From Grave to Cradle to Now
The Health Care Professional Edition
That first Saturday in April
promised to be the first beautiful day of spring. We were expecting our eldest
son, 32-year-old Drew, to arrive for the weekend from his loft in the west end
of Toronto. From age 11 he had lived where we still live but from his first
year at Ryerson University, he lived in Toronto. As a 20-year-old wouldn’t you?
We were looking forward to seeing
him, on his own for a few days—a rare occurrence.
For six years he had been working at
a high pressure job providing the top level support for corporations around the
world. His company is a major player in the World Wide Web. In the coming week,
Drew was to start the new job that the company had created so that they could
take better advantage of his relationship success with clients.
As much as he loved his work, he
loved more being a composer and performer of electronic music. While still in
his teens, he had earned a global reputation for his ground-breaking Internet
performances for which he had been written up internationally in Music and
Computers Magazine and in the Internet Handbook.
As I was driving about doing
errands, suddenly I had a feeling of apprehension: an irrational awareness of a
train and a strong impulse to phone Drew. I suppressed the impulse,
rationalizing that calling at 10:15 on a Saturday morning would probably wake
12:10 PM –
At 12:10, vacuuming the kitchen, I
didn’t hear the phone. Minutes later, my wife Rachel, handed me the phone
saying gravely, “Listen to this. It’s the police about Drew. I’m going to get
ready to leave.”
The recording stated that the police
had found Drew near tracks in West Toronto bleeding from a serious head injury.
I phoned the sergeant at the scene
who gave me the basic information including that Drew was OK but had a
fractured skull and lost a lot of blood from a head wound. Drew had given the
police his name and spelled it out, but wasn’t answering any other questions.
He had walked with the police some 300 metres to the vehicles. The officer said
that they didn’t know exactly what had happened, as there were no witnesses,
but they assumed that he had been hit by a train. Apparently, someone in an
apartment about a block away had called 911 to report seeing somebody
staggering along the tracks. The police had then stopped all trains in west
“A train!? He’s seriously injured
but he survived the accident. He talked and walked so he will be fine,” we
I told the sergeant that we would
meet him in 45 minutes at Saint Joseph’s Health Centre just off the Queensway.
He advised me to drive carefully and not to speed.
En route, we called Neil and JJ our
two other sons. The police had already called Neil. He was on his way to the
hospital; so was youngest brother JJ, with his girlfriend Alexandra. Rachel’s
sister Marie and brother-in-law Christian were on their way as well.
1:00 PM –
Hospital Number 1 – St. Joseph’s
On arrival, by accident Rachel and I
walked into the off-limits Emergency Triage Room. We saw Drew’s unmistakable
legs and, walking closer, saw with great relief that he had no apparent
injuries below his nose. From there on up, his head was wrapped.
waiting room for the seven of us was a claustrophobic 8x15 feet. I went to meet
with the police.
Minutes later the Emergency Room
(ER) doctor told us that their X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scan showed
that Drew’s brain injuries were so serious that they were sending him by
special ambulance either to Sunnybrook or St. Michael’s hospitals, whichever
could treat him quickest. This was more serious than we thought, but Drew had
talked to the police and walked with them to the ambulance. We had no doubt
that he would be fine.
2:40 PM –
The ambulance crew invited Rachel
and me to accompany Drew in the ambulance. She sat with Drew; I sat with the
driver. A parking lot pot-hole caused several metallic crashing noises in back
but the EMS technician replied that all was fine. As he slowly drove onto the street,
the driver called dispatch asking them to tell St. Michael’s ER that we would
be there in 9 minutes. “Good luck,” I thought to myself. “It’s mid-afternoon on
the first nice Saturday of spring, so the 8 kilometers of streets between us in
West Toronto and St. Mike’s in Central Toronto would be jammed with cars and
pedestrians. Either you’re fibbing, to make certain that the emergency team is
ready when we arrive, or you know some route that I don’t.”
We turned east onto Queen Street
West. As we drove through the first main intersection, the driver pulled into
the left lane, accelerating head-on into the oncoming traffic. Then he turned
on every siren and flashing light the ambulance had. Suddenly, I felt enormous
fear. “What does the driver know that I don’t?”
