Quick update from earthquake city

The aftershocks seem to have slowed a little, and they are not as powerful so hopefully things will settle down a bit. We still don’t have water, so we’re having to use our emergency stash (60 litres!) and boil it to wash, do dishes etc. Even when the water comes back on, we’ve been advised to boil the water again because there’s damage to the sewers.
I feel OK in myself, in that I’m not fearful of the quakes (a bit fatalistic really, but there is so little time to react when a quake hits, there seems little point in being afraid – you can’t do anything!), but I am very tired and not sleeping all that well.
I think the difference for people in Christchurch now, compared with the previous two big earthquakes is that the adrenaline rush that was there last time hasn’t been available this time. There’s less energy reserve to draw upon and the daily hassles of dodging potholes and cleaning up liquefaction and working out which shops are still open and where they’ve relocated to – all of that practical ‘stuff’ that is usually there in the background – these things take cognitive effort. Routines and habits make life easier, mean the brain can be freed for more important things. For me anyway, the routines and habits are disrupted and require thinking and planning and time.
I ask myself how are these changes I’m working through any different from the sort of changes in “how to do” that a person with disability needs to make? How often do clinicians forget that doing things “differently” takes mental effort – and in pain management, we’re often asking people to do almost everything in life “differently”. No wonder there are times when people who have limited resource to draw on (maybe fewer social supports, fewer original habits and routines, mental health problems, less flexibility in the ways they are able to view their world) struggle to cope with the demands of both a pain problem (which already makes demands on them) AND our suggestions for change!

I’m off to work shortly, to work with a group of people who have chronic pain and who have been incredibly courageous in wanting to keep going with the last week of their programme despite the earthquake. They were given the choice to stop, to defer the programme and return again, but they chose to stay. That is strength and resilience folks. I am so lucky to work in this field, with the team and patients I work with.

Wobbles in the Quakey Isles

By now, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’m from Christchurch, NZ, and yes, we’ve had a few earthquakes recently! I’m happy to report that while we’ve had some more damage to the surrounds of our house, and there are a few more cracks in the ceiling and bricks, we’re pretty well off. No serious damage done except a rather disrupted night!
My nerves are a bit frayed and I keep monitoring any deep rumbling sound or rattle of the windows just in case it’s the beginning of another one – and yes, it’s a bit wearing. I’ll keep blogging but will keep the number of posts down, as I have been, just to reduce some of the (internal) pressure I put on myself to post often!
It’s tempting to say something a bit trite like “we’re all tough here” or something but really, it seems to me there is little I can do to change our situation, much to be grateful for, and more reasons to be positive than not. So if being tough is equal to being occasionally grumpy, tearful for a moment or two, laughing often, taking time out, and finding good things to appreciate, then I suppose I’m being tough! This is life, and life can randomly throw challenges as well as delights. That sounds awfully philosophical, but seriously folks – that’s my way of getting through and being OK.

Friday in Christchurch

Despite the devastation, there are some wonderful sights in Christchurch right now.  This one (above) made me smile today.

And this one was taken in Nelson after we had turned back to return to Christchurch last week.  Cheerful things, sunflowers, and glorious colour on a rather gloomy and very grim day.

Heartjolts and gap-toothed smiles

Each time I hear a rumble-rattle-creak my heart jolts.  It might be the middle of the night, middle of the day or middle of my shower – these aftershocks are unpredictable and startling.  Yesterday’s 5.1 aftershock at 7:50 or so was a definite heartjolt – halfway through my shower!  With each one, that ‘living on the edge’ feeling comes back – do I need to drop, grab and hold?  Then ‘relax, breathe, calm’ as it passes.

Other heartjolts last longer.  Each time I drive past another building tilting on a crazy angle, with terrible cracks and fallen bricks.  Another red ‘condemned’ sign.  Demolition gangs in high-viz vests tearing away at the remaining skeletons of buildings that were hand-made, in an era when each wall was hand-crafted, each ornamental element had a function. Like rotting teeth, the stumps of our heritage appear between more modern constructions, waiting to be cleared away and refilled.

I’ve always had a sense of belonging in Christchurch.  I’m not native to the South Island, but an import from North Island.  Worse than that, I came direct from Auckland – not known to respect elder status in architecture.  Christchurch has had a profoundly peaceful and centering effect on my spirit.  It hasn’t the traffic plagues, nor the sprawl across the landscape that Auckland has.  It lacks height, with the exception of the Port Hills and, in the distance, the Southern Alps.  I used to get lost – no landmarks and a peculiar (to me anyway!) use of compass points to aid navigation. ‘If you go east, you’ll hit the sea, if you go west, you’ll hit the mountains’ I was told!  I preferred to use buildings as my anchors.

