The long journey home

Elderly woman with physiotherapist in hospital gym
Patient Rose Paget with FSH Senior Physiotherapist Lindsay Dutton
October 12, 2020

In March, Rose Paget celebrated her 75th birthday by boarding the Greg Mortimer passenger ship along with her husband Graham and several of their friends bound for a ‘bucket list’ trip to Antarctica.

The small group, from the coastal town of Denmark, were embarking on a three week cruise to walk with the penguins on their very own Antarctic expedition.

Little did Rose know that the journey home to her Great Southern cattle farm would take more than 6 months as she battled complications from COVID-19.

“It’s been a very long homecoming and I’m really looking forward to spending more time back at the farm,” Rose said.

With COVID-19 beginning to spread around the globe, the Paget’s dream holiday soon turned in to a nightmare, and with all the ports around them closing they became stranded in the Southern Ocean.

After several unsuccessful attempts to berth and with Rose’s condition deteriorating, they eventually disembarked in Montevideo in Uruguay where Rose was taken straight to the British hospital on 3 April.

Graham, who also tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic, was evacuated along with the other ship’s passengers a week later on Good Friday.

The couple continued to be separated, with Graham spending 39 days in isolation while Rose went to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for their entire stay in Uruguay.

“It was a difficult time for both of us, Rose was obviously very unwell and we were separated for up to eight weeks – during that time I was only able to see her through a glass window,” Graham said.

Based on both medical and financial advice, the decision was made for Rose to return to Perth on a Medevac flight after 12 weeks in the ICU.

“We were given quite the send off when we left hospital in Uruguay and were accompanied by a small clinical team as we made the 17 hour journey home,” Graham said.

To the relief of her family and friends, Rose finally touched down in Perth on 25 June and was transferred to the ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH).

While she was finally back in Western Australia, she was still a long way from the peaceful surrounds of her farm.

Rose spent another 10 weeks as an inpatient at FSH with her stay including time on the respiratory ward as well as the dialysis unit, before finishing with a move to the State Rehabilitation Service.

“Rose was finally discharged from FSH on 3 September but she continued to receive dialysis and attend physiotherapy sessions as an outpatient,” Graham said.

The entire experience has taken a physical and emotional toll on the couple.

“We obviously didn’t anticipate we would be away from home as long as we were but we were very fortunate to have such a generous group of friends who set up a roster to look after the farm and all our prized cattle,” Graham said.

A former nurse, Rose was a very active person who previously spent her retirement playing golf, line dancing and attending fitness classes.

“I am now learning to do the basic activities that everyone else takes for granted – standing up, walking, showering, even making myself a cup of tea,” Rose said.

In addition to the regular physiotherapy sessions, Rose also needs dialysis to improve her kidney function, which she is hoping to do through Albany Hospital.

On September 19, seven months after she left for her holiday, Rose finally arrived home to her beloved farm.

“It was just the best feeling coming down that driveway and seeing the house – and all the greenery and flowers in bloom,” Rose said.

Unfortunately her homecoming was only brief, with Rose admitted to Albany Hospital less than a week later before being transferred by the Royal Flying Doctor Service back to FSH where she is being treated for issues with her dialysis.

She is counting down the days again until she and Graham can return home together.

“This experience has not only affected me, but it has had a significant impact on our children and our plans for the future have changed dramatically,” she said.

“This virus is life changing but to be so close to getting home on a more permanent basis where I can be surrounded by my family and friends – I know that I am lucky to be here.”