1954 / Class of '01 / Died: 2-3-01
By his wife, Anna (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Several days into the 2001 New Year, after going on a hike in the foothills close to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Wes became ill - sore throat, fever etc. As he had been prone to tonsillitis, he lasted a few days before deciding to see a doctor. The doctor, took a throat swab, and sent him home. Within a few hours, he was getting progressively sicker and went back for medical help. He was prescribed antibiotics and was sent home to fight what he assumed was a bad case of tonsillitis, although the doctor has also mentioned that she didn't like the sound of his chest.
Within 12 hours of being on the antibiotics, I came home to find Wes disoriented and complaining of being very dizzy. He could barely stand and he was slurring his words and acting "drunk". I suspected that he may have had a stroke or was having some sort of drug reaction. I called an ambulance and we headed to the hospital. After 12 hours in Emergency, a CAT scan, x-rays, umpteen blood tests etc, the resident neurologist was guessing that maybe it was encephalitis. There was a need for an MRI and as Wes was not properly guarding his airway, there was a need to put him on a respirator.
The MRI showed it was a brain infection (encephalitis) and he was admitted to the ICU where the doctors tried to determine what this infection was. Of course, they immediately started pumping him full of massive antibiotics and steroids trying to fight the infection and minimize the swelling in the brain. Unfortunately, their efforts did not seem to be working and within 24 hours of entering the ICU, Wes lost consciousness as I and his 15-year-old son watched and prayed and as his other 19-year-old son rushed home from Australia, fearing for his father's life.
The question then arose, as to how this perfectly, healthy, 47 year old man so quickly acquired encephalitis? And having once acquired it, how come he did not seem to be responding to treatment? The head of the ICU diagnosed a case of "listeria" infection, probably obtained from a food source - un-pasteurized product of some sort. This did not make sense to us, but the source of the infection seemed secondary to the question as to why he wasn't responding to treatment. His heart was strong, his blood pressure was good, he was an active man, who hiked 18 to 20 kilometres every weekend, why was he not responding?
The answer came in the form of the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. I can remember the resident doctor asking my permission to do an AIDS test on Wes's blood. They kept saying that somehow his immune system was compromised and I guess AIDS was a pretty likely candidate. But I can remember the hemaetologist phoning me to tell me that Wes had Multiple Myeloma and my total shock - what is that? A rare form of incurable, but not untreatable cancer, came the answer. They would treat it aggressively -- chemo, bone marrow transplants -- he was a strong, healthy man, he had a good shot, but only if he survived the infection.
I guess you probably have already guessed that Wes didn't survive the infection. He lasted, unconscious, but off the respirator for three weeks after his diagnosis, never knowing what he was dying of. The encephalitis continued to spread through his brain and he developed pneumonia. He rejected his food tube and in the end I decided to discontinue all treatment. He stayed in the hospital until the day before he died when we transferred him to a local hospice where we allowed him to die in peace and with dignity. I do not know what type of Multiple Myeloma he had. I do suppose if I obtained his medical records I could find that out. And obviously he never received any treatment for the cancer.
I still cannot believe, that a disease could act that fast without our knowing. I asked he oncologist what sort of symptoms he would have had, and she said he might have experienced pain in his bones. I can remember him complaining about being stiff and sore and having sore knees but he was an active man who hiked and cross-country skied, so a few complaints about sore muscles did not seem untoward. She said he might have been always getting sick, run down, tired. I said no, he seemed to get tonsillitis about once a year, but I don't necessarily consider that "sickly". Wes had had no chronic diseases. His medical history included osteomyelitis (bone infection) as a child and he had contracted Hepatitis from some bad water while caving in Mexico as a young man in his 20s. But by and large he was a healthy, healthy man. He grew up and lived in Calgary, Alberta, and worked as a dedicated computer programmer all his life, with the "outdoors" - hiking, skiing, caving being his passions.
So my story seems so different from the ones I have read on your Multiple Myeloma survivor site and "In Loving Memory" site. Wes never had to "live" with the treatment that you all speak of, the triumphs and the defeats of the various scenarios that the patient and his family have to decide upon and live through. And yet, I feel a part of the family who have had to deal with this horrendous disease. I wish all of you the very best in your battles with this disease. I wish Wes had had a chance to do "battle", but as he did not, I can only hope and pray that the researchers and doctors doing "battle" will eventually win.
My two sons, Matt and Winston and I miss Wes unbelievably as the anniversary of his getting ill and dying fast approach.
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