Saturday, July 18, 2020


Cast your mind back, almost four months and seven eternities ago. Early April. Ontario had just locked down, and all the phrases we are now so wearily familiar with ("flatten the curve", "social distancing", "R-nought", "asymptomatic carrier") were still fresh and more than a little disturbing. Masks were reserved for front line health care workers, there being virtually none to be had yet elsewhere. We still don't know the entirety of what we're dealing with when it comes to this virus, but back then we knew a lot less. "The new normal" hadn't coalesced and wasn't at all normal to any of us. 

Tom is Mark's brother and closest friend. He has been a near-daily visitor here since Mark arrived in 2017, very much part of our family. Aside from early stage diabetes, last time I saw Tom he was the picture of health. This is one of those people who runs even if something isn't chasing him. 

He's personable, loquacious, unassuming and without pretence. One of those competent handyman types that make me feel like a little boy sometimes, but never out of any malice. Tom doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. Dolly absolutely adores him, and the feeling is mutual. He is a  loving husband of thirty years and a doting father to twins. He has a restless mind, and has startled me on occasion bringing up Platonic philosophy or ancient history. He's generous with his time and energy.  A good man at heart. 

And on a Friday in early April of this hellacious year, he felt a little tickle in his throat.

It didn't alarm him, not at first. Why would it? There are lots of reasons to have a tickle in your throat, and even in the age of Covid-19, most of them aren't such of a much. Besides, you rationalize, right? The heart attack is probably just gas. It can't be that bad.  I'll just walk this off. Sure, it could happen to me, but what's happening to me now isn't it.

It was. It was It. 

We don't know where he got it from. Probably his wife, Jackie, who would have been asymptomatic at the time: she later developed symptoms, but fought them off with little trouble.

Not Tom.

By the evening, he  had a fever to go with the tickle in his throat. Over the weekend, he felt worse and worse and on Monday, he was hospitalized.

He remembers very little of the early days at Grand River Hospital. His existence was a haze, a palpable pain-fog, a never-ending struggle to breathe.  He has vague recollections of machines everywhere and masked doctors and nurses bustling in and out. And he recalls the ventilator, and how it forced him to breathe to its relentless, imperative rhythm. He struggled against the implacable, heartless machine, so much so they had to administer a paralytic. The fever was a constant companion, waxing and waning. At its worst it provoked seizures. They put him on blood thinners to alleviate the clots that are one of Covid-19's calling cards. 

Tom was intubated and placed in an induced coma on April 6, three days after being admitted.  At the time, this was close to an automatic death sentence. The longer Tom was under, the less chance we ever had of seeing him again. At one point we were told he had less than a ten percent chance of ever regaining consciousness. There were experimental treatments performed. Tom the guinea pig.

The coma dragged on and on, day after day, week after week. We all know how it is in Covid-19 wards, but it's worth saying anyway: nobody he knew could see him. At all. His thirtieth wedding anniversary came and went without him.

And then, after more than a month in the coma, Tom started to come up. There came a day we were informed his prognosis was "very guardedly positive". 

I'll admit it. I had thought he was a goner for sure. I was navigating a kind of pre-grief checklist that mostly consisted of remembering each time I had been less than loving towards him and whacking myself in the head with the memories. You never know what innocent occasion might turn out to be the last time you ever see someone. That's something I of course objectively know, but it has been driven home with lived experience now. I was particularly miserable over having sent Tom a Facebook message laced with strength, hope and love -- that he didn't get to see before he was put in the coma. 

On May 11, Tom opened his eyes. 

Not a long time after, Tom was able to borrow a nurse's iPad and  FaceTime his wife. He couldn't talk, thanks to the tracheostomy they had to perform to help him breathe,  so Jackie had to learn how to read his lips in a hurry. "Want to come home. Lost weight. Looking out the window. Love you."

Tom HAD lost weight: fifty pounds worth. He had also lost a great deal of muscle tone, Amazingly, what he hasn't lost is....himself. He's still Tom. That, to me, is the real miracle here. He still has recovery to go through, and no one knows what the future holds with this awful virus, but he went through it and came out the other side and he's still Tom.

Once out of the coma there was no stopping him. He spent less and less time on the ventilator each day, worked assiduously at a regimen of physiotherapy, and before long was gallivanting all over the hospital hallways. 

 This past Monday, we were told he'd be released in a week or two. On Wednesday, it was moved up to Friday. Friday, July 17, after 107 days in the hospital, Tom came home.We were there. So was CTV News. He got out of the car to applause and cheers, hugged his boys and his wife, and then his ancient, blind dog Chloe came out. Her tail was a blur and her feet were just a-tippy-tapping.  Now we know how Dolly is going to react when  "Uncle Tom comes Dolly's house". 

Tom wants to thank -- and Mark and Eva and I enthusiastically echo him --  all the doctors and nurses and therapists at Grand River Hospital, both the main and Freeport campuses, for saving his life who knows how many times. For bringing him up out of the dark and into the light, for helping him re-learn life's most basic skills, and for doing it all with compassion.  Thank you also to the many, many people who never gave up hope when hope was hard to find, whose prayers and positivity may well have had a part to play in bringing him back. 

We love you, Tom. You are one tough hombre. Welcome home. 

1 comment:

karen said...

I’m so, so glad that Tom came home.