When a statistic hits home
My Uncle Chris was born without stomach muscles. He had several operations as an infant to move muscles from his legs to his abdomen. The doctors said he would probably never walk, but he did.
Chris was slow — his mental capacity never exceeded that of an adolescent’s. When my sister got into the University of New Brunswick, Chris presented her with an old UNB letterman jacket he picked up at the Salvation Army. It was about three sizes too big and smelled like mould.
Everyone loved Chris. He was always at the rink and never failed to pick up the newspaper for his neighbour.
He always had his eye on a pretty girl, but Linda won his heart. Linda has multiple sclerosis; she’s diabetic, blind and wheelchair bound. They were married for 19 years and couldn’t have been happier.
They always came by for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. Chris ate with his hands and chewed with his mouth open and helped Linda navigate her own plate.
Last month, Chris was hit by a truck at the corner of Brunswick and York streets. He was dead six hours later.
He wasn’t the first pedestrian to meet a fatal end on Fredericton’s streets, nor will he be the last. Last week, Nerida (Nena) Gleason was killed in her motorized wheelchair on Smythe Street; she was 67.
Police say there were 15 collisions involving pedestrians this year. In 2010, there were a total of 39 people hit by vehicles.
Fredericton’s streets are long and straight. They make speeding hard to resist. Who doesn’t love sailing down Brunswick at a smooth 70 as the lights change green with your pace?
And that traffic — what a pain. With the Princess Margaret bridge closed, it takes an easy 45 minutes to get from the south to the north side and vice versa. Who doesn’t get agitated when they have somewhere to be?
Still, there were twice as many pedestrian-vehicle accidents in Fredericton than Saint John last year.
In 2009, 33-year-old Dianne Trottier crossed at the intersection of Regent and Beaverbrook streets late one Saturday night and was killed.
Trottier was in a wheelchair and the driver fled. A 20-year-old woman was eventually charged with hit-and-run.
But the story never ends with a funeral or an article in the paper or even with the police investigation and a conviction.
Linda held my uncle Chris’ hand when he was taken off life support. She wore two knock-off, mismatched crocks and a large knit sweater. Her grey hair covered her sightless eyes and she didn’t make a sound.
Chris took care of Linda. He lifted her from her wheelchair into bed; he got her meals for her, he helped her dress and he loved her. Their relationship was one for the books.
Linda sat through an agonizing three hours while Chris’ unconscious body struggled to grasp breath and pump blood. And when the room was finally silent, Linda’s life changed forever. Not only because she had lost her best friend and her husband, but she lost the man who gave her life. Her navigator.
The ripples are astounding; they don’t stop either.