The Attack


I don’t generally use my blog to write sob stories about myself, but enough people have asked me about this that I figured I should write about it.

It all began on February 5, 2010. It was a Friday, and normally I work at home on Fridays, but I needed to work at home one day the next week, so I swapped my work-at-home day from Friday to the next Tuesday. Plus, we had an engineering “all-hands” meeting, so I figured I should probably be there for that. The meeting was in the early afternoon, and I don’t remember much about it; partially because it was three months ago, and partially because most of what they say at these things is corporate-speak anyway. Once Mr. Sales/Marketing VP starts talking about “key verticals” I tune right out.

Anyway, after the meeting, there were snacks available, so I lined up with everyone else to grab something. I think I got a cookie, a brownie, and a mini cream puff. I took them back to my office and got back to work. After finishing the treats, I began to feel a little weird. I remember thinking “I shouldn’t have had that cream puff.” (Note that the cream puff in question was not much more than an inch in diameter.) After a few more minutes, I decided I probably just had to “use the restroom” as our American friends might say, so I did. That didn’t make me feel any better. After another few minutes, I thought I might be sick, so I went back to the bathroom. After five minutes or so, nothing had happened, and it didn’t feel like anything was going to happen, but I felt worse, and started getting light-headed. A minute or two later, I was quite dizzy and my hands started shaking uncontrollably and I thought “this is more than just a bad cream puff”.

I left the bathroom to find my boss Mark, but he wasn’t in his office. On my way back to mine, I passed our documentation manager Laura’s office, and luckily she was there. I walked in and just said “I need some help” and fell into her second chair. Laura later said she almost didn’t recognize me, I was so pale. Laura immediately took control and to this day I am amazed how calm she was. She put her coat over me because I was shivering, she took my pulse (somewhere in the 50 range I believe – about half what it normally is), and then called 911. After explaining the situation and giving our address and everything, Laura went into overdrive. She grabbed people from the hall and started assigning them jobs. One person (John, I believe) was to go downstairs and make sure the ambulance found the right building entrance. Another was to wait by the security doors to open them for the paramedics. She called reception to tell them an ambulance was on its way. She contacted HR to make sure they knew what was going on. Someone was sent to find Mark. Jill from HR came upstairs and used my cell phone to call Gail. All she was able to say at the time was that I was not feeling well and was going to be taken to a hospital. (She had to call back 15 minutes later to tell her which hospital.) All the while I was either half-conscious or passed out in Laura’s chair.

Shortly thereafter, the paramedics arrived. In my memory, it was only about 5 minutes from when Laura called, and I remember being impressed at how fast they got there. Laura told me later that it took at least 20-25 minutes, so I must have been passed out for longer than I thought. I remember the paramedics being very friendly, asking me lots of questions, taking my pulse and blood pressure, and then lifting me effortlessly onto the stretcher. I remember seeing many concerned looks from my colleagues as they wheeled me out to the ambulance.

Once inside the ambulance, the only thing I remember was vomiting, and then wondering if that would solve the problem. Had I overreacted? Wasted these people’s time? It didn’t take long for me to realize that no, the problem wasn’t solved, I didn’t feel any better at all. After about 20 more minutes, the ambulance left for Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. I remember the ambulance ride being quite bumpy and wondering why they didn’t put better shocks on ambulances.

My memories of the the rest of that day (and most of the next week) are quite blurry. I remember being wheeled out of the ambulance, because it was cold and I had no coat on. I remember seeing Gail and the boys and assuring them that I’d be fine, even though I still had no idea what was happening. I remember being asked repeatedly how often and how much I drink. I remember overhearing a doctor telling Gail that I may never be able to drink alcohol again, and feeling disappointed (though not devastated – I don’t drink that much anyway, as I told a number of doctors). I remember being told that I was being given a painkiller called dilaudid because the morphine that they gave me didn’t touch the pain at all, and dilaudid is nine times stronger than morphine. Then I remember thinking “what the hell is wrong with me that I need such a strong painkiller?”

The official diagnosis was severe acute pancreatitis. The main causes for pancreatitis in North America are (1) alcohol abuse (explaining the numerous questions about drinking), and (2) gallstones. Over the next few weeks, I had a number of ultrasounds, CT scans, and an MRI, and I was told I did not have gallstones, so they had no idea what caused the pancreatitis in the first place. It wasn’t until after surgery in mid-March (to drain the pancreatic cyst that had formed and remove my gall bladder) that they found the real cause – turns out I had lots of gallstones, and a number of them had left the gall bladder (which was full of “sludge”) and were sitting in the common bile duct. One had continued into the pancreas and lodged itself there. This prevented the pancreas from secreting the enzymes it creates, and those enzymes started dissolving the pancreas itself. This, as they say in the medical community, is bad.

If the gallstone in question had simply blocked the opening to the gall bladder, then this would have been a fairly routine gallstone attack. They would have removed my gall bladder, probably laparoscopically so I wouldn’t have this huge scar across my belly, and I’d have been back to normal two months ago. But nooooooo, I had to get the sneaky gallstone that went right to the pancreas.

I spent the next two months at Grand River Hospital. Gail and I started sending out email status updates to friends and family; they are all gathered together here. I’ve been out of hospital for a little over a month now, and the recovery continues.

Update: I’ve written a number of other articles on my hospitalization and recovery. They’re all gathered under the “hospital” tag.

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