Friends. There are all kinds, aren’t there? Some were your neighbours as kids; some you met in elementary school/high school/college/university; some through various jobs; some at the gym because they have daycare and you can work out (or yack in a corner, pretending to work out); through activities; etc. Some you keep forever; some for a little bit; some you lose and never see again and others you lose and re-find.
And then there are the friends that you meet in the oddest places, in the most unexpected circumstances. You probably would never have really ended up as friends because you did not run in the same circles but now, because of what you are both going through, you connect. That would be Margaret and me.
You see, Austin was born May 25, 1996, and 10:15 pm. By 2:30 a.m., the transport team came to pick him up to bring him to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Joanne was born on June 16, 1996 and during the night of the 17th to the 18th, she was medevaced from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. What a place to make a friend!
Both our babies had heart issues. Until they were big and strong enough for major surgery, each had temporary measures: Austin had a shunt put in at 10 days old; Joanne a pacemaker at four weeks old. Both spent their first two months on the Ninth floor.
Our babies were not set up next to each other in 9C (the NICU) but I could hear Margaret singing to Joanne in Inuktitut. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard amidst all of the various hums and beeps and blips. Through the weeks, we would meet up, chit chat, go downstairs for breaks and just come and go. I felt so bad for Margaret as she was here in Montreal, alone, while her husband and three-year old daughter, Natasha, were up in Nunavut. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was for her to have to deal with all of this by herself. I had Mick and my family so I sort of took her under my wing. We didn’t know it was the beginning of something special.
When the babies “graduated” (Margaret reminded me that Mick used this term!) to 9C2 which was across the hall from 9C (Here the babies are healthy enough for there to be three babies to one nurse; whereas 9C was two to one; and 9D (ICU) was one to one) we started hanging out together even more. This was a great sign to find ourselves in this unit. We could hold our babies at will.
On the other side was quite the situation: you could, if all was OK, hold your babies but quite the organisation was required. As they were hooked up to meds and respirators and whatnot, the nurses settled you into a chair, gave you your baby and then taped the respirator tube to your shoulder, Like this:
Yep, 9C2, or Club Med was a stepping stone to going home!
We were released in July ’96 and Joanne and Margaret in August ’96. Back to Pang for them and now we each had to learn how to live outside the hospital walls.
We kept in touch and every time Joanne had an appointment, down they would come and stay in Baffin House (a place for the Inuit to stay when they had hospital visits in Montreal) and I would go get them to spend some time with us. First time they came for an appointment was November ’96.
Then on January 17th, 1997, we lost Austin. When I called Margaret to let her know, she started to sob and said it was like losing one of her own family members. She said everyone in her community mourned for us. I was extremely touched.
Life goes on and we would get to see the whole family this time in July 1997. Finally, we got to meet Andrew and Natasha! We ended up bringing them over for a supper of corn on the cob (Margaret insists to this day that she has never eaten so many ears!)
It would be another six months before Joanne’s next appointment and this time, I suggested (insisted) that Margaret and Joanne stay at our house instead of Baffin House. Of course she tried to resist but I was having none of it. Thank goodness this was before the ice storm!
Sadly, the Government decided that from now on, many of the Inuit would now be sent to Ottawa for all treatments and follow-ups. Montreal. Noooooo! What a cruel thing to do. You have your cardiologist and whatnot for three years and sorry, you have not choice now. We were all saddened. A couple of times I almost made it there to visit but by then, I had Iain and then Aidan and it was more difficult to just pick up and go. Plus, many times the visits were decided quite last-minute.
In the summer of 2003, Ottawa had a major blackout so Joanne and Andrew (Margaret was pregnant with AJ so she had to let Andrew do her job!) got re-routed to Montreal and, of course, there was no way I was not going to see them at their hotel! It was a very quick in and out so we didn’t even have time to do much but chat for an hour or so. But oh my! To see Joanne at 7 years old! What a wonderful thing!
Then, as things happen when you are thousands of kilometres apart, we sort of lost touch. We sent each other emails now and again but not as often.
One day, my fax kept ringing, as if someone was trying to call. Our fax does not do double duty so I was not able to pick up. It was Margaret desperately trying to reach me. In one of their moves she had lost her phone book so she looked me up and the only number still under my name was the fax. She finally ended up sending me an email.
On March 24, 2008, they lost Joanne. Oh, my heart broke. We had shared so many experiences but this one, this one, was not one I wanted us to share. I felt as she did 11 years earlier. One of mine was gone and now MY community was mourning for her. I immediately called her and we sobbed together as she told me the whole story. Heartbreaking.
Life goes on and then Facebook arrived in our lives and now keeping in touch with each other’s lives was so much easier. We could share photos as well as words so they, of course, heard about Mick too.
Then, this March 20th, I got a message telling me that she, Andrew and AJ were coming down at the end of the month! They were spending a few days in Ottawa at Margaret’s sister’s house and they had a Habs game on Thursday night so there would be time for us to get together. Woot!!! Yesterday I picked them up at their hotel and brought them over so we could spend a few hours together, share a meal and a glass of wine and reminisce. To think our angels would have been 19 this year…
My boys brought AJ down to play video games and all got along swimmingly. During the meal, Andrew explained to Iain the ways of the Inuit: hunting, fishing, making clothing out of the various skins: seal, wolf, polar bear. Andrew showed him videos of them hunting and fishing and trying to scare off a young (teenager) polar bear from atop a small cabin! Iain was absolutely fascinated and had many a question that both Andrew and Margaret took pleasure in answering. I think if I were to suggest to Iain a little visit up to Iqaluit or Pangnirtung, he’d be more than willing to go!
We have known each other for nineteen years, and other than the first two months of our kids’ lives, only saw each other again a total of three times! And yet, we feel as close as can be. It is a special bond, that is for sure. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for them to come down in the future! I have definitely added Baffin Island to my bucket list and hope to make it up there one day! They would love for that to happen. It is extremely expensive to go so I’ll have to start up yet another travel fund!
Till then, we will continue to exchange over Facebook!