January 25th 2011 started almost like any other day in terms of our daily routine with a 21 month old toddler. Only I was away with work and it was my husband who got himself and our son ready for the day. As per usual, Patrick was given his morning boba of milk, a wonderful tool to distract him from the whole getting dressed lark. Daddy and son had a bit of fun with the Tigger PJ's playing: "What does the tiger say?" routine. Then it was downstairs and off to the creche.
Patrick pointed at the cars outside informing Daddy which was "Mammy's car" and which was "Daddy's car" and appeared maybe a bit puzzled at being put in "Mammy's Car" by Daddy for a change. He smiled the short journey down to the creche and walked in the door all by himself.
My husband informed the creche staff that our son may be sleepy earlier than usual as he had not slept as well as he normally would and left a chirpy enough little boy to play with his friends for the day.
Funnily, I had not slept that well myself back in the hotel in Berlin. I was at a client meeting and it was just after lunch when I saw my phone going off silently. Pat would rarely call during the day - especially knowing I would be in a meeting so I immediately got a sort of a bad feeling, disconnected the call and quickly messaged him asking was all ok.
"No. Not breathing." came the answer and I began to panic. I left the room pretty much oblivious to all and, pacing the hall, tried to call my husband - my fingers would not function for me properly. I kept mistyping, hitting the wrong keys. I could not get through to Pat. I tried the creche. No answer. I called my office and, panicking more and more, relaid to my boss what I knew. My son was not breathing. Was my son dying? What the hell happened?
I tried Pat again and eventually got through. He was on his way to follow the ambulance to the hospital. The creche had called to say Patrick's breathing was laboured and things did not look good. My head was a mess. Pat promised to let me know as soon as he could - once he knew more.
Never in my life have I felt further away from home. I just wanted to be there. Not stuck in Berlin.
One of the people in the meeting saw me in the corridor, probably white as a sheet and asked was everything OK. I told him what happened and he helped get my stuff and brought me down to reception. He said if I needed anything at all, just to let them know and wished me the best of luck.
On the way to the hotel, I spoke with my boss, I think and said I needed to get home right now. She got onto the travel agent for me. In the hotel I tried to get an update from Pat but I think I was unable to get through.
Then I called my parents and told my mam that my son was dying. I had a very bad feeling. This was not going to end well. My mam tried to give me hope and told me to wait for news.
I just threw all my stuff into my suitcase and got ready to leave. In the lift down to reception I got the text message from Pat: "Sproggy passed away 5 mins ago."
I thought I was going to pass out. Pretty much almost hysterically crying I arrived at reception and told them my son had died and I needed to check out and get home asap. They were very kind and let me use the phone as I sat near reception (the only place with very good wifi coverage) and waited for news on my flight home.
The Limerick travel agent was brilliant in sorting me out. I would arrive in Cork at 11 pm but I had to leave for the airport right away. As I was waiting for the Taxi, I told people. I called my parents who completely broke down and went hysterical. Not the kind of reaction I needed at that point. I am hazy as to who else I spoke to but know I told my brother-in-law's fiancee in Sweden through Facebook. She called me and asked if that was for real...even I wasn't sure of that at that particular point.
I had not a clue what had happened. He'd been fine. He was healthy. Was it the ear infection that had been plaguing him a while? Was it that virus that somehow took hold? I had so many questions and was still a long time away from hugging my husband who was going through all of this by himself. Why couldn't I be there for him? His family live close and they did join him as soon as they found out. But again, Berlin may as well have been the moon - it felt that far away.
Once at the airport, I somehow made it through all the check points. As I was sitting there, waiting, my sister texted to tell me to find someone in the airport - samaritan or something. Just so I would not be alone. I went back to the passport control person, explained what happened and asked if they had a chaplain or something similar. He kindly went off enquiring straight away but came back saying they did not but that he had let someone know.
Soon after, two airport police came to me and sat down beside me. A man and a woman. The man asked if I felt I was even able to board that flight and should he ask for a doctor for me. I responded that I just had to get home, come hell or high water. The lady then sat with me while he went off informing the airline and Heathrow airport where I would have a stop-over. They stayed with me for a long time and were extremely nice.
I also received a call from a priest we are friendly with - I had texted him with the news. Initially, he thought it was my husband who had died (both husband and son having the name Patrick can cause a bit of confusion in some circumstances). In fairness, who would expect a healthy toddler to die all of a sudden!
The journey was long but was made so much more bearable by the airline staff. One stewardess sat with me pretty much the entire time. She plied me with strong tea containing at least 8 spoons of sugar, held my hand, asked me about Patrick and was just there. They arranged for someone to meet me off the plane in Heathrow and shepherd me through the airport to my connecting flight. As there was waiting time, I got put into the Aer Lingus Gold Circle Lounge for privacy and a sister kept me company there. She tried to get me to eat but I just could not. I just felt sick.
By then, people messaged me on facebook. People/Family we know in London offered to come to the airport. Everyone was shocked. I showed the sister pictures I had on my laptop and somehow the time until the flight was due to leave passed. Again, the staff were very kind. They left it up to me to decide whether I wanted to board first or last. I opted for the latter.
Finally we touched down in Cork. I felt numb, tired, wired, shocked all at the same time. I thought about my husband and how badly I wanted to hold him. I thought of my son and how badly I wanted to hug and kiss him.
I was met by Pat's aunt and uncle who drove me as far as Buttevant where we met up with Pat and his dad. Pat's aunt and uncle were wonderful and said many helpful and kind things on that journey. - Most of which I have forgotten - but the feeling of being cared for is still with me and will be for the rest of my life.
In Buttevant we did not have to wait long for Pat and my father-in-law. I was so glad to see my husband. I think we just hugged and then sat in the back of the car, holding each other, mostly in silence. They did fill me in on what happened, too.
When Pat got to the creche, the paramedics were already working on Patrick who was lying on the changing room floor. He had gone down for nap-time as usual. Messing around a good while before eventually going to sleep. The kids are checked on every 10 minutes when sleeping. When they started to get the kids up after their naps, they left Patrick until last as he had not been sleeping well the night before. But when they got to his cot, they knew straigth away he did not look right. The girl who picked him up, knew straight away something was very wrong, started CPR immediately and called the ambualance. Then they called Pat and told him about the laboured breathing. I am sure they knew it was serious but Pat himself could have ended up in the ditch if he'd thought the worst at that point already.
My husband said that he felt the minute he saw our son that he was gone. They continued to work on him on the way to and in the hospital. Pat told me there were over a dozen people in that room trying everything under the sun to get our boy back. Nothing was working.
In the meantime, Pat's family began arriving. Pat was in and out of the room where they were working on our little darling. Eventually, the main doctor said that it was about time to stop. Nobody really wanted to, it seemed, and they carried on for a short while but finally, they stopped.
Pat and the others were given all the time in the world. They got to hold him, say good bye and they got to carry him down to where the post mortem would take place. People just quietly made way for them and said prayers. The coroner said he'd do the post mortem straight away so that we would be able to pick him up that evening still and bring him home.
As we made our way from Buttevant to home, our little darling was in his cot upstairs where he would have normally been, too. When we got in the door, Pat's mom was there; waiting. His siblings had just left. We headed up to Patrick's room, stood in front of his cot, stroked his curly head of hair and cheeks and silently asked ourselves:
How did we get here?