We drove very quickly either on the
wrong side of the street or in the centre of the street on a frequently weaving
lane that the ambulance driver created with the forced cooperation of the
traffic. We passed Trinity Bellwood Park, restaurants, and stores, places Drew
and I had visited together, as well as his ex-girlfriend’s condo. I wondered,
“Is this the last time Drew will ever be here?”
spite of two initially-uncooperative motorists, we arrived at St. Michael’s in
less than 9 minutes.
My earlier lack of fear had not been
the result of denial, but rather the result of the positive police report about
Drew’s behaviour after the injury, my own observation of Drew, the calm
professionalism of the medical staff, but most of all, my ignorance.
3:00 PM –
Hospital Number 2 – St. Michael’s
In the St. Michael’s ER, a waiting
team of 20 emergency staff descended on Drew for half an hour. The ambulance
crew took us into an adjacent waiting room and brought us coffee. Then they
briefed us on the next steps including that the emergency team estimated that
the surgery would take 1-2 hours. A nurse sent us to the 9th floor
NeuroTrauma ICU Waiting Room for the duration. Briefly in denial I thought, “We
don’t belong here with these exhausted, grim-faced people.” I’m sure that they
thought the same about us.
At 9:30, more than 4 ½ hours since
the start of surgery, an assisting surgeon appeared.
9:30 PM – Assisting Surgeon’s Description of Drew’s Situation
I stopped the surgeon from starting
his report until we could collect all seven of us into the empty waiting room.
We were all standing. As the surgeon made small talk, I noticed that the pant
legs of his hospital greens were soaked in Drew’s blood.
His five-minute briefing was
detailed and matter-of-fact. Drew had:
• Lost a lot of blood and had received
quite a few transfusions
• A fractured vertebrae in his neck
• Two broken ribs, bleeding in the
chest and a partially collapsed lung
swollen eyes and possible irreparable damage to the eyes
• Chipped teeth, a broken nose and
badly-fractured eye sockets, forehead and left side of his skull
• Bone fragments in his brain which
they had removed. His brain was bleeding at the frontal lobe, the left temporal
lobe and at the base of the brain where it joins the brain stem at the spine
• An extremely badly swelling brain
that the doctors can do nothing about except to let it swell by removing the
front half of his skull, from his eyebrows and ears to the top of his head
• Drew was in the deepest coma short
of a vegetative state.
Sensing the devastation that his
information had created, from compassion, but without apparent conviction, the
surgeon added, “Of course he’s young. He could beat the odds and survive.”
We plunge into numbing depths, our
lived normal ripped from us forever. Initially, we are all so stunned
that we can’t console each other. One brother faints to the floor. One brother
(a former ocean lifeguard, trained and experienced in dealing with traumatic
injuries) is distraught. Alexandra, his wonderful girlfriend of a year who
barely knows Drew, is equally devastated and appears lost. With “JJ needs you,”
I send her to console my son.
9: 45 PM -
The Quiet Room & Shifts
Hospital staff take us to the Quiet
Room dedicated to such circumstances. It has a pull-out bed we don’t discover
for three days, laying on the floor instead. We displace a family originally
from Mauritius, the young wife and mother of which was hit two days before by a
young drunk driver. We bond through grief. Two days later, they take her off
PM - Sitting with Drew
An hour later, after staff settle
Drew into the NeuroTrauma ICU, my wife and I start one hour round-the-clock
shifts by his side.
As I pass the nurse busily dedicated
to Drew 24/7 and enter his side-curtained ICU cubicle, I see a lifeless Drew
lying in subdued lighting, connected by at least a dozen tubes and wires to
about 24 square feet of instrumentation rising behind him, quietly beeping or
making other gentle noises. Drew’s wrapped, swelling head has already more than
doubled in size.
I sit, take his hand in mine and
kiss it. “Hi Drew; its Dad. I love you Drew.”
Then in the blink of an eye, I had
this internal conversation.
“How do I survive this?... You have to accept that
Drew is dead…. Given his extensive brain damage, if he survives he might never
be able to hear, see, talk, or feed himself. Perhaps dying is best…. No, I will
accept him, whatever his condition…. Now what do I have to do to bring him
In the blink of an eye.
At that moment, an electric shock passed from his
hand to mine, similar to strong static electricity, but not unpleasant. “He’s
in there!” I thought.
But it was much more than that.