Everest Base Camp: Flying to Lukla (part 2)

We wake up early with high hopes of catching a flight to Lukla today. Due to poor weather conditions, we had to make an emergency landing yesterday in a small village halfway between Lukla and Kathmandu. To get you caught up, Lukla is the place where we need to be in order to start our trek to Everest Base Camp. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is where we began and where there are currently dozens of other trekkers stranded at the airport desperately awaiting a flight.

I stick my head out the window and stare optimistically at the bright blue sky as I brush my teeth and spit into the outdoor sink. There’s only a few scattered clouds in sight. I feel confident that today is the day!

I eagerly pack my bag and rush outside to wait. As I stand alone, I smile and take a deep breath of the fresh, crisp mountain air. It’s as quenching as a tall glass of cold water on a hot summer’s day. As I revel in my surroundings, I try to recreate it with words. How do I even begin to describe such a journey?! I sigh, recognizing that it will be a struggle to capture the magnitude of this adventure simply with words. Even pictures will likely not do justice to the 360 degrees of Himalayan mountains staring down at us. Just then, I startle as the old wooden door to our tea house creaks open and the remainder of my group comes out. Carrying all of our gear, we take a short stroll back to where we were dropped yesterday : an abandoned building, protected by barbed wire fencing, formally known as the Phaplu airport.

The concrete interior and stained yellow walls are somewhat cold, dark, and depressing. We walk through the building towards worn, floral curtains, which serve as a room divider. Judging by the piece of paper taped to the wall with a picture of a security guard checking a man, I am assuming that these are the ‘airport security curtains’. Since there’s no one working in this airport, we continue past the musty curtains and exit out the other side of the building.

We gather on the large, stone steps, which are antiqued with moss and lead down to the runway. After about 30 minutes of bantering, someone spots a small plane quietly soaring around the base of one of these massive mountains – it looks so minuscule compared to the exaggerated landscape. As it draws nearer, we can eventually hear the hum of its engine, confirming that it is, in fact, a plane and not a bird. It elegantly touches down on the landing strip while simultaneously jarring on its brakes, skidding to a complete halt beside us. As soon as it stops, we’re instructed to quickly load our bags into the front and back compartments and then board the plane. You can feel the tension of the rigid time schedule that this tiny plane is on. Once seated, we go through the same routine as yesterday : we are handed a mint and cotton balls, the engine roars, the plane fills with the smell of fumes, and we take off!

We’re in the air for approximately ten minutes when a small landing strip in the midst of the desolate chain of mountains comes into view – Lukla Airport! We all lean forward into the aisle in awe of this infamous airport. It’s absolutely stunning! From what I’ve read, this short and narrow strip of pavement, which is laid between a dropping cliff and a rock-faced mountain side, is an astounding 450m long and 20m wide. Due to its length and altitude, it’s deemed the most dangerous airport in the world! Nestled around the airport is a small civilization of dense, colorful buildings, likely hoping to reap some of the fruits of this gateway to Everest.

The landing strip slowly becomes larger and larger until we eventually thud down onto its tarmac. I feel a flutter of excitement as I am forced forward in my seat with this sudden change in velocity. I can’t believe we are finally here! To me, that thud signifies that we can officially begin our journey to Everest Base Camp! My greatest worry for this trip was not if I was capable of doing the trek, but rather if we would actually be able to fly to its starting point. So many peoples’ adventures end before they can even begin as flights are postponed until they are eventually cancelled. Once cancelled, these stranded passengers go to the end of the queue in order to not disrupt the other booked flights. Eventually, they are forced to choose an alternative trek since they no longer have enough time to properly acclimatize for Everest Base Camp. Luckily, we can still recover from our lost day, leaving us with our initial 8 days for the ascent but decreasing our decent to 3 days instead of the original 4.

Once we come to a complete stop, we quickly exit the plane. Airport workers begin tossing our duffle bags into a trolly as we are lead through a dense crowd of aspiring porters, hoping to find work from the incoming tourists. Most are barely old enough to be considered men. Their young faces smile at us as we walk by. One-by-one, we do our best to follow Dinesh through this bustling crowd as we are lead out the gates of the airport.

