Godfrey - Interview 39
Age at interview: 77
Brief Outline: In 1995 Godfrey's son was fatally injured as he tried to board a train. Godfrey was denied information about exactly what had happened. The jury at the inquest decided it was an accident. It was an awful tragedy but Godfrey still has a positive attitude.
Background: Godfrey is a GP/academic. He is married and has 2 children (1 died). Ethnic background/nationality: White British
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In July 1995 Godfrey’s son, Adrian, was seriously injured as he tried to board a train. The train was leaving the station as Adrian tried to open a door. He fell and hit his head, and was taken to the local teaching hospital, where he was rushed to the operating theatre. After surgery Adrian was taken to the intensive care unit and put on life support machines.
When Godfrey heard that his son was unlikely to survive he found it hard to believe what had happened. It was all a terrible shock. After about 24 hours he and his wife had to make the difficult decision to turn off the life support machines. This decision was made easier due to the caring attitude of the hospital staff. Godfrey and his wife also made the decision to allow organ transplantation. Having made that decision they were glad to find that Adrian had been carrying an organ donor card.
During this awful time and during the months that followed, Godfrey and his wife were supported by family, friends, colleagues and a university college chaplain. Adrian’s funeral took place in a college chapel. Then his ashes were buried in Godfrey’s garden. Godfrey and his wife have placed a bench in Wytham Woods in memory of Adrian, near where he did his research for his PhD.
After Adrian’s death Godfrey and his wife wanted as much information as possible. They wanted to know why Adrian had fallen when trying to board the train. They assumed they would be told what had happened as soon as the railway company had finished their own internal inquiry. However, the railway company refused to let the family see the documents.
Six months later the inquest was held. The coroner also refused to disclose what was in the report that had been written following the inquiry. The jury decided that Adrian’s death had been an accident and Godfrey and his family left the court feeling upset and angry because once more they had been denied access to information. They could not accept that their son had died, that there had been an inquiry, but that they had not been able to see the report. Godfrey and his wife spent years trying to get the train company to let them see the result of the inquiry. The media got involved. Journalists wrote articles about the situation, the TV and radio asked for interviews and others also argued that the family had a right to the information (see below for more details).
When the freedom of information act was passed Godfrey and his wife tried once more to see the report of the inquiry. The final outcome was that they were allowed to see an edited version of the report, but only after they had signed a confidentiality agreement and agreed that they would not talk to anyone about the findings and that they would not involve any lawyers.
Adrian’s death was an enormously painful experience and an awful tragedy. However, his death has made Godfrey appreciate how lucky he is to have the other members of his family and the support of so many friends and colleagues. After Adrian’s death Godfrey and his wife were determined to reconstruct their lives. They had a positive attitude and decided that they would not spend the rest of their lives moaning about what had happened. Godfrey is glad that he has such good memories of Adrian, and that he had a good relationship with his son before he died.
For more about Godfrey’s experiences and his search for information about exactly what happened on the day Adrian died see a chapter in a book by Sue Cameron. The chapter, number 3, is called The Dead Man’s Tale (see below for details)'
Sue Cameron (2002) The Cheating Classes. Simon and Schuster: London pp.74-102.
Godfrey was interviewed in 2009.
Many of Adrians organs were used for transplantation. Godfrey was glad that his son had been...
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How long did you have to make the decision about whether or not to turn off the life support?
Well I suppose we made it over 24 hours, we decided, it was clear I think after an hour or two that we weren’t going to be making any progress with him, so we had several discussions with the surgeon concerned, and we decided that we’d make the final decision the following morning. About 24 hours later, I suppose we had had time to just talk to other people about it, and particularly members of my family and so on. So we did that, and incidentally, one of the things that we decided quite early on was that he you know, here was a possibility of something positive coming out of it, in that we he would, you know he should be available for organ transplantation. And we were enormously helped by the fact that we were told after we’d made the decision that he had been carrying a donor card, and it, I think that was the right way round, as we actually made the decision before we knew that, which was enormously valuable confirmation.
