Carer Story: Planning for Travel Emergencies

Experiencing the Christchurch earthquakes prompted Monica Renwick to update her travel planner so she could be better prepared in case of future emergencies. Monica shares her suggestions to help others who might be caught out in an emergency, as she and her husband were.

My husband has lived with Multiple Myeloma cancer since 2000. In September 2010, for our wedding anniversary, we opted to stay two nights at the Christchurch Heritage Hotel, beside the Cathedral in the Square. We only stayed one night, and here is why. On 4 September, at 4.35am, we were shaken awake by a tremendous grinding, grating, groaning noise. In Room 804, the walls were creaking, vibrating, and swaying. “It’s an earthquake,” my husband said.

I bounded away from the large glass window frontage to the ensuite doorway. I held onto the door handle, oblivious to everything apart from my husband and the moving walls.

Forty seconds later came a spooky, silent blackout. What a long 40 seconds! Pitch blackness, then a dim emergency light came on.

My first thought, I clearly recall, was “you’re on your own, now get out of here”. Dressing gowns on, I put my purse and the camera straps over my head, and down the dark emergency staircase we went.

No way could his walking frame be used. How my husband descended eight flights of stairs so quickly I don’t know. It was more like 16 flights, as there were two sections to all eight floors. Later, my husband’s consultant also marvelled at his agility to manage the stairway.

I remember the emergency lighting and taking a photo of a little gib plastering on the stairway. It was a long, nervous journey down those stairs!

We’re a little wiser now.

Over the last 10 years we have enjoyed travelling to many countries. After our experience in Christchurch, I have updated my travel planner so we’ll be better prepared in case of future emergencies! We hope the lessons we learned in Christchurch last year will help others.

  • Book the lowest level luxury room available (forget the high floors!).
  • Be sure to pack a dressing gown in case you need to evacuate in the middle of the night, as we did; not every hotel provides robes, and you get what you pay for.
  • If you use a walking frame, pack a folding walking stick as well. It could be a godsend if you can’t use the walking frame. Folding canes are inexpensive, and take up little space in your suitcase.
  • Before getting into bed at night, tie together your purse/wallet, camera, a torch, and an emergency toilet bag. Keep the bag handy, just in case.
  • You can’t take the kitchen sink when you travel, but these items will fit into an average toilet bag: medicine for two days in small self-seal waterproof bags (not boxes); spectacles, dentures, and hearing aids (these roll off shaking bedside cabinets and bathrooms have no emergency lights); a small plastic cup each; a few tea bags, and/or coffee and sugar sachets; a small flask with boiling water for hot drinks (no power means no hot drinks); a small bottle of water for taking medications; small muesli or nut snack bars; barley sugars (or perhaps, in moments like these, you need Minties!); a few bananas or oranges as shock absorbers (it was a long time until breakfast); a thermosheet, which folds to handkerchief size, and is inexpensive in case you need to stand out in the cold; a cheap plastic poncho each; face masks for dust; merino or warm gloves (it’s so cold at 4.30am); and a tiny radio and batteries (water, power, telephone, and cellphones were all out).

Guess what I found in my pockets that night? Morphine and holy water! It’s interesting what you grab in fear at such times.

We returned to our home at 9.30am to find broken jars of jam and pickle everywhere. A treasured 1938 vase was instantly devalued. Despite the state of our contents, we were home, and alive.

It was a wedding anniversary to remember! We realise our hotel could have collapsed on us. A big thank you to the New Zealanders who didn’t take any shortcuts when they built our hotel!

The experience made me appreciate our foresight in changing our home, inside and outside, to suit our needs. We have no lawns to mow. We can walk around outside all year. Our outdoor furniture requires no staining, doesn’t move in the wind, and is very comfortable, with curved chairs and seats. Awnings are operated by remotes, and automatically retract if it’s windy.

I hope these ideas help others to be prepared for emergencies while travelling, and to think about everyday changes to make life at home safer and more pleasurable.