As we enter the village, the sight of Lukla fills me with great joy! After spending a few, frantic days in the chaotic city of Kathmandu, it’s soothing to get to this calm and quaint village in the mountains. There are kids playing in the street, stray dogs looking for scraps, and locals tending to their shops. This is my happy place! I have a theory that there are two kinds of people in this world – mountain people and water people. I am, without a doubt, a mountain person! However, I hold nothing against water people … after all, I did marry one.

I admire the panoramic view of the Himalayas as I follow along the cobblestone pathway, which leads through the middle of the village. This is the first chapter in so many people’s great adventure – whether it be to the base camp or the summit, it all starts here! I try to image the stories of those who have traveled this path before me. I take a deep breath in an effort to calm the flutters in the pit of my stomach.

Dinesh leads us into a building on the left; we follow him up a set of wide, wooden stairs, which look like they belong in a Victorian-styled manor. We reach the top floor and turn left once again into a restaurant. As we take a seat, we see a sign indicating free internet, so we all try to connect to the shotty wifi to reassure our loved ones that we did not crash and die.

As we settle into place, we are served Masala tea – a popular drink within the Indian subcontinental area. As I sip this warm beverage, I am surprised to recognize its flavors … warm milk with hints of cloves and cinnamon … chai!! As I look up from my drink, I see seven new faces eagerly staring at us. Dinesh begins to introduce them, as these are the remaining members of our team. I always love these initial introductions because today these guides and porters are complete strangers. For the next few days, we will struggle to remember each other’s names as we slowly become better acquainted. However, in fourteen short days, they will become cherished friends that helped us get to the base camp of Mount Everest. We will have laughed with them, shared stories and experiences with them, and, as we sadly part ways, they will forever hold a treasured place in our hearts.

Five young boys stand closely together, along with two others, perhaps a few years older, standing a bit more separate and closer to Dinesh. The five boys appear enthusiastic and use their fragments of English to say ‘hello’ as they introduce themselves as our porters.

Then Dinesh turns to introduce the other two. The first man introduces himself as “Sancha”. He is in his early 20’s, with thick black hair. He is fairly tall and lean, and is dressed in various layers of hiking clothes. He speaks comfortably in English and says that he will be one of our assisting guides during our trek. The next man steps forward and introduces himself as “Mane” (pronounced “Manny”). He’s a bit shorter than Sancha, but is also slim, has tanned skin, and dark brown eyes. He wears a black trucker-styled cap with sunglasses resting on its bill. Mane struggles a bit to find his words in English to explain that he, too, is an assisting guide.

And just like that! We are finally in Lukla, we have our team of three guides and five porters to help the nine of us trek for the next eleven days to and from base camp of the mysterious and lethal Mount Everest. Let our adventure officially begin!

Camp Quarantine : Independence Day (pt. 6)

Saturday, April 11, 2020 (day 15) 

It’s strange to be quarantined for 15 days with the risk of being positive for COVID19 and then suddenly wake up one morning and you’re freed from your captivity and able to return back into the wild. I woke up Saturday morning to my husband crawling into bed with me. His cuddles felt softer and warmer than ever before. After laying there for awhile, we decided it was time to drink coffee at the kitchen table … just like we used to!

I hesitated to leave my bedroom as I stared down at that white piece of tape, which has served as my barrier for the past two weeks. Its words “DO NOT CROSS” seemed to resonate with me. To be honest, I didn’t feel quite ready to step over it just yet. It’s a very conflicting feeling : part of me wanted to finally be out of isolation but the other part felt like I should remain in quarantine and wait for COVID symptoms, despite getting the okay from Public Health. It made me reflect upon how prisoners must feel after YEARS of confinement and then one day, the gates are opened and they’re released. Coronavirus Remeption, starring Amanda Ngo.

* * * * *

I once read that wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but unfortunately, the novelty wanes with repetitive exposure. This experience has reminded me of how sweet these little day-to-day events, which I’ve come to take for granted, truly are.

