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 in-place.

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 standpoint.

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 down.

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.

Contact Lance
Phone: 206-550-7957
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