I was soon to learn that Newcastle is a notoriously hard place to meet people. Probably not so bad for my daughter’s age group as it is for people over the age of about 40. It’s a University town and there was plenty there to keep her occupied and she made many new friends, but apart from work contacts and some family living outside of Newcastle but in NSW, I was pretty much on my own. Coming from a small community where you can’t walk down the street without seeing someone you know, I was finding this hard to come to terms with. I missed having proper friends rather than casual acquaintances, and I began to get homesick. And then I began to get sick.
Sick is probably too strong a word for it. But I was at the beginning of a long and very bewildering journey that led me down a lot of blind alleys and cost me a lot of money. It started as a pain in my arse (literally) and one leg that gradually became weaker and weaker until I found walking very painful and difficult. I went to four different GPs, three physiotherapists, two chiropractors, two Bowen therapists, two masseuses, an acupuncturist, an Orthopaedic Surgeon, a spinal surgeon and a neurologist. I had two MRI scans, a cortisone injection, two x-rays, a nerve conduction study, and an ultra-sound. Apart from ‘normal degeneration for my age’ everything appeared to be in good working order … except my bank account. As I didn’t have any medical insurance in Australia all of this was self-funded, except the GP visits which I was able to claim on Medicare.
The adventure was over. By this time I was well fed up and just wanted to come home and be re-united with my wonderful friends and family, not to mention my NZ Medical Insurance policy (which thankfully I still had) before I spent everything I owned (and didn’t own) on medical bills. My daughter and I booked our tickets, the removalists (which I had to pay for myself this time) came and packed up our worldly goods and on 26 July 2013 my daughter wheeled me onto the plane back to Christchurch. Within a week of our return I had found a wonderful place to live with magnificent views of the harbour in the community I had longed to return to, I found a job and I bought a car. And yes, I did get to what I then believed was the bottom of the pain and leg weakness. I saw a neurosurgeon in Christchurch who instructed an MRI which revealed that a bone in my back had slid forward over the bone below it causing the nerve roots to be squeezed. In June 2015 I underwent four hours of spinal surgery which I was told would relieve the problem.
I will never regret the experience of living and working in Australia – there was plenty of laughter as well as tears, even if it was just to teach me how to appreciate what I have in the here and now, wherever that may be. But I know that for my here and now that place is New Zealand.