June 15, 1981 - October 4, 2000
Our son Brett was a first year Business Administration student at NAIT. He lived by himself in his own apartment, which he had just moved into in July. Before that he lived with his older brother Nicholas while he worked at PeBen Industries in Nisku. He was just getting into the swing of things at NAIT when he got sick. We, Bonnie and Bernie, live in Veteran which is a good three-hour drive south east of Edmonton.
He called me at seven o'clock in the morning on October 4. He said he didn't feel good, that he was sick the day before and he had gone to a doctor at the Doxx in the Kingsway Mall. I asked him what the problem was and he said that all of his joints were sore. He said his knuckles, knees, elbows, ankles and shoulders all hurt and that he could barely walk. He said that the Dr. he saw told him he had the flu. He said he hardly paid any attention to him and really didn't check him out that good. The Dr. apparently took a swab of his throat and told him the results would be back in 24 hours. He told Brett to go home, rest, take Tylenol and gargle with salt water. Brett told me he went to sleep sometime in the afternoon and woke up at 10:30 p.m. and he hadn't slept since then. He said he had what he thought was an insect bite on the bottom of one of his feet. He had played hockey on the weekend so I surmised that it might be a blister. He sounded worried. I asked him if he was eating or drinking anything and he said he had thrown up several times. I told him to get back to the doctor and if he blew him off again that he should get to the emergency at the Royal Alexandra Hospital since that was the closest hospital to him. I asked him if he wanted me to come and he said no, not to bother, he would go back to the doctor. I presumed he was just calling me to confirm that what he had done so far was the proper thing to do. I told him that I had to go to Coronation where I work and be there all day from eight thirty until four o'clock for a Standard Education day. I told him to call his dad or me if he needed anything.
Throughout the morning Brett apparently made a few calls to our house, to the school in Veteran where Bernie is the principal and to the Coronation Health Centre where I was. I finally got a message from my husband around one o'clock to phone him, which I did. Bernie said that Brett had called and he told him to take a cab or an ambulance and get to the hospital since he sounded very sick to him. I called Brett, he finally answered after several rings. He sounded so weak and sick, I told him to call 911, and he started to cry. He sounded so confused and disoriented. I asked him if he was drinking anything and he said that he couldn't hold anything on his stomach, he just threw it up. I told him to hang up and I was going to call an ambulance to come and get him and he said okay.
I called 911 from Coronation Assisted Living Complex. I explained to the 911 operator that this was a medical emergency, that I was calling from Coronation and I needed an ambulance to pick up my son in Edmonton and take him to a hospital. I explained everything, what he told me - the sore joints, the vomiting, everything. The operator ended up telling me that, "I am in Wainwright ma'am, I can't call an ambulance in Edmonton." So I told her that I didn't care how she did it, but he needed an ambulance and he needed medical attention. She called Red Deer Dispatch, which is the RCMP dispatch and told me that I should ask for Edmonton Dispatch. So that is what I did and they told me in Red Deer that, "This is the RCMP ma'am, not an ambulance service."
So I told them to please give me a number that I can call. Finally they told me to call the operator and ask for Edmonton Ambulance Service and I was finally connected to someone in Edmonton. I explained what I needed for Brett - I told the dispatcher everything, he had extremely sore joints, he could hardly walk, he was vomiting, he couldn't keep anything down, he had seen a doctor the day before, I was worried, he was worried, etc. etc. The dispatcher said that an ambulance was on the way. He asked a question about the security system in the building, which I really didn't understand, and then he told me to hang up, not to tie up the line since he was going to call Brett. I also gave the dispatcher the number that I was calling from. So I waited about ten minutes. Then at twenty after one I couldn't stand it any longer so I phoned Brett. He didn't answer at first so I tried again and he finally picked up the phone. He said, "I can't talk, they're here." I asked him if he knew what hospital they were taking him to but he just hung up.
Relieved that the ambulance had arrived, I sat for a moment to collect my thoughts.
