Bombs and Grenades

Day 15 After the Fall

Friday morning I checked my email to find nothing from GE (the insurance company). I marched off to the hospital, glowering.

Jay took one look at me and groaned. “No news?”

I told him about my ridiculous conversation with Samantha the night before. “I don’t think they will ever get us out of here.”

We fumed for a while, then sank into depressed silence.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do,” said Jay. “You got them the fit to fly order. Now it is in their hands. And it doesn’t feel like they give a damn.”


I nodded glumly. What had happened to me in the past two weeks? I was never one to sit around bemoaning my fate, but now I seemed to have slipped quietly into the role of helpless victim. This would not do! I felt something rising inside me: anger. “Surely there is something we can do.”

Jay sighed.

It came to me. We could go to war with GE. We did not have to take this lying down. We’d paid for the bloody insurance. It was time they stepped up. “What if we got people back home to apply pressure, barrage GE with calls? Maybe if enough people harassed them, they’d get a move on.”

“I don’t know,” said Jay. He hated asking anyone for anything.

I was on the warpath. “I could send an email, to the people we know who are good at applying pressure, or who have influence. Everyone wants to help. They keep offering – and they could do this. Pick up the phone and bug them. They could post online, get reporters to write about it.” I was seized by a vision: an army of ferocious angels (our friends and family) hammering away at GE, online posts going viral, our story on the front page of the Globe and Mail. Okay, maybe a bit over the top, but the idea of actually being able to do something – anything – made me feel positively empowered.

“I guess it’s worth a shot,” said Jay.

I raced back to La Collina and wrote a long email to a handful of friends and family who I thought would not be daunted by my request, who might even enjoy taking it to GE, people who would not take no for an answer. I summarized our situation, provided GE’s phone number and asked them to call. I also suggested if anyone had media contacts, they could mobilize them. I drafted a media release and sent it along.

I closed the email saying, “I honestly think if I had the money I could have organized emergency transport in the time they have been dithering. Maybe we will fly out tomorrow, maybe they will forget about it… I am even getting concerned about what they think an air ambulance is – and what kind of nurses they might put on it. It feels for all the world like they have never handled a situation like this before.”

I thanked them again for all their support and promised to let them know the minute we had a flight plan. I felt much better.

Hours passed before Canada woke up. Mid-afternoon in Italy, people started to respond.

Our friend Sidney wrote that she ‘d called and badgered the receptionist until she reached our case manager (now Demitria, Samantha was off for the weekend): “I told Demitria there are hundreds of concerned friends in Canada who are shocked at GE’s lack of traction in getting an air ambulance home to Canada.

“Demetria said they are working on it but they had to make sure there was a receiving bed as they are concerned about Mr. Klassen’s medical needs.

“I advised her the bed was secured, all paperwork, forms, approvals, it was up to GE to get transport secured and bring them home immediately and it is disgraceful that GE is still deliberating… finally I advised that GE should be prepared for hundreds of calls, internet blogs and journalists.”

My sister called to say she had a lawyer friend who was going to call and pressure GE, pro bono.

Another friend reported that, “Demitria will be in touch with Mike within a hour with an update.”

A journalist friend sent the media release to papers across Canada. The local Stratford paper picked it up and a reporter called me in Italy for details prior to taking on GE.

Mike reported that Hannah had called, insisted on speaking to Demitria’s supervisor and raked her over the coals. “We’re throwing bombs and grenades!” he wrote.

Terry asked me to make a video and send it so she could edit and use it online. The video was truly dreadful, poor Jay in his bed looking wan and talking about how deserted he felt. But I sent it.

A neighbour wrote that he’d call as “president of the Mowat Street home owners association… to inform Demitria of our concern. Also informed her that there are a growing number of concerned parties here in Stratford who hope that GE moves with all expedience such that the outcome of this situation doesn’t reflect badly on anyone’s involvement.”

Early evening, Mike sent an email to everyone:

“Hey folks, We’ve clearly gotten through to the supervisor, who is playing ball but concerned about the number of calls they are being barraged by. She has given me her personal cell number and continues to update me every hour. She was frazzled earlier by the combo of media, lawyer and friends calling, and has promised an itinerary by tomorrow morning, so maybe we hold off on the calls until then.”

I danced a jig around the hospital room. We’d done it! We’d got to them! Of course we were not actually on a plane or anything, but still – they were paying attention.

As it was now 8:00PM, I scurried off to dinner… and was stunned to see no lights on at my little restaurant. The owner of La Collina informed me the restaurant was closed, permanently. I recalled a conversation with Danieli the night before…he’d mentioned an imminent layoff of chefs, but I had not understood it was so very imminent. It really WAS time to get out of here.

I raced back to the hospital cafeteria in time to secure a stale sandwich before they closed. I washed it down with wine supplied by my host. My euphoria ebbed.

At 10:00 my phone rang. I grabbed it.

“Mrs. Westley?”


The caller introduced herself as someone working in logistics at GE. “I just want you to know we are very close to locking down your flight.”

“Uh huh?”

“It will be by air ambulance –“

“With attendants?”

“Yes, a medical team. We’ll call with details as soon as we have them, but you should be home by Monday.”

“Monday? Why not tomorrow?” I wasn’t even trying to be nice anymore.

“Well, it could be sooner, if we can arrange it, but by Monday for sure. These things take time–”

“No kidding.”

“But we will be in touch just as soon as we have your flight information. And if it is in the middle of the night your time, we’ll email so as not to disturb you. Okay?”

“Yes, fine. Thank you.”

I finished my wine and lay back, exhausted.

At 1:30AM my phone rang. And rang and rang. I dragged myself up out of deep sleep and fumbled around until I found the phone. “Hello?”

It was another logistics person who proceeded to rattle off times and details. We’d leave Perugia airport at 9:00 on Sunday (it was now early Saturday) by Leer jet. The jet was small, would land to refuel twice. There was no toilet onboard so I shouldn’t drink anything that morning. Oh, and there was no room for our luggage, I’d have to arrange to ship it home via courier. The company would pay.

I was so groggy I could barely follow. She promised me she would send the details in an email.

I wondered why she couldn’t have just sent the goddamn email like they’d promised and let me sleep. But I hung up smiling.

The phone rang again; it was Mike and Hannah, hooting and hollering. We were coming home!!!







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