Riddle me this, for I am the Sphinx.
"It is noted that you left New Zealand 8 September 2021. Please provide us with further information on your travel to proceed."
A faceless email from the team guarding special allocations in New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine. The email response to my special allocation request did nothing to alleviate my anxiety and I became acutely aware that my reason for leaving, and not the very legitimate reason for returning, was the determinant of success.
Simply put, not only are New Zealanders not free to enter the country, but now we are no longer free to leave.
Mid-October 2021, a year after it became mandatory for New Zealanders to pre-book one of 4000 quarantine beds, and a week after New Zealand abandoned its Covid-19 elimination strategy, it is estimated that there are well over 20,000 New Zealanders stranded overseas, unable to return home and be reunited with loved ones.
For 12 months now, the right for "every New Zealand citizen... to enter New Zealand" under Section 18 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act has been completely violated.
Those who are trying to get home - to their country of citizenship, where they own homes; pay taxes; have families; accept quarantine.
And now, when the rate of Covid cases in quarantine facilities amongst returnees is lower than the rates in the community, in conjunction with an abandoned elimination strategy, does the Public Health Response Act still trump the Bill of Rights? Did it ever?
I spent two days mulling a multitude of possibilities that would be good enough for them to grant my "... pass without delay or hindrance..."
I know from the forums of New Zealanders stranded overseas that the following have not been granted special allocation: Parents who have had to leave New Zealand to care for critically injured children overseas; parents who have had to leave New Zealand with a sick child, to find lifesaving treatment not offered in New Zealand; New Zealand citizens who no longer have visas to stay in their countries of temporary residence.
What could I say that would be more important?
I am a breast cancer surgeon with fully booked clinics, operating lists and call commitments. This has been disclosed to them.
What do Oedipus and the Sphinx have to do with it?
As I was confronted by the demand for my reason to leave this apparent democracy called New Zealand, I could not help but feel a little like I was facing the Sphinx myself.
The story goes that Oedipus, a legendary Greek Prince, was travelling from Thebes to Delphi. The Sphinx sat guard at the entry and tormented travellers with a riddle: What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?
Those who answered incorrectly were killed, and their bodies were littered around the Sphinx.
Oedipus, the first to answer correctly, responded: "A human, who crawls as a baby, strides upright in maturity, and uses a cane in old age." The Sphinx was astounded and killed herself. Oedipus had won his freedom.
Unfortunately, I did not answer correctly.
"We are not satisfied that entry to New Zealand is time-critical for the purpose of commencing work that involves delivering a critical public or health and disability service or the maintenance of essential infrastructure or lifeline utilities whose failure would result in significant harm or disruption to a large number of New Zealanders."
The Sphinx has spoken.
• Dr Ineke Meredith is a Wellington-based breast cancer surgeon.