As some of you know, Ryan came home to Nova Scotia, after becoming extremely ill from repeated exposures to toxic chemicals in his job as a “roughneck” on the oil rigs in BC and Alberta. After several emergency room visits in early 2013, he was told by his doctor that he should not go back to work unless he could be guaranteed protection against further exposures to the chemicals he believed were making Ryan sick. Anyone working on the rigs knows this would be near impossible. His one attempt to return caused him to be so sick he had to leave the rig for another visit to the ER after less than 2 hours into his shift.
Unfortunately, he had no family doctor to do the follow up tests necessary for an accurate medical diagnosis. Since no one seemed too concerned about his condition, Ryan just hoped he would gradually improve with time away from work and went about trying to get short term disability through his health insurance at work. But instead of improving, he kept getting sicker, as well as being given the runaround by his employer about financial help. With no money and worsening symptoms, he decided to move back home where he at least knew people and would not be so isolated.
Returning Home and Falling Through the Cracks
But even after he came home, in May 2013, he continued to fall through the cracks of the medical system and was hung out to dry by his employer, a BIG OIL company, which still continues to actively challenge his claim for worker's compensation, making it impossible for him to get the resources that he needs for daily living and medical care.
In the meantime, most of his original symptoms continued and new ones arose. The most serious of these included frequent and disabling generalized pain, muscle spasms with intermittent clawing of his hands, chronic nausea, vomiting requiring trips to the ER, tremors, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, night sweats with dark brown staining of his sheets, difficulty with memory and concentration, insomnia, blurry vision and severe loss of vision in one eye, persistent and painful skin rashes, extreme fatigue, gastric inflammation and severe and unpredictable mood swings. The list goes on...
For over a year, no doctor in Nova Scotia seemed to really know what was wrong, what to do or even have any interest in finding out. No referrals to specialists were made, no toxicology tests to determine the chemicals in his blood or urine, not even a simple eye exam getting him to read the chart on the wall, despite complaints of blurry vision from the very beginning of this ordeal. He was sent for routine blood work which they said was mostly “normal” and prescribed a cream for dermatitis and anti-depressants, which he wisely refused to take.
Diagnosis and a Way Forward
Finally, in July 2014, a wonderful doctor, who with all her years of experience and training in environmental medicine and workplace illnesses, agreed to take Ryan on as her patient. She immediately saw what was wrong, what tests and referrals were needed to begin with and set about getting the necessary medical evidence to start treatment.
Blood tests done at a hospital lab showed mercury levels to be 3 times the “acceptable” level, serious enough to begin to explain many of his symptoms.
By late October, the toxicology report from tests which had to be done at our expense in the US (as there is no lab in Canada that does this kind of work) showed, as we expected, that Ryan had extremely high levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and styrene, all dangerous hydrocarbons present in drilling fluids used on the rigs, three of which are known to cause cancer. As well, high levels of PCBs and a pesticide were found. The test results placed him in the 95th percentile for all these chemicals.
This was not good news, but surely no one could continue to accuse Ryan of making it all up. Yet while almost all of his symptoms are known to be caused by one or all of these chemicals, the company is fighting his compensation claim.
Because he is so sick from the toxic poisons, his body can only tolerate mild detoxing treatments as anything else results in intense, unbearable pain. His will be a long and slow path to recovery with an unknown future at this point.
There are treatments available but they are very costly and require financial resources that we simply do not have. None are covered by our health care system. The drug that is helping with his mercury overload alone costs $300 a month. A generous family friend is covering this or he would be doing without. Supplements to protect and heal his central nervous system are expensive but for now, we are able to run a tab for some of these until there is money to pay - another generous health practitioner. He needs to see his osteopath for treatments for his spinal nerve pain but the cost of the visits and travel from Cape Breton to Bridgewater are not manageable at this time and so we have had to cancel helpful treatments for lack of funds. Eventually, he will be able to tolerate IV treatments to help speed up his recovery, but they will require transportation and additional costs.
Stretched to the Limit
Ryan has been unable to work for almost 2 years now and has been without a regular income since that time. The small amount of EI and short term disability he finally received and eventually will need to pay back if his claim is settled, ran out a long time ago, leaving his mother and aunt trying to cover his living and medical expenses. The emotional and financial toll this has taken on the Chambers family has been extreme and we have hit a wall in terms of resources. One of us is having to declare personal bankruptcy.
Day to Day Life
So what this actually means on a daily basis for Ryan is that everything is unpredictable and often difficult. He never knows what to expect. On a good day he may be able to go for a hike in the Highlands with Calypso, connect with a friend, cook, clean or do laundry. There is energy to go grocery shopping or stack wood. Maybe take a walk on the beach while Calypso swims her heart out. Or he might be able to follow through on a phone call needing to be made, or paperwork needing to be filled out and mailed.
But all that might change on a dime and he could be immobilized by neck and shoulder pain for no apparent reason, or perhaps find himself hooked up to an IV at the ER in Inverness because he has become dehydrated from vomiting for hours the night before. He might become easily overwhelmed by the number of supplements he needs to take that day or what to do if they make him feel sicker as often happens and he wonders whether they are even helping or just making him feel worse? Maybe he will have slept for hours and feel as if he doesn't have the energy to get out of bed except to let his dog out or feed her. And with the fatigue comes bouts of hopelessness and depression and rage; rage about nothing, rage about everything, rage over the injustice of a system that seems to block him at every turn and does not give a damn about him as a human being. In this he knows he is not alone.
Then there's the endless anxiety about money and which bill to pay – power? phone? heat? - when there's not really enough for all of them? Or how to get gas money for the doctor's appointments in Antigonish or Halifax? And what will happen now that the warrantee on the jeep is up if something breaks down? Endless decisions about food, which really should be organic, but isn't always available or affordable. Waiting to get glasses because there really wasn't enough money and then discovering that he was practically blind in one eye and shouldn't have been driving all that time and didn't even know how he could possibly have been reading except with such good guesswork.
That endless cycle of worry and fear and just barely getting by day after day with nothing to spare, and being a 34 year old young man who looks healthy on the outside, but is a wreck on the inside, makes it hard to ask for help.
This is a taste of what Ryan's daily life is like, not every day, but more often than not.
On his good days, when there is a glimmer of hope brought on by the love of Calypso and the beauty of the land which surrounds him, a pot of soup dropped off by a neighbour or a bald eagle checking him out from its perch, the possibility of building a future by working hard and listening to the land draws him forward.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
With no sign of an early or easy settlement of Ryan's current appeal with WorkSafe BC and no possibility of his being able to work until his body is rid of these chemical poisons, we have decided to cast our net far and wide and ask for your support and encouragement in getting Ryan back on his feet and allowing him to make a recovery that will eventually be of benefit to others.
Help for ongoing medical costs, unexpected contingencies and daily living expenses will be needed for the foreseeable future.
Many years ago as a young boy, