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Sole practitioner in quarantine

Saturday 7 March – phone ringing from private number. OK, I will answer it as it’s probably the husband not changing his phone onto caller ID mode.

“Hello, is that Julie Gilfoyle?”

“Well, you should know as you called me” was what I wanted to say, but I said “yes”.

“It’s Dr Louise Flood, Director of the Centre for Communicable Diseases (CCD) here, and were you a passenger on Virgin Flight VA159 Brisbane to Adelaide on Tuesday 3 March?”

Heart dropping now. “Yes,” I reply.

“Where are you now?” So I answer. “Have you any symptoms, such as a sore throat…”

The answer is yes, and I’m sitting under a tree because I just wanted to lie down, and I’m trying to drink coffee as I have a sore throat and neck, and a fever.

“I am telling you that you are now detained. A passenger sitting next to you on this flight has tested for Coronavirus. What we need you to do is stay there and we will send an ambulance…” And there it began.

How easy it is to go from reading, hearing and discussing COVID-19 Coronavirus like it was not real but some media hype, the only reality up to now being the lack of toilet paper on the supermarket shelves.

I was in Adelaide for commencement of uni and then to stay with a friend for the WOMADelaide festival. I had hubby and kids in Brissy, I am a sole practitioner, I am in the middle of an urgent child recovery and have court and end-of month rollover to do. I have two clients to do bail applications for in three days.

I am then met by police with masks on, in front of the crowd who were supposed to be watching a Korean drum band (so was I); escorted to an ambulance with officers straight of a chemical hazard drug raid outfit, transported to the Adelaide testing facility (only opened two days before).

“Stand behind the yellow line. No, don’t hand over your Medicare card – we can’t touch that. What? You are not from Adelaide; where is home?”

The questions are endless, the swab test easy, results in 48 hours. I have so many questions but they don’t have the answers. I explain to them that keeping patients (clients) informed and educated may benefit them in obtaining co-operation from patients. I start being treated as a person then. Apparently, I am the first one that they had that was detained by the CCD; all their other tests had been with people volunteering to come and be tested.

My friend? She is employed with the Public Services Commission. She is asymptomatic (no symptoms) and I find out she was told to go to the hotel room and stay there until further notice. I am returned to the hotel room too and we are there together feeling lost and uninformed.

We are fortunate that we are both literate and mostly intelligent. We start reaching out for information and sources of help. No more laughing at the toilet roll and Corona bottle memes and jokes, seriously trying to work out what will be required of us and if I am positive, then the consequences of this.

We are into now Day 4 and still in our hotel room. What has occurred between that first day and now is unique to our circumstances. All individuals affected will have needs and face the unique consequences of having COVID-19 in their lives.

My friend’s supervisors have been extremely supportive – she is working remotely and attending meetings where possible. Her children are still at home but young men, and she is a single mother. They were both more anxious about having no toilet paper than their mother’s wellbeing. She has no symptoms. However, she was not tested either.

Myself as a sole practitioner – I am my own boss and she is not very happy with me. Regardless, positivity and optimism is vital. Instead of ‘what can’t be done?’, change it to ‘what can I do?’ or ‘what must I do?”.

We gathered our food supplies (two bottles of wine, chocolate and other gifts to take back) we liaised with one member of staff at the hotel and they agreed to have us remain there and gave us a set rate which included breakfast and dinner.

We organised the wi-fi and then I started my keyboard warrior journey. I was fortunate to have a friend who was seconded to the Queensland Response to COVID-19 Task Force and who guided me in who to approach. I cannot imagine how this would negatively affect those without people to assist them. Here is the outcome:

  1. There is national funding to assist with those in quarantine whilst away from their homes and your state/territory health department have these details.
  2. You are entitled to a case worker within the health department. If you have been tested, then you have this case worker talk with you on the phone and assist you in obtaining medications and other life needs specifically to you.
  3. Should you have no symptoms and no need for testing (my friend) then you get a text daily to ask you if you are showing any symptoms – this is a yes or no reply function via mobile phone.
  4. It is a 14-day quarantine period from last exposure. Therefore, should I have tested positive, then my detention period would be served at the hospital, however, my friend’s 14-day period starts all over again.
  5. My test came back negative for Coronavirus but positive for Influenza A. Influenza A has killed more people than Coronavirus – fact.
  6. The test for Coronavirus is for ‘that time only’ – meaning that we could develop the virus any time up to and including the end of the 14 days. Therefore, this rejected my submissions for early release as I had no Coronavirus.
  7. After making inquiries about how we were exposed, we were advised that a person returning from overseas was unwell and did not comply with the testing opportunity at Brisbane International Airport. The person headed straight to the domestic terminal and boarded our flight.
  8. Insurance – yes we were insured for travel – even domestic travel I get insured. I have been liaising with them. I have ascertained that the relevant state/territory have funding to cover accommodation costs for visitors to a certain amount (this varies between states/territories).
    Therefore, you could be moved to different accommodation. Unfortunately, the Hilton was booked out when we were booking our trip so we were staying in lesser quality location and as they quite liked us, they negotiated with SA Government and we are staying here. This is important to know because we were both stressing about the extra accommodation and food costs. There is no insurance policy that I am aware of that will cover you for epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of diseases. At the time of writing this, I am waiting for a response from our insurer on whether they will pay for the flight home and I have made submissions that it falls under the definition of ‘unexpected event’. We have not booked flights as we may have to change yet again.
  9. Masks – only good for half an hour and then they lose their protective aspects.

Your future travel – this is a decision for you. Should the person I sat next to on the plane (who was coughing and spluttering) have turned down the path at the Brisbane International Airport that said ‘queue here if you are showing symptoms …’ and not carried on the connecting flight, then I would not be here.

Adhere to the warnings, comply with requests, think of others and not yourself. I am due to travel to Sydney at the end of the month and will I cancel that? The answer is no.

As a sole practitioner, I have to work. I have financial commitments and people rely on me. I have emailed clients, I have an out-of-office message on, I am taking limited calls, I have made applications to appear by telephone before court, and accepted offers from colleagues for assistance. I am in touch with my family and friends and I am keeping people informed and educated on what’s happening and I am following my own suggestion – keeping others informed – that I gave to the nurse all those long days ago.

Julie Gilfoyle is a Brisbane-based solicitor, mediator and conflict coach.

This story was originally published in Proctor April 2020.

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