This week’s blog is different to what we usually post. It’s written by our MD, Janet Richmond, after something she and her partner experienced recently on holiday in Corfu. The events are true, but the names have been changed – you’ll understand why once you’ve read it.

We all make choices, there are always sliding doors. Copyright: adamr / 123RF Stock Photo











If you’ve seen the 90s film Sliding Doors, you’ll know that it alternates between two parallel universes, based on the two paths the central character could take depending on whether or not she catches a train, and causing different outcomes in her life.

The reason I’m talking about this particular film is because I’ve been reflecting on the ‘What if’ concept of the film since returning from a holiday in Corfu. The holiday is one I’ll never forget, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

I was with my partner on the island. We were staying at a beautiful location, the hotel was set in the cliff side, high above Ermones Beach, surrounded by lush forest. Idyllic.

On day three of the holiday, as we waited for the funicular to take us up to the restaurant for breakfast, I realised it was on its way back down, so quick as a flash the decision was made to go down to the beach instead.

We found our usual fantastic space and grabbed two sunbeds looking out to sea, with no one in front or behind us. Perfect. That sweet spot had kicked in by now where you’re totally relaxed and we settled down to catch the early morning sunshine.

Everything was about to change.

As I looked out to sea a while later, I noticed a tourist boat moving rapidly towards the beach. It was full of couples and families, and I remember thinking: ‘That’s nice, they must be coming ashore for lunch’. On the boat was a man holding his two children, with his arms cupped around them facing forwards, and a man, lying on the back of the boat with his legs hanging over the side, apparently sunbathing.

Then I saw someone carrying out chest compressions on him.

The shouting began: ‘Doctor! Ambulance!’. Then louder: ‘Doctor! Nurse! Help! Help!’. People were running towards the boat. There was confusion – men taking a sunbed to the boat to carry the man off, then changing their mind, to-ing and fro-ing in the sea with the sunbed held high. They’d stopped doing compressions. Maybe he’s OK we thought. Everything seemed to be taking a long time, but eventually they lifted the man onto the sunbed, carrying him to the beach.

A distraught woman was being helped off the boat, who then sat perched on a rock while people seemed to move around the sunbed not knowing what to do.

The woman was on her on own. I instinctively ran over to comfort her as she was clearly in shock. She asked if I spoke French. I felt helpless as I replied: ‘No’. Luckily she could speak some English. ‘Is he dead. Is he dead?’ she kept asking.

A man stood over the sunbed and shook his head. Then I saw him and knew. I gently took her face in my hands to prevent her from seeing his, and told her he was at peace. The only comfort I could offer was to hold her and soothe her whilst she cried, in the way only someone who’s lost someone they love cries.

Eventually, we took her away from the sunbed. There was still no ambulance, just people shouting it was on its way. I found out her name was Franny, and that young man who’d passed away was her boyfriend. They were on a romantic boat trip. She was driving the boat while he crouched near the back taking a selfie, shouting to go faster. The throttle slipped, the boat turned sharply and he fell off into the propellers. She jumped in to rescue him and was in the water until the tourist boat picked them up.

Eventually the ambulance arrived, followed by the coast guard. I went to tell them what had happened, and gave them the young man’s name, age, nationality, and religion, which I’d all learned from Franny.

I’d also found out Franny was diabetic and I was concerned about her being in shock and needing insulin, so I asked a Greek woman who spoke English, to explain this to the medic and coast guard. After being dismissive to start with, they eventually came to check her out and to find out what hotel the couple were staying at. They’d found the boat and their belongings and wanted her to go back to the hotel to get passports, and come back for an interview later.

Franny wanted to see her boyfriend’s body and go with him to the hospital, but she was distraught, frightened and didn’t want to go alone. A couple who had come over to offer help said they would take her, but they were flying home later that day. As I’d bonded with Franny, she said she would like me to go with her.

By the time we arrived at the hospital about 10-15 minutes after the ambulance, I was told the body had already been removed by the funeral director.

At the hospital Franny didn’t get the care she needed or the compassion she deserved. No compassion or empathy despite what she’d been through. The only medical attention she received was a small blood test from which the coastguard ascertained she was well enough to leave. She’d just seen her boyfriend of three years killed in a tragic accident for which she felt responsible. This was a young man who’d completed his medical studies last year and was now a surgeon who’d hoped to help save the lives of others.

It was left to me to help her contact her family and the local consulate, go back to her hotel to with the coastguard for passports and documents, and then stay with her while she was interrogated for what felt like hours about the accident.

It was a tense time before the lawyer arrived. The Captain of the tourist boat, who’d come to make a statement, took me outside to tell me to get Franny out of there because they were talking about keeping her in a cell overnight. The funeral director also warned me to be careful who to trust on the list of lawyers provided by the consulate.

Franny then asked me what I would want her to do if it was my son. How do you tell a mother and father their only child has died? She was in no fit state to make that call, so my answer was we needed to ask the consulate to arrange for someone to go to the parents’ home.

No one wanted to do it. The coastguard was saying to wait for the lawyer, who said it wasn’t his job. His main concern appeared to be claiming insurance on behalf of the family rather than supporting Franny. However, he spoke fluent French and was able to explain to the Police exactly how the accident happened which really helped her.

Sure, an investigation needed to take place, but what happened was a tragic accident and she deserved to be treated with compassion. Her life will be forever scarred.

We all make choices, there are always sliding doors. Mine that morning was to change my mind and go down to the beach. Other choices can have much greater significance and impact. His choice that Monday morning a few weeks ago was to go on a romantic boat ride with his girlfriend, and take a picture of himself having fun, enjoying the moment.

There is no happy ending to this story, just sadness and changed lives. And a lifetime of ‘What if we hadn’t gone on that boat’, ‘What if I hadn’t driven that boat’ and ‘What if he hadn’t been taking a selfie’.

My hope is, eventually, Franny is able to let go of the ‘What if’s’ and accept that day for what it was – a tragic accident that could have happened to any of us.