Written by Mike Bradley
Intro by Laura
I remember it wasn’t long before I started missing important dates. My end of year school trip date came and went. I was missing exams too. But the first really important date I missed was Father’s Day. It was the first in a long summer filled with holidays and special days that I would miss. It started with “Do you think I’ll be home for my school trip?” “Do you think I’ll be home for Father’s Day?” “Do you think I’ll be home for Canada Day?” The answer was always the same. “We don’t know little one”. That’s what my dad always calls me, even today; little one. We did celebrate Father’s Day the best we could, in my hospital room together. I couldn’t shake the guilt that I had ruined it. I didn’t want to bring people down. I wanted them to have fun. I just wished I could be having fun with them. I certainly didn’t want to be a reason for them to not enjoy the usual summer traditions.
Since then, I’ve never missed Father’s Day. This year was no different. We spent it all together, just like we did 20 years ago in that hospital room. But this time, each one of us healthy and at home.
Here is the story of what happened in June 2001, from my dad’s perspective, written by him:
Incomprehension and disbelief
They say that many who are in the midst of major events are often either unaware that they are or don’t comprehend the significance of what is happening.
Sunday, June 3rd – Laura and Emily’s end of year dance recital. Parents will tell you that the end of the school year is insanely busy at the best of times. My wife Joyce and I added to that by being involved with multiple school committees and volunteer activities. The kids, Laura and Emily, at various points, were both involved in multiple after school activities, including skating, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding, soccer, a school band, church concerts and girl guides. Joyce was a girl guide leader, and I was in the Knights of Columbus. This was supplemented with the end of year trips. Each of these had fundraising activities, meetings etc. Did I mention that we had a cat, two dogs, rabbits, a gerbil, fish, a bird (that I can remember)?
Laura was particularly looking forward to the dance recital. She was in more routines than usual, and also felt more confident and prepared than ever. I remember us having a conversation where we discussed how important one’s attitude is when trying to achieve. This year, Laura emphasized putting more “energy” into it and felt really good about it.
All the frenetic activity around a recital was whirling around us that evening. The end of the year show was taking place in the magnificent Museum of Civilisation in Hull. Each of us was doing our part in the hustle and bustle of a dance show. Finally, we were in our seats with grandmothers and aunts and uncles. Meanwhile, backstage, Laura was succumbing to a hidden ailment. She threw up. Her dance teacher and owner of the dance studio could not let her go on. Sadly, she had to sit in a tiny room while the recital went on without her. The show that she had been preparing for all year, the one where she finally felt she had come into her own, was not to be. At one point, one of the dancers brought her a rose.
That evening, Laura couldn’t sleep, complaining of back pains, sitting up in bed. I sat beside her, and her thin frame, hunched over seemed delicate and fragile. I tried to make her more comfortable, even rubbing her back. It was getting late. We called the medical phone line for help. They recommended an acid indigestion remedy. I rushed out and got it. No relief. As I left her side that evening, she turned slightly, glanced over at me, and hinted that she thought there was more to it.
The next day Joyce took her to the clinic. The doctor examined her and diagnosed her with pneumonia but, as an added precaution, ordered an X-ray. The doctor studied the X-ray and confirmed the diagnosis of pneumonia. Joyce brought Laura home with her medication and prepared to nurse her back to health in the following weeks. In the meantime, that Xray was quietly winding its way through the medical system, to a central facility in a nearby city where radiologists take a second look at X-rays before they are archived.
On Tuesday, Joyce called me at work. I was sitting at my desk in the sprawling government office complex in Hull Quebec, directly across the Ottawa River from the Canadian Parliament Buildings. I don’t remember what I was working on. Whatever it was, it was about to recede into insignificance. Joyce was very distraught and could barely speak. Finally, she blurted: “It’s Laura. There’s something on the Xray. There’s something wrong with her heart! She’s on her way to CHEO. Go home I’ll pick you up.” I didn’t really know what to say. It was pointless to try to reassure her, but I tried anyway without any effect. My own thoughts were “Let’s find out what’s going on. Surely this is manageable, or maybe there’s a mistake.”
I stood in our front yard waiting, and Joyce finally pulled up. I jumped in the car, and she filled me in on what had happened.
The radiologist in Gatineau found an abnormality on the X-ray. The clinic called Joyce with the news. For the next few hours, Joyce crisscrossed three cities with Laura in tow to pick up the Xray and bring it to the hospital – no time for regular channels. In the emergency at the Gatineau Hospital, they hooked Laura up to monitors. At first, they thought something was wrong with the machine, since the numbers didn’t make sense, so they called in a technician to recalibrate it. The doctor quickly made the call, and Laura was packed into an ambulance with a pile of equipment and a doctor and was on her way to the cardiac unit of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), across the river in Ontario.
Nothing was ever the same again.