Recently, I spent a heart-wrenching couple of hours with Sue Fisher. Sue is the Mum of Oliver Woods, who tragically died just over two years ago.
A young man with a wonderful future ahead of him, until events of one night in April 2017 changed everything.
Sue is keen for people to know what happened to her beloved son, Oliver, to act as a very real warning to others who might be prepared to follow that path. We will probably never know what induced Oliver to try Ecstasy (MDMA). If he’d known the consequences, he surely would not have taken the risk.
Like most people when I read about Ecstasy deaths, I assumed that Oliver sadly endured a heart attack after taking MDMA one evening. A tragic but quick end. Not so. Sadly, Sue explained the findings of the Coroner’s Report which evidenced the last hours before Oliver passed, and they were awful, the stuff no parent wants to hear.
However, she wants the information disseminated so that parents can talk to their children about the real dangers of Ecstasy (there really is nothing ecstatic about it, and you never know what kind of reaction you might have to the drug).
Oliver died on a night out after working his shift at Tiandi (which was on the point of closing down). He went to BED nightclub, probably feeling a little down about his job, hoping some of his friends might be there. Instead, it seems he only saw acquaintances, people he didn’t normally socialise with. Somehow, he ended up going back to a party at Saratoga. What made him do this? We don’t know. He didn’t appear to have had too much to drink. The Coroner’s Report found that while there was alcohol in Oliver’s blood, there was not enough to be over the drink-drive limit though there would have been more in his bloodstream earlier (still not enough). The same could be said for most people out on that Friday night, I’m sure.
That night, for whatever reason, Oliver ingested a potent drug which was to have devastating consequences. Sue is brimful with remorse that she could not protect her son from the drugs problem rife in Bude and in every other town. She explained:
I love Oliver unconditionaly. Oliver hated smoking and absolutely detested drugs. Sometimes, since his death, though it seems strange to say it, I’ve wished Oliver was an addict because then I could have helped him. He was not a regular drug taker (this is borne out by the Coroner’s Report). All he wanted to do was help people and make them smile. Oliver was sensible but very childlike in some ways. He liked to annoy me, to wind me up, like most young people do their parents.
The family had moved to Bude from Peterborough after Oliver’s parents separated. Sue didn’t want Oliver’s younger sister, Bethany, going out in Peterborough which she believes is more ‘worldly’, so they moved to Bude to keep Oliver and Bethany safe. Sue explained:
MDMA is rife in Bude. The people who supplied the drug are still selling, but Ecstasy is no easy fix. Oliver took it, I believe, because it was a tablet. If he’d had to smoke, inject or sniff it, I doubt he would have touched it. We had talked about drugs but not about pills. Pills were things you took to make you better if you had a headache. He liked to drink Red Bull and the pills had a Red Bull emblem on them. Did he think they were energy pills? The latest ones, appallingly, have a Lego logo, directly aimed at children.
We as a family are still living with the consequences of Oliver’s death. Alfie, his young nephew asks when he is coming home. We buried Oliver on a Tuesday. On the Saturday, his Stepdad Steve, had a massive bleed on his brain which paralysed his left-hand side. It was devastating to have so much trauma at that time.
Since Oliver’s death, I keep reading of oher deaths of young people in Devon & Cornwall, which is so terribly sad, so I want to tell Oliver’s story to make others think twice about drugs.
I heard about what had happened to Oliver on the Saturday morning of his death at around 8.30 am. I was talking to my daughter on the ‘phone, arranging a family day out, when the Police arrived at the door. I thought they’d come about my other son, who is in the Army, but it was a bolt out of the blue when it was Oliver. I screamed, and the others didn’t believe what they were hearing. Bethany had to phone her Dad to tell him. When she told him she had bad news, he thought she might be pregnant. When she told him the reaility, he said he wished she had been – anything was better than the awful truth, that Oliver was gone.
Oliver’s death was recorded as Death by Misadventure. It makes it sound like an unfortunate mishap. The reality was far more horrific. Sue detailed what happened:
Young people need to know that putting a pill in their mouth is not like it is on the TV. There’s nothing they can be given if they react to the substance – there is no antidote. What MDMA is cut with is unregulated – you don’t know the dose or the strength. 6 people took what Oliver took that night. Oliver had no known allergies or illnesses, yet that pill killed him by making his temperature rise so that his bloodstream was as if on fire. After hallucinations and seizures, Oliver eventually passed out at the hospital, where doctors and nurses had a 2 hour fight to save his life. He was packed in ice to cool him down. They tried everything, but his organs shut down. He had taken the tablet around 2 – 3 am in the morning. He didn’t die until after 8 am. It wasn’t instant and it wasn’t painless. Red Bull, which he had been drinking earlier, contains caffeine and it can make a reaction to the drug worse, apparently. The hardest thing for me is that he died in hospital alone. The staff were amazing, and each and every person who treated Oliver in that hospital was in tears over what happened.
