From Chapter One

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 him.


12:10 PM – The Call

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 Toronto.

“A train!? He’s seriously injured but he survived the accident. He talked and walked so he will be fine,” we thought.

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.

The 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 – Ambulance

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?”

In 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

Badly 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 life support.


10:45 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 back?”

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.


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