Did someone at the hospital bring up the subject?
Only, only after we, we were asked whether we would agree to him being an organ donor. And when we said yes we certainly would agree to him being an organ donor because we felt he would want that, he was, you know he was very much of that, that mind, we’d discussed that sort of thing in the family as some families do I suppose, but especially medical families. And that was really very helpful to have that knowledge that he’d been carrying a donor card and it helped us. And I suppose I was very lucky in that we did have personal contact with the people involved in looking after Adrian, and not least the transplant surgeon actually came round that evening, and said that he was really glad that we’d agreed with this, and you know he would personally take charge of it and so on.
Did they tell you which parts of his body they used?
Well they took, yes took multiple organs, heart, liver, eyes, lungs, yes that’s right, so they did quite an extensive, but that was, that was a very positive feeling, that, especially as we knew it was something he would have wanted.
And I think that certainly helped us.
Did you ever find out later on whether those people survived? Did they tell you anything?
Well, we, didn’t feel we wanted to know who they were.
That would have been I think too painful for us to, but yes we were told that people had done very well with the all the transplants.
That must be really helpful.
Oh yes, it certainly was, and I think that’s one of the positive things about organ donation is that it does give people an opportunity to feel something good has come out of something awful.
Do you want to say anything else about organ donation?
Well I think organ donation is very important of course, because the, the technical side of it is so good, now it can be done much more easily than it could have been done, and the big problem is of course that there are far more people eligible for organ donations than there are organs available to give to them. And that’s because I’m afraid as a country people don’t seem to be very good at agreeing to be organ donors, or the families who actually make the gift, very good at doing that.
And I think there’s discussion at the moment about whether we should move to an opting out system, in other words that we should automatically assume that when somebody dies suddenly and is, could be eligible for being an organ donor, that it happens automatically unless there’s express concern, express, decision that it shouldn’t be an organ donor case. I think the gift relationship is tremendously important, I think certainly from our experience of being the parents of someone who died and could be an organ donor, it was important to us that we were able to make a positive decision, that he should be an organ donor, and it was very reassuring that he himself would have wished us to make that decision. I think for organ recipients, from my, from some of my personal experience again, it’s important to them to feel that the organs that they received were actually a gift from someone, they weren’t just organ snatched if you like.
Godfrey wanted to talk about his awful loss but some of his best friends and colleagues found it...
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And it was very nice to have people, you know, coming and talking about him. Because one of the things we’ve found is that we wanted to talk about him a lot, and I think one of the painful things that I found going back to, to the question of colleagues and so on, was some of my colleagues found it quite difficult to talk to me and of course I was aware that that was a behaviour which some people do exhibit in these situations, and I admit too some of my best friends really couldn’t talk to me about it, it was too, too painful for them perhaps to do that, I wanted to talk about it but they didn’t want to talk about him, and it is interesting how, how people vary in their ability to cope with other people’s distress.
So if you were giving a message to other people would you say that it’s actually helpful to be,
Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It’s nice to be reminded, and its, it’s certainly painful to, to for them to totally ignore the fact that you’ve had this awfully this awful loss and you know, people should realise that people do want to talk about it. I think most people do, maybe some people don’t, but I think most people want to, want to talk about it at every opportunity.
The inquest was a terrible experience. Godfrey and his wife expected to hear the report that had...
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The real problem for us, in relation to his death was that it was a railway accident, and we were told that we would find out exactly what had happened when an inquiry had taken place, into the accident. And an inquiry did take place about a week after his death, but then the whole system seemed to clam up, and we were just told we would, we would have to wait for the report into the accident, and there would be a resumed inquest which would be in about six months time. And we might have to wait until then to find out exactly what had happened.
