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GUEST SHOT: Life’s lessons learned from the ER

Former paramedic says health event was like going a round with boxer Mike Tyson
Former Mayor of Port Alberni John Douglas, present Coun. Ron Corbeil and a host of volunteers are turning the site of a former gas station at 10th and Redford into a greenspace. (ORLANDO DELANO/Special to the AV News)


Special to the AV News

Cardiac crises and short-of-breath events can bring one quickly to a focus outside the normal realm of day to day plans. One of my favourite quotes (apparently from boxer Mike Tyson) is that “everyone has a plan until one gets punched in the mouth.”

Well I got punched in the mouth recently with a cardiac-related shortness of breath episode, followed by my quick immersion into our excellent health care system here in B.C.

Now, I can’t say it came without warning. There had been some jabs and sparring going on over the past while and I did the typical adult practice—some may even suggest male adult practice—of ignoring signs and symptoms and blindly hoping for the best. Sort of like Neville Chamberlain, former Prime Minister of the U.K., refusing to recognize Adolf Hitler’s world domination goals in the years prior to the Second World War. It was ultimately my family that forced me to accept that yes, I—a former paramedic apparently trained to recognize such emergencies—was having a serious medical event that needed attending to. Enter lights, sirens and the ER.

So what does one do while waiting for diagnosis and hopefully recovery? My first thought has been to talk with those closest to me, to let them know (in case I get punched again in a much more serious way, knocked out as it were) how my life has been, to reflect back from this point, to give some last minute messages, rather like goodbyes on the train platform heading off to the war from which there may be no return. One of the reactions from those closest to me, my family, has been “Dad don’t talk like that” followed by my “but we have to” response. Then of course there was my more practical and loving wife: ”where’s the money?” and other more relevant type of questions (now that, as they say, is love).

What to say? Well the bottom line is the wish to pass on a message, or messages of wisdom or guidance. My message is that I have had a wonderful life, full of ups and downs. I hope those I leave behind will try like hell to do the same, have a full life. Viktor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) had a quote that resonates with me to this day. Everyone has a choice, said Frankl, that no one can take away: that being the freedom of choosing how to respond to circumstances in life. You can always be the one who makes that choice, that chooses your own response to circumstance.

I have had times when I didn’t think life could get much darker; the people around me (friends, family) assured me that things would get brighter – and they did. I think it had something to do with that freedom mentioned by Frankl. That ultimate choice, the ability to choose one’s response.

If only one could bundle up all the lessons one has learned and pass that on in one neat and tidy package to the folks you love. Don’t think you can. Is it overly presumptuous to even think that you have anything particularly wise to pass on? Well, with your forgiveness, my little kernel of advice would simply be to try and enjoy everything as much as one can, to try to exercise that Frankl choice, to try and make “you” the one who chooses your path as much as one can. Also, be ready to meet up with Mr. Tyson as I just did this past weekend.

Who would have ever thought that Mike Tyson and Viktor Frankl would be in the same ring, in the same conversation?

John Douglas is a city councillor in Port Alberni and a retired paramedic. After 10 days in hospital he has returned home to Port Alberni to recover and await more treatment. Being a patient in health care is a real wake up once you are “inside,” he says. Don’t forget your rights to ask questions and seek options.