provided a therapeutic release from the four walls surrounding me.
As the double-figure day approached, there only remained one long weekend between me and the tropical paradise I’d been staring down at for days. I had a sudden overwhelming feeling that it had not just been a dream. I’d done it. I was a survivor. I opened the door, and stepped outside.