Written by Lupesiliva Tuulua (Pacific Island Diabetes Nurse Educator)

Six weeks after the 22 February 2011 earthquake Christchurch seems to be settling into a ‘new normal’! At the diabetes centre (DC) building at 550 Hagley Avenue, the diabetes services had resumed work there three weeks after the earthquake. It was initially yellow stickered (restricted access) then green stickered after three weeks. Staff were allowed there first to tidy up and patients were allowed to attend their appointments a week later. The lift had to be fixed, the walls had to be repaired and the ceiling and light fittings had to be fixed and secured. Repairs continue to the inside of the building especially on the stairs and on the ground floor. It has become normal to come to work to be greeted by a wood cutter machine at the main entrance, ladders, drills, hammers, dust on floors and seeing ‘hi visual’ dressed men everywhere. The ‘new’ city bus exchange is now stationed opposite the DC building on the Hagley Park side. The shelter is another bus parked on the grass and the office is a caravan. Portaloos are also part of the scene at the displaced bus depot. All these now adorn the scenery as one looks down from the DC staff tea-room.
As for the DC patients, some are reported to be shocked to see the repair works going on, some avoid using the lift, some recheck the appointment letter to see if they are at the right place and some take it all in their stride. Initially the ‘did not arrive’ (DNA) rate appeared higher than normal which is not unexpected with a large number of people leaving the region, or staying at different addresses. However we are starting to see patients turning up to their appointments and it feels like there could be an influx of anxious, complicated and stressed out people attending as they recover from the earthquake shock. The main issues we’ve seen so far with patients are the loss of their meters and the loss of the insulin pens and insulin. Some have stopped testing their blood glucose levels since the day of the earthquake, even though the meter was not lost. Just a few days ago two of my Pacific Island (PI) patients who were well known for ‘DNA’ at their appointments turned up. I was shocked that they attended but pleased that they came. It was even more pleasing to realise they were quite receptive this time to receiving help to better manage their diabetes. I wondered if the earthquake disaster had given them a new appreciation of life and good health.

In the first two weeks of the earthquake, I ventured out to the nearby Pioneer stadium shelter in Hoonhay and to the Hornby WINZ vicinity. I met a few PI patients there and they were keen to talk about their diabetes management in the car park! However their priority was to get financial assistance from WINZ, Red Cross and to get basic supplies like power and water. I encouraged them to keep taking their medications and insulin and if they needed specific help they could text or ring me. They were also informed that there was free GP service at Cowles stadium near Aranui in the eastern suburb, and other GP surgeries were also free of charge. Prescription charges were also waived for the first three weeks of the disaster. I was one of the nurses rostered to answer the DC cell phone from a borrowed room and to see the drop-in patients at the Christchurch Hospital Parkside outpatients. We also saw in-patients referred from the Christchurch and The Princess Margaret hospitals. I was interested to note that out of the many phone calls we received over three weeks following the earthquake, I only received one from a PI patient. He was a new patient asking if he was still expected to keep his appointment that week.

So how is it going six weeks after the 22 February 2011 disastrous earthquake in Christchurch? There will be a long road to recovery. I am personally one of the very ‘lucky’ ones. I live in one of the most sheltered areas from this event, which is in Wigram / Hornby. It is hard to believe that this place is in Christchurch and carries on as ‘normal’, apart from the three-fold increase in traffic and shoppers. Just a few kilometres away as I drive towards the Christchurch hospital, the ‘new normal’ becomes evident. Every motel on Riccarton Rd has their ‘no vacancy’ sign on, traffic comes to gridlock as you get nearer the hospital and hospital staffs are allowed to park in the middle of Hagley Park where cars were never allowed before. I often drive past the University of Canterbury which now has pretty white tents sprawled everywhere on car parks and grass as makeshift lecture rooms. I also talked with a teenage niece who now shares classrooms with another high school because they have been unable to access their school since the February earthquake. They start their lessons at 1pm and finish at 5.30pm. She said its strange getting home in time to watch the news instead of her favourite TV programme.

What lessons have we learned from this event? I believe my story here is only a minor part of the DC profile during this February earthquake crisis. One of our diabetes nurse specialists (DNS) Marianne Wilson has written her story plus an overview of the DC response in the first three weeks following the earthquake. Our Maori Health DNS Debbie Rawiri has also written her account of that frightening day on the 22/02/11 and also the response from her team to our Maori and general population in the days and weeks that followed. I am humbled to read their accounts of the events and appreciate the time that they have taken to document them. I believe if every staff member takes the time to write their stories, a complete picture of caring, resilience, professionalism, compassion and patience will emerge. We will need all these attributes in the long-term to deal with our city’s and health system’s ‘new normal’.

This story is dedicated to the Australasian Long-Term Health Conditions Conference I’m attending on the 7th & 8th April 2011 at Waipuna Hotel in Auckland. My sincere thanks go to the CDHB for still paying my Registration and accommodation that was due on the week following the earthquake. Special thanks and acknowledgement also go to sanofi-aventis New Zealand Limited for faithfully sponsoring my airfares despite communication disruptions from Christchurch following the 22 February 11 disastrous earthquake. I would like also to acknowledge our manager Kit Hoeben. I believe we are blessed at the DC to have a fair and a capable manager like him. Faafetai.