Personal blog by our founder, Brent Mondoux
December 15th 2011
Just as any other work day, I awoke to the sound of the alarm clock. Sleeping on the opposite side of a king-sized bed, I was forced to crawl across to silence the irritating buzzing. As I went to move a sharp jarring pain radiated from the center of my back outwards. I couldn’t move, I was frozen in pain. I tried to breathe through it, assuming I had just pulled a back muscle as I had done previously, but the pain wouldn’t subside. I forced myself across the bed, struggling through the pain and silenced the damn alarm.
It felt like it took forever to get myself out of bed and into a vertical position. Getting dressed that day felt like the most tormenting ordeal I have ever endured. Far worse than an abscess tooth; far worse than a broken wrist; it was awful. I made my way downstairs to face my wife (Nat) and my son (Aiden). They knew right away that something was wrong. Visibly anguished, I bemoaned that I needed to go to the hospital. Nat looked at me and asked in concern “What happened? What did you do?” to which I confirmed “I don’t know. I must have pulled something in my back while sleeping but I can’t take this pain. I need to get it checked”. She acknowledged my comments and proceeded to get Aiden ready to drop off at school.
We drove up the street to drop Aiden off. Not wanting to alarm him, I put on my “big boy” face and grimaced through the pain as I got out of the car to hug him before he headed in. And then we were off. While heading to Ottawa, Nat was making small talk trying to comfort me from my pain, I could tell that she could sense my concern as well. She looked over at me and said “I think you should go to the medical center first. You won’t wait hours to be seen.” I agreed that it was a good idea.
Nat dropped me off at the front of the medical center and I told her I’d call her once I was done to come pick me up. She headed off to work with visible apprehension and I slowly and surely made my way to the entrance. I stood at the front door, second in line, waiting for it to open so that I could put my name in. The receptionist, although not opened yet, started to collect names and offered us to come in and sit down.
Knowing that I’d have a tough time getting up, but also needing to rest my sore back, I strained my way into a chair. Starting to think about what I could have done to my back, I didn’t have a clue. I woke up like this and it was starting to worry me a bit more. It didn’t take long and my name was called. I couldn’t get out of the chair so the older man beside me helped me get up. Walking was not a problem so I made my way to the examination room slowly but without help. As I neared the room, a lady told me to sit down and confirmed that the doctor would be in shortly. She closed the door behind me and I made my way to the examination table, struggling my way onto it.
There was a knock on the door and the doctor entered. He was a nice older man and he asked me “What brings you in today?”. I explained the issue and the fact that I had no clue what had happened. At the end I conclusively self-diagnosed “I must have just pulled my back.” He compassionately listened as I explained and then he asked me to lie on my stomach. He felt around my spine, up and down carefully. I wasn’t sure what he could truly find just with his fingers. He asked me whether the pain got sharper or not throughout and I responded. My biggest concern was the incredible amount of pressure that seemed to radiate across the back of both of my lungs. Trying not to be a hypochondriac I was quick to dismiss what I might fear would be the worst case scenarios. After checking my back he asked me to sit up, and decided to help as he saw me struggling greatly. He then proceeded to make sure that my vitals were in order. Conclusively at the end of the examination he confirmed “You should go to a hospital. You need an MRI.”
I called Nat, a little more nervous than before and informed her what the doctor said. She left work, came to pick me up and we headed over to the emergency area of the hospital. After checking in, we knew that we had hours to wait; it was going to be a long day.
At last, after hours of waiting, listening to the sounds of coughing, crying and even watching police bring in a few people for treatment, my name was called. I made my way back to a room and waited for the doctor. I was shivering at this point so they put a blanket on me to help with the chills. Once the doctor arrived he did mostly similar analyses that were done at the medical center. The doctor seemed much more visibly concerned about the amount of pain that I was in and in particular asked me a lot of questions about the chills and unbearable pressure across the back of my lungs that I was feeling. At one point he left to talk to a colleague and while still in earshot he said to his colleague something about “an elevated risk of it being a tumor”, although I couldn’t make out all the words. I suspect I wasn’t supposed to hear anything but at this point the reality set in that I may very well have cancer in my back. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday, I suddenly felt intensely nauseous and like I was going to vomit. He returned to me shortly thereafter and echoed more of what he had said to his colleague, filling in the words that I hadn’t heard and leaving out the part about the risks “You need an MRI. I’ve given you a requisition for one but the wait list is long so you should see your family doctor and try to get one sooner. There are a number of things that could be causing this and we need a better analysis.” His tone remained professional and as he was talking I started to feel agitated, feeling like he may be withholding some vital information, starting to wonder “Why me?”
December 24th, 2011 – January 1st, 2012
These days went by with a blur. Still in excruciating pain most of the time, I had some prescribed painkillers in case I needed them but I refused to take them. One of my friends had recently been addicted to them so I didn’t wish to go down the same path. Between Christmas festivities and New Years celebration I was pretty much just going through the motions of family and friend commitments with bouts of volatile and acute pain alongside a slowly growing worry in my mind.
