Part 2: How not to panic when you’re stuck in lockdown in a foreign country

If you missed Part 1 of our adventures, you can read it here.

Back in Auckland and the country moves into lockdown

On Tuesday 24 March we landed in Auckland from Christchurch, a bit harried and very grateful. But our flight back to San Francisco wasn't for another five days, and New Zealand was preparing for total lockdown.

It was an hour by hour world we were in and no one seemed to know what would happen next.

Would planes fly? The response from everyone we spoke to was that no planes would fly in or out once the country was in lockdown, within the next 48 hours.   

We decided to go directly to the Air New Zealand counter and see if we could change our reservations to an earlier flight - maybe we could even get a flight out that night. (As stressed as we had been, it didn’t deter Thom from taking pictures.)

We had another surprise as we approached the international terminal. There was a long line at the international section and all other entries to inside it were closed.

I asked an American woman standing near the line what was going on. She had left her husband in the hotel with their three small children while she waited. She told me, “unless you're flying today, you can’t get into the terminal. I’ve been waiting all day because we're on standby but they won’t let us in because we don’t have boarding passes." 

"Great" I thought. She said, “but you can call Air New Zealand if you don’t mind waiting. I called and was on hold for three hours.”

I could see that nothing was going to be easy.

Fortunately we had a place to go. Our friend had found us a room at the Novotel Hotel, across from the international terminal. It was the last room available… an executive suite.

Well, when you’re going through the unknown, you might as well be comfortable, I thought.

It was a gorgeous room on the 11th floor, overlooking the runway.

By now we were starving and to our surprise, the hotel restaurant was fully open. As I sat down to eat my lunch, I suddenly felt the aftermath of too much adrenaline in my body from the unexpected drama of barely making the flight from Christchurch to Auckland. 

Whew. We made it this far was all I could think about.

Back in the room, I called Air New Zealand to see if we would still fly out that Sunday.

After two hours of being on hold, I scrambled to answer as I heard a voice at the other end say, “how can I help you?”

"Will our flight still leave on Sunday? Do you have any other flights out today?" I asked.

The agent replied, “the information we have at this moment is that the flights will still fly unless we hear differently from the government. You are confirmed on that flight to San Francisco on Sunday and we will be in touch if the flight is canceled."

"Wait, can we fly out before, like tonight?"

“Sorry, I don’t see any space on any other flights.”

I hung up. At least we had reservations and nothing to do for the next five days but to wait and see what happened.

Worrying doesn’t help but staying in the present moment does

I forced myself to focus on gratitude and be in the moment of now. 

Look how lucky we are…. we got the last room available here. We have a beautiful view. And we don't have the virus.

What helped me the most not freak out was giving up control and being grateful. This way of thinking saved me so many times on our trip. I thought of how many things could have gone wrong, how we could be separated from each other, and that one or both of us could have contracted the virus.

I did these two things:

  • Pictured the worst-case scenario: I asked myself what could go wrong and what would we do if the worst happened? If one of us got coronavirus, we would get medical care in Auckland and then we’d deal with the rest, whatever that meant.
  • Focused on gratitude: I thought about how lucky we were, how incredibly amazing the trip had been and that everywhere we went, there were good things happening to us and that we were safe for now. For sure I was grateful that we were together.

And then a sign said everything would be okay.

It was a beautiful room overlooking one of the runways. I felt lucky that we had this room to call home for a few days. I looked out the spacious window and saw a rainbow. A rainbow! It covered the entire sky, overlapping the runway as if to say, don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

Wednesday

The next day, breakfast was served buffet style in the hotel restaurant. While every restaurant elsewhere was completely shut down, here we were... all the guests in the hotel going about our merry little way handling serving spoons, making toast in the toaster, and getting our own coffees. There was no such thing as social distancing. 

I wiped down everything on the table with the last bit of hand wipes I had found in the airport. I went several times to use the communal hand sanitizer, trying to tell myself not to be too paranoid and that we would be okay.

Corona was not going to get me, I vowed.

I kept thinking about how all of us in the restaurant had been traveling around everywhere and so it was basically up to the gods to protect us. 

I met a young American who was married to a Canadian. He was texting with his wife who was two months pregnant and trying to get back to Canada with their one year old child. He couldn’t fly with her since Canada had closed their borders and only citizens were allowed back into the country.  

This couple had been in New Zealand visiting his father who was dying of cancer.

They had tried for days to get on a flight before the lockdown. She was faced with hours and hours of travel alone with their son and feeling morning sickness. It was going to be a hideous journey, with layovers lasting nine hours in three different airports.

They had managed to get her on a flight to Honolulu and as he spoke to her on the phone, I felt enormous empathy for both of them.

I thought we are so lucky. Things could be so much worse for us. I couldn’t imagine feeling nauseous while also taking care of a baby, trying to get on flights and all the waiting, alone. I mentally sent this young mother some good thoughts.

We talked to lots of people, trying to get out. So many flights had been cancelled, thus causing an uproar of changes and people being stranded.

We were all ready to leave, just steps away from the terminal but we all seemed to be stuck in never-never land. 

After breakfast, we decided to take a walk to a nearby grocery store to stock up. We had to walk a bit but it felt good to be out of the hotel. We wanted to make sure we had what we needed during lockdown.  

Much to our surprise, there was a hideously long line so we skipped the grocery store and got into the only other store open which was like a Walmart. Shelves were empty but still, other supplies were okay. Toilet paper was still available but the bread shelves were completely empty. 

Walking back under blue skies to the hotel grounded me and helped me feel calm. I felt the wind on my face and relaxed. How bizarre that we were in this situation, so close to the airport and yet unable to get out.

That night I slept well. I felt safe in our hotel room. And I felt that things were going to be alright.  

