Continued from Part 1
Meanwhile, still in a hospital bed [in an isolation room] and beside myself with grief, tears still streaming down my face and still in shock, after running some simple blood tests, the doctor informed me the miscarriage had likely not been completed and that even though they were certain I had lost the pregnancy, they could not confirm the miscarriage as medically ‘complete’. Following this knowledge, I was told I was free to go, as they told me the process would continue sometime between now and the next 14 days, advising me to follow up with my doctor when I got home. After I was discharged, I had explained to one of the nurses that I didn’t know what to do or where to go and one of them said ‘Well I’m just going to close this dose [the door in the isolation room] and pretend you don’t exist for the next 3 hours until you or your partner work something out or until your partner can come and get you’. But that wasn’t a solution, so I asked for the police. Why did they discharge me? Because they didn’t know what to do with me and would rather I was someone else’s problem. Additionally, there was no policy that could allow me to stay, since I no longer required urgent medical attention, and only medical and domestic violence emergencies are covered under quarantine directive. They had no-where to put me and just wanted to pretend I didn’t exist.
All I wanted to do was be with Mike, I didn’t want to be separated from him anymore. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses treating me were not aware of the situation that would unfold soon after and assumed other arrangements by the police would be made, my guess is that they were busy and being in a small country town not really having dealt with real COVID-19 protocol, they never imagined or understood the sheer difficulty of my situation and just assumed the authorities and police would sort something out. Since I was considered under SA state government law, a public health risk, there was no possible way for me to arrange transport to Mike as I’d be essentially putting myself and others at risk and anyone coming in contact with me or him would risk 14 days of quarantine or by some miniscule chance contract the virus that at the time no one knew I wasn’t infected with. We have since received two negative tests and await the results of the third.
I was dependant on authorities for direction, so I asked the appropriate staff at the hospital to contact SA police to ask how I can get back to Mike (I didn’t care if his parents were coming that evening or not) all I wanted was to be with Mike so we could grieve the loss of his and my first pregnancy together. I pleaded with the nurses to help me get back to Mike and to contact the police to help me, as only they could tell me what to do and how I could get back to Mike and the car. The nurses at the hospital agreed to contact the police on my behalf since I wasn’t (for obvious reasons) capable of explaining my situation clearly. The nurses then told me it was fine and that SAPOL understood our circumstances and given that technically anyone in quarantine is not allowed to be out in the public, the nurses told me that SA police would transport me back to Mike. I finally breathed a sigh of relief because Mike was a long way from the hospital, it was dark and I didn’t even know what direction he was in and didn’t know how I was going to get to him and I have never been to this town. Learning of this news from the nurses, I agreed I wanted to be discharged then and there.
However, when SAPOL arrived, two men (Berri police officers) stood in front of me and having known my full situation miscarriage and all, said the opposite to what I had been expecting: ‘We can’t transport you from the hospital, you are not permitted to travel with us and unfortunately we can’t help you’. They continued ‘Because you are a health risk, you would put our car out of commission for the evening and we don’t want to do that because that’s one less car for all of us, so it’s unfortunate we just can’t help you, but we have spoken to your partner and he is coming to get you’. At that moment I breathed what I thought was another sigh of relief, thinking Mike had somehow made other arrangements under their directive and that they had organised a means of him getting to me… ‘So you arranged something for him instead though?’ I said. To which they replied ‘No… he is walking to come and get you and you are walking back with him’. My knees started to buckle and my hearted started to pound in panic. I was essentially haemorrhaging and had no control over the process. It was hard enough to control in the hospital setting and I had no idea if it was going to get worse or if I would be able to manage the 20-minute walk. The pain was intermittent and would come on suddenly and immediately bring me to my knees and I had no control over the bleeding nor its intensity, not to mention I knew I shouldn’t be using any public bathrooms for fear that on the small chance I was more than a normal risk of having COVID-19.
