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  • Writer's picturesamantha battams

coping with covid19

Updated: May 6, 2020

So much has happened since the last blog I wrote in November 2019. Writing for my latest book, #TheRhyniePoisoningCase, a sequel to #TheSecretArtofPoisoning, has been slow and the last time I worked on it was over 2 months ago in February 2020: it seems to have been stuck at ‘half way through’ for a while. My writing has been mainly focused on my journal. But since it is a cold, windy and wet autumn night under #COVID19 restrictions, I thought it would be a good time to write a blog again and catch up on the past months, so I started this last night.


The year started by being consumed with the terrifying #Australianbushfires, which commenced in 2019, including closely following the news and politics, advocating for action for #climatechange, letter writing to senators, tweeting more than usual and attending rallies, volunteering and donating. It was devastating seeing the death and destruction, and hard to comprehend that we lost 1 billion wildlife; I felt that I was grieving for our country. The images of people on Malua Bay on NYE seemed to be burnt into my mind – we were following the news on ABC24 in particular as I was having lunch with my sister Raelene and her family NYE, and my nieces’ and nephew’s Dad was thought to be there in NSW (he was back in SA but members of his family that lived at Malua Bay spent the night of NYE on the beach). Although having the bushfires in the back of the mind, I was still able to go out NYE with Julie-Anne and Christyana and seeing in 2020 by enjoying dancing to #LetsDance.

I thought a lot about #KangarooIsland, seeing it burn from Semaphore beach. It’s a very special place and I’ve had three memorable trips there, once in 1998 when nephew Les Parsons was the Captain on the KI ferry leaving Glenelg, once in 2005 camping with ex-husband Pierre-Alain showing a French-Swiss visitor the place, and in 2014 staying there with French visitor Brice – we of course included a visit to #FrenchmansRock which has graffiti from French explorer Baudin’s crew. The latter trip was just after Easter 2014 and we were quite upset by the amount of roadkill there, but that was nothing compared to the estimated 25,000 koalas that were killed in the 19/20 bushfires, among other animals. Encouraged by SA’s #BookThemOut campaign, in January I planned and paid for a fourth trip to Kangaroo Island with my friend Julie-Anne for March, but plans had to be changed, and not only due to #COVID19.

Just after Xmas I volunteered at a Volunteer Centre in the Adelaide Hills, an area affected by bushfires, and I also donated to various places: the #RedCross disaster relief appeal, #Vinnies Bushfire Appeal, #AdelaideKoalaRescue, the KI Mayor’s Bushfire Appeal and the Gofundme for the Black Cockatoos of Kangaroo Island.

I also participated in #AuthorsForFireys which was raising money for the bushfire victims, and saw the great #Tarnanthi Exhibition at the Art Gallery SA when I lunched with the winner of my books.

I had planned the launch of #SistersinCrimeSA for March and then April 2020, and #NYTimes Bestselling author #KathyReichs was to launch her book #AConspiracyofBones (inspired by the true #SomertonMan case) in Adelaide in April through Sisters in Crime SA. There were also a number of events lined up to discuss my books and a writing workshop, including for SA History Month. But all of these events ofcourse had to be delayed, as did thoughts about travelling overseas again. I originally postponed the trip to KI and the launch of Sisters in Crime SA due to my health, and both were postponed a second time due to #COVID19.


Mid-February I went to a hospital ED as I had a high fever for a few days, a backache for a week, felt dizzy and was shivering, and had vomited that day. I had thought it was just a flu and backache, and I went to see two physiotherapists that week and was using a heat pack as recommended (worse thing for a fever!). Turns out I had an infected kidney stone and sepsis, and three operations and six weeks later, everything was fine again.

This was probably one of the most challenging things that I’ve have had to go through on my own, and it made me very grateful for the family and friends that did support me during that time. I was grateful for my sister Raelene who came to the hospital immediately before I had the first operation and stayed over after the first two operations, my friend Julie who visited me at the hospital, my nephew Adam for first taking me there, my niece Jessica who brought her 4 year old daughter Abbey, who did many drawings for me when she visited, my colleague Fran who visited me in hospital and was understanding regarding working from home, and my friend Julie-Anne who picked me up and stayed over after the last operation. I was so happy to leave the hospital that first stay and get down to the beach when I recovered.