Will the planes fly? It was still a big mystery.

Midnight Wednesday: New Zealand goes into lockdown 

I awoke the next morning and opened the curtains. The skies were filled with puffy clouds. I peered out. Nothing was moving. No planes. The runway was vacant and still. 

I fought off the negative thoughts, the rising dread that we would be stuck.

I waited, thinking about our predicament trying to push back the thoughts of where we would go, how we would live, and would our insurance pay for treatment if we got COVID-19 in New Zealand?  

An hour later, I heard the sound of a jet.

There, up in the sky, was an Air New Zealand plane taking off!

Woohoo! Planes are flying. I felt a few joyous moments of relief - we’re maybe going to make it home after all!

As we fell asleep that night, I once again felt grateful to be okay while we waited. And that planes were landing and taking off. 

Never give up hope, opportunities can come out of the blue.

We were settling in to another day of waiting. I took out my journal and began to write about our experiences.

The hotel restaurant was now closed and we could only order room service. Breakfast arrived and I felt incredibly lucky to have this meal brought right to our door.

We also were not allowed to go out of our rooms except to go for a walk outside.

I felt okay but not great. It was the familiar feeling of tightness in my chest and I was coughing still… the residual cough I hoped that was from my pneumonia diagnosis in February.

For the entire trip, when either of us coughed or felt a little off, my lizard brain would say, that’s it, we have corona! We would check our temperatures and run through all the other symptoms and then we would be okay.

That afternoon we watched the BBC news reports and read about more and more cases of Covid-19 spreading around the world.  

Thom spoke his worry out loud, "what if one of us gets corona before we get out of here? Maybe I’ll just check the Air New Zealand website and see if there’s any update."

Good idea, I thought. But I was doubtful that he would find any flights. 

As I journaled, I heard Thom say, ”Jo, there are two seats on a flight tonight.”

What? Are you sure?

We immediately booked it. We changed our flights online and called Air New Zealand to make sure that we were on that flight.

There were two hours before we were to leave. I calmly took a shower, washed my hair, and packed.

Calm and relaxed. That’s how I wanted to get on the plane.

At last, we were ready. Suitcases were all zipped up and I made a quick glance around the room to see if we had left anything. It felt great to be walking out the door. 

And then…

I heard Thom say the most dreaded words you ever want to hear when you're about to get on a plane… "I can’t find my passport."

For the first 10 minutes, I wasn’t too worried. It’s here somewhere, I thought. Thom scoured through his backpack, his suitcase, his carry-on.

No passport.

I went through his luggage and we scoured my suitcase, too. As I went through his suitcase for the third time, taking every single item out, I felt sick. I could hear Thom saying, I feel like I’m going to throw up.

My mind was racing ahead.

We had already tried to contact the American Embassy in New Zealand and found them to be unresponsive.

Holy cow. We will be stuck here for who knows how long now without a passport.

I decided to check the closet one more time. I gasped. There it was: the black passport carrier, hidden, hanging on a long string. Since it was black, we couldn’t see it.

Holy Toledo, praise the saints in heaven! I almost fell to the floor and cried. Meanwhile, Thom clutched his passport and didn't take it off until we got home. 

By now it had been a gut-wrenching 30 minutes of looking for the elusive passport and it was way past the flight check-in time. We loaded up our suitcases into the elevator and checked out of the hotel.

Luckily we were only a few steps away from the terminal! 

There were not many people at the airport and it felt creepy.

We were practically the only ones checking in. I screamed silently inside as the Air New Zealand's computer system appeared to be down and our reservations couldn't be found. The agent reassured us and apologized for the wait. 

Is this a freakin’ test of endurance of my nerves or what? Sheeesh! 

At last, we were cleared to go through security and we proceeded to the gate. The airport was dark, quiet, and empty. I had never ever seen anything like it - a large international airport terminal without any people.  

I had to go to the bathroom so I did quickly. I washed my hands thoroughly as usual and realized I had used so much hand sanitizer that it dripped off my hands like a thick sludge. I thought, we haven't even boarded the plane or gotten to the San Francisco airport...!

Business class was a life saver. 

The last two seats on the plane were in business class. We had paid a fortune for the flight but we didn’t care. At this point, we just wanted to get home.

Air New Zealand business class did not disappoint. They greeted us with bubbly and at that moment I realized that we were actually going home. 

I toasted to all the breaks we had had, our friends that had helped us, and felt deep gratitude.

During the flight, we hit heavy turbulence. Usually, this scares me silly, but I was laying down in my wonderful business class seat and I didn’t care. I thought, well, if the plane goes down, what a way to go! I’m laying down in my comfy seat.

Finally back home

We made it to San Francisco 12 hours later and refreshed, having been so comfortable on the flight. 

San Francisco airport was also shockingly empty. We rented a car and drove home, dumbfounded that we were practically the only ones in the terminal. We were realizing that we were just entering a new world, one that no one can fathom how everything would actually turn out. 

All I could think about was, I'm home now. 

The things I learned on this adventure:

  1. Always, always be grateful.
  2. Never give up hope. You never know when things will change.
  3. Don’t wait to enjoy your life. If I hadn’t gone to Fiji, I would have missed one of the highlights of my life. All the rest of it was worth it.
  4. Be kind to everyone. Their situation could be worse than yours.
  5. Grab opportunities when they happen. I’m indebted to my husband who checked the website and booked those last two seats. 

So now, over to you.

Take a moment to notice what you've learned from COVID-19. Write it down in your journal or tell someone. By capturing the meaning of all this, you will help to calm your mind and give sense to what you've gone, or been going through. 

I treasure your thoughts. Please send me a message at [email protected] and let me know how you are surviving this pandemic. And please reach out if you need help in dealing with this enormous change in our lives.   

 

 

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