We lost one son – why did we have to lose another?
Evening Standard | 3 Dec 1993
THIS week it was Jacqueline Bodger’s 40th birthday and she attended the inquest to hear why her five year-old son Terry died after going to have six baby teeth extracted, visited the stone which covers the ashes of her eight- year-old child Martin, killed by a car just six years ago, said `goodnight’ in her head to her dead children as she does every night, and sat on the sofa in her sitting-room with her husband Philip just wondering why. We’re talking in their council flat in Hendon. They moved there to start afresh, away from the painful memories of the home outside which Martin was run over. Now Terry’s bicycles stand in the hallway by the front door and and toys lie untouched in his bedroom. There are framed photographs of two smiling, healthy boys on the walls, and 70 sympathy cards line the sitting- room shelves.View transcript
THIS week it was Jacqueline Bodger’s 40th birthday and she attended the inquest to hear why her five year-old son Terry died after going to have six baby teeth extracted, visited the stone which covers the ashes of her eight- year-old child Martin, killed by a car just six years ago, said ‘goodnight’ in her head to her dead children as she does every night, and sat on the sofa in her sitting-room with her husband Philip just wondering why. We’re talking in their council flat in Hendon. They moved there to start afresh, away from the painful memories of the home outside which Martin was run over. Now Terry’s bicycles stand in the hallway by the front door and and toys lie untouched in his bedroom. There are framed photographs of two smiling, healthy boys on the walls, and 70 sympathy cards line the sitting- room shelves.
Philip, 41, is a refuse collector and Jacqueline worked as a clerk in Edgware General Hospital after Martin died there. They have both been off sick since Terry died. They are a sweet and gentle couple, honest and unblaming, and were clearly doting parents.
One day Terry had toothache and Jacqueline took him to the local dentist, who said his tooth would have to come out. He was terrified of needles, so was refered to Eastman Dental Hospital for a general anaesthetic. ‘I told them about Terry’s asthma because I was concerned about gas, but they said not to worry,’ says Jacqueline.
Terry had a bad reaction to the gas. ‘Having lost one child, I went into complete panic. I thought ‘Oh no, not again. We can’t lose another child.” Then Terry’s heart stopped. So they transferred him to University College Hospital. ‘Someone, I don’t know who, said, ‘Mum can’t come in the ambulance.” (The hospital blame the ambulancemen for the decision, and vice versa.) Jacqueline went by taxi and got stuck in traffic.
At UCH, she waited two hours to see her son in intensive care. ‘He looked the same as Martin when he died. I couldn’t cope.’ Suffering further complications, Terry was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital by ambulance. Jacqueline wasn’t allowed with him and again took a cab, which got lost.
When she arrived, Terry had had another heart attack and the consultant told Jacqueline he was brain damaged. Next day there was further trouble with his heart. ‘We went and put our arms round Terry and he died,’ she says, fighting back tears.
‘I went mad,’ says Philip. ‘I was screaming that we’d already lost Martin. I wanted to smash the place up.’
Martin’s death had been more rapid. He was run over crossing the road, picked up by a passing ambulance and died an hour later. Jacqueline only knew about the accident when a neighbour knocked on her window, minutes after it happened. When she and Philip got to the hospital, the consultant said Martin had died. ‘It happened so quickly,’ she says. ‘I was confused with shock.’
Martin was cremated. ‘I always felt upset wondering what they did with Martin after I left the chapel,’ she explains. She can’t remember much about his funeral. ‘It felt like watching a play. I felt I was going through the motions, watching myself doing these things.’ They put his ashes in the chapel under a stone inscribed with a poem Jacqueline wrote. ‘We felt unhappy, because you couldn’t put flowers on it. So we bought a grave plot, had a headstone made for Martin and put plants on the spot. We knew Martin wasn’t there, but it was in memory of him. We went there every week, rain or shine.’ She pauses. ‘Then we buried Terry in the plot we’d made for Martin.’
Jacqueline’s face lights up when she recalls happier days. Martin, she says, was lively, outgoing and friendly. He loved walking with his parents, adored collecting worms and snails in the garden when his father was digging and enjoyed school.
Terry, a Thundercats fan, was at nursery school and was shy, generous, artistic, bright and loving. ‘He was always saying, ‘I love you Mummy and Daddy.’ But he was a real Mummy’s boy.’
When Martin died, it was very difficult for them to cope with Terry who was just nine months old. ‘But then he’s what kept us going. When you’ve lost one child, the one left becomes extra precious.’ (They keep saying they ‘lost’ him, as if that’s less final than his being dead.) When they first returned home after Terry died, they couldn’t sleep upstairs. ‘Every night Terry used to wake and I’d hear his thud, thud along the corridor. After losing him I expected to hear that noise for ages. We just couldn’t face him not being in his bedroom so we slept in the sitting-room for a week.’
With Terry’s death, it was the wait for his inquest which kept them going. ‘We hoped to find out a reason why a healthy child should have his teeth out and die. We still haven’t got that answer.’ Anaesthetics carry a rare risk and the inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure: there was no question of a lack of care.
Now Eastman Dental Hospital has set up an independent inquiry. ‘If there’s a machine or procedure that’s wrong, it should be altered. We didn’t want to find someone to blame. But we don’t want other children to suffer. No, no, we’re not interested in compensation at all.’
The Bodgers get up every morning, aimlessly. ‘There doesn’t seem to be any future,’ says Jacqueline. ‘We don’t do anything. We just sit at home. It feels like one long day since we lost him. We just don’t accept that he’s gone. It makes you feel empty all the time. Like there’s a big blank space inside and you don’t know how to fill it. We go to bed at night and hope we won’t wake up the next day. All the time I say ‘why me?’ and then why twice.’ She doesn’t get an answer. ‘You just think they were fit and well, so why were they taken away?’ Does she believe in God? ‘No.’ ‘Definitely not after we lost Martin,’ adds Philip.
They don’t want to move house or pack all Terry’s things away. They learnt ‘the first time’ that that didn’t work. Now Philip is prepared to return to work. But not Jacqueline. ‘I can hardly bring myself to go out of the door at the moment. If I go out in the car it has to be somewhere I hadn’t been with Terry. I can’t face it. It’s too painful.’
They are a close couple, married for 19 years, and the trauma has made them closer. ‘We’re just hanging on for each other. We haven’t been apart since we lost Terry.’
Emotionally, they’ve reacted very differently. ‘Phil’s been able to get a lot out by getting upset and angry,’ says Jacqueline. ‘I just don’t seem able, it won’t come out, though I’m very, very angry that I’ve lost Terry this way.’ They saw a psychiatrist for the first time last week. They’ll continue if it helps.