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George Ilott

I was born and raised in a small town in British Columbia called Powell River. At that time, it was the home of the largest single unit pulp and paper mill in the world. It had everything a young boy who loved the outdoors could ever ask for, the ocean on one side and several lakes and streams on the other and mountains in the background. Although somewhat isolated, the town had its own hospital, medical clinic, schools, movie theaters and everything else that makes up a community. And every couple of days, you could take a small passenger ship for a 5-hour ride down to the Vancouver (the big city).

Life was bliss living there and going to school with all my friends but the bliss ended just before I turned 16. It was not really a sharp ending but instead, a gradual beginning of new and strange sensations that came and went in my lower back and hips depending on what I happened to be doing. I became aware of quick sharp but minor pains if I happened to turn the wrong way or run too fast. It became uncomfortable to keep up to the other kids in all the sports we played. I told my Mom and Dad about it but then put it out of my mind and I began to compensate by not making the movements that would cause the pains.

When I was half way through Grade 10, the pains were getting more intense and were mainly concentrated in the sciatic notch area with some of the pain periodically running down the legs. At first the pain was more prevalent during the night, especially if I had a cold and happened to cough or sneeze. It would wake me up with a flash of pain that increased as I struggled out of the bed in order to get upright. Then I would stand for a few hours before I would gather the courage to lie down again. I didn't want to tell Mom or Dad because I believed that anything that hurt this much just had to be bad news.

It wasn't long before Mom noticed that every time I got up from a chair or the sofa, I was gritting my teeth but trying not to show it. I was taken to the Medical Clinic and examined by a Doctor who then ordered x-rays. A couple of days later, I was back to the Doctor who said that while nothing was really evident on the x-ray, he was sure that I had a disc that was popping in and out. They put me in the hospital and kept me on a flat board for a week. At the end of the week, I went home a bit rubbery from just lying on my back for 6 days straight and the pain came back with a vengeance. I did go back to school the next day but I was had difficulty in walking without hanging on to the wall for support when the pains hit. After 2 days of this, Mom insisted that I get back to the Doctor who put me back to the hospital.

This time they tried something a bit different. My head was circled with a canvas strap that was then attached to the end of the very hard bed. My feet were bound together with a strap that was tied to a rope that went over a pulley and hung over the other end of the bed. Attached to the rope was a plate to which they added weights. It kind of freaked me out as I had seen something similar in a torture chamber scene of a movie a few weeks before. But now I was a grown-up of 16 and so I really tried to tolerate it as best I could. "Why were they doing this to me" I kept asking Mom and Dad. They answered that the Doctor still believed that I had a partial slipped disc and this would make it easier for it to slip back in.

I laid there for over another two weeks and as I greatly improved my negotiation skills during this time, I managed to talk them into letting me get up to use the toilet for anything that wasn't compatible with the little aluminum bottle they had hanging there. Every 3 days, they would also let me up for 5 minutes to walk around and see if the pain had gone but of course, it hadn't. Deep down, I was starting to realize that my problem had nothing to do with slipped discs. I missed about 2 months of school that year.

During the summer holidays and for the next school term (Grade 11), I started living on Bayer aspirin and tossed them down like peanuts. I began to learn how to cope a bit better with the pain. Every couple of months would bring new x-rays, new theories about the cause of the pain and more frustration for my parents and me. By the time I finished Grade 11, the Doctors had decided that I had some symptoms of arthritis but they couldn't explain why I was experiencing this specific kind of pain.

During Grade 12 and the following summer, the pain kept getting worse but I kept getting better at coping with it so the changes didn't seem that great. I wasn't able to sleep well at nights because of the pain so the Doctor recommended that I prop myself up with as many pillows I needed in order to be comfortable and to relieve the pain. I kept sleeping like this for the next 10 or 12 years and little did I know that with my actions, I was setting the stage for what would become the most difficult problem of my life.

Just before Christmas that year, my Dad was killed in an accident. Dad was the Captain of a tugboat that was hit and sunk by a large freighter. This was a shattering event for the whole family and especially for my younger brother who was only 12 at the time and also the only survivor from the tug. Dad and two others drowned. My greatest support person was gone.

Life went on and the family closed ranks and survived. I kept popping the aspirins and other pills prescribed by the Doctors and all the while, feeling the progression of something happening in my body. I managed to get a couple of years of university under my belt but then ran out of money and was also needed at home. The pulp and paper company offered me a job with their technical and research section and the future started looking rosier. The pain kept on and I was determined to beat it with the help of my little white and multi-colored buddies. I always thought that it was such a shame that I couldn't get a refund on empty pill bottles.

In the fall of 1963, I became engaged to my first wife and planned on marriage in the spring of 1964. I almost didn't make it and I knew then that the pills had caught up with me. On Christmas morning of 1963, I suffered a major attack of bleeding ulcers and was rushed to the hospital. They tried to stop the bleeding for a few hours by pumping cold milk in and out but it didn't work. They finally had to go in and remove 50 percent of my stomach. The most difficult part of the day, for the Doctors, was trying to find enough sober people in town on Christmas day to donate blood. They finally did manage to get a plane to fly some up from Vancouver.

I was married in the spring of 1964 and shortly after had my first son Steve. Two years later, I was offered a position at the companies main research division in Vancouver and took it. We moved to Vancouver and shortly after, my second son Don was born. Life was good again, or I should say, as good as I could expect. But another problem was looming around the corner and I began to get this deep feeling of dread. The bending was starting and I still didn't know what I was dealing with.

George Ilott

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