A co-worker, who I had asked to stay by my side while I was doing all the phoning, asked me at that point if Brett had had his meningitis shot earlier on in the year. I said that no I didn't think he had. I drove home to Veteran to pack a bag, phone my office and also to tell my husband what was going on. When I was on the phone to my office the secretary asked about Brett and when I told her his symptoms, she said, "Gee Bonnie, I hope he doesn't have meningitis." I told her I hoped he didn't either. I was on my way to Edmonton around two thirty.
When I got to Camrose I realized I didn't have my cell phone turned on so I called our older son Nicholas at his place of work in Edmonton to tell him that I was on my way and that his brother was sick. He said that his dad had called him earlier and told him that the ambulance did not take Brett anywhere. Nicholas at that point had called a friend of his to pick Brett up and take him to the hospital. I was totally confused at this juncture so I called Bernie and he confirmed that Brett had called and said he didn't go with the ambulance - he had muttered something about them wanting to take him to a hospital on the west side. We are not sure what that was all about. Bernie told me that Brett thought he had chicken pox.
So I continued on my way, not really knowing anything except to keep on driving. When I was just about in the city limits Nicholas called to say that he had called emergency at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and they confirmed that Brett was there. Nicholas did not know how he got there since his friend had gone to pick him up but he wasn't there. We will never know all the details.
I kept on driving, picked Nicholas up and we raced to the Royal Alex. We just parked in the emergency parking lot when my phone rang. It was Bernie. Brett had just called him and he was at home. Brett told Bernie that he went to the hospital and they told him he would have to wait three hours so he went home. Frantic, we drove down to his place. We leaned on that buzzer and he finally opened the door. We went up to his apartment and there he was, purple spots all over his body even on the whites of his eyes. His toenails and fingernails were purple, his lips were dry and cracked, and he was lurching around, sweating profusely, totally confused, weak, disoriented. He fought a little as I helped him get a jacket and sandals on. He muttered that he wanted a doctor some place else, he wasn't making much sense.
I told him we were taking him to the hospital right now. We weren't in the apartment long, just long enough to get his jacket and shoes on and to make a quick search for his keys and wallet. The place was a mess, wet towels and clothes all over the place. He had a hospital bracelet on his wrist. When I asked him why he left the hospital he said that they wouldn't give him a place to lie down, they wouldn't give him any water, they wouldn't give him anything to throw up in and they said it would be three hours before he saw a doctor. That was about all I could get out of him.
Nicholas and I helped him out of the apartment, down two flights of stairs and down another flight from the front of the building to the sidewalk and into the van. We could barely hold him up. He was stumbling and I really don't know how I did it because he was a lot bigger than either of us. We sped to the Royal Alex, drove into the ambulance bay, got a wheelchair and wheeled him in. The nurse at the desk must have recognized him from before because she asked him why he left. He didn't say anything, he could barely breathe. I left Nicholas there with him and I got the van out of the ambulance bay and to the parking lot. I ran back to the hospital, he was still sitting in front of the desk, in distress. He asked for water, his brother asked the nurse if he could have some water and she said that since he was vomiting he couldn't have any. They asked him if he had a headache and if he could touch his chin to his chest. No one said much more, they just stared at him.
Finally we wheeled him into a room and a doctor examined him quickly. Nicholas couldn't take it so he left to sit in the waiting room. I helped the doctor get his jacket and shirt off. They asked him his name, he answered. The doctor put on a surgical mask and told everyone else but me to do the same. Brett said he needed oxygen. The doctor put a mask on his face, but she didn't hook it up to anything. Brett held the mask away from his face and gasped for air. The doctor asked if I was all right and I said yes, and she said that he was very sick and I said that I knew that he was. They told him that things would move fast, that he would get an intravenous needle in his arm, they needed a blood pressure cuff on his arm, and other things I can't remember.