Today, walking the dog with my husband was particularly blissful. The air, which would normally annoy me for being a bit cool, was instead crisp and refreshening. The nature, which I normally wouldn’t pay much attention to, was instead very serene. And our newly adopted geriatric huskey was so comforting to pet – was she always this soft? Plating my own food was a exceptional priveldge! Even going to the fridge and having the option to snack WHENEVER I felt like was fantastic! That night, I sat at the table WITH my family, instead of listening to them from around the corner.

This experience has given me a whole new appreciation for what I previously would have considered “normal” or “tedious” daily activities, and an even deeper respect for those who have to deal with the real hardships of this pandemic. Those who cannot hold the hand of a loved one who is sick in the hospital ; those who are mourning the loss of someone close to them alone ; those who are unwell and are too scared to go to the hospital ; those in nursing homes who are only able to see visitors through a window ; and so on and so on. My heart goes out to all of those people who are truly impacted.

Lastly, I am also reminded of something very important! We, as individuals, are surprisingly quite resilient! My first few days in isolation were devastating; however, as I adapted, I learned ways to improve my situation, largely by changing my perspective. It reinforced my belief that happiness is mostly a state of mind, an internal rather than external phenomenon. Sometimes we have the tendency to sit around waiting for an event or people to make us happy, when instead, we need to realize that happiness truly starts from within! Sometimes we have to re-program our thoughts to accept the things that we cannot change and, instead, figure out a way of making bittersweet lemonade! The happiness in your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it” – Maya Angelou.

Stay safe and stay positive!

This concludes my series on Camp Quarantine and the Coronavirus! Thanks for the read 🙂 

What You Need To Know to Hike The Dobson Trail

If you’re like me, you’re looking for something to pass the time during this global pandemic. Fancy yourself a seasoned wanderer? Or just a new hiker looking for a challenge? Why not give the Dobson Trail a go?

Initially developed in 1959 by Dr. Art Dobson, this trail has attracted many trekkers ranging from young to old and from novice to experienced looking to complete the 58km footpath leading from Riverview, New Brunswick all the way to the Fundy National Park.

Something that may interest you? If so, be sure to give my tips and tricks a quick read to ensure your comfort and success along the way! 


The Dobson Trail 

Distance : 58km

Difficulty : Moderate to strenuous

Duration : 3 days

Markers : Blue Blazers

Trail Condition : Good with some rocky and boggy areas

Cellphone Coverage : Partial


1. PARKING

People seem to favour starting in Riverview and finishing in the Fundy National Park (near Alma). Whichever you choose, there is parking available at either end of the trail.

Riverview’s parking has lots of space, good foot traffic, and is easy to find. There is no cost for parking here.

The parking lot in Fundy can be a bit more trickier to find because it’s located a little further from the official “end” of the Dobson Trail. If you park here, factor in an additional 2.5km onto your 58km hike. From what I’m told, there is no cost for parking here since it’s located outside of the park limits. 


2. TREKKING

Allow yourself a comfortable three days to complete this trek. Distance is easy to calculate since every kilometers is marked along the entire trail (starting from Riverview).

You can manage this hike in hiking boots or shoes, depending on your personal preference and how much weight you plan on carrying. The terrain varies from gravel roads, forest, to bogs so have a backup plan for wet feet.


3. CAMPING

Camping is permitted throughout the entire length of the trail; however, there are some designated areas that are specifically cleared for tenting and have a fire pit with seating available. These sites are indicated with a tent icon on the trail map that’s included in the guidebook.

Our two favourite camping sites were Hayward Pinnacle (approx. 38km) and Blackwood Lake (approx. 48.4km).

Hayward Pinnacle is a cleared area with a small, wooden shelter located next to a spring. There are multiple tenting sites, along with a fit pit, benches, and chopped wood. Our favourite part – it’s situated within close proximity to one of the many wind turbines so we were able to fall asleep to its constant and soothing drone. 

Blackwood Lake is quite stunning. There are multiple tenting sites along the edge of the lake, along with a picnic table and two firepits. This site is 10km from the finish so it allows for a nice, short hike on your final day. Perhaps leave your speedo behind though because I’ve been told the lake has leeches!  


4. WATER

Most camping sites are situated near a water source; however, there are some options along the way as well (depending on the time of year). 

I used a Katadyn Water Filtration System and would highly recommend it. It’s light-weight and allows versatility to drink from any water source.


