May 22, 2013

For years I’ve been trying to make a case for worry, based on the observation that it’s seldom the thing you’re worried about that gets you; you get blind-sided by something that never entered your mind.

More evidence accumulated over this strange month of May.

Given my age and decrepitude, my GP recommended a colonoscopy – that’s where they run a camera up your bum and scout your intestines for what they call “polyps.” Polyps sound like something out of the ocean, but they’re growths that could be cancerous, pre-cancerous or benign; in any case, best get rid of them - which they usually do by snipping them off there and then.

(If you’re squeamish, try to get over it; sooner or later you’ll have to.)

Okay, fine. So my gastroenterologist, a Dr. Gray (no kidding) took a look around and found one polyp only; but in my case, he couldn’t snip it off because it was in a strange location. Which left us with 2 choices: 1) do nothing; or 2) have a surgeon go in there and cut off the piece of pipe containing the polyp and sew it all back together.

The problem with 1) was that, while benign, it might not remain that way; and it was bound to keep growing, to the point where it would block things up and I would be in real trouble, at an even more advanced level of age and decrepitude than I am now.

The upshot of it was, on May 2 into the shop I went to undergo laparoscopic surgery, where they blow your belly up like BC Place Stadium before the permanent roof & perform the “procedure” with lights, cameras and robotic action.

Laparoscopic surgery is supposed to shorten recovery time – and by God it did. Four days later I was back home, feeling only a bit shaky and with everything (ahem) functioning as though nothing had happened at all. Ten days later I was free and clear.

Except for a complication. (With surgery, why are there always “complications”? Why are there never “simplifications”? Oh, never mind.)

Last Tuesday I got up, walked my dog Gus, voted & saw some friends, feeling in top form. An hour later I found myself bent double with extraordinary cramps, puking, shivering violently and burning up with a temperature pushing 103.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing “septic shock” - a condition with a 25-40% fatality rate and an excellent pedigree – it killed Jim Henson, Raoul Julia and Rupert Brooke. I wasn’t quite at death’s door, but I was on the front lawn, and could smell Death cooking my bacon for breakfast.

The dangerous thing about septic shock is that it sends your blood pressure dropping like a stone; which means blood doesn’t get to where it should, and you die of multiple organ failure. Some people don’t die but they lose their kidneys. A Brazilian model named Marianna da Costa had her hands and feet amputated and died anyway.


And awayyyy we went on an ambulance ride (the paramedic was an aspiring novelist, I gave advice) to Emerg, where my white-cell-laden blood was taken, pain-killers given and I spent time in a giant plastic donut called a CT scanner, thanks to a man named Ben.

With septic shock, the tricky thing is that, in order to treat the underlying cause, you have to find out what it is. Given that the CT can didn’t show up anything obvious, it was a matter of waiting 24 hours or so while the lab grew a culture for a microscope slide.

This is when a lot of people die – people who put off going to hospital just a bit too long and are dead before they know what killed them.

While waiting for the lab report, we experimented with various antibiotics on an IV drip (one crashed my blood pressure further, another sent my temperature flying), until word came from the lab that the culprit had been identified as Gram Negative Bacteria, a “resistant” bug – meaning not quite a superbug but one that, when it gets into your blood, has no trouble overwhelming your immune defences and a lot of antibiotics as well.

And obviously they found the right one, because here I am at home 6 days later, feeling rather beat-up but otherwise okay. Blessings on all the gentle, sympathetic, utterly competent people who made this happen. Anyone who tells you angels don’t exist has never been under the care of a team of nurses in a Canadian public hospital.

Incidentally, for reasons known only to Administration, I occupied a bed in the Burn & Trauma unit. My room-mate was a guy who had been boiling a bear’s head at a hunting camp and emptied a vat of boiling bear fat all over himself. Even during the worst of it, I knew it could be worse.

I have no further comment except that, again, what a strange month.

  1. futurediaper said: great to hear you’re okay, jeez that sounds terrifying.
  2. johnmaclachlangray posted this