They moved him to the trauma room and I went along, and tried to stay out of the road. There were several people in the room, he was quiet, no response. The nurse trying to get the needle in his arm said she couldn't find a vein. They said they had to "tube" him, they said this twice and then called another doctor in. He noticed me there and instructed one of the nurses to take me to the quiet room. Brett was dead before I left, I knew he was I could't believe it. He just lay there and died right before my eyes. I got Nicholas and we sat in the quiet room, it was six thirty. I told him to go wash his hands. I explained to him that Brett had meningitis. When he got back I went to the washroom and used my cell phone to call my husband. I told Bernie that it didn't look good, I didn't want to tell him that I thought Brett was dead. I just couldn't say it.
Bernie wanted to leave right away but I told him to wait. I told him that they were intubating Brett and once they had him hooked up to all the machines and on his way to ICU that I would call him. I just couldn't tell him what I thought to be the truth. We waited for thirty minutes. Nicholas kept telling me not to worry, that Brett was strong, he would be okay.
Brett Had Died
I told the doctor that I had called an ambulance earlier, "why did they not take him then?" She told me that that part would be "looked into." I had to call Bernie and tell him that his youngest son was dead. He was incredulous; he just couldn't believe it.
Nicholas talked to him for a few minutes as well. He left immediately for Edmonton and I worried for the next three hours about him, driving in the state he was in. They sent the nurse in who was at the desk earlier when Brett came to emergency. She told me that the first time he came in he rolled up his sleeve, showed her the spots and announced that he thought he had chicken pox. She asked him if he had chicken pox when he was little and he said that yes he had. So then she said she told him that she didn't think they were chicken pox. She told me that when they called his name to see a doctor, he was gone. I couldn't say anything, I was in shock I guess.
I can't get that image out of my mind.
I felt so helpless and so guilty.
We went back to the quiet room and people came and went. I just wanted to leave. A Pastoral Care person came in to see us but neither one of us had much to say, we just wanted to get out of there. The doctor said that the only health precautions we needed to follow were to wash our hands and take an antibiotic. She gave us each a pill in a bubble pack. I looked at the back and saw that it was a sulfa drug, Cipro, which I am allergic to. I gave it back to her and told her I couldn't take it. Nicholas is allergic to penicillin. She didn't even ask if we had any allergies before she handed us these drugs. She finally wrote out a prescription for me for another drug, Rifadin and Nicholas took his Cipro. So much for that.
I was very concerned about the public health issues and I told them so. The doctor reassured me that Public Health would be checking into all the contacts that Brett had. She also asked me to replay all the events of the day as I remembered them. We finally got out of there.
We went back to Nicholas's apartment and I started to phone family and friends. It continues to be a nightmare. We never got home to Veteran until late in the evening the next day, Oct. 5th. On the 6th I called the Royal Alex to tell them that we wanted to release Brett's name to the media. We were very concerned that there were people out there who may have had contact with him and they really wouldn't know unless his name was in the paper, on the news, etc. etc. Another reason was that on the way home that night every half hour, all we heard was that a nineteen year old youth was dead from meningitis. He had a name, an identity, he was somebody's son, brother, friend, why shouldn't he be identified. The media relation's person for Capital Health, Steve Buick, was very nice, but I think at first he felt it was his job to tell me that we really shouldn't be releasing his name. He cited facts such as the press would be bothering us. I said I welcomed the press.
I myself haven't had time to grieve properly for our son. We have been busy giving newspaper and television interviews. I have been trying to get answers from the hospital and from the Edmonton Emergency Response Department. We feel that our son was let down by the medical care system. We want answers, but they are very slow in coming.
The Royal Alex people have promised we would have full disclosure of their internal investigation into the events surrounding Brett's death. The Emergency Response Department has told us that we will get all the information we want as long as we sign a Statutory Declaration giving us the right to that information since Brett's privacy is protected by FOIPP. I don't know what to think. We haven't signed anything yet.
We held a memorial service for Brett in Veteran on October 10, 2000. He was 19 years, 3 months, 19 days old.