March 29, 2017
This has been a very turbulent year for me so far. I have uprooted my entire life for the search of something better. Something healthier.
For those of us that live with terminal and chronic diseases, change does not come easy. I learned this the hard way. I am still learning.
When I made the colossal decision to go to New Zealand in search of better (cheaper) healthcare, I’m not sure if I really understood the change I was undertaking. See, I’ve had the travel bug all my life, and I’ve bounced from state to state, and country to country, more times than can be counted on two hands. So a giant exploratory adventure to New Zealand didn’t seem so giant at the time I put thought into action. In fact, I viewed it as one of my more minor adventures. I mean, I was already a NZ citizen, and had lived there for over ten years sporadically throughout my life.
What I didn’t take into consideration, and perhaps I should have, was that I hadn’t been back in NZ since 2004. That’s 13 years! I’d never been away for so long before, and I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even consider that it might be a culture shock after all this time. I was so used to moving around so much in the United States, that it truly did not occur to me that going to a country that I hadn’t stepped foot on in 13 years, might have changed in my absence.
It was really hard when I first got here. And I will be the first to admit that I immediately (I’m talking within the first week), wondered if coming here had been a mistake. Maybe I was so excited for change that I hadn’t really taken the time to think about what I was doing. Medical and housing bills were piling up in Hawaii, I couldn’t afford my apartment any longer, I couldn’t even afford my chemotherapy. The one thing that was starting to really work out for me, was bankrupting me faster than I could snap my fingers. Well, I can’t actually snap my fingers these days because of the arthritis, but you get the picture…
I flew to New Zealand like a song whistled in the wind. It had been so easy. Maybe too easy? I’d gotten a stand-by pass from my Dad, a perk from his days as a pilot, so my ticket had been less that $200. Unheard of for international travel. Despite my chronic disease, I’d packed up my entire apartment basically on my own, selling what I could, and giving away the rest. The only devastating part about leaving Hawaii was having to re-home my cats. My beautiful fur babies that had been with me since the beginning. I won’t go into details as this will turn into twenty mins of sobbing over the heartbreak of it. But they were adopted by a couple and their 12 year old girl, who swore she loved them a hundred times over. Once they were gone, there was nothing left for me in Hawaii anyways.
Well, not entirely true. I was leaving behind family and friends, a booming online business, and the best medical team a chronically ill patient could ever ask for. You may wonder why that wasn’t enough for me to stay. I can’t explain it. Sometimes you just wake up and know there is more for you somewhere else. More to see, more to do, more to experience. At 35, I am single and unmarried, I have no children (save my fur babies), and no bricks and mortar that by am attached to. With each passing day my disease progresses, breaking through the walls my medicine tries to put up to slow it down. A year ago, my doctors gave me a time frame for my lifespan. At 34, I was told how many more years I could expect to live. It was not a number that I was happy with. In fact, it spiraled me down in a deep depression, that still haunts me now and then. At my age, most people aren’t even half way through their life! So, to be told I could be close to the end was like having a brick flung at my face, narrowly dodging it, only to be hit by a freight train.
My point, if all good things must come to an end, maybe I should see more and do more before that day gets here.
But lo and behold, chemotherapy was finally starting to work. I had pep in my step, energy I’d forgotten existed, and my pain started to melt away. If only it wasn’t so ridiculously expensive to get treatment in the United States. (I’ll save my deep and profound anger at Big Pharma for another day.) I had remembered that when I lived in New Zealand when I was younger, that their public healthcare system had been top notch. So with a lot of research (including staring at my computer screen til my eyeballs felt like sandpaper), and some phone calls to family and friends in NZ, I made the decision to check it out.
As stated, I moved out of my apartment, put my beloved baking tools in storage (no way in hell was I parting with my Williams & Sonoma pie plate), packed two suitcases (who made that lame rule??), and set off for another life affirming adventure. Right? Well, jury is still out. Culture shock doesn’t even begin to describe what was waiting for me. I never thought of myself in terms of “old dog/new tricks” but, wow, I was not expecting such a big change. Or maybe it was that I had changed. I’d grown older, become resistant to change, or just not as easily accepting of the new.
Medical services are different here. So many hoops to jump through, and months of agonizing waiting that seems ridiculous. If someone was truly ill in the United States they would not have to wait very long for medical care. Maybe a month, but certainly not longer if they were in critical condition. It’s not like that here. “Everything in its own time” seems to be a popular phrase here, only its that phrase on crack. I imagine a lot of people probably go undiagnosed due to the snail pace of the public healthcare system here. It seems that it’s very important to have private insurance if you want to get anything done. Which is what I had to resort to. After many calls, my mom was able to get me an appointment with a private rheumatologist, only three weeks after my arrival. I had to pay out of pocket for that appointment, but it was necessary to get the ball rolling. Had we not, I could have been waiting upward of 4-5 months for an appointment through the public system. Without necessary medications, I could have easily been hospitalized by that point. Through the appt with the new Dr, I was able to find out I could get my chemotherapy again with a few less hoops to jump through than most. Thankfully the letters from my Hawaii medical team seemed to do the trick.
So, New Zealand wasn’t quite all I thought it to be. Not an easy fix, like my mind had hoped for. Not filled with fluffy sheep, chocolate, and the best cheese and ice cream ever. Well, not true, it does have all those things. Don’t even get me started on Orange Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Drool…. And maybe I did make a rash decision to move here without all the facts. Or maybe I wouldn’t have found out those facts til I got here. The point is I made a decision, and so far it’s working. It’s been hard, yes. I miss the privacy of my own apartment, the comfort of being able to walk naked from your bedroom to bathroom at 3am. Having my own kitchen where I can whip up my favorite comfort foods whenever I want them. I miss sleeping with my fur babies, their cuddly bodies warming my head and feet. I miss being able to walk out of my apartment and catch a bus to a friend’s house, or to the local movie theatre for $6 Tuesdays.
But change is good right?