The week of October 22, 2001 started similar to the many before but would end unlike any other.
Monday began with a telephone call from my son Dennis. He called to let me know that he was not feeling very well. His stomach was upset and he was feeling weak. After discussing whether it was a bladder infection or the flu, we concluded that he probably had a case of the flu. I paid him a visit that day bringing him his usual two daily newspapers, some good old chicken soup and a supply of bottled water. He was running a slight fever and I suggested that he talk to the nurse about the situation on Tuesday when she came to change his dressings. I visited him Tuesday and similarly on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing with me soup and liquids. He told me he felt like throwing up but had not. Dennis called me Thursday evening to chat about the hockey game among other things. He had seen the nurse that day and nothing out of the ordinary was reported. I was going to be at a fundraising event for SBHAO on the Friday, so was going to see Dennis later in the day. When I got home, I gave him a call and there was no answer. I changed my clothes and made another call to him. This time he answered the phone but I was not able to understand a word he was saying. I immediately suspected that he was having an epileptic seizure - a medical condition that Dennis developed in his late teens and took medication to control. I quickly made my way to his apartment which is about 1 kilometre from my home.
I found Dennis on the floor in the living room incoherent and in need of help. I frantically found help in his building to get him into his wheelchair and onto his bed. I gave him a dose of his medication and became very concerned about his condition as he was not rallying like he usually did. I quickly called 911. Both the ambulance and fire department staff arrived within minutes. They quickly got him stabilized and then headed for our local hospital.
Upon arrival at the hospital, staff moved quickly to get Dennis hooked up to the various machines taking his vitals and trying to determine what was happening. I was allowed to see him once they had him settled. While I was talking to him he started to drift off. Just at that moment, the nurse came in to check him and immediately called code blue. Staff came from everywhere and they began working on him to get a pulse. Within the hour Dennis had passed away. Everyone was stunned and shocked not believing what had just happened. An autopsy was requested and the following morning, I received a phone call from the doctor. He confirmed that indeed Dennis had the flu but that he also had a bladder infection which had spread to his kidneys. He had a fresh abscess on one kidney from which poison had spread into his blood stream. The sepsis (blood poisoning) spread through his organs shutting them down one by one with his heart the last to go. The sepsis caused Dennis's organs to cease working within a twelve hour period.
The purpose of telling this story is to impress on all of you how quickly what Dennis and I thought was the flu could mask a developing bladder infection that went out of control in such a short period of time. Bladder infection symptoms are so similar to those of the flu. We thought we were on top of the situation. For over thirty years we had dealt with his neurogenic bladder and bowel and thought we knew the difference between a bladder infection and the flu. If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, seek medical attention immediately and insist that they check bladder functioning. Don't make assumptions as one can never be too careful.
I know Dennis would have agreed to the telling of this story to convince you to be more diligent about your personal and health care and to help prevent this from happening to you.
I can appreciate young adults wanting to be independent and taking charge of their own lives. After so many years of tests, medications, doctor visits, hospitalizations and Mom and Dad looking over your shoulder, it would be so easy to let things slide.
I urge you to call your doctor/urologist today and make an appointment to have your bladder and kidneys thoroughly checked. With the assistance of your physician, develop a routine monitoring program to help keep your bladder and kidneys healthy.
My message is not only for youth and adults with spina bifida but also for you parents of a child with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
Ironically, Dennis had an appointment the following week to see a new doctor closer to his home that he could access on his own.
The week of October 22nd started out as any other, it ended as no other with the taking of the precious life of my son Dennis Charbonneau and I do not want to see that happen to you.
Dennis R. Charbonneau
Born March 3, 1971
Died October 26, 2001
Dennis was an avid listener of rock music, an active participant in sports for people with disabilities, a keen fan of professional sports and a frequent patron of his neighbourhood Tim Horton's. He loved to fish at the family camp on the French River and regularly volunteered at SBHAO charity bingos.
Dennis valued his independence and was a great believer in equal opportunity and rights for all people with disabilities. Many thanks to the professionals and caregivers who supported Dennis through his challenging years of living with a disability.