When we, the inquest was, it was a terrible experience for us because we turned up at the coroner’s inquest, and we were amazed to see there were a great horde of people at the inquest, which we knew nothing about. And it transpired that the rail company had had a whole lot of lawyers at the inquest, because they felt there might be some trouble. We expected that we might at least hear something about this report that had been conducted into the accident, but it wasn’t produced at the inquest. And we then conducted a campaign to try to get access to it, and we did this at all sorts of levels, and at the end of the day we were told that this couldn’t be given to us because it was the private property of the railway company and they couldn’t be forced to, it was a private railway company of course and they couldn’t be forced to deliver it to us, and well you know this was very difficult to accept that here’s our son, been killed in an accident, that there had been an inquiry into the accident, and that the contents of the inquiry should remain confidential.
When Adrian died Godfrey felt that life would never be the same. He and his wife still miss him...
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I think, what I think is, obviously neither my wife nor I or my son had had experience of this sort of loss before. I think it is important to realise that traumatic as it is at the time, you know, one can get over it so to speak, to put it in simple terms. I had this feeling immediately after Adrian’s death that life would never ever be the same again, and of course in many ways it is never ever the same again in a certain, and certain times where you particularly miss him, at particularly things like, times like Christmas and so on, when families get together, when there is an absent member, but you know life does go on, you can reconstruct your life, and it very important I think to take a positive attitude to that, and both my wife and I decided this was very important to us to make sure that we didn’t spend the rest of our lives, you know, moaning and feeling very negative about life because of having this awful tragedy we’d suffered, and I think a positive attitude certainly can help.
Godfrey and his wife felt entitled to know more about how their son died. People should not have...
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And we, we’ve been lucky my wife and I, and the only thing we’ve been unlucky about is not being able to get this information that we felt we were, should’ve had, and entitled to, I think that was unacceptable, and still think it’s unacceptable, and I would like to see us having a much more open society and that information should be much more easily available for people, and they shouldn’t have to fight to get it, and far too many people have to do that in so many areas of life, and I think the whole legislation we have, the freedom of information act makes a mockery of it, because there seems to be reasons why it isn’t actually applied.
Godfrey suggests that when selecting people for medical school the selectors should consider...
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Well of course as a professional myself I suppose I always have looked back on my early days as a professional and think what a unsympathetic person I was, I surrounded my daily life with people who really had awful things happening in their life. I was a young sprightly doctor who didn’t suffer ill health, didn’t suffer anything and I think looking back, I know I wouldn’t, it’s awful to say this, but I would have been a much better doctor if this had happened to me earlier in my professional life. Because I would have been, had a much better understanding of the awful things that would happen to people, I would have been a more empathic doctor, I like to think I was an empathic doctor, but I think I would’ve been much better if I’d really had, you know, that sort of life experience, and I taught medical students a lot of course in the latter part of my life, and I felt one of the problems with medical students is that many of them had led very protected lives, who really hadn’t had much in the way of adverse life experiences, and they would make much better doctors if they had gone through some of this. Indeed I would go so far as to say that perhaps in selecting people to be a medical student we should take account of their life’s experiences, and so on because it might make better doctors.
Godfrey went to the hospital as soon as he heard that Adrian had had an accident. He could hardly...
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Well it’s still very clear in my mind, even though it’s now nearly 14 years ago, and it was on the 31st July, 1995, at 7.30 in the morning, a Monday morning, I’d just got into my office, and it was usual for me to get in there just after 7, which I did. And the telephone rang, an unusually early telephone call, 7.30 in the morning, and it was a doctor who I knew who was the accident surgeon at the hospital, [name] hospital, and he said, “Godfrey, I’m afraid Adrian’s had a bit of an accident,” Adrian was my son. So my initial reaction was not too concerned. I said, “Okay, where is he? Is he in casualty?” And he said, “No, he’s in the intensive care unit,”
And of course I immediately knew that this was something pretty awful. So without asking anything more I said, “Right, I’ll come straight away.” So I drove, I tried to ring my wife, she wasn’t at home, I knew she wouldn’t be at home because she went swimming at that time in the morning, so I decided I just had to go straight there, and I drove there which took me about ten minutes. Traffic was quieter in those days, and when I arrived there he was just being taken to the operating theatre, and I was shown this; that he had a head injury and they showed me the scan, and it was immediately obvious to me from the scan that I saw, even though I was no expert, that it was pretty serious stuff, and the prospect of him recovering was probably not very great.