What I think I loved about Christchurch, and perhaps the aspect that caught my heart the most was a sense of respect for history.  I don’t mean the ‘first four ships’ history, but the way the elderly buildings had been retained and reused.  Take the Arts Centre – a gothic-style ex-university campus, vibrant and pulsing with artists living and creating within its grey stone walls.  The old stone church remodelled into a restaurant.  More recently the energising of back alleys and lanes into bars and clubs and specialty stores – even a brewery.  The humanising effect of brickwork, arches, facades and enormous timber beams on an otherwise concrete and glass environment.

Since Saturday my heart is heavy.  To see my heritage obliterated so quickly, so quickly.  Heartjolts each time I look at another gap.

At the same time – what is overwhelmingly clear is the transcendence of people.  He tangata.  It is people that live in this place, not buildings.  Buildings are artifacts.  While they represent parts of the people we are, they are not us.

And what gives my heart a real heartjolt is the collective resilience of people in my city.  First the workers who have, despite their personal challenges (homes lost, family distressed, even relocation for some) worked so hard to clear roads, restore power, water, sewage, check buildings for integrity, demolish buildings that are unsafe, document the events as they unfold and comfort people who are fearful.  Then the volunteers who have swooped and contributed muscle, sweat and brain to help those in most need.  And finally, those who have picked up the pieces of their ruined homes and, while still awed by the destructive power of Rauamoko, Maori god of the underworld, have been caring for family, friends and self.

What emerges from such shaking and turmoil is often a new sense of resilience.  If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.  Kids seem to show us this first – time off school is for revelry and sport, great splits in the road are new playgrounds, sand volcanoes are for shovelling and moulding.  A gap-toothed smile from a 6 year old as she pushes her 4 year old brother around on his trike, both covered head to foot in silt and sand gives me a heartjolt.

Today as I look around the cityscape, I want to see those empty ruined spaces as a gap-toothed smile of a city becoming more in tune with people and the land in which we live.

Hutia te rito o te harakeke,
Kei whea te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki ahau;
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Māku e kī atu,
he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

If the heart of the flax bush is removed, where will the bellbird sing?
If I am asked, what is the most important thing in the world;
I would reply,

It is people,

it is people,

it is people.

Temporary downtime: Christchurch earthquake aftermath

We’re fine after the earthquake, but things are not back to normal in Christchurch – to give visitors an idea of the damage, here are a couple of shots I took on Saturday morning. I was having a week off work anyway, which is well-timed given the circumstances, and I’ll blog occasionally over this time.
My story: I was fast asleep until about 4.35am on Saturday morning.  The bed started to jiggle, a bit like when Manly Jack gets the leg twitch thing going, but instead of stopping, this became much more violent.  We could both hear crashing, tinkling sounds as things were falling off shelving, and we leaped out of bed to grab a torch and stand in the doorway.  We must have stood there for at least a minute while the house shook and a deep rumble continued.  The power was off, and for a brief moment it was quiet – then another series of shakes and that rumble and dogs barking, birds chirping, more tinkling sounds and I immediately thought of bottles and glasses and ornaments and books falling off shelves.  The shaking stopped and this strange silence emerged, punctuated by dogs barking and people’s voices.  We toured around the house by torchlight – no power, no water, nothing.  After very briefly checking for damage, we headed back to bed, thinking that it would be safest to remain there until light.   We’d packed everything ready to go camping at first light, so much of our usual emergency supply equipment was packed in the garage.  We couldn’t open the garage because it’s electric, and the torch we had was a bit dim, but sufficient for that quick tiki tour.

Our neighbourhood watch was working extremely well – our next-door-neighbour hammered on the door to see if we were OK, and she and the rest of the neighbours were checking the older neighbours next door and across the road.  I tried to text my daughter and my son – the cellphone system wasn’t working very well, but I got a couple of messages through.  I grabbed my ipod – it was pretty funny to have Manly Jack and I both listening to the radio using one set of headphones!  We kept updated via National Radio (hats off to them, fantastic work) until it started to get light.  With no power, no internet (waaah!), no coffee (WAAAH!) and with no water, no sewage, and lots of texts from family members, it was a bit chaotic.

Our place sustained no damage, but TV, bookcase, computer and other heavier things had moved across the floor – I cannot believe nothing broken! It had been so hard to stand up during the quake I felt certain we’d have glass shards and things strewn across the kitchen, but although things had moved, nothing at all was broken.

We headed out at first light to see Manly Jack’s relatives – their place a real mess, the roading had subsided, water mains burst, house has sagged and various cracks throughout the place.  Thankfully my family were fine, no harm, no damage.  And on a beautiful day, sun shining and gorgeous weather, we started to examine the mess and do what we could to help.

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” – Buddha