I was told by a hospital Doctor during my first stay (when I wanted to leave hospital early) that it was ‘very serious (I) could have died,’ as did my GP. It was scary to go through, but I was proud of the way I went through everything (including X-Ray as I’m a bit claustrophobic!). Being out of control like that and totally dependent on the care of others was not easy. I was grateful for the staff at the hospital including the doctors, nurses, friendly cleaners and volunteers, and for the esteemed specialist. I was in a lot of pain just after the operation and was really tired in the evenings as I was still fighting an infection, and I couldn’t sleep on either side due to discomfort. I remember ringing the specialist and explaining this and him saying ‘I am really sorry you are in so much pain.’ That acknowledgement was the perfect response and showed empathy just when I needed it - sometimes acknowledgement is what someone really needs.

That communication contrasted with something I heard when I initially went to ED. I heard the staff say to a mental health patient ‘you know the chain of command, you’ve been in the army’ and ‘you look like a monkey on a gate sitting up there.’ The patient said in reply, in the most rational way with great understatement, ‘That’s not very helpful.’ Everyone should be treated with respect, care, and humanity, especially if they may be constrained and waiting 3-4 days in ED before treatment. To hear the comment about the ‘chain of command’ was also upsetting, knowing that this may have been triggering for a veteran. The 'WHO Framework for measuring health service responsiveness' talks about respect for dignity, respect for confidentiality and prompt attention – things we need to keep aiming for.

February we also celebrated my sister Raelene’s birthday with a lunch at Joy of Flora, with her daughter and granddaughter Abbey. Largely thanks to my friend Matilda Marseillaise, I saw a few #AdelaideFringe and #AdelaideFestival shows, the first one being a play written and performed by a New Zealand woman, #KateJasonSmith whose mother was a nurse in WW2 – it was called #IllTellYouThisForNothing #MyMotherTheWarHero It was very moving and memorable, I’ve been thinking of it since I saw it – especially a particular story of her mother's experience with a person who had been in a concentration camp, how her mother had carried the stories with her - and about modern day racism and nationalism. The same weekend I also saw a movie with a friend called ‘Knives Out’ at the Palace Prospect on Sunday; I was still tired from the operation and fell asleep during the movie, so not sure if I can recommend it!

The following weekend, I went to a session at #AdelaideWritersWeek and saw #ChigozieObioma speak about his book, #AnOrchestraOfMinorities I found interesting the discussion about Nigerian traditional religion/spiritualism which features in the book. The concept of the ‘chi’, one’s guardian spirit that can inhabit people and then go back to the spiritual world. A discussion of free will vs the chi occurred, and how the ‘chi’ can advise but not compel you against your will. Insanity is seen as an effect of someone going against their ‘chi’ guardian spirit. One thing I took away from this session was the line that ‘plot is a function of character.’ This discussion made me think about the poor treatment of people with mental illness in some less developed countries – something I became aware of whilst researching and writing for the 2010 WHO Report on #MentalHealthAndDevelopment - and how a personal responsibility may be attributed to mental illness if someone is seen to be ‘going against their guardian spirit.’ This all contrasts with what we know about mental illness – that it is linked to increasing inequalities in society, SES and periods of crisis such as the one we are going through now.

On 29th February I saw the very entertaining #Tartuffe by the #RoyalLyceumTheatreEdinburgh at the great #HoldenStreetTheatres. This is a play by Moliere I studied in 1st year Drama at Flinders University, it was funny to see it performed with such thick Scottish accents – and to see subtitles projected above the stage!


Adelaide Cup Day weekend I walked around #Wonderwalls at Port Adelaide and visited a friend called Julie in #Jamestown in rural South Australia, and it felt like such a freedom to drive so far after being in hospital. We saw a stunning photographic exhibition there, the International Travel Photography exhibition. Jamestown was near the birthplace of #RMWilliams and there is an interpretive display on him which we also visited.

On the way back to Adelaide, I tried to find my hero #SirHubertWilkins’s family homestead, a place I always wanted to visit, but I couldn’t find it. BTW, Simon Nasht’s biography of Sir Hubert Wilkins is fantastic - #TheLastExplorer - he is truly an Australian hero who is largely unknown. I heard that his portrait was in the men’s toilet at the Adelaide Airport!

I did, however, get to meet Julie’s new kitten, 4 week old ‘Guinness’ when I was there – one of the kitten’s rescued when its mother died in a road accident. I also bought some real country purchases, some gorgeous hand-painted pots for some herbs (I have finally successfully grown coriander!), and a tea towel locally embroidered with a cute cow character. Immediately after I drove back I went to a family BBQ at my nephews place, with my eldest sister and her family, whom I hadn’t seen since Xmas. Nice to see these family members again!

