What I Learned in Self Isolation

If there’s a silver lining to be found in COVID-19, it’s learning to appreciate what’s truly important in life.

I work at the Canadian International School (CIS) in Vietnam as Vice Principal of the elementary panel. Our school has been closed since January 27, when we ended a two-week holiday for the Lunar New Year (Tet in Vietnam). By then, COVID-19 had taken a hold on Wuhan, China and the Vietnamese government decided to close all schools in the country for a period of 14-days. As of today (April 1), Vietnam is under a new 15-day quarantine order; the borders are closed and so are the airports, for inbound flights.

On Saturday March 14, I boarded a plane (fully masked and gloved) destined for Toronto to seek medical attention for herniated discs in my cervical and lumbar spine. In Vietnam, neurosurgeons had deemed I needed very invasive surgeries to correct the spinal issues I was having. After hearing the diagnosis, I decided to return to Canada for a second opinion and to seek medical attention from my own doctor.

While in the air, the rules in Canada changed! Not only was I not going to be able to see my own doctor, there was no way any neurology specialist was going to see me either, and the MRI and X-rays I carried with me from Vietnam would remain in my suitcase unseen.

Canada was now beginning to shut down as well, almost eight weeks behind where we were in Vietnam.

When I landed in Vancouver, I was not asked any questions even though I had just arrived on a flight from southeast Asia— from Vietnam through Taipei (Taiwan) to Vancouver. I asked an airport worker in Vancouver if I could see a Health Canada official to explain my travel trajectory. The worker handed me a paper with the phone numbers of various provincial ministries of health and I was told to contact any of these numbers in the event that I felt flu-like symptoms.

I boarded my flight to Toronto then picked up my car and drove to my sister Donna’s home in Victoria Harbour. She had cooked and stocked the fridge and freezer with all my favourite foods, before she heading to a friend’s home, where she remained for the 14-days of self-isolation that I undertook.

In Victoria Harbour, I made contact with my spouse, Grant, to learn that while on a cross-Canada train the previous week for a vacation to Vancouver Island, his plans had to be aborted and he took a flight back to Toronto. This was the same night I was on my connecting flight to Toronto, but we were on different planes at different times. Grant had now begun to exhibit signs of COVID-19 infection. I should mention that once inside my car, I had taken off my mask and gloves for the first time—it turns out that Grant’s hands and breath had been all over the interior of our car just prior to me picking it up. I drove it for two hours not knowing anything about his diagnosis.

The good news is, after 14-days of self-isolation for both me in Victoria Harbour and Grant in Toronto, we are both COVID-19-free.

With regard to my back and my spinal issues, after communicating with my doctor and describing my symptoms, it was deemed that I didn’t need the invasive surgeries suggested by the neurosurgeon in Vietnam. In my doctor’s opinion, I required chiropractic and physiotherapeutic treatment rather than invasive surgery.

While writing this article, I have been reunited with Donna, who moved back into her house with me at the conclusion of my self-isolation. I have begun some new medication and exercises to correct my posture and to strengthen my back and spine. The plan is to return to my life and work in Ho Chi Minh City as soon as it is feasible.

I am grateful to the medical practitioners I interacted with here in Ontario from the time I arrived at my sister’s place. They helped relieve the sense of dread and anguish that I felt after having flown for more than 30 hours at a cost of over $7,000, only to be greeted with the fact that I couldn’t see anyone about my medical condition.

There are many blessings underlying this story. First, the robin’s song I am greeted with every morning. I’d not been in Canada in spring for more than six years so hearing a robin was healing and welcome. I missed hearing these wonderful birds at this time of year. Another blessing were the walks I took by myself along the beautiful Tay Trail. Then there were the five trumpeter swans that flew over Donna’s yard while I was out burning the previous year’s Christmas tree. It was amazing and wonderful as I had never seen or heard these beautiful birds in flight before. Finally, feeling the love of my sisters as they cared for me through closed doors and windows and via cellphones, video calls and text messaging is something I’ll never forget.

In times like these, the simple things become what really matter. When life is pared down to its core essentials, it is love that matters most—love of family, nature, and most of all the love of life itself that you appreciate.

Next, find out what it’s like to have a baby during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Originally Published in Our Canada