Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

48 Hours in the ER in Fort McMurray

It wasn’t until Sunday evening that I realized I was really in trouble. I was having some difficulty thinking clearly and I thought I was just overtired. I felt emotional and on the edge, not at all my normal self. Only later did I realize the infection had started to drive up my temperature and the fever was beginning to affect my behaviour.

A few days ago I wrote about my battle with a chronic eye disease. Those who struggle with chronic disease know that one of the challenges is that just when you think you have a handle on it and can predict its course it changes direction and throws something new at you, just to keep it interesting I suppose. I thought I knew all the twists and turns of this disease, but my complacency was about to be tested.
After a week on my eye medication, which can only be used for 14 days due its toxicity and potential for damage, my eyelid began to swell. This wasn’t a new reaction and my optometrist and I felt it was likely just a reaction to the medication as had happened before when you use a powerful drug with powerful side effects. The trouble was that I needed to continue the medication for another week – and the more serious trouble was that the swelling continued to worsen.

By Saturday my eyelids were dramatically swollen, and the area was numb. Still convinced it was a reaction to the medication I ignored it until Sunday morning, when I finally headed for the ER to see about stopping the topical antiviral medication and switch to an oral instead so that hopefully the reaction would diminish. The ER doc immediately switched my medication, but he also admonished that if the swelling did not go down or got worse that I was to return to the ER.
It didn’t get better, and in fact it got significantly worse. By the end of that day I felt terribly ill, the swelling had moved from my eyelids spreading up towards my hairline and down to my jawline, the lymph nodes on that side were enlarged and although I tried to deny it I knew somewhere inside me that I had a problem. A friend called and hearing me describe my symptoms and my misgivings about the direction of my progress insisted I go back to the ER.

Less than an hour later I was in an examining room. The ER doctor took one look at my face and said: “Well, that’s worrisome.”
Now, ER doctors see a lot of things, and I don’t know about you but when they look at me and say something is “worrisome” I tend to think things are, in fact, worrisome. Less than 10 minutes later I had been hooked up to IV antibiotics and fluids (the doc had also correctly surmised I was dehydrated) and so began my adventure with our medical system in Fort McMurray.

I suppose what I want to share is how amazing the people who work in our ER at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre are. From the nurse who placed my first IV, who recognized my anxiety and who talked me through it, to all the subsequent nurses, they were, in a word, incredible. From the admitting clerks to the doctors there was a sense of confident professionalism about them, and I trusted them implicitly to take good care of me, and they did.
There was the moment my first IV failed and I had to have a second one placed, which years ago would not have troubled me but for some reason in recent years I have developed a phobia of needles. When the nurse informed me a new IV was needed I felt faint and had to ask for a moment to prepare mentally – and then when I was ready she proceeded to place the least painful IV I have ever had, almost imperceptible, and her gentle kindness was truly remarkable.

There was the moment I showed the final ER doc the photo I had taken on the first evening to show him my improvement and his pleasure that I had thought to document the progress through each treatment so every new doc could see the direction the infection was taking.
There was the admitting clerk who saw me the first evening and expressed concern and then saw me again 36 hours later and expressed delight with the improvement I was showing.

It was more than that, though. It was the way they dealt with every person in the ER, gently and kindly and professionally no matter how challenging that person was or the severity of their problems. It was the speed with which they moved, addressing each new issue and patient as quickly as they could.
In the space of 48 hours I visited the local ER 5 times, and each time I was more and more impressed with them and more and more grateful for their kindness, their expertise and their professionalism.

I am sparing you the photos I took as even close friends have found them a bit awful to look at. Google “preseptal cellulitis” if you wish to see some horrific pictures and know that I was a textbook case of the disease.  Just four IV treatments managed to get me back to almost normal, and onto a course of oral antibiotics to ensure the infection does not return. My near miraculous-recovery has reminded me that perhaps the most significant medical advances in the entire course of humanity are likely the development of vaccines and the discovery of antibiotics, as in the days pre-antibiotics an infection like mine would have raged until one of the combatants finally gave in – either the microbes or my body. But what my recovery has truly reminded me of is how fortunate we are in this country, province and community to have access to top-level world-class health care that means that instead of losing our lives we only lose a couple of days of our life.
I am so deeply grateful to the staff, nurses and doctors at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre. I want to thank them, very publicly, for taking such good care of me and for their kindness along the way. I also want to suggest to my readers that if you ever find yourself with facial swelling to not ignore it or dismiss it as I am now a walking Public Service Advisory on the perils of cellulitis (and I got off easy, as it can be far worse as I have subsequently learned). I’m also very grateful to all the friends who offered assistance, kept tabs on me and sent their good wishes as I worked on healing.

Today is a new day. I am headed back to work, my face is no longer swollen and it appears my eye disease has gone quiet once more. Cherish every single day, folks. All it takes is a brush with serious illness to remind you of how very lucky you are.
And frankly, I am the luckiest woman in the world today.


  1. This sounds terrible. We have had nothing but wonderful people treat us in our ER. They don't always diagnose well there (hence my poison ivy issues), but they are good people. Take care.

  2. Thanks for writing this, Theresa! So glad you are feeling better.