Police statements tell us that when they were called to the flat in Saratoga, the room was dishevelled but “Oliver was out of place in that room. He didn’t look as if he belonged”. He was dressed smartly, wearing leather shoes, totally out of place in the building known for its social problems.
Sue talked about Oliver, the person:
Oliver was amazing. I didn’t realise quite how amazing until he died. He’d do anything to make you smile, hated tears and crying. Oli gave blood, he was on the Anthony Nolan one marrow donation register. He actually tried to help others to live. He worked full time in Tiandi, ran his own business, helped the community (Big Up Bude Talent one example, Job Club another) and spent a lot of time with his work colleagues. He could be the biggest pain in the world but if you needed a fiver and he had one, it was yours. He was so generous and kind. It was not until after he died that I realised how loved Oliver was by so many people from so many walks of life, not just his peer group. He knew so many different people and did so much.
Parents, please educate your children about drugs. None of mine took drugs or smoked. They were raised to know the dangers of drugs, but I didn’t warn Oliver of the dangers of a small tablet on a night out. When Oliver was little, we lived on a council estate in Peterborough where drugs were rife. I fought very hard to get my children away from that. We were the ‘at risk’ demographic – children of a single-parent living on a council estate. I was adamant they would not be at risk. Perhaps as a parent, I was over-strict. They were not allowed to hang around on street corners,and I did everything I could to keep them away from drugs. I didn’t think Bude had a drug scene, so I let my children go out, thinking they were safe but they weren’t.
Losing Oliver put a huge hole in our lives, a hole that will never be filled. I have good days and bad days but I think about him every day – sometimes I laugh and smile and we share stories, but others days I can’t stop crying. We talk about him all the time. We say that when we nearly lost Steve, Oliver was ‘up there’ kicking him back down! Oliver went off on a new adventure, at least that’s what we like to think, but we miss hm every day and wish he was still here.
He thought he was invincible but he wasn’t. After taking that pill or pills, he had seizure after seizure; his death was horrific.
The first ambulance was called at 4.53 am, a second call made at 5 am, at 5.09, another call. The ambulance was despatched at 5.23 am, arriving a 5.39 am and leaving for the hospital at 5.52 am. The Police were also called. Theambulance arrived at the hospital (North Devon General, Barnstaple) at 6.39 am, and Oliver died at 8.21 am after having a cardiac arrest at 7.26 am. He was resusitated three times at the hospital but to no avail. Oliver was 21.
His temperature was 43.8 (normal is 36-37)- think about the settings on a washing machine to see how hot that is.
His heart rate was 189 beats per minute (normall is 60-90)
His respiratory rate was 42 (normal is 16-22)
Oliver screened negative for other drugs, such as opiates, cannabinoid, methadone and barbiturates but MDMA (Ecstasy) was at a toxic level. Ecstasy killed Oliver as it has so many others.
What is MDMA?
MDMA is usually encountered in tablet form. Initially, it produces feelings of euphoria, increased self-confidence, talkativeness and alertness, hyperactivity, happiness and sociablility. It increases risk-taking behaviour. This is why people take it. However, those effects last a while but then the negatives kick in. The after-effects are dizziness, sweating, confusion and impaired coordination, plus fatigue. Severe effects like Oliver’s were cardiac arrest, oedema and low oxygen levels which lead to seizures, organ damage and as in this case, ultimately death. Oliver was a fit and healthy individual until he took MDMA. No one person knows what they are taking with illegitimate drugs, nor what devastating impact they may have.
By the time the ambulance arrived, Oliver was hallucinating, and severely agitated. At hospital, he had to be treated with temperature lowering measures because he was massively hot and convulsing. I’ve spared you some of the detail but like Sue, no parent would want their child to go through that.
Alas, the attempts to save him did not succeed, and Oliver died on 8th April, 2017. Oliver had been at the outset of his young adult life. His career was taking off, he was settled in Bude.
The one mistake he made was taking Ecstasy, a mistake which cost him his life. If this article helps to stop one person doing the same, then Sue’s words are not in vain.