Tears started to well up soaking my mask as they went, before I then said; ‘But I’m bleeding heavily, do you think it’s a good idea for me to walk that far?’ ‘I also haven’t had dinner, I’m woozy from blood loss, I’m dizzy, I’m hungry and how will we get food?’ I continued, ‘We aren’t allowed to go to the shops… I don’t know what to do?’ ‘Please, there must be something you can do, please help me, please contact someone higher up, I need help, I don’t want to walk, I’m so tired and I don’t think I can handle such a long walk whilst I’m bleeding heavily, I really need your help…’ They stared blankly at me. I paused still trying to grasp the gravity of the situation. ‘Why can’t you HELP us, I thought it was your job to help us?!’ To that they replied, ‘Well, we can’t offer the help you are looking for, it’s a small country town everything is shut now anyway, what would you have done otherwise?’ I looked at them still with a pleading look whilst I started to imagine what will happen with my bleeding as I made the journey. They didn’t even consider my personal tragedy and that walking will not be simple and that I couldn’t even get a taxi to Mike (which I would have done if things were different), and so they continued ‘It’s not our problem that your car broke down- this happens to lots of people and they get through it, we’ve all had a tough year and that’s just how it is now, that’s COVID-19, so you’ll just have to ROUGH IT’.
My head started to spin, and I thought to myself, ‘Rough it!? ROUGH IT!? But I am having a miscarriage. I am bleeding uncontrollably, I am grieving, I am in pain and I can barely comprehend my reality…’ He continued, ‘Look it’s been a tough year for all of us, that’s just how it is now, but your partner will be here to get you soon’. I stood there bemused, they were talking to me like I was property or just some other man’s problem. I was completely lost for words; these men were sexist. I tried to imagine who among the 3 of us in that moment was truly suffering and having a tough year and it wasn’t them. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’… how was I supposed to ‘rough it’, whilst my body was violently miscarrying my first pregnancy, and how was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as the process would continue even more violently, the more walking I did. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as my uterus violently bled at a pace and speed I could not predict and would not be able to control when it did.
In that moment I just froze, and I looked into their eye’s scanning them for a shred of empathy and just I couldn’t find it! This is one of the strangest moments in my life. I realised they simply did not have a shred of human decency inside them and did not care to imagine not only what I was going through, but how impossibly hard it was going to be to make that 20-minute journey by foot whilst bleeding heavily and uncontrollably. Overwhelmed with their total lack of human qualities I tried through exhaustion to open my mouth to speak, but they spoke over the top of me, so finally I gave up.
But this is what I had tried to say: ‘Plenty of people have not been in our situation! How many people do you know who are in a pandemic, are told to return home to a cut-off that is physically impossible to meet, who are advised to drive on a dangerous road that leads to a popped tire… how many people do you know that have not only been through that, but at the same time are also violently beginning to miscarry their first pregnancy!?’ I also wanted to say: ‘When was the last time it was considered unsafe for someone to use public spaces and amenities such as toilets and purchasing food/drink from the shop? When was the last time it was considered unsafe for one to arrange transport other than our own… ?’
Whilst I would rather health directives that are overly cautious there should never be a time when the authorities don’t know what to do with situations that are human and out of one’s control, let alone force a woman to undergo immense pain, needless suffering and humiliation simply for being born with a uterus – an organ who’s function they cannot control. So what I really really wished to say was this: ‘I am bleeding out of body and I am sorry that the fact that I have a vagina means that you don’t know how to treat me like a human being!’. Instead, I stood there in silence. Then the nurse then spoke to me and offered me some food before directing me to the waiting room where I would wait for Mike. Not wanting to cause a panic in a pandemic among people from a small country town, I asked for another option and to simply wait outside. So, in the grips of sobbing after having tried to get the two men to display even an ounce of empathy and help me, they both gestured to a park bench whilst one of them said: ‘There’s a picnic bench across the road, you can go and wait there whilst you wait for your partner to come and get you’… and that was it. Both of the officers turned around and went back inside without even looking back or with a second thought.
After that I sobbed and wailed on the phone to Mike to find out he was still 15 minutes away and so I waited in the dark afraid, because I am a woman and being alone at night is dangerous. For the next 15 minutes whilst constantly looking over my shoulder, I also watched people walk in and out of the hospital to their cars and not one person came to ask me if I was okay. I was, for all intents and purposes released into the wilderness by two men with less than a shred of empathy and human decency. Two men who also seemed to have no concept that women cannot control when they bleed and that when we do, the situation can often be humiliating if amenities and appropriate sanitary items are not around. Everybody just wanted ‘the risk’ i.e. me, to disappear into the wilderness. So like many women early in this century and centuries gone, like an animal of prey bleeding and vulnerable to predation, I was left on my own to deal with what nature had thrown at me.
