Personal Stories: Lance Shaw
My name is Lance Shaw.
When I awoke on the morning of November 8, 2004, I was a
chain-smoking, alcoholic, type-A, working between 64 to 72 hours a
week. I liked both my coffee and tea, strong and dark. I work in an
Oil Refinery in Northern California. I, and a team of others, were in
the process of building a brand new unit along with making major
upgrades to every unit in the facility. At best, it is an incredible
undertaking in emotionally environmental Northern California.
Communities; people need to be reassured that the products you
make, won't go boom; the materials you use, won't wind-up on their
neighborhoods, homes, cars ... their children. I had worked with some
of the most talented minds and individuals within the company.
I felt out-classed, out-gunned and out-manned. I had become
hypertensive, sedentary and mildly obese, over the two years that we
had worked on this project. But, the finish line was in sight, the
company would bring in more people into my area and I could delegate a
lot of what I did, much of it was pre-planned, pre-written and already
I could finally cut back on my hours and schedule that appointment
about my blood pressure that I had been putting off for God knows how
long ... and all that changed that morning.
I, and my partner, a Health and Safety / EMT responder, were going
around to the various sites, ensuring that everyone had all of their
required permits to work ... with a workforce of 800 people ... everyone
would be covered from an administrative and more importantly, a safety
My partner and I, were the perfect compliments to each other
... He is a former operator and I, a former EMT ... we counted on each
other for support and information ... I always trusted him to make the
right call when safety was concerned and that morning he didn't let me
We got started at 6:30 and by 7 am; we were visiting the third of six
sites we would be at. We were making great time, but man ... I didn't
feel right. I just gotten over a cold the week before and my lungs felt
odd. It didn't help that I didn't quit smoking while I was infirmed. I
had a smoke while waiting for a construction crew to show up for sign-on
and that made things worse ... first, it felt like mild indigestion ...
by the time we had reached the fourth area, I had mild discomfort behind
my collarbone ... but this was way wrong ... it was behind both my right
and left sides, like it was on the tops of my lungs.
The irritation was alleviated somewhat when I crossed my arms in
front of me and pressed back on my collarbone. At the next group site,
irritation had given way to pain, although it was still mild ... 3 on a
scale of 10, but it had changed to the feeling that two hands were on
top of my lungs pushing down, like I could not get a full breath, even
though I was now breathing deeply.
My partner noticed and commented. I just said, "I need to get back to
the office and take an aspirin and everything will be alright ..."
Although, even the idea of taking an aspirin for what I was feeling
didn't seem as if it would help ...
As we reached the last group, my partner asked me again if I was all
right. "Hell no, I'm not ... I've got pain in my back now, just above my
kidneys ... like I've been kicked ... my lungs are on fire ..." He said
we should just go back to the office. He said, "Man, you just ain't
lookin' right ..." He also said the crew could wait ...
Once at the office, I took an aspirin and now the pain was more
intense ... still across my back ... I asked my partner to just give me
a minute for the aspirin to kick in and he said we should go down to
Howard's office (volunteer firefighter/EMT) until it took effect ...
At Howard's office, as Jim asked him to look me over, he noticed
right away the color had drained from my face and I had begun to shake.
Jim, my partner, asked Howard to be first responder and begin an
assessment of me. My pulse was 130 and bounding ... I told them all of
my symptoms and that now I could not find a position of comfort ... Jim
activated the Refinery EMS by calling "Man Down." An ambulance was
called and I was taken to hospital.
Although the ER did what they could, I credit a series of people and
the sharing of information that saved my life that day. My wife, Sandy,
because the ER wasn't giving her any information on my condition other
than, it wasn't a heart attack and they were managing my pain. She
thought they weren't doing enough to find out what the problem was,
instead of just medicating me.
She called our Union's Grievance
Committee Chair, Debbi Wimer, who is also a family friend, to see if
there was anything she could do ... Debbi called my supervisor, Lee
Whitney, who contacted the company physician, Dr. Sorenson. Dr.
Sorenson, after hearing of my symptoms and vitals, fourth hand, stated
that I either had an aneurism or an aortic dissection. He contacted ER
and had them perform a CAT scan. That is when my dissection was
discovered. Type III, I believe.
Today has been what I call, "A Bad Day." It's been less than a month
after my diagnosis and the severity and enormity of what has happened to
me has just sunk in. I was awakened by a nightmare that the dissection
had spread and my kidneys were failing. I've been depressed and anxious
with no appetite all day and have been pondering if I may have to take
anti-depressants as well.
As I see my children (ages 6 and 3, with another one on the way) in
the next room ... I wonder, what does the future hold us?
My cardiologist assures me that if I follow the plan: No smoking,
alcohol, caffeinated drinks, get mild (walking) exercise, make some
dietary changes ... everything will be fine. With proper monitoring and
management, I have been told this can heal and God willing, it will.
I am extremely grateful to Brian for having a site such as this
where survivors can share their feelings and experiences.