Dreams Really Do Come True: Husband, Wife Together at Last

The Ottawa Citizen May 21, 2010
Kelly Egan

Ricky Brooks, 29, is holding court, jumpy with the news.

He's in the lobby of Saint-Vincent Hospital - hollering at the passing girls, jawing with the boys, his electric wheelchair spinning and beeping, his little horn honking.

A big kid with a broken body and a seriously large smile. It's just the way he rolls.

Three women come by, teasing him about his new wife. One whispers something, possibly naughty, in his ear.

"I'll be able to hear you from here," she says, delivering an uppercut. He explodes with laughter, arms waving, pinched fingers cutting the air.

More women come by. More hugs. More teasing. They love the guy in the crooked ballcap. They love the way he rolls.

Today is a big day for Ricky. It's moving day. After six years at Saint-Vincent - and in a 48-hour flurry of arrangements - he's leaving it all behind.

But shed no tears, save for joy.

Eight months after getting married, Ricky is finally moving in with his wife Nadia, 31, in her room at the Montfort Long Term Care Centre, just behind the east-side hospital.

Love does conquer all. It even beat the system.

"It's a beautiful story," said Linda Haley, clinical manager on Ricky's floor and his one-time nurse. In 32 years at the facility, this was the first wedding between patients she could remember.

"It shows that someone with a disability is not a write-off in this world. You know, they use the few resources they have better than some people who have a lot more."

The couple met at Saint-Vincent, part of Bruyère Continuing Care.

Ricky has cerebral palsy and needs help with his daily routine. He cannot feed himself and his speech is slow and laboured.

Nadia, meanwhile, has spina bifida, diabetes and kidney trouble.

She, too, uses an electric chair.

About six years ago, she was temporarily convalescing at Saint-Vincent, lying in bed with an IV in her arm, when Ricky passed the doorway and peeked in at the sad face. He just did his thing; Nadia was smitten.

After their wedding in September, Ricky thought it would be a matter of days or weeks until he could be moved from Saint-Vincent to the Montfort, where Nadia had relocated.

The couple waited and waited. They made do with visits back and forth, but it didn't feel like a real marriage - living apart, how could they build a life together?

They were at the mercy of Community Care Access Centre, a central agency that acts as a one-stop provider for on-going health care, whether in the home, in supported housing or in long-term care facilities.

One of its basic functions is to compile a waiting list, including the frail who are exiting acute-care hospitals.

So, the demands on the agency are huge, the problems often complex, the beds insufficient.

In a nutshell, the CCAC simply didn't have a bed for Ricky at the Montfort, even though Nadia did get a new roommate - after she was married.

Nadia, meanwhile, grew more and more frustrated. Her health was declining, her stress was increasing, and her husband was living across town. It was, she would say, as though the marriage wasn't recognized as legitimate.

"Hell," Ricky calls it.

When their patience ran thin, they appealed to their MPP, an Ontario cabinet minister. Even that didn't work.

Nothing, it seemed, could move the bureaucracy.

Staff at the Montfort said this week that - out of the blue - Nadia's roommate had a chance to move closer to a nursing station, which pleased the patient's family.

Meanwhile, Ricky had managed to climb toward the top of priority list. Within two or three days, the whole move was arranged. So quickly, in fact, that the Citizen gave Nadia the news before anyone else.

She called her mother, Hélène, right away. "It was pretty emotional. I was crying on the phone. My dream was finally coming true."

Saint-Vincent's is a 350-bed hospital, with many wings, and where almost every patient is in a wheelchair.

Ricky is sometimes called "the mayor" for the way he roams the corridors, checks in with different departments, swaps news on his favourite topics - NASCAR, wrestling, the Habs, Kobe Bryant and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin.

Staff are organizing a farewell for Ricky this morning. It will hurt, likely, but Ricky has the future on his mind, not the past.

"My priority right now," he says, hand entwined in hers, "is to be with my wife."

Contact Kelly Egan at 613-726-5896 or by e-mail, kegan@thecitizen.canwest.com

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