5. NAVIGATING

Get the guidebook!! You NEED the guidebook!!!! This trail frequently jumps off larger trails onto smaller foot paths so it’s VERY easy to lose the trail without the guidebook (actually, it’s even easy to lose it with the book if you are not paying close attention).

The trail is marked with ‘blue blazers’, which are blue lines painted vertically on trees. If you lose sight of these markers … you are likely no longer on the trail. 

Note the blue blazer on the right tree.

Horizontal green lines indicate the kilometer markers. There are indicators for nearly every kilometer along the way, starting from Riverview.

Note the horizontal green markers indicating the kilometers.

NOTE : The trail eventually connects with a paved road (Osborne Corner Road), which you will follow until you meet a dirt road called Levy Road. Follow your guidebook very carefully here because there is a random trail with blue Blazers on the left which, for reasons unknown, circles you back to Osborne Corner. You need to walk PAST this section, all the way to where Levy Road has a sharp bend in the road. Here, you will enter the woods on the left at a sign marked Dobson Trail (see the picture below). These directions are detailed in the guidebook.

6. HIGHLIGHTS

  1. The trail passes close to the windmills, which are very impressive.
  2. The camping sites are clean and well maintained with adequate clearing for tents and fire pits.
  3. The trail meets up with roads accessible by car if you need someone to bring you items (like insoles … or pizza).
  4. This is one of the few multi-day hikes available in NB.
  5. Bragging rights.

7. LOWLIGHTS 

  1. The trail is not overly scenic.
  2. The terrain can be quite boggy so you have to be very mindful of your footing since logs and rocks are quite slippery.
  3. This trail is very difficult to hike without the guidebook, which you can purchase for approximatley $25 in some stores (Ocean Trails, Jean Coutu Riverview, etc) or online (https://www.hikingnb.ca/Trails/FundyEast/Dobson.html).
  4. The trail frequently jumps off larger trails onto smaller foot paths so it’s quite easy to lose the trail.
  5. Large sections of this trail consists of walking along dirt roads.

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of mixed reviews of the Dobson Trail. In order to not be overly disappointed with your experience, hikers should invest in the guidebook, have realistic expectations, be properly prepared, and be mindful that this trail is maintained solely by volunteers. 

Happy Trails! 

Take a Hike : Dobson Trail

As I sit along the bank of Blackwood Lake, a mere 10km away from the end of the Dobson Trail, I watch as three ducklings follow closely behind their mother. The calm water ripples as they paddle away from the shore. I smile as I realize that this is the perfect conclusion to my trek.

Did the Dobson Trail live up to my expectations? No, not really. Do I regret it though? Absolutely not. Although this adventure started off as unfinished business, a missing notch in my belt if you will, it coincidentally became an incredible bonding experience with my son.

I initially decided that I was going to embark upon this trek a few months ago. As I began planning, I quickly realized that the only thing missing was a hiking partner! I knew my husband wasn’t an option since he’s spent years vocalizing his complete lack of interest in this hike. On a whim, I decided to casually throw the idea out to Hunter, my thirteen year old son with little-to-no hiking experience. I was flabbergasted when he unenthusiastically shrugged in agreement. Part of me felt bad knowing that he had no idea what he was getting himself into; however, the other part of me didn’t really care because I needed a hiking partner and was determined to finally complete this trail. 

In anticipation, I scheduled an extra day so that we could complete this 58km hike from Riverview to Fundy National Park in four days instead of the average three. I also stuffed my bag excessively full with dehydrated camping food and goodies serving as morale boosters. My husband, who is normally our meticulous planner and ultralight advocate, shuddered as he watched me weigh my bag down with Sour Patch Kids and Nibs. It was like watching a child pack their own bag : “Nope, no need for a compass but do you think I have enough candy?”

Hunter and I set foot from Riverview on a Thursday morning … right in the middle of a rain storm. After a month of sweltering summer heat resulting in a fire ban, we ended up with an unforecasted rainy day. Argh. Regardless, we donned our ponchos and away we went…

I proudly watched as my son tapped into this deep determination that I’ve never seen before. He was given many opportunities to quit as we zigzagged through the back countries of my hometown; however, he put his head down and persevered forward. I’m telling you, the best way to get to know someone is by taking away their internet and forcing them into isolation with you for four straight days! Stepping away from the chaos of our daily lives, we were able to engaged into real conversations. We spoke about friends, family, and life. He listened as I shared stories of my past and I listened as he shared aspirations of his future. 

