COLUMN: Getting ‘the call’ in the night

It was a Sunday morning, 10 to 6, and my cellphone was incessantly ringing across the room.

by Katie Bartel, Black Press

I’ve received that phone call.

It was a Sunday morning, 10 to 6, and my cellphone was incessantly ringing across the room. I tried to roll over; tried to drown out the noise with a pillow on my head; who would be calling me at such a senseless hour; I did not want to pick up that phone.

Maybe something inside me knew it couldn’t be good.

When I finally answered the call, it was my big brother on the other line. His voice was shaky, but he did his best to stay calm.

“[Our brother’s] been airlifted to Royal Columbian Hospital,” he said. “You’re the closest. You have to go now. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

I’ll never forget those words.

It was seven years ago this month that I found out my oldest brother, who I’ve looked up to my whole life, had been in a serious car accident – not even two minutes away from his house.

He had been drinking and driving.

I was the first to arrive at the hospital. After giving the ER clerk my brother’s pertinent information, I was placed in a “family room” to await the doctor on duty to fill me in.

I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t know how bad it was, I didn’t know if I’d ever see that teasing twinkle in his eyes again, If I’d ever be able to hug him, confide in him, or hear him call me ‘Kate’ again.

I tried to hold it together. I knew I had to be strong. But when I overheard a paramedic across the way say to his pals, “If you ever need a reason not to drink and drive, go look at that guy in trauma one – his face is messed up!” I lost it.

When I was finally taken in to see my brother, I was lectured by the doctor that I had to put on a happy face. I could not cry, and I could not have fear in my eyes. Because if he saw that, he might give up – he might not make it.

I remember the tubes and the beeping of the machines. I remember how pale my brother’s skin looked against the black stubble on his face. I remember how diminished he looked in that hospital bed. I remember the nurse asking him if he knew who I was. I remember seeing him nod. And I remember the moment he turned his head to look at me, his eyes wide, scared.

“Kate, I’m sorry,” he said.

My brother did not die. He was not paralyzed. But he did lose his spleen, and will likely have his short term memory compromised forever.

It wasn’t the first time he had drove drunk, but it was the last.

Listening to Kevin Brooks’ story at G.W. Graham last week brought those heart-wrenching, tear-inducing, fear-ridden memories back.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, how experienced you are, you are not invincible. Luck does run out.

Brooks is proof. My brother is proof.

Katie Bartel is a reporter with The Chilliwack Progress, a sister paper of the Abbotsford News.

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