Christchurch – 15th March 2019

This post is a bit off-topic but we both agreed it is still an important part of Amanda’s stroke recovery journey…

 

I just checked when I published the last blog post – 12.35pm, March 15th 

 

We were staying in Christchurch for Amanda’s radiotherapy on Papanui Road, less than 2 miles from the Musjid Al Nor Mosque on Deans Avenue where, an hour later a gunman would shoot so many innocent people.

After I uploaded the blog post we boarded the shuttle bus for the hospital and headed for the other Cancer Society Motel on Riccarton Road. As we left our motel my phone flashed a news update.

There had been a shooting incident in Central Christchurch. We were in Central Christchurch.

The bus collected one other patient and headed the short distance towards the hospital. We had already driven through several sets of traffic lights which had been set to flash amber, confusing other drivers, but alerting them to the many emergency services vehicles now speeding across each junction.

We headed down Riccarton Road towards the junction with Deans Avenue. Our feisty and determined driver, Raewyn had already committed to getting her patients to the radiotherapy unit in complete disregard for her own safety and was loudly explaining how, if we heard gunfire we were to get on the floor and she would put her foot down.

We were stopped at the junction by a machine gun – wielding policeman. For non-Kiwis, you need to know that our police do not usually carry guns, which are reserved for use solely by the Armed Offenders Squad. He briefly argued with Raewyn who explained her urgency before looping around the block and arriving back at the same junction to be confronted by a different officer who let her through this time.

 

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Stopped by a machine gun-wielding Christchurch cop.

Two minutes later we were the only vehicle outside the usually busy hospital main entrance and were confronted by a sole police officer also with a machine gun, and an unarmed hospital security guard.

We were refused entry.

At this point (we found out later) there had been unconfirmed reports of gunfire at the hospital and the number of potential gunmen was unknown. Once again, Raewyn remonstrated with the police officer. The security guard suggested we try  the entrance to the Women’s Hospital, further along but in the same building.

Raewyn took off once again and this time we were greeted by a flustered and agitated hospital administrator.  She was also reluctant to let us in and was unable to raise the radiotherapy department on her phone. I suggested I run down there and see if they were open and able to still take appointments as by now Amanda was already five minutes late for hers. She agreed.

In hindsight it was a bit rash of me. I was dressed head to toe in black, running through a hospital in lock down as a gunman potentially roamed the corridors.

The radiotherapy department was still operational so I retraced my steps and escorted Amanda down into the lower part of the hospital to receive her short treatment.

When we emerged, due to the lockdown we were unable to leave and so made our way to the waiting room; usually almost empty due to the efficiency of the booking system. But this afternoon every one of the twenty chairs was taken, with more people standing as everyone on the lower ground floor had been corralled into the room.

I noticed they all had small white stickers attached to them, so I approached the desk. The nurse took our names, checked them off against a list and handed me two small pieces of white sticky paper. “It’s in case the gunman is still in the hospital. Anyone who comes through that door not wearing a white sticker could be him”.

At that moment I realised we were part of it, not just observers.

We sat for a few more hours watching the live news on the TV and communicating with the outside world thanks to the free wifi. It was bizarre as reports were filed from the otherwise deserted front of the hospital to think that we were  inside; safe and secure while elsewhere in the building the staff were dealing with an unprecedented  influx of gunshot wounds.

Around 6pm the lockdown was finally lifted and we were allowed to leave. But Uber had been taken off Christchurch roads and it was impossible to get a normal cab. A nurse offered to take us back to our motel and we finally got back around 7.45pm. It was only then that the magnitude of the afternoon began to hit us.

A few days later, as the flower memorial grew, while Amanda took her afternoon nap I wandered across Hagley Park to take a look. Hundreds of people stood in silence looking at the vast display and reading the numerous cards, many personal tributes to friends and family members. Later, I drove Amanda slowly passed the ever-growing display, but she found it too upsetting to stop and take a closer look.

 

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A small section of the vast flower tributes just outside Hagley park

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Earlier this year I was invited to make a short video to talk about Amanda’s experience with the Kiwi innovation – Voluntastrols.

I made a few attempts while we were in Christchurch, but even in the middle of Hagley Park, the distant but constant sounds of sirens or helicopters made recording impossible. I eventually succeeded once we returned home. The video (below) is also a short summary of Amanda’s stroke journey to date and has so far been viewed over 500 times.

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