by Veronica Heritage-Gorrie
This story is part of the My Corona series. In the coming weeks, we’ll publish more personal stories about the pandemic, life in isolation and Victorians’ hopes and fears for the future.
UNLIKE in the rest of world and indeed the rest of so-called Australia, when Covid-19 first entered our Sovereignty-unceded shores life as we once knew it changed, but not really for First Nation people.
But that is not the story I want to tell.
I want to tell you that while most people, excluding essential workers, were self-isolating and staying home as per restrictions handed down by the government, I was not able to. I had to leave the safety of my tiny rural township and my home to go stay in Melbourne for six weeks for my father’s cancer treatment. I was essentially risking my life to save my father’s.
My father who is a respected Elder and has dementia had been diagnosed with cancer, nasal cavity cancer to be more precise. He had surgery to remove most but not all the cancer and required radiation. Due to the location of the cancer, the regional hospital close to home was not able to treat it. This meant that we had to travel to Melbourne every Monday and return home every Friday after treatment for six weeks.
We stayed in accommodation provided by the hospital that is subsidised by the Government. This sounds good but it wasn’t. We were staying in a place that was culturally unsafe, at a time when my pre-existing anxiety was heightened due to Coronavirus. We slept in a small room on single beds. This took me back to when I was a child and Dad and I lived in a one bedroom flat.
This place was only a short walk from the hospital, but my father was unable to walk that far so we drove, and when I couldn’t find disability parking I double parked for an hour every day.
As much as I needed to assist my father to walk and find the location of his radiation, and as much as I wanted to go with him, I couldn’t due to the restrictions – only patients were allowed. So I had to stay in the car and hope that he remembered where to go. More anxiety.
He would ring me when he got inside and ring again when he had finished. This was our routine.
But I had another routine that kept me somewhat sane.
Every day after treatment, I would drop my father off and drive to my daughter’s house for a special window-visit. I knew it risked me getting fined by police but I didn’t care.
My daughter, months earlier, had bravely given birth to premature twins. The twins were in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit for a little over four months. Just as COVID-19 kicked off the twins were home with Mum and Dad.
These babies were my reason. The reason I needed to keep my shit together.
But my mental health was suffering. I wanted so badly to be with them, on the inside with them, but I couldn’t.
So I would return to my father. I assisted him in every aspect of his day, but not before I had to literally run the gauntlet of supermarkets in infected hotspots to buy groceries for us, wearing facemask and gloves. This was when I panicked the most. In every aisle my heartbeat would race; I could feel it pulsating in my neck and throbbing in my ears.
Like many Australians, Ms Heritage-Gorrie was terrified about visiting supermarkets.
By the third week, my father started feeling the effects of radiation. Each day he was becoming frailer and losing weight at a rapid rate. It affected his physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
There were mornings my father and I would get up at 4am to have a cuppa and a yarn. We would talk until daylight and on some occasions he cried. To watch my father cry was the hardest. My father is my rock, the one person who has always been there for me.
You see, my father raised me on his own from when I was eight years old. I never wanted him to see me upset, so I would wait until I had a shower or when I was in my car alone to cry.
To watch my father cry was the hardest. My father is my rock, the one person who has always been there for me.
It’s been a few weeks since the end of the cancer treatment and we are now awaiting an appointment date for him to be tested to verify if all the cancer has gone.
My father and I are in limbo and it’s frightening. He is still feeling the effects of radiation: mobility loss, hair loss, nausea and mouth ulcers that require him to be on a soft food diet.
As the restrictions were slowly being lifted and people were leaving their homes I had only just started to self-isolate so I could go be with my daughter and the twins.
Hooray, I hear you say; but not so fast. I self-isolated and went to stay with my daughter as planned, for four days and three nights, but while I was there it meant I was not with my father and this caused me more stress and anxiety. I found myself calling him at every opportunity to check on him, but it became too much, it became over-bearing. I had to go home.
As I left the house I felt emotionally and mentally torn between staying with my only grandchildren or going home to my sick father. I cried all the way home, but when I got there he was so happy to see me and I felt like I had made the right decision. I won’t have my father for long but what time I do have, I want to make it count.
My mental health is not the best right now. I have made an appointment to see my GP to do a mental health plan, so that I can get the professional help I need. I implore others who are having bad days or crappy moments to talk to someone too, because there is no shame or embarrassment in asking for help.