Finally, and out of the corner of my eye, about 15 minutes later I see Mike, he was running to me. He did not walk to me, he ran to me, desperate to be by my side. Only then did I learn we would be going home (expected to arrive home at 4.40am) but also learning it would still be another 4 hours before the car would arrive. Unfortunately, I still had to make the 20 minute journey back to the car, the only place in public we were provisionally permitted to be in- until such time that it was logistically possible for us to self-quarantine. So until then, I surmised to myself that the pain, suffering, torture and loss of my dignity was simply not over yet. So we walked the several blocks to the edge of the town where the car was. On the way and of no surprise to me and Mike I was not able to walk well, and several times I had to stop and let the violent process that was taking place in my body continue to expel the pregnancy. Not knowing the location of and also too afraid to use public amenities to clean myself up; for fear of breaking the law and also for fear of endangering anyone with the miniscule chance I was unknowingly infected – the humiliation continued as I was forced to stop several times… Whilst having a miscarriage I was more concerned about my impact and presence in the community for fear that I may be infected and transmit the virus. I abstained from using a toilet as we passed a service station to firstly protect others and secondly because I did not want to break the law.
When we finally reached the car, I was in so much pain that I knew what was coming; and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I asked Mike to find me ‘somewhere’ where he could shield me from passing cars and in that moment ‘following the health directive’, not far from the repair place, with no amenities in site and with Mike by my side, my last shred of dignity as a woman that bleeds, gave way. There in the most private place a woman would find, in a gully hidden from the road; pants down under a huge Eucalyptus tree, I passed a 4-week-old embryo. I had completed the miscarriage. Pregnancy hormone levels, previous to and post to have since confirmed that completion indeed occurred at this point. All the hopes, all the dreams of a mother-to-be lay on the ground. All the early pregnancy advice, all the careful eating and all the sacrifices I made, it all lay on the ground underneath my body, in a pool of blood, exposed to the elements and passing cars – in Australia on the side of the road, under a Eucalyptus tree.
The trauma of a miscarriage should end at the miscarriage. I was in pain, I was not at home, nor a place of comfort and I was not afforded even the dignity of using a public toilet, as it was against the law. That night I was not considered a human being and I just have to hope no one saw me. I continue to relive the trauma of that evening in my nightmares. Every night since the incident I have had nightmares of being in a public place, naked and exposed and covered in blood with prying eyes everywhere. In these dreams I am covered in blood and trying to find a toilet. I was denied basic human rights and I felt like a farm animal. And maybe this has happened to women before me, and maybe even to some women in Australia but for as long as I will live, I will never understand why any woman in Australia would be discharged from a hospital, be completely aware they were in the process of a miscarriage but would have no choice but to miscarry under a tree on the side of the road. What’s more, I will never understand how on that night, that woman under the tree… was me. My name is Nicole Clark and I’m telling my story publicly because I want the authorities to know I want the last woman to ever go through this, to be me.
Final words and message to the South Australian Government
I will not let you sweep this under the rug! I was humiliated beyond all words, there are no words to describe what it felt like as I squatted on the side of the road, I was treated like a second-class citizen or like a dog on heat. I demand a full and formal public apology from the South Australian police. As Mr Grant Stevens stated in his Commissioners Message “you expect us to be there in times of personal and community emergencies.” It is clear this did not occur, a personal emergency occurred at the border check point, yet a lack of basic human empathy was not displayed, let alone what would be expected as a minimum from a police officer(s) who are supposed to be serving their community.
This was further evident when police were unwilling to explore any options regarding the transportation of me or potential emergency accommodation for the night. Making me walk was painful and humiliating; for a police officer to tell me that I’d have to “rough it” it for the night with no consideration for my basic human needs and the trauma I had just experienced is disgraceful. South Australian police have already made a statement saying, “it was not the responsibility of police to make quarantine accommodation arrangements,” however I would have expected the police officer to at least have made some enquiries to see what could be done for both the transportation of me and possible accommodation. This did not occur, and the police officer made no attempt, their only concern was that we either stay put in the car or make our way home somehow.
My partner expressed concerns that staying in the car all night was not an option as I needed access to a bathroom as I would continue bleeding all night, the only alternative was for my partner’s parents to drive 3 hours in the dark on country roads to come get us. My partner told the police officer he was concerned that his parents are close to 70 years old, they have to use country roads through the hills, and they would not arrive until 1am. The police officer seemed unfazed by this. My partner further stated it would mean we wouldn’t arrive home until at least 4am and he was concerned about the already long journey we had undertaken the previous day from Hay and the trauma we have both endured. Again, the police officer seemed unfazed of the severe fatigue my partner would face driving back home, and potential for another fatality on the road. This also goes against Mr Stevens message of “you want to travel safely on our roads”… how is encouraging two people to keep driving at that time of night and after what they have endured considered to be at all safe?
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