My family left Wuhan on Monday night. Our son Adryan was picked up on the other side of Wuhan and then the hired bus met Emily, Wyatt and myself in front of the school where I teach. After that we headed to the airport, getting stopped at a checkpoint for the longest 40 minutes of any of our lives, we arrived at Wuhan’s Tianhe Airport.
This was by no means the end as any number of things could have resulted in us being denied entrance to the plane. Green ribbons were placed on our bags so we could retrieve them quickly in case we were turned back.
The processing took more than five hours for the 200+ masked and exhausted souls who had gathered together in this otherwise deserted international airport. Emily has prepared fried rice, so we ate our fill at 17:00 and then again at 11:30. Wyatt was not happy that he had to throw some of his Nasi Goreng (Indonesian for fried rice) away.
We had our paperwork from the Canadian embassy and our letter of permission from the Indonesian embassy. While Wyatt and I are Canadian, Emily and Adryan are Indonesian citizens. This was the first of the possible reasons we might not get on the plane. The second was the possibility that we might already be infected. As we filled out forms while moving through the line, we tried to stay focused, but the question remained; what would happen if one or more of us couldn’t get through. We made it to the gate. We were ready to step through to the boarding area. Then Adryan disappeared.
Neither Emily I had any idea where he was, so after calming each other down we asked the guard. Automatic sensors had flagged Adryan with a fever. He was in a room about 200 meters from our location, but we couldn’t see him. Adryan and the husband of a woman from our group were part of a small group of similarly flagged passengers.
We waited. Emily walked back through the gate while I stood with Wyatt, alternately deflecting and answering our 15-year old’s many questions. We agreed then and there that we would stay, all or none of us would board the plane. Emily persuaded them to test Adryan again. He was wearing a winter coat and carrying a heavy bag. After 10 minutes his temperature was low enough to pass another 10 minutes passed and Adryan appeared.
We made our way to the boarding area.
Sometime after midnight, we boarded the plane.
We sat together in the center row and waited expectantly. The medical staff and the flight crew, all Canadian military, was introduced and our obligations to remain masked and to self-report symptoms were explained. the large airbus was set up with an isolation area we’re anyone who became sick or symptomatic during the flight would be sequestered. The jet airliner taxied out and within minutes we were airborne. The first meal was a box lunch, as was the second. The masks made things uncomfortable, but safe. Temperature checks were scheduled, and the medical staff moved about; checking passengers, and sometimes to ask people to sit down, and sometimes to ask them to mind their children. The cries of infants and toddlers were the soundtrack of this journey.
We were asked to disinfect our hands with hand sanitizer after eating and to change our surgical masks. the old masks were collected by a suited medical worker.
We landed in Vancouver, but we didn’t leave the plane. This was my first time back to Canada since 2005 but sitting in the center row I didn’t see the city lights.
Vancouver was were some refueling would take place and some embassy officials would disembark. There were some minor personnel changes, but like us most were masked. The medical flight crew’s head to toe gear made recognizing anyone unlikely.
The trip, running like a military mission, did not brook delays and we were soon on our way.
We arrived at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, a Canadian Forces base located within the city of Quinte West, Ontario. in the dark on September 11th, Tuesday morning. In the rush to get off the plane most of the passengers had quickly grabbed their luggage and placed it in front of them.
We were no different. Border and customs officers appeared, and it would have been hard not to be intimidated by large uniformed men in masks. Individually, and as a group, they were efficient but polite. they let us know there would be a delay as passengers were brought off in shifts. They asked that no one remove luggage from the overhead compartments, but that had already been done. I moved our four bags to my seat and sat on top so to be out of the way. uncomfortable to be sure, but it kept the way clear. 30 minutes later it was our turn to disembark. We were brought off the plane in shifts until we had all walked down the steps, through a sheep-dip disinfectant for our boots, onto a bus, and then into a large hanger.
In the hanger, we were fed the most amazing box lunch/breakfast. Who would have thought ham and cheese on a bagel would taste like heaven. A wave of relief washed over everyone and small conversations began to spark. We are social beings after all.
We were processed, had our health checked, and our immigration status verified.
Things took a turn here. Our oldest son Adryan collapsed.
We were able to get him back to a chair, and he appeared fine. After about 20 minutes he collapsed again. This time he couldn’t get up. We called for a medic and within 90 seconds the team was there and together we got Adryan onto a gurney. The paramedics from Health Canada assessed him quickly. There were no symptoms of Coronavirus. The medical team diagnosed Adryan was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
In the two weeks that Adryan had been trapped on the other side of Wuhan, he had eaten what was available and had not drunk enough water. Adryan was brought to the emergency clinic where he was put on IV.
Emily, Wyatt and I were brought to our rooms in the Yukon Lodge, the VIP visitor’s hotel at the military base which had been refurbished and set aside for the 14-day quarantine of evacuees.
Within 3 hours Adryan was being escorted across the exterior quad by base personnel, looking quite stylish in his long white coat and Korean popstar hairdo.
Emily decided Adryan was to be our Drama King for the next few days. We had our first meal in the hotel, delivered to our room. Wyatt pronounced the WiFi excellent.
Our meals are all delivered, we have two temperature checks per day where we’re also asked about symptoms. when medical staff Health Canada and the Red Cross knock on the door we are expected to appear masked. this is not inconvenient, it is necessary. Coffee, snacks, and fruit are available in a common area. We have four one-hour periods a day when we can move about outside. These fresh air exercise periods are staggered between four groups.
The meals that are delivered are excellent and I’m eating things I haven’t had for years. The best was a small package of Dad’s Oatmeal cookies.
We have 10 days left in our quarantine. On Thursday morning the snow was falling, and we took Adryan outside to see his first snowfall. To see the world through their eyes, fresh, pure and hopeful.
We can’t help but be concerned about our colleagues, students, and friends still in Wuhan. The situation continues to worsen, and in other cities, friends are either locked down or self-isolating. We are trying to keep the world’s attention on the situation. I continue to do interviews in the hope that aid will get through. The evacuees have put together about CAD $18,000 in donations for the Red Cross.
After this, we will travel to Toronto and spend time with friends. Tim and his wife Kisha are nurses, and they have two small ones. They had visited us in Indonesia just after they got married. Tim is also Wyatt’s godfather. Tim and I have been friends since high school, and even our short unremarkable stint in the military hasn’t dampened our friendship.
This experience has not changed my appreciation and love for China and her people. They will weather this crisis.
For Canada … Canada has stood up for us and brought us home. I’m indebted to our government, this nation, and the Canadian people. We are grateful to the people at Global Affairs and the Canadian embassy who put this evacuation together.
We are thankful for the medical staff and flight crew who brought us home. We have been in the care of the Canadian military, the Red Cross and the health care professionals who always stand on the front lines of these operations, and they have been brilliant, professional, generous and kind. They have gone above and beyond.
A special thank you to the Indonesian embassy in China who helped us to organize a private taxi, without which we’d still be in harm’s way.
To our friends, and family who’ve stood by us, offered guidance and listened to my inane prattle from time to time, thank you. We could never begin to repay the love and support you’ve provided.