When I used to think of the Dobson Trail, I would think about my two previously failed attempts. But now, I’ll think about the time when Hunter and I were stranded in a tent as we faced a freak hail storm in the middle of July. I’ll think about our kilometer countdowns, failed camping foods, and Crazy 8 card games. I’ll think about all of our stories and laughs, misery and boredom, and blisters and bug bites that we shared.

“Mom, tell me another story…” As I bask in the silence of the great outdoors and watch as these three little ducklings trail off behind their mother, I get a lump in my throat as I think about how fortunate I am to have my thirteen year old duckling still following so closely behind me on this unforgettable journey. 

 

Take a Hike : The Dobson Trail (prequel)

Oh, the Dobson Trail. Over the years, this trek has somehow became my Everest…

Situated in the southern part of New Brunswick, this footpath winds through 58km of Albert County wilderness … or as I like to call it, my hometown! Growing up in this area, the idea of hiking all the way from Riverview to Fundy National Park, which would take an hour by car, oddly enthralled me!

As mentioned, I grew up in Albert County so many of my summer vacations, up until I started working, were spent at our camp near the Fundy Park. As a result of this, the coastal fogs and spongy moss became synonymous with my childhood.

I first attempted the Dobson Trail when I was 20 years old. Being young and ill-prepared, I only lasted one night, which I spent trying to keep warm and praying for morning to come. As soon as the sun rose, I packed up my gear and quickly backtracked to the parking lot!

Attempt two came four years later. Slightly better equipped but still lacking the necessary preparations for such an endeavor, I set foot once again. The first night was cozy, despite the coyotes pacing outside the walls of my nylon tent. Unfortunately, the following morning greeted me with the pitter-patter of rainfall. My spirits were partially dampered as I sloshed onward. I walked until the trail finally spit me out onto a paved road. From there, I paced up and down semi-looking for where the trail reconnected, but also subconsciously wanting an excuse to get back to a dry house and order pizza – so that’s what I did!

As a result of this, I have unfinished business with the Dobson Trail. At this point, it almost feels personal; therefore, I shall soon begin my third attempt with my thirteen year old son as my hiking companion. Surely, with some experience under my belt, this third time will truly be the charm!

Camp Quarantine : My Cup Runneth Over (pt 5)

Sunday, April 5, 2020 (day 9)

Today is my son’s thirteenth birthday. He greets me at the end of my hallway and stops just before the piece of tape which reads “Do Not Cross”. He rubs his sleepy eyes and smiles as I wish him a happy birthday. I stare at him pensively. It’s odd. I see a boy that I once knew but now he is gone. He’s been replaced by a teenager with wild, unkept hair and thick, large feet. Although he looks, acts, and sounds the same as he did yesterday, there’s a twinge in my heart as I realize that things are now different. He’s now a teenager which means that I must learn to loosen my grip and accept that he’s no longer a child. Instead, I should encourage him to begin his journey towards discovering the person who he wants to be. It makes me proud to see him standing strongly on his own and expressing more independence; however, the idea of having less control over sheltering and protecting him scares me. I suppose everyone, even my sweet baby boy, needs to experience some degree of sorrow, hardship, failure, and disappointment to truly know and appreciate what happiness is.

* * *

A week ago, I assumed Hunter’s birthday would be a bit of a letdown but it surprisingly turned out to be a very unforgettable day (in a good way). On top of having my husband run a few essential errands for our small family celebration, I sent a message to our close friends asking if they could send Hunter some virtual birthday wishes. They went above and beyond to do even better and organized a way of sending Hunter their birthday love while respecting the rules of physical distancing during this pandemic. It was truly heartwarming to watch the beauty of friendship from the confinements of my bedroom window.

