May 14 started off as a day like any other for 73-year-old Jim Turner and his wife Shelley. Jim worked a long day, then the Langley couple enjoyed a walk together after dinner, just like they often did. But on this day, Jim felt different.
“I came home and after dinner I was exhausted,” says Jim. “I went up to bed but felt this excruciating pain that sent me onto the floor screaming in pain, ‘I need an ambulance.’ Anyone who knows me, knows that’s a huge deal.”
Shelley rushed upstairs to find Jim pain-stricken and on the floor next to the bed. Despite her shock, she quickly called for an ambulance which took him straight to the emergency department at Langley Memorial Hospital.
Until that day, Jim had been enjoying a healthy and active life. Residents of Langley for over 10 years, Jim and Shelley knew to count themselves lucky to have never needed the services of their local hospital before.
Once at the hospital, they learned that Jim had a perforated bowel.
“What we thought would be a quick visit for some antibiotics turned into our nightmare, and Jim was rushed to surgery around 1 a.m. on the 15th,” recalls Shelley.
Just two months into the pandemic, the hospital was still adjusting to new COVID-19 related protocols like extra personal protective equipment and limited patient visitors, and the added strain the pandemic was placing on the health care system.
While Shelley understood that she might not be allowed to escort Jim into the hospital, it broke her heart to see her husband in such pain and to need to leave him alone before and after surgery.
Left alone with her thoughts, she couldn’t help but focus on the worst possible outcomes.
“I received a call telling me what was happening, and then a call right after the surgery telling me that things were touch and go but that he was being transferred to the critical care unit for observation,” says Shelley. “I was given permission to come up to the hospital the next day to talk to the doctor and see him briefly, but that evening I was called again to come up soon ⎯ he was not doing well.”
With Shelley in the room and their daughter on Skype from Papua New Guinea, they said their goodbyes not knowing if there would be a tomorrow for Jim. But miraculously, he held on.
Jim’s first words to his surgeon, Dr. Scott Cowie, after surgery were, “Why did you bring me back?” They came out of intense feelings of guilt, unable at that time to see why he should be granted the gift of continued life.
Though Jim made it through his first surgery there were complications, and the road to recovery was long.
Dr. Cowie performed a total of four surgeries on Jim with the outcome at every turn unsure; but Jim was a fighter. And so was Dr. Cowie.
“Dr. Cowie did some miraculous things,” says Shelley. “He continued to fight for Jim, surgery after surgery.”
Through the surgeries, the follow-up care and the daily physiotherapy activities, two things remained constant in Jim and Shelley’s life: the unconditional support of family, friends and colleagues, and the hospital team’s exceptional care.
These two things helped Shelley and Jim get through the toughest and most uncertain moments while Jim was in hospital.
“Both my wife and I are of strong faith,” explains Jim. “It took me over a week and a half, after being released from the CCU, to get my head right, then we started to climb the mountain together.”
As Jim’s recovery progressed over his three-month stay at Langley Memorial, he and Shelly got to know the hospital staff very well and were consistently impressed at each interaction.
“It was not just the nurse staff and physicians, it was the care aids and cleaning staff, too,” recalls Shelley.
“When he got to Unit 2 North, he couldn’t walk. His arm was so weak that he couldn’t use it,” recalls Shelley. “The physiotherapy team had to re-teach him how to use each limb.
“I have the highest regards for the team.”
“I couldn’t sign my name,” agrees Jim. “And now I walk up 16 stairs to sleep every night.” Jim credits it all to the incredible physiotherapy team.
“Thank you to care aids Candice and Shannon. They were fantastic.”
Though Jim has come a long way since that first surgery in May, his medical journey isn’t yet over. It’s long, exhausting and sometimes frustrating.
“The physio team was incredible and helped him get out of his funk,” remembers Shelley, noting that Jim’s recovery is, and will continue to be, a process. “When he started physio, it was his physical limitations, more than anything, that challenged him. But I can’t think of one person who was short-tempered”.
After a transfer to Maple Ridge Hospital for continued rehabilitation, Jim was finally discharged on September 4, 2020.
Profoundly grateful for the care he received at Langley Memorial, Jim is cherishing each special moment that life brings.
“October 27, 2020 was our 48th wedding anniversary. I wasn’t sure I would still be here for it and this last Christmas was a gift I had not expected.”
(Jim & wife Shelley after he was discharged from Langley Memorial Hospital)