Cruise, coma, re­cov­ery

Stanthorpe Border Post - - LIFESTYLE - ALI­SON HOUS­TON

KATHLEEN and Ken Wat­son have never been hap­pier to be home to­gether in Touk­ley on the NSW Cen­tral Coast after their dual 70th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion be­came a COVID-19 cruise night­mare.

“We dreamed about get­ting home and be­ing with our friends,” Kathleen said of their time on what be­came “a float­ing prison”.

“Kenny vol­un­teers with the Merry Mak­ers; he’s in Touk­ley Se­nior Cit­i­zens; we both sing with Lakes Singers; I teach yoga, and we both go to the gym and I swim.”

Doc­tors be­lieve this ac­tive life­style helped Ken live through be­ing hit hard by COVID-19 and on a ven­ti­la­tor in an in­duced coma. They boarded the Costa

Lu­mi­nosa in Mi­ami on Fe­bru­ary 24 for a 31-day “trip of a life­time” around the Caribbean and Mediter­ranean.

It was not un­til March 30 that they es­caped on a ded­i­cated mercy flight from Rome to Perth. They thought they were at last home safe but it was about to get even worse.

Ken’s health de­clined rapidly in ho­tel quar­an­tine and he was de­nied ur­gent med­i­cal help for 12 hours, strug­gling to breathe, de­spite re­peated pleas for help from Kathleen and from the out­side by their son and daugh­ter.

The re­sponse and treat­ment of quar­an­tined pas­sen­gers is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Aus­tralian health of­fi­cials.

On April 1 Ken ad­vised his wife of 54 years “the doc­tors are go­ing to put me to sleep and I might not wake up”.

She would wait 12 days to hear his voice and 28 days to see him again. “She just ran in the door and we held each other … it was beau­ti­ful,” Ken said of the re­union.

From heaven to hell

Kathleen said the first coro­n­avirus whis­pers re­gard­ing China started be­fore the cou­ple left Aus­tralia on Fe­bru­ary 22. How­ever, Kathleen’s in­quiries to the gov­ern­ment, her travel agency and travel in­sur­ance as to whether it was safe to travel were all pos­i­tive.

“The first leg around the Caribbean – it was all our dreams come true,” Kathleen said.

After they re­turned to Mi­ami on March 4 (her birth­day) to pick up new Amer­i­can pas­sen­gers for the Mediter­ranean leg, their for­tunes turned.

The cap­tain an­nounced within days that they would dis­em­bark a cou­ple who were “very sick” in Puerto Rico (one would later die).

There was no of­fi­cial men­tion of COVID-19.

“I would still know that Covid cough any­where – it has its own sound – there were just more and more peo­ple cough­ing; it was rife,” Kathleen said.

WHO in­for­ma­tion dated March 4 shows there were 142,823 con­firmed cases in China with 2984 deaths, and num­bers were grow­ing in Europe, with 2502 cases in Italy and 80 deaths.

The Costa Lu­mi­nosa had six days at sea after Puerto Rico and Kathleen said those on board with Wi-Fi passed on in­for­ma­tion of the wors­en­ing COVID-19 threat.

Still cruise of­fi­cials sailed on and said noth­ing.

Even when the pres­ence of COVID-19 on-board was fi­nally ac­knowl­edged, with four more pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked in the Cay­man Is­lands, Kathleen said staff wear­ing gloves and can­cel­la­tion of shows were the only changes to prac­tice.

The more than 1400 pas­sen­gers were still us­ing the pool, sauna, danc­ing and eating to­gether but ports be­gan re­fus­ing the ship en­try.

“About 10–12 days in, they said we had to be quar­an­tined in our cab­ins,” Kathleen said.

She al­leges the ship “went into panic mode” and pas­sen­gers were at first left with­out food or wa­ter for 28 hours and for 20 hours on an­other oc­ca­sion – par­tic­u­larly fright­en­ing given Ken is di­a­betic.

In des­per­a­tion, stuck in an Ital­ian port with na­tion­al­i­ties other than Aus­tralians and Bri­tish hav­ing dis­em­barked in France on March 19, Kathleen dan­gled a sheet from their bal­cony with a mes­sage call­ing on Scott Mor­ri­son to help them, an im­age cap­tured by the BBC.

Aussie spirit

Kathleen said the 39 Aussies on board, who nick­named them­selves “the Costa Sur­vivors”, buoyed each other through­out.

She also thanked the Royal Perth Hos­pi­tal med­i­cal team who had “put their own lives at risk to look after us”.

Costa Cruises has of­fered pas­sen­gers a re­place­ment cruise but has not replied to a re­fund re­quest and the Wat­sons are now part of a class ac­tion.

“I’d be fear­ful go­ing on a ship again, which sad­dens me be­cause I’ve al­ways loved it since my first trip as a £10 Pom in 1957,” Kathleen said.

“But we will travel … we’ll travel in Aus­tralia again.”

Kathleen said that hav­ing met at 13, mar­ried at 17 and had four chil­dren, they had “been through our share of hard­ships, but we’ve clung to­gether …

“That was the dif­fer­ence with this, be­ing in iso­la­tion, we couldn’t even cling to each other.”

Ken is adamant that won’t hap­pen again: “If we go any­where, we will be to­gether.”

Pic­ture: Screen­shot Chan­nel 9

TALK­ING AGAIN: How Chan­nel 9 News re­ported the story on April 12.

How it was meant to be … Kathleen and Ken in an on-board Vespa photo set, ex­cited for their Ital­ian ad­ven­ture.

Kathleen and Ken Wat­son have adopted shih tzu-chi­huahua cross Jarvis to help them en­joy life again three months after set­ting off on their “once-in-a-life­time” cruise.

ABOVE: Re­united, Ken and Kathleen Wat­son hadn’t seen each other for four weeks.

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