The following week was the International Women's Day Breakfast. On the 12th March I saw an Adelaide Festival show with #MatildaMarseillaise, the #FireGardens at the Adelaide Botanical Gardens, by #CompagnieCarabosse which was visually beautiful and kind of magical. It was also a bit scary, being on such a warm windy night, especially after the bushfires. Fire trucks were parked inside the gardens as a precautionary measure.

My second operation was the following morning, on Friday the 13th March. That was a ‘lucky’ day – the operation went well, and after not being able to buy toilet paper, I was able to buy some on the way home! I found out that I had a calcium oxalate kidney stone - a common type of stone and requires dietary changes to a #lowoxalate diet (no more spinach, sweet potato, miso soup, nuts, cocoa, chocolate (well, less) and go easy on the black tea!). Researching further into kidney stones I discover that they are not far removed from the topic I started with – they have been linked to hotter regions within countries and climate change modelling predicts that they will increase.

The following week, on 19th March 2020, I started working from home – now exactly six weeks ago!

The day I started working from home I received the shocking news that one of my Southgate colleagues had died suddenly in her sleep the night before. I didn’t know her very well, but I remembered the last ‘corridor’ conversation I had with her a couple of weeks earlier, with her showing concern and asking me about my health. Her death was truly shocking and sad, and my condolences go out to her family.

That night I watched the first AFL match of the season, without the crowd in attendance, it was weird and seemed like training or a practice match. Later the same night I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast on the #InsightTimer app, about compassion and writing a #LetterOfCompassion to yourself, which I did.

The last weekend I ate out at cafes and restaurants was the weekend before they closed; I went to the #JoyOfFlora for lunch on Friday at West Croydon and dinner at fantastic Afghan restaurant #Parwana at Torrensville, but it felt uncomfortable and it didn’t seem like the new restrictions were possible in that environment. Friday I also started going to the zoom sessions set up by Moira Were, founder of #ChooksSA.

That weekend I felt the COVID19 changes and the need for greater connection. Many of the Australian COVID19 restrictions came in on the following Tuesday, 24th March. I was concerned about the forthcoming #SocialIsolation as a single person working from home, better called #PhysicalDistancing. It felt like the world was changing, that there was more kindness (with the #KindnessPandemic starting), and more selfishness (with the shopping centre fiascos and fights over toilet paper and other products ).

The 26th March was the last operation I had in a series, a day surgery, and it was a relief to get these over and done with. That weekend I bought a new smart TV and DVD player, things I had been meaning to get for ages. I also had to get some toilet paper from a friend, there was nothing on the shelves in a few stores that I went to. I got into baking and gardening and felt like doing art again. I read the story of ‘Wild Woman’ from the classic #WomenWhoRunWithTheWolves, about getting in touch with your creativity and wild nature.

On the last day of March we had a Zoom session to remember our female colleague who had died, nearly a week and a half since her death (funerals being restricted due to COVID19). It was a reminder to be kinder, to watch out for one another and to make time for social connection in the work environment.


The same week, on the evening of 4th April, I’d had a friend over and at the end of the night I checked #Twitter and was again shocked to see that another colleague had died suddenly, Professor Dennis McDermott. I’d spoken with him just a few weeks earlier, as he had rung from the hospital about a paper. A lovely, spiritual, Indigenous man, you felt at ease and relaxed in his company. Among many things he was an academic, poet and psychologist and nice person to work with. The next week myself and many others ‘attended’ his funeral which was live online, and we left our many tributes.

That weekend I got the cookbooks out, even my mother’s old cookbooks and started baked things I hadn’t for a while, like bread, cornish pasties, banana bread and scones (and new stuff like quinoa salad and cauliflower and dahl curry). Thanks to 92 year old Muriel from CWA for her YouTube clip on the perfect scone recipe - here is my version (not as neat looking).

The following week in the lead up to Easter, I read my little niece Abbey a story over Skype, one that I had kept from when I was young, #ItsTheEasterBeagleCharlieBrown It was a special book for me, and especially seeing in it how Woodstock’s house was ‘uprooted’ and he worked to build a new home – that happened to me around the time I received the book. Reading it back, it’s funny how it seems so political – it has anti-materialistic messages in it. On the matter of children’s books, someone recently asked on a FB page I belong to about the books we remembered as young children – a few stood out, including #Serendipity (about a sea creature that was an environmental protector of the seas), #TheHouseOfSixtyFathers and #TheSecretGarden.

