21 May 2020

Covid-19 separation: NZ nurse suffers 'hardest two weeks of my life'

7:17 pm on 21 May 2020

Huddled together, tears flowing and words of love being whispered, a reunion between two sisters in a small New South Wales town marks the end of a nearly two-month battle to grant a dying wish.

Old people , husband holding his wife is hands while  she in a wheel chair

A retired New Zealand nurse was turned down four times before being allowed the chance to be reunited with her very ill sister in Australia. Photo: 123RF

After five travel exemption applications, two weeks of self-isolation in Sydney and two negative results for Covid-19, it's been an arduous journey for Christine Archer to be at the side of her terminally ill sister, Gail Baker.

Yesterday, the retired New Zealand nurse finally made it to the NSW mid north coast village of Bowraville.

"Words can't explain how I feel," Archer said.

"I'm just so happy that I finally got to be here and be with her.

"The last two weeks have been the hardest or the longest two weeks of my life I think."

Archer was granted a Covid-19 travel exemption on 1 May to fly from New Zealand to care for her younger sister, who has advanced ovarian cancer.

The approval came after four rejections by the Department of Home Affairs.

For Baker, the ordeal was "demoralising", as she faced the possibility of dying alone in hospital without her sister.

'Huge relief'

Baker's terminal diagnosis had already forced her to give up her decades-long career as a midwife, and the rejections of her sister's application had left her disheartened.

But, she said, the approval of the fifth application restored her hope her sister would be able to come to Australia to be with her.

"I didn't have much hope [Christine] would be let into the country, so it was a huge relief," Baker said.

"At the time I honestly didn't think I would last a week or two. I was very ill."

As she sat in her living room and reminisced with her older sister over a cuppa, surrounded by her only daughter, grandchildren and dogs, Baker said it was exactly how she wanted to live out her final weeks and months.

"That is my dying wish, and it's why I couldn't wait to get out of the hospital, because I thought I was going to die in there," she said.

"I want to be here with my dogs and my sister and [daughter] Erica, who is a bit frightened of death. She hasn't had much to do with that and I don't want her to be frightened."

Baker's daughter, Erica Peterson, said it was a mixture of relief and happiness to see her mother and aunt reunited after what had been a difficult six weeks.

She said hoped that as the pandemic continued no-one else would have to endure a similar experience.

"If somebody is dying or if there is some exceptional circumstance, please let people's families be with them," she said.

"People need to be with their families at horrible times like these."

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