As previously mentioned, I’m taking an online course on The Science of Well-Being. Essentially, it focuses on the psychology behind happiness and how it can be strengthened and sustained. There’s an entire section devoted to social connections since it’s such an important component of our well-being. Studies show that simply being around people makes us happier. And not only does it make us happier, but it also makes shared experiences even richer. Interestingly enough, they conducted a study on tasting chocolate – it concluded that those who sampled chocolate with another individual, even a stranger, rated the chocolate as being tastier and even more enjoyable compared to when they ate it alone.

What I’ve learning to appreciate while being in captivity is the importance of creating and strengthening social connections. Some of us tend to place socializing low on our priority list (guilty). We get caught up in chores, responsibilities, work, and so on; the little time and energy that we have left over, we use it to recover. We should remind ourselves to make the time, instead of waiting for it, to foster these connections.

So I challenge you in the future to smile at a stranger, put down your phone and strike up a conversation while waiting in line, listen to what people really have to say, reconnect with someone you lost touch with, and ultimately, learn to become better engaged with your surroundings. Today my friends really pulled through for me during a difficult time to help make my son’s day even brighter. A simple task with intangible meaning. These very friends who started off as mere strangers many years ago.

Stay home, Stay safe, stay positive!

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To be continued…

Camp Quarantine : So Far, So Good (pt. 4)

Thursday, April 2, 2020 (day 6)

Once accepting a situation, it often becomes easier to tolerate.

I initially passed my days like a house pet. I waited to be fed. I waited for attention. I waited for my husband to come home (and would get excited once he did). And I spent long hours sitting at the window, wondering where people were going. Okay, well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I do hope that no one ever has to endure the hunger pangs of waiting for a teenager to wake up and feed you!
A few days into my quarantine, I decided that it was necessary to establish structure and routine in order to mentally survive this confinement. So every morning, I would wake up early, chat with my husband over coffee, make my bed, draw back the curtains, and begin my day.

Part of this routine included participating in an online course on The Science of Well-Being. In one of the sections, we discussed savouring. Savouring is the act of thoroughly enjoying something. Studies concluded that stepping out of your experience to savour and appreciate it will actually contribute to an increase in happiness!

It dawned on me that this is why I enjoy writing so much. Wandering Mandy is kind of a play on words. I wander a lot physically … but not nearly as much as I do mentally! I use writing as a tool to savour my experiences. It encourages me to pay closer attention and analyze how those moments make me feel and how I can capture them into words. How does this sand feel? What do those clouds look like? What is that smell in the air? How does all of this make me feel? I then try to preserve those experiences through my stories, which I can relive at any time.

In the beginning, it was quite emotional for me to be isolated and I spent a lot of time mourning the loss of my freedom and secretly resenting my family for not showering me in more pity. After a few days though, I decided that enough was enough and that it was time to accept this situation. I made a conscious decision to not waste any more of my precious time waiting and lamenting about the things that I cannot do or change.
So how did I take this bad situation and turn it into good? Or, even better, how did I embrace it? I decided to take this opportunity to finish that book I’ve always wanted to read. I decided to dust off my ukulele and finally learn how to play it. I decided to get really good at juggling. I decided to actually use those self-care products that I’ve never had time to enjoy. I decided to return people’s calls and messages and really engage in meaningful conversations with them. I decided to savour this moment of being alone with my thoughts and put that energy and emotion into my writing. Most importantly, I decided to stop putting my life on hold and instead be positive and patient while I wait for this pandemic to end.

“If you change the way you look at things, then the things you look at change”.

Stay positive! Stay home! Stay safe!

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To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : COVID, Is That You? (pt. 3)

Monday, March 30, 2020
(Day 3)

You know that feeling when there’s a notice from the school saying there’s an outbreak of lice? As soon as your eyes gaze upon the word “lice”, your scalp starts to crawl and itch. Well, that’s how this feels. I’ve been in contact with a positive COVID-19 case and am required to self-isolate for two weeks and monitor for symptoms. If symptoms arise then I need to report them to the public health nurse (who checks in with me daily) and arrangements will be made for me to be tested. 

Thus, every tickle in my throat and every ache in my body has me like: COVID? Is that you? Are you coming for me? I’m not going to lie, my morale is taking a pretty hard hit today. I think one of my greatest qualities is my ability to stay optimistic. If you tell me something bad, I can usually counter it with something positive. But today, it was difficult to see the bright side of all of this.