Easter Friday I went for a 10km walk with a friend. We went from Tennyson, through the Tennyson Dunes to Grange and back (#WaraWayinggaTennysonDunesConservationReserve).

#ToiletPaperSaga continued: Easter Saturday I tried to find toilet paper and could not find it at three stores, but at the fourth (the place I had last got it), they were selling packs of four which they had pre-packaged into their own plastic bags (i.e. they had taken them out of the original bags they came in) – and I was only able to buy it as I mentioned as I was leaving the store that I couldn’t find toilet anywhere – they had it stashed behind the front counter. It had been over 4 weeks since I had been able to purchase any!

#EasterSunday I made myself a nice meal for lunch, and a friend came over to help me set up a table for an art space in my shed. I was inspired by my little great niece Abbey who had showed me around her house and yard via messenger a week earlier, including her art space in her shed. I had also bought oil paints earlier which I used.

Easter Monday I went for a walk around #BelairNationalPark with Julie-Anne, and we got take-away lunch from Joan’s pantry on the way back. That night the episode of #TalesOfACity I did with Jethro Heller interviewing me on #TheSecretArtOfPoisoning book and #MarthaNeedle was aired. That weekend was exactly 100 years since her nephew committed his terrible crimes at Rhynie during Easter 1921 – the story of #TheRhynieTragedy, which I am currently writing.

#ToiletPaperSaga resolved: The 23rd of April was a landmark day – the first day I had been able to buy a proper pack of toilet paper since the 13th March! I had to take a photo of the store being restocked, just as I had taken photos of empty shelves some weeks earlier. The evening before a friend had called me asking if they wanted me to buy a pack for them, as they'd spotted it in a store for the first time in weeks!

Coping and keeping connected with #COVID19 restrictions

During these times of restriction, I have been having daily Zooms with one of my jobs (3 days) and weekly zooms for the other (2 days). I have been attending weekly zooms with a group, initiated by Moira Were who set up #ChooksSA. I have also been regularly in touch with my family through messenger and videos. Sunday nights, my little great niece has been ‘performing in concert,’ with one concer featuring coronavirus as the theme across all songs! I have attended two of these 40 minute ‘musical theatre concerts’ via messenger video.

I have continued to see, separately, three friends who are either single or live on their own; Julie, Julie-Anne and Malcolm. I have messaged or spoken to other friends and I’ve communicated with overseas friends and my ex-husband overseas by email (he had a little boy on 10th February!) and messenger. I have joined FB groups such as #TheKindnessPandemic (co-founded by a cousin), #IsolationRecipes (started by a high school friend) and #ViewFromMyWindow.

I’ve participated in the #FrontDoorProjectAdelaide, having my photo taken by Tania Gaylor and donating to #FoodbankSA at the same time.

I have been getting into TV series, including #TheLittleDrummerGirl and #LeBureau on #SBSOnDemand, both fantastic spy series. I’ve also used Australia Post again - written a card to my great niece and posted it (it took 5 days to get!), which she loved, and posted a book to a friend (which took even longer). I have gotten more into #gardening, #music, #cooking, #journaling, #art and #aromatherapy. I have listened to the #CalmApp meditations more, especially when I was first in hospital. I have been going on daily walks from Semaphore to Largs at the end of the day, and taking lots of photos of the sunsets. I have been reading very slowly, #TheGoodTurn by Dervla McTiernan. I have been making sure to go out in the sun for at least 10 minutes during the day!

I’ve followed the news closely, along with press conferences and live video updates posted through Facebook. When I watched Four Corners on the COVID19 situation in New York 21/4 and before this, I have been thinking of a GP friend, Sharon in Boston (who I met in Geneva), and their lack of PPE. How this situation has highlighted inequities and poor health systems.

We have been fortunate here in Adelaide, we have had no new cases over the past 8 days. I’ve started to think about what I will do more of when these restrictions are over, any life changes I want to make and how I will make sure to #celebratemilestones. I’ve been more grateful - for my family and friends, the house I live in with its big back yard (nothing like the apartment I had in Geneva), being able to go on daily walks along the beach or esplanade along Semaphore and Largs, having my work and being able to work from home, for all of the frontline workers and our universal health care system, and all of those in essential services. This experience has made me think more about life and death, exacerbated by my own health issues and the deaths of two colleagues, and how I want to live my life in a more #ConnectedWay. #StaySafe everyone x

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