January 4th, 2012
Due to my family doctor being over-scheduled it took a while to finally see him. Much like the two previous doctors he went through the same motions and confirmed that the MRI I was scheduled for was the quickest route to getting answers. He told me when I got home to call them and inform them that I’d take an MRI at any time of the day or night, even if 4:00 AM was available.
After getting back to work, I called the MRI clinic and informed them that I would make myself available for an MRI any day or time. She then asked if I’d be willing to come in on short notice if a cancellation occured and I confirmed. Now the waiting game started.
My concerns had now fully transformed into fear. I did what nobody else should do in this situation. I started to search the Internet based on my symptoms. “Oh my god. It is a real possibility. I might very well have cancer. I might be dying.”. This was when things started getting real in my mind.
January 5th, 2012 – February 24th, 2012
In the next month and a half my mind teetered between a series of thoughts nowhere near the linear fashion that most people describe as the 7 stages of grief. Zigzagging from one thought to the next, my mind was always racing. “Why me?”, “It can’t be”, “It’s just an injury”, “At least my family will be okay” were very popular thoughts that my mind kept focusing on. Amongst all of my thoughts the most prominent one that I kept repeating was that “Nat will get over me, but Aiden will be crushed.” It was the one that caused me the most misery. Psychologically I had already started preparing myself to come to terms with facing the reality of death.
I found myself waiting for Nat to go to bed at night so that I could sit alone and think. Some nights I would cry incessantly. Other nights I would pray. Occasionally I’d even say aloud “I’ll be a better person. Just tell me what to do to get my life back.” The irony, and most people know this about me, is that I don’t believe in God. But I was willing to give it a shot. Anything, I would do anything to be better.
Occasionally as I played with Aiden I’d catch myself choking back tears, wondering what his life would be like without me in it. Wondering how he’d get through all the “boy/man issues” without me there to guide him. I would sneak off to the washroom to release the pressure of my fears and desperation by sobbing uncontrollably and then return each time puffy-eyed and blame it on allergies.
My emotions had reached a climax that I had never experienced before – fear, anguish, sorrow, self-pity and anger fighting for my attention all at once.
When would this damn MRI happen? I really needed to know!
February 15th, 2012
Today was the day I received a call and a confirmed date and time for my MRI. I had no clue that as a resutl my stress levels and emotions would exponentiate in a rogue-like manner moving forward. I experienced numerous sleepless nights, uncontrollable bouts of crying and opposing bouts of emotional numbness along with the occasional sense of disorientation. The pain was volatile; intense and occasionally quashed with a numbing tingling sensation.
February 23rd, 2012
Nat’s sister, Christina came over to our house to watch Aiden while we headed to the hospital for my MRI. Despite thinking I would, I wasn’t feeling particularly scared or emotional today. On the contrary I felt relief. I was soon going to find out what was going on. Today I felt positive, I would be redeemed and it would be proven that I was worried for nothing. Waiting for my MRI was about a half an hour, but time went quickly. Soon I found myself in a room disrobing and putting on a medical gown. I vividly remember asking for multiple reassurances that my vasectomy wouldn’t cause any problems with the machine; visualizing the magnets turning on and separating my testicles from my body, although comical was a very real fear at this moment. The nurse laughed at me and confirmed that the machine was “vasectomy friendly” and cautioned me that I’d be in the machine for a while and to just relax. Upon entering the machine I was perfectly fine, very comfortable and then the magnets turned on. As time progressed the volume of the humming was beginning to bother me and my body was starting to ache. I was forced to lie in a specific position that was extremely painful and there was also a breeze around my body that was causing me to mildly shiver. Through a speaker in the machine the doctors would talk to me and remind me that I had to remain entirely still. Throughout the event I would confirm that “I’m trying my best” more than a dozen times.
Towards the 1 hour mark they informed me that I had moved too much and that they would need to redo a number of the sequences. I sighed in slight frustration, mostly under my breath, starting to feel a little claustrophobic, but did my best not to show them my frustration and pain because I wanted proper results. Fifteen minutes later and I was done. They were sliding me out of the machine and I got dressed.
I briefly talked to the doctors and they informed me that my results would be sent to my family doctor and I would need to meet with him to get them. I retorted “Are you serious? I’m going to need to wait months for these results!”. My heart sunk. The drive home I felt mixed emotions, happy that my MRI was done, but saddened that I had to wait yet again.
February 24th, 2012
I called my family doctor to make an appointment so that I could finally get my results. The earliest date available was March 28th. “For crying out loud” I threw my hands up in despair, “Will I ever get some answers?”. The receptionist confirmed that it was the best they could do and that if there was a cancellation she’d call me. I begrudgingly acknowledged and accepted then hung up and called Nat to tell her that the waiting game wasn’t over yet.
