new year, new country, new hardware

This time last year was a rather intense period in my life. Unbeknownst to family and friends (except my husband, obviously), I had applied for a job in Auckland New Zealand in January 2012. I was rather surprised at the end of February to be invited for a teleconference interview. I was less surprised when they made a formal offer in early April. I didn’t arrive here until 07 September—eight months after applying for the job—but that still seemed rather fast paced for a major life upheaval.

Overall, the experience has gone almost exactly as I anticipated. No, really. The job is what I thought it would be, in terms of scope, challenges and opportunities. Working with kiwis has also worked out as I anticipated: friendly, smart, helpful and generous people who work hard and then turn off their smart phones. Works for me! It helps that I’ve inherited an excellent team. There is a lot of “win”, in other words.

The main challenges have been beginning the process of a social life (again) at nearly 50 and managing a marriage with a 8000km difference between husbands. With respect to the latter, Max and I saw each other for 5 days in November and 2 weeks at Christmas. Then he arrived for good on 31 March. Unsurprisingly, the unfun separation just cemented how solid our marriage is. In regards to the former, I knew a few people before I got here and they have all turned out to be even more os-some than suspected. I’ve also forced myself to be more social than is my inclination at this stage of my life, which seems to have paid off. There’s a real sense of community here in Auckland, and I can see us living here quite happily for a very long time.

Last week’s passage of marriage equality removed one of the few significant negatives about living here (since we became “partners” once we moved here, since our Canadian marriage wasn’t considered marriage here). Other negatives remain distance and entirely too many locals willing to pay extortionate prices for retail. For everything that’s cheaper (cheese!) there’s another that’s criminal ($2.50 for a single capsicum?). But income taxes are lower.

Then there’s healthcare, which I’ve learnt quite a bit about lately. A pain my shoulder in January became pain my arm in February. Which progressed to numbness, before it started on the other arm and hand. In March it started in my feet, then legs. By the beginning of April I was number from the waist down and for the length of my arms. An MRI showed 2 prolapsed discs, one of which was rather obscenely rubbing itself against my spinal chord. The morning of surgery only my scalp and face were numbness. This was entirely unfun.

Surgery went well (except the pain meds and anaesthesthia reaction) and I’ve been home recuperating for over a week now. In terms of quality of care, I encountered little difference between Canada and New Zealand. The physicians and nurses and other professionals were all mostly excellent. The hospital was well-run and clean and calm, mostly. I saw my GP on Wednesday, a specialist on Friday, was admitted Saturday, had an MRI on Monday and surgery the following Friday. All rather timely methinks.

The financial model is different between NZ and Canada, however. In Canada (BC) I would have used my “care card” and all services would have been “free” except for prescriptions filled outside of the hospital (they’re free while admitted). In NZ I paid a subsidized rate of $54 to see my GP. The specialist and hospital care were all “free”. My prescriptions were $5.00 each—including Tylenol. I’ve had one follow-up visit with my GP for another $54. My cervical collar was also “free”. So I’ve been out of pocket for about $130. In Canada I would have paid for the meds perhaps the same amount, thanks to my husband’s supplemental private insurance through work: without that coverage I would’ve paid perhaps $200 for meds.

I remain convinced that for many, the more it costs to seek care, the less quickly care will be sought. Possibly in timeframes that could exacerbate conditions unnecessarily. But the money I’ve paid out of pocket gave me access to a comprehensive package of services at my GP, including a pharmacy, physio, x-rays. I’m still on the fence on this one.

I suppose for a lot of people it’s not an obvious way to assess how they’re settling into their new homeland. As a social democrat, however, makes sense to me: I’ve never been one of those people who assesses society solely in terms of how well it works for me. But any fears I had about the quality of healthcare in NZ have been assuaged significantly.