As I prepared for Ironman Arizona, #8 on my way to 12 finishes towards Kona I had a most embarrassing evening. On the morning of Wednesday November 5th I had so much gas that at 4am I had go to a local emergency room to try and get relief. They x-rayed me and the doctor retuned with his diagnosis. "You've got a LOT of poop in there. After trying their usual methods they sent me home with a pain pill and a slippery drink. I went home and took them and awaited relief.
Alas, it did not come. So at 2pm I made my way back to the ER almost unable to drive from pain. As I half collapsed into the triage nurse's chair I explained that I was there because "I just can't poop." It's funny because in Canada, having essentially free health care, we are constantly reminded by the media that the ER is not a clinic for general complaints. But because there is no punishment for using it as such there is rampant abuse. I was begging the nurse to see that I really needed to be there and fortunately she believed me and I got back in fairly quickly.
After looking at my morning x-ray they decided to upgrade me to a CT scan. This showed that now not only was I full of poo but in fact that I had a full blockage. So an emergent scope of my bowels was scheduled for the next morning. To deal with the pain I was given morphine but this had NO impact on my pain. They decided to try dilaudid and THAT did the trick. They put me on a pump where I could dose myself only every 5 minutes but it tracked how often I tried. In the first 10 minutes I made 19 attempts, but after that it became much less and my eyes began to cross and I felt muuuuuuuuch better.
I was admitted and the attack of the nursing students commenced. These cute student nurses are so committed to learning and doing everything right that sometimes they're pretty easy to mess with. I quickly learned that one of the questions I was going to be asked a lot was whether I wore hearing aids. Eventually I started responding, "huh?" I would do this 3 or 4 times until I was satisfied that the supervising nurse was laughing hard enough and then I'd allow them to move on. They got me admitted to a ward and I laid there most of the night trying to ignore my pain and tapping away on my pain button like an old-timey train engineer sending our morse code.
In the morning I was wheeled down and my scope was done. This is done under anesthesia and when I woke up I looked back at the doc and asked, "so, did you get it all out?" He just glared at me. I'm no Jerry Seinfeld but I'm fairly sharp at 7am and that should have at least garnered a smirk... but nothing. I told him I was waiting to see a smile and he replied, "no smile." This was a bit off putting. He returned with a photo and explained they had found a worrying mass that had completely blocked my colon. This was a bummer, so to speak.
I was put in an ambulance and transported across town to another hospital where they could try and open my colon with a stent. I was sedated but not put under and this time the doctor talked me through the entire procedure. I could feel and hear almost everything but wasn't in pain. He explained that the procedure had failed and now I'd be returning to the first hospital for emergency surgery. So around 2pm I was placed back in an ambulance and returned to the Sturgeon and at 9pm was put under for bowel surgery. Just around 48 hours after first experiencing symptoms.
When I woke up from the surgery I was a bit panicked and very sore. I knew things were going to be tough and I was right. I had had a section of my colon resected (I think that's the right word) and along with it the lymph nodes and blood vessels. They had also seen a few worrisome spots on my liver and one of these was able to be biopsied during the original procedure and the surgeon explained it "felt like cancer." The worst part was not the surgery pain as much as the friggin hoses. I had one taped to my nose that suctioned me non stop from my stomach. I also had an oxygen tube in, so 2 tubes in 1 nostril and 1 in the other. Not so comfy. This was in addition to the IV line hooked into my arm and the almost constant checking of my vital signs.
It's funny. A hospital is the least restful place when you need the most rest. After a major surgery you'd like some quiet but oh no.
The sounds of a hospital ward are incredible. Guests yakking, patients puking, alarms sounding and all the while...the call buttons. Those nurse call buttons will be the reason for someone's demise. They make a door bell sound down the entire ward every time one of them was pressed and one of them is almost always pressed. Why can't they just turn on a light and after a period of time if a nurse hasn't acknowledged it THEN it makes a noise! Come on people! Not rocket science!
The NG tube (stomach sucker) is the thing that endured. Just the absolute worst. It sits in your throat and rubs you every time you swallow. And believe me, you swallow a lot. Also, the constant flow of oxygen really lays a beating on your respiratory system because you get SO dry. I was allowed ice chips and they were my life saver. My tongue had gotten so dry I couldn't even say "ice chips" any more. This lasted a couple of day but this was when my friends and family took over.
The next day the surgeon came and spoke with me and explained that the initial biopsy had come back and was in fact a cancer. They didn't know what kind yet, the more detailed biopsy would give that info but it was go time for me. I was ready to fight, I'd take it on alone if I had to but am absolutely blown away by the fact that I will not have to "go it alone."
I've written before about how we can go through life and sometimes not realize the impact we leave behind. That will not happen again. As I sit here writing this, less than 3 days after being diagnosed with cancer, my amazing friends and family have gotten my air ducts cleaned so I come home to a clean environment, our fridge and freezer are full of meals to the point that my wife has resorted to using the backyard snow to keep some of our food. A fund, set up to help offset some of our costs associated with this fight has over $5000 in it, and most importantly, I have received messages of support from all over the world and from people I've met from age zero to 33. Also, the hockey officials I work with will be sporting these decals on their helmets in support. ALREADY!!!
I could never, in a million years, guessed I had this many people that cared enough about me and my family to be so generous in so many ways. The bummer is now I have to fulfill my end of the deal and that is to beat cancer, a call to battle I will lead from the front. They say the biggest factors affecting success will be my age, health and support. With my Ironman training and devilish youth I've got 2 of the 3 nailed down. And now I know #3 will be taken care of as well. I will gladly ride into battle on the shoulders of my friends and family.
I won't be able to start any active treatment until 4-6 weeks after this surgery to make sure I'm in the best health possible but I'll keep you along for the ride as I make this little side journey on the way to Kona.