I’m one of those holiday-makers Gladys Berejiklian and old mate Scomo have accused of dillydallying around the world for far too long.

Except by “holiday-maker” I mean, I live, work and reside in the USA, and by “dillydallying” I mean that my Dad has terminal cancer, so I’m coming home to spend some quality time with him while I still can.

My apologies to the premier that his timing didn’t align with her warnings to return. I can see how that might appear rude, it’s a real bummer for me too.

I’m all for quarantine. In fact, since the pandemic began I have essentially quarantined myself. I wear a mask outside at all times, and have only touched one person since March (it’s a pandemic romance, we met on Zoom, but that’s a whole other story). I wore an n95 mask (swapping it out for a new one every few hours) from the moment I left my apartment in LA to the moment I walked into this hotel room.

I thought I was prepared for hotel quarantine. I’d done my research. I brought a guitar, books, a coffee maker, had my Woolies list ready to go, got a clothesline and detergent for washing my clothes in the bathroom sink. I’d already spent six weeks entirely alone in LA. I knew, I thought, what to expect.

But there were things I wasn’t prepared for.

One was the sheer filthiness of the hotel. My room hadn’t been cleaned or sanitised since its last occupant. I know because they left their dirty socks on the bedside stand, and ample pubic hair in the bathroom. The table, floor and every surface was covered in dust and food crumbs. There were some weird stains on the bathroom walls. Blood? Coffee stains? Excre- you know what? I don’t wanna know.

To their credit, the hotel let me borrow a vacuum cleaner, and I had an arsenal of anti-bacterial wipes on my person. It took me three hours to adequately sanitise a room it takes me three seconds to walk across – until the dust gave me an asthma attack, and I had to stop. For perspective, I’ve had one attack in the last decade, maybe? I almost had one when I went jogging in the NSW fires but stopped running and didn’t. This room was so dusty, it hurt my lungs more than the burning Aussie bush.

Then, there’s the darkness. My room has a single window facing a brick building. I get forty minutes of sunlight a day through it, and it’s a sliver at best. If a cloud passes over the sun at that time, I’m shit outta luck. The lights inside are not bright enough to see properly.

In terms of fresh air, the window doesn’t open. We are not allowed to set a foot outside the room at any time in the next 14 days. Whoever told me there was ten minutes of allotted outside time a day was a liar, liar pants on fire… or maybe experienced hotel quarantine in another, less nanny, state.

On day two, my lungs were still struggling. I realised the vents (through which the only air I breathe is filtered) were absolutely caked in dust, so I got the vacuum again and set to work. For further reference, I regularly run 10ks (as in multiple times a week) but since I’ve arrived, I either can’t exercise at all or have to stop often to catch my breath. Ventolin is my new best friend.

The food isn’t really edible but there are other options. You can order in, get food delivered or have friends drop off packages. I’m super lucky to be from Sydney with a caring family and the sweetest of mates. I’m lucky to be able to afford Woolies and UberEats. Some returning travellers aren’t. They’re spending their last pennies just to get home under incredibly difficult circumstances.

There is one part of quarantine that is beautifully done. The medical and mental health team are on it. They call every day, they do everything they can to make this easier. Their efforts are so appreciated, and they are working really, really hard. Maybe I’ve been in here too long already, but I think I love them.

I’m also pretty darn resilient. I have solid coping skills, and a beautiful support system. I don’t suffer from mental illness, and I find great joy in things I am able to do alone. But this is still really, really hard.

I’m struggling with the fact that while this time I scraped through without paying $3000, next time I will not. And with the ever increasing restrictions the Australian government is putting on repatriation, flight prices will increase too. I can’t stay here forever, I’ll lose my green card and thus my entire career and the life I have spent over a decade building. But I may not be able to afford to come home again for some time. I’m terrified that this is my last trip with my Dad. Or that I’ll have to wipe out my finances in order to see him again, during a global pandemic where work is scarce. These are the thoughts in my head while I sit alone in the dark.

And what about people with PTSD or anxiety? How do they stay locked in a dark room with no fresh air? And why on earth should we be charged so bloody much for coming home while Dannii Minogue gets to avoid it altogether? She’s in a mansion having a whale of a time, not paying any fees at all. Maybe she’s having dinner with Kerry Stokes, who also avoided quarantine and the associated costs. I guess I’ll just make sure I’m a celebrity or a billionaire before I come back.

The other thing that is in my head, that hasn’t left, and that I hope never will, is a deepened understanding, empathy and grief for our treatment of refugees. People who are just like me, trying to do the right thing by their families under difficult circumstances. The asylum seekers who were medevaced to Australian hotels and then left there for months. In a room just like mine. Probably dirtier. And there’s no way they’re allowed Woolies, where would they even get the money? And they can’t count down the days, because there’s no end to their suffering. And they’re not just saying goodbye to one parent, they’re saying goodbye to their entire world.

And we’re greeting them like this.

The cloud just went away, my sliver of light is here. But it’s still dark inside my head. Because I know when I get out of here, they’ll be left behind.