February 25th, 2012 – March 8th, 2012
Another two weeks passed with varying bouts of intense pain and occasional numbness, generously sprinkled with intense pressure across the back of my lungs. Bouncing between convincing myself it was nothing and worrying about the “what ifs”, I was an emotional wreck. Going to work each day and keeping busy was the only way I could deal with the emotional roller coaster and keep my intense fears at bay. I did my best not to think about the what ifs, not to show Nat and Aiden my fears and insecurities, and I hid my bouts of crying by taking random trips to somewhere more private, mostly the washroom since I could lock myself in there and cry quietly with my face muffled into a towel.
March 9th, 2012
I had a meeting with one of my clients. I had been building a website for the medical aesthetics business that he owned. He had asked me if I could meet at his house because he had a water leak that was being repaired. Not being too far from his medical practice I agreed and I went to his house. Upon arrival we promptly got to work and discussed the project that I was working on for him, and also chatted about training (we had both been training Muay Thai) and life in general.
He asked me why I hadn’t been going to Muay Thai lately and I informed him of my back injury. We talked about my symptoms and he asked me where I got my MRI done. I told him I got it done at a hospital in Orleans to which he looked at me with a blank stare. I was confused why he was looking at me like this so I asked “What?” to which he replied “You do remember I’m a doctor there right?”. I slowly replied “Y-yeah.”. A few moments of silence as he was thinking and he said to me “I can get your results right now if you want. Do you want them?”. I blurted out, nearly crying “Oh my god, yes!!!”.
He told me that he would need to connect to his Intranet and get the appropriate permission to do so and that it would take some time. He walked away and went upstairs to his private office and I sat waiting. Ten minutes passed which felt like forever. My imagination had already fabricated potential scenarios. I wondered if he had been sitting upstairs, having read the results and trying to find a way to tell me that I was dying, or alternately trying to find a way to say that he couldn’t find the results. I was freaking out! Fifteen minutes passed and he yelled down his stairs “Do you want a print out of the results?” to which I quickly blurted “Yes!”. The next few minutes I sat there convincing myself it was nothing. He wouldn’t print me results and tell me that I was dying. Would he? Then again he’s a doctor, maybe he has the obligation to. Oh my god. I was freaking out… again! He descended the stairs and turned the corner, walking towards me I could see a visible smile on his face, he didn’t make me wait for results, he talked as he walked “You’re not dying. It’s serious but you’re going to be okay.”
Tears were running down my face as he explained the results to me. Two bulging disks and a herniated disk, pressing on nerves causing numbness and pressure across the back of my lungs. I needed pyshio, inversion therapy, decompression therapy and possibly surgery. But I wasn’t dying. It took me 10 minutes to regain my composure. I thanked him, probably too many times, and then left. Walking down the street back to my car I practically danced, the most overwhelming sense of happiness overcame me as I yelled the words aloud “I’m going to live!”. There may or may not have been neighbours that looked over at me with complete bewilderment. I didn’t care. I have a chance to see my son grow up!
The drive back to the office I was singing, crying, overwhelmed with happiness. I didn’t care how stupid I looked. I am going to live. I got back to the office and cleaned myself up in the men’s washroom, trying to maintain composure and look normal. I walked in and my wife Nat, who is also the receptionist, looked at me and asked “Good meeting?” to which I immediately started to cry tears of happiness and managed to allow the words “I’m going to live” to escape my mouth. She looked at me bewildered and didn’t understand. She had no clue I would get any results by meeting a client. She stood up, walked around the desk and hugged me as I cried on her shoulder. Not wanting to make a scene at work I brought her to my office and closed the door and explained to her the events that had transpired. The fact that what I thought was simply a business meeting ended up revealing to me weeks before I would get my formal results whether or not my back injury was life threatening. Nat cried in my arms likely only for a few minutes, but it felt like forever. After we both regained composure I told her that I couldn’t work the rest of the day, I was too happy and just wanted to celebrate.
March 10th, 2012 – March 11th, 2012
We left work an hour early and had the most amazing fun the entire weekend. It was just like any other weekend but it felt so much more rewarding than any other that I could remember. Despite being still in severe pain and with a long road ahead, it didn’t matter, I am going to live.
While today I still struggle with volatile bouts of back pain; inversion, decompression and physiotherapy have helped my pain levels immensely. It is still not known what caused the pain to suddenly flare up, it could have been while skipping, doing weights, or simply moving the wrong way in bed. Regardless, the pain levels are now manageable. Some of my darkest, most melancholy days were lived during this experience but I got through it.
This, alongside another life experience (The Day I Almost Lost My Son and Wife), is one of the primary reasons that I believe that everyone should live each day like it’s their last. Once today is gone you cannot get it back. I hope you enjoyed me sharing this personal time in my life and that it helps you with whatever challenges you may be coping with. Thank you for taking the time to let me share this experience with you.