I get dirty looks from my family anytime I sneeze or clear my throat within earshot of them. This is how the lepers must have felt! I’m also a bit nervous because I began developing mild symptoms this morning. My throat’s sore. My nose is tingling. My eyes are itchy. My body is stiff. Is this a hangover? Did I hit happy hour a little too early yesterday? Maybe it’s from too much screen time? MAYBE THIS IS IT! OH GOD! DIG MY GRAVE! I’M A GONER! I try my best to hide my symptoms from my family since I’m scared that they’ll toss me on an iceberg and set me out to sea. I can’t believe I’m the first case of COVID-19 in Bathurst! It’s like when you’re really good at dodgeball and have been training your whole life for this very moment … and then you’re the first one knocked out of the game.

In the midst of wallowing in self-pity, it dawns on me. I spent like a solid hour this morning molesting my cellmate … who I’m allergic to! She was giving me the cold shoulder since we had a disagreement last night so I was trying to make amends. She nipped me on the foot so I kicked her out of bed. Oh! By the way! My cellmate is my pet rat, Lulu.

I enjoy her companionship immensely, despite these darn allergies! I sometimes marvel at how this little creature can bring me so much joy yet can make other people cringe in disgust. I watch the way she scurries around the room, careful to stay close to the walls. With every passing day of isolation, she becomes a little more relaxed and at ease with her environment. I sigh as I realize that, I too, have to learn to become more at ease with this new situation.

So, I’ve either just found a cure for COVID or it was, indeed, just my allergies because within 30 minutes of taking a Claritin, I was symptom free. The power of the mind always astonishes me. I once read how repetitive negative thoughts, just thoughts, can significantly contribute to stress and disease of the body. The mind is such an incredible tool; however, if not used properly, it can cause more harm than good. If we exhaust our mind with stress and fear during this pandemic, our body will quickly follow. We need to remain smart and optimistic in order to maintain our mental resilience in overcoming this new challenge that we’re forced to live with. We can’t entirely control this situation but we can control the way we react to it!

Stay positive, stay home, and stay safe!

 

To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : Confirmation Day (pt. 2)

Sunday, March 29

I shout out the instructions on how to make the perfect cup of coffee to my husband from our master bedroom. “Take the Caramel Bliss from the bottom shelf in the fridge and put some in the frother!” … “Um… I dunno, maybe 30 ml?” … “Yeah, and then just hit the top button. It should go red…” Part of me thinks that I could get used to this kind of service … but the other part thinks that it would be easier if I could just do it myself.

I received confirmation that the suspected case of COVID-19 that I was in contact with is positive, and that I’ll have to stay in isolation for two weeks from my last point of contact with this individual. That extends my sentence from two to ten days of solitary confinement – April 9th is my set parole date. Exactly four days after my son’s thirteenth birthday. I had already been racking my brain for creative ways to celebrate as an isolated family but now I have to figure how to make his day extra special as a self-isolated mother confined to a bedroom. It’s saddening to realize that I’ll be celebrating my son becoming a teenager from behind a piece of tape that’s placed in the hallway, which reads “DO NOT CROSS”.

* * *

Once the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New Brunswick, it only took one week before the province was forced to declare a state of emergency. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. People were panic buying, shelves were empty, jobs were lost, and our community’s resources quickly dwindled down to only the essentials. Restaurants gradually decreased from 50 percent capacity, to take-out only, to being closed until further notice. Traffic was sparse until it was eventually non-existent. And local businesses closed, leaving nothing but a door littered with COVID-19 signs and a vacant parking lot behind.
There’s an unnerving silence. The kind of silence you would expect in a rural area but not in the middle of a city. As I walked the dog, I recall there being no sound except the cawing of a nearby crow. Cars were at home and houses were occupied but the city lacked any signs of life. This pandemic has caused the pulse of our charismatic city to steadily slow down until it eventually flatlined.
We all must realize that we’re living through a crisis which requires absolute compliance and cooperation. Unforunately, those who choose to dig in their heels and forego their social distancing are contributing to heightened tensions worldwide. Finger pointing on how others are responding to the COVID-19 directives is resulting in a widening of the generational gap.
Globally, we must continue to break down boarders. Help our neighbour. Spread kindness. Speak the universal language of compassion. And work together for a universal cause. In this situation, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts but equal – meaning that our individual actions are just as important, if not more, for overcoming this pandemic together.

