Wednesday 22nd October 2008
7.40am – My youngest son Ollie shouts “right, I’m off now”. I am in my bedroom wrapped in a towel, I do not go into the hall to see him, but I shout back “have a happy day” and he leaves for his third day’s teaching practice at a local primary school.
5.10pm – I am walking along a footpath on my way to an exercise class following my day at work. I am feeling unusually upbeat. Ollie has been home from Plymouth University since Sunday evening to do his teaching practice, staff problems at work have been resolved and my husband Kevin and I are off on holiday next week. All is right with the world……………
7.05pm – I am still in my gym clothes chopping vegetables for dinner. Kevin is drinking a glass of wine and moaning because Ollie has come home from his school, dumped his things in the kitchen and gone straight out again to rugby training in Totnes. Kevin says he is going to have stern words with him about helping out around the house now that he is home again for six weeks.
He decides to leave the dishwasher for Ollie to empty when he gets back from training. He says that it will be Ollie’s job for the next six weeks, until he goes back to Plymouth.
7.07pm – The telephone rings, Kevin answers it. I can tell by his conversation that something has happened at rugby training. Ollie has put his shoulder out twice in the past year and in my mind I am already being cross with him for risking it again when he is on teaching practice. I turn off the cooker hob and say I’ll have a quick shower before we go. Kevin says there isn’t time, we need to go to the hospital right away. He tells me it is serious.
As Kevin has had a glass of wine, I drive to the hospital, which is nine miles away. I stop at the red traffic lights two miles into our journey, it is at this very moment that I know Ollie has died.
We arrive at the A & E. The receptionist tells us to go through a door and we are met by a nurse who is clearly expecting us. I’ve had three children, I’ve been to A & E often enough to know that you never get seen right away, not unless you’re dying…….. She tells us the ambulance is on its way and leads us to a small sitting room. It doesn’t say so on the door, but I know this is the bereavement room. My mother died six years ago, I’d been in there before. I am overcome with grief.
Kevin is standing at the window watching them unload the stretcher from the ambulance. I can see a crowd of medics working as a team. I hear the commotion outside the bereavement room door. I am sitting on the settee and the nurse is holding my hand. A Doctor comes into the room, he asks us to go with him. In the bay outside the door Ollie is lying on an elevated bed. There are wires and machines and people everywhere. A Doctor is administering chest compressions. I notice she is standing on a step. In comparison to Ollie she seems tiny and yet I can see Ollie’s rib cage caving in and out. His mouth and nose are caked with the discharges of dying. The Doctor who had fetched us asks us if we want to move closer. Kevin goes forward. I cannot move. I do not want to see my son this way. The Doctor is in the space between us. He tells us that people have been trying to revive Ollie for over forty five minutes.
I know then that he wants us to say not to go on. It isn’t a difficult decision for us. We can see he is lifeless. The Doctor says a few words and all the medics move silently away leaving just the Doctor, Kevin and I and our nurse. Without the medical paraphernalia, I find my feet work again. I go over to Ollie and hold his hand. I brush his forehead. I clutch his biceps. I will him to live, knowing it is hopeless. I hear the Doctor explaining that he has suffered heart failure. I hear the words, but it seems impossible to me. Ollie is over six foot tall, strong and athletic. He has worked so hard on his fitness. He has been determined to be selected for his rugby team and has spent three years building his strength. How could his heart fail him?
The nurse tells us she will move Ollie to a quiet room and make him clean and tidy, so we can say goodbye to him. She takes us back to the bereavement room. There is a knock at the door, two men walk in, I recognise them but cannot think who they are. I notice absently they both have muddy knees. Then I remember they are GPs from our local surgery. One had been playing hockey on the sports field when Ollie went down, the other is the first response Doctor and had been called right away. They had both worked on Ollie. They have come to tell us that everything that could be done, had been done. They look hopeless, as if they can’t explain what had happened, or why, which of course they can’t.
The Doctors leave and the nurse slips back into the room to tell us that some of Ollie’s friends are here. She asks if we will see them and when we agree she ushers them in. Four friends who have known Ollie since childhood come into the room. I too have known these lads since they were little. They had been with Ollie at the training ground, they are carrying his kit bag with his car keys and mobile phone. They look at us expectantly, waiting for us to tell them what is happening. I realise with some astonishment that they do not know Ollie has died. They had been there, they witnessed his collapse, saw the prolonged and frantic attempts at resuscitation, they had seen him being loaded into the ambulance and yet with the optimism of youth, they did not know he was dead.
In the days and months that followed I have drawn immense comfort from this. If they had seen everything that happened and yet could not believe that he had died, then I cling to the hope that Ollie would not have realised he was dying either.
I do not know how long they stay with us, not long I think.
The bereavement nurse returns and takes us to see Ollie. He looks cleaner and dead. The nurse has put a flower by his face. A lovely touch, but incongruous nonetheless. I wrap my arms across his chest. I remember all the times he has flexed his biceps and told me to feel his “guns”. I feel them now. The muscles are still rock hard, but he is so, so cold. How does life leave a body so quickly? His body is there, his beard growth, rough on his face, the muscles, the closed eyes, but his warmth has gone and in its place, icy cold. We both kiss his dear face. I hear Kevin say “goodbye son”. I cannot bear to leave the room.
The nurse tells us that we must stay until the police have taken a statement. An officer has been called. Whilst we wait we make some tea and Kevin uses his mobile to telephone our other two sons. Our eldest, Daniel, lives in London. He is at a restaurant with his girlfriend Jenny. He can’t hear Kevin’s voice very well above the noise of the restaurant, so he goes outside to take the call. Jenny can see him through the window. She sees he is crying.
Joe lives in Bristol with his girlfriend Susie. Susie answers, Joe is playing badminton.
Kevin rings his youngest sister. I hear his words and now I can hear her screaming.
He rings a close friend. “You’re joking” our friend says.
I ring my father on the hospital phone. “Dad” I say, “Ollie’s dead.”
After a long time a pretty young police officer arrives. We answer seemingly trite questions and all the while she apologises for having to ask us for such banal information. After she leaves our nurse tells us that the WPC knew Ollie, had been out for a drink with him. Having seen his dead body she had needed time to compose herself before speaking to us. The nurse adds that his friends have also just left. We are surprised, she tells us that they had been too distressed to leave earlier. I wished I had known, they could have stayed with us.
Later, his university house mates ring Ollie’s mobile phone. They have already seen the news on Facebook. They are ringing to make sure it’s not true. Now I can hear them shouting and swearing, screaming at each other. I will remember that noise forever.
Ollie died from an undetected heart defect. Following the post mortem, we know that he died of Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC).
He was just 21 years old.