So I very quickly had to get used to the idea that here was my son, a fit healthy young man, never had a days’ illness in his life, was almost certainly going to die, and, well it was unbelievably painful of course, and it became very clear over the next few hours that there was really no prospect of any successful management of the situation.
So I went back home, got my wife, went up there and spent the best part of 24 hours with him in the intensive care unit and eventually had to make the decision to switch off the machinery. And we were very much helped with that by the surgeon, who as I say was a personal friend, and, well life changed dramatically in the space of a very short time.
Adrians ashes were buried in the garden at home, but the exact place isnt marked. Godfrey and...
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And then after the funeral was your son buried or cremated?
He was cremated, and that was you know okay, and we…
What happened to his ashes?
His ashes were buried in the garden here, so that’s one reason why we were very keen not to move house. So that was very comforting for us, to do that.
Did you have a ceremony for that?
We had a ceremony for that, and the, the, the college chaplain who supported us all along came and did that. We don’t have it, a marked place, but it’s in the garden. We have a bench in Wytham Woods which is in memory of him, which is very near to where he did his research because he did in research work in Wytham Woods and the university kindly agreed that we should have a bench and that’s very nice to have that so we have somewhere we can go to and a lot of our friends say how lovely it is to have that, that bench there. And so on, and feel that’s a very useful and practical thing, they can sit on it when they feel tired, and we think that’s very, oh that’s very nice, and it gives us a very good reason to go and see the place that he worked, and one of the people at his funeral said how, you know, whenever they’d seen Adrian in Wytham Woods he always seemed to be on his hands and knees. This was because he was actually doing research which was concerned with counting seeds, his doctorate was related to the affect of sheep grazing on what grows on the herbivory. And it’s very interesting that you know how many sheep you have on a bit of land makes an enormous difference to what grows there, and it’s of particular concern because in some parts of the country, in rural Wales for example, where he’d also done some research where too many sheep can result in growth of lots of thistles and little else.
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After Adrian died Godfrey's friends and colleagues were very supportive.
What about the wider family, have you got…?
Yes, I’ve got five siblings, siblings, two sisters and three brothers, and it was the first time anything like that had happened in the wider family. And again it was a great inability to accept that this had happened, and Adrian was seen by them all as a really high flyer who you know was successful at everything he did. And then suddenly he’s snuffed out and very difficult for anyone to believe that that could happen so easily.
Did you get support from your local GP, did you need help with your sleep?
Yes, yes, and I think it’s very interesting how your colleagues react, I mean I had been a GP myself, in [the local town] for 30 odd years when this had happened, so I knew a lot of people, and I suppose when you say your local GP, of course I’m in the position of a lot of GP’s really, didn’t, didn’t really have a local GP, and I did have, have one but I had, hadn’t been seeing him so I didn’t really know him on the level of being the recipient of medical care.
But my, my practice partners were enormously helpful, gave me time off, and of course all my colleagues in the University department which I worked in, and I mean, one of the men who now is dead because he died prematurely, very suddenly, and who was enormously supportive, I remember he came, came several days after Adrian’s death to see how we were, and keep an eye on us, and so on, that was really, really, really great.
Did you get any help from others at that time? Did you have any counselling, was that suggested?
I think, and of course we had lots of friends and I think we relied on them heavily and lots of friends flocked round, and supported us. Outside my medical colleagues, I think it was our friends really who we relied on to help and support us, and many of them did that. But I don’t think there were any sort of formal agencies so to speak that we felt we needed to call on.