Please, continue to stay home and stay safe!

To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : Isolation Day (pt. 1)

March 27, 2020

“You’ve been in recent contact with a suspected COVID-19 case so you will be required to self-isolate for two days until the test is confirmed…” I receive this phone call at 9:45pm on Friday night from the public health nurse. In an instant, things became very real, very fast. My husband stares at me as I hang up. Knowing that this day would likely come, I give him a shrug and we begin to execute our contingency plan.

My youngest son’s eyes water in fear as I explain to him that I’ve been in contact with a potential case and have to go into self-isolation for two days. Moments ago, I was surrounded by my family during our ‘forced family fun’ night. We were eating pizza and choking back tears as we watched Schindler’s List. I did as I was told. I’ve been isolating properly. I’ve been washing my hands raw. And now I have to isolate myself from even my family. How quickly things can change. I reassure my youngest that it’s going to be okay and that with my work, this would happen eventually. We just need to take the necessary precautions to keep everyone else safe. I then ask him to begin disinfecting the light switches, door handles, and common surface areas while I tell the other two kids.

My husband is in our bedroom, packing his stuff so that he can relocate to the spare room downstairs. I get a twinge in my heart as I watch him fill a suitcase full of clothes, not knowing if this will be for two days or two weeks. He grabs his alarm clock, two pillows, and all of his toiletries. And just like that, I officially begin quarantine. I look around my bedroom. It doesn’t look different but it certainly feels much different; I suddenly feel a bit sad, scared that my family may be at risk, and lonely.

***

Two weeks ago, we began social distancing as the COVID-19 virus took the world by surprise.

The kids were initially excited to be given two weeks off school; however, as the situation continued to grow, so did their social distancing … and boredom. Trying to maintain normalcy, I began slipping ‘to do’ lists under my son’s door every morning, titled “Camp Quarantine”. It gives him a list of responsibilities ranging from English and math assignments to basic household chores. Are these desperate attempts to stimulate his mind a complete waste of time? Who knows. But I do them anyway. The assignment which I am most excited about is his journal. He began recording his day to day experiences of living through this pandemic. I emphasized that this is a historical event in which none of us have ever experienced before. We don’t know how long it will last nor how it will end but we do know, for sure, that this will reshape the way we live and the world around us.

My husband and I both work in the healthcare field; therefore, we’re considered essential workers. We both face different stresses during this time. As a surgeon, my husband’s access to the hospital is limited so he’s often quite distracted by trying to figure out what to do with his more urgent cases. How do you tell a person they have cancer and in the same breath tell them that they have to wait for treatment? When I find this pandemic frustrating or overwhelming, I think of these people …

I work in a primary care clinic, approximately thirty minutes from home. Our services have also been reduced to urgent and essential; however, I still continue to carry out patient visits over the telephone. I work with an elderly and vulnerable population, so I try to ensure that they are staying home and have the support they need during this difficult time. I sit down at my desk every morning, pull up my list of patients on my computer, and begin calling: “Hi, this Amanda, your nurse practitioner. During the pandemic, I will try my best to care for you over the phone in order to keep you home and keep you safe…”

Everywhere I turn, it’s about the pandemic. I have coffee with my husband in the morning and we discuss the latest development. I drive to work and tune into CBC and it’s about the pandemic. I call patients and they require reassurance about the pandemic. I check my Facebook and it’s about how people are coping with the pandemic. I call my mother on my way home and we talk about how this pandemic is affecting our daily routine. I then go home and discuss the latest cases in New Brunswick with my husband.

I live in the Northeastern region of New Brunswick. Every day the numbers continue to grow and there are newer cases closer and closer to home. I can feel the squeeze of the coronavirus slowly surrounding us, like a snake with its prey. It squeezes tighter and tighter until it will eventually penetrate our communities, our neighbourhoods, and our homes…

Please, stay home and stay safe!

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To Be Continued…