APPLEDORE mum Yvonne Bray was too ill to wave goodbye to her teenage daughters as they were taken away from her hospital bedside by two New York social workers. Dehydrated, her arms full of IV drips after being knocked for six by a severe bout of pneumon
APPLEDORE mum Yvonne Bray was too ill to wave goodbye to her teenage daughters as they were taken away from her hospital bedside by two New York social workers. Dehydrated, her arms full of IV drips after being knocked for six by a severe bout of pneumonia, the single mum, 39, could only watch as Gemma, 15, and Katie, 13, left the rough and ready chaos of the tough inner city Queens Medical Centre hospital in Harlem.The sisters had flown to the US with their mum to indulge in a long weekend of post-Christmas shopping, shows and glamorous restaurants. Where they were heading was anything but glamorous."Have you any homicidal tendencies? What street gangs are you in?" were just two of the questions asked by security staff who frisked the girls at the entrance of an orphanage situated across town in a scarily unfamiliar part of downtown Manhattan."I'm a member of Appledore library," ventured Gemma.For the next day-or-so, the orphanage was to become their home. Stripped of their belongings and clothes, the girls were issued one-size plain white t-shirts and elasticated jeans - not quite the fashionable gear they had dreamed of picking up in Fifth Avenue's designer shops."They looked like prison outfits," said Gemma.The sisters were spilt up, posed for mug-shots, given a medical examination and a wash pack and told to go and have a shower.They were told they were not allowed to leave the orphanage and shown to a glass-walled dorm on a floor for 12 to 15-year-old girls."It was like being in a little cage," said Katie."It was a bit scary as the staff were constantly looking in at us. I tried to go to sleep, but every time I opened my eyes, someone was looking right at me."Despite finding themselves in such unusual circumstances, the girls made the best of their situation and happily chatted to other girls at the home the next morning."They wanted to know all about England and whether we knew the Queen," said Gemma."Most of them were at the home because they had been taken away from their families for whatever reason. We were lucky to be able to leave after just one night.""It was quite scary at first but everyone was really friendly. "It was a good experience - just not really what we had gone on holiday for."Meanwhile, mum Yvonne had been told that she would need to stay in hospital for another two or three days.Bed-ridden in a ward where every other patient seemed to be handcuffed to either their bed or a cop - the man in the next bed had been stabbed in the neck - she was feeling a very long way from North Devon."It felt like I was in an episode of ER," she said. "I was frantic with worry."The social workers from the Manhattan Child Services kept changing shifts so nobody knew what was happening. They eventually managed to trace the girls for me, but said they wouldn't release them until I was well and back at the hotel."Although I had travel insurance, we were due to fly home the next evening so I decided I had to discharge myself to try and get them back."Days earlier, Yvonne had been stretchered past a long queue of guests checking into the LaGuardia Marriot Hotel, wheeled through the lobby and into an awaiting ambulance. As a 911 emergency, she was sped through the notorious New York traffic in her pyjamas."After two nights, I marched out of the hospital through the front doors in the same vomit-stained pyjamas," she said. "It was so embarrassing. I must have looked like a crazy mad woman as I stood there in the freezing cold, crying, and trying to hail down a cab."After getting back to the sanctuary of her hotel - and convincing the staff that she was the same bedraggled woman that had been rushed to hospital two days earlier - tearful Yvonne was given a key to her room and got to work telephoning the orphanage for her kids."After a number of calls, I eventually got a call from a woman who said that she had the kids and was about half-an-hour from the hotel. "I was so relieved. We'd only been apart for a matter of days but it seemed like forever."The girls had an interesting insight into the life of a "removed" child in New York City."They also had some great fun tales of all the other girls they met in the orphanage and said they were treated like mini celebrities from England."It was quite a relief to know that they hadn't been scarred for life."Although not over her pneumonia, Yvonne was determined the family would make the most of their last night in New York. Half-an-hour later, she and her daughters were in a cab on-route to Broadway."We had already booked our tickets for Mary Poppins, and wanted to treat ourselves after everything that had happened," said Yvonne."We saw a fantastic show and then went out and had a lovely meal. We even managed to get a bit of shopping in as the shops stayed open late."Armed with inhalers and antibiotics, Yvonne and the girls took a dash around Times Square in a cab the next day before boarding their flight back to Gatwick."We'd still had the trip of a lifetime, just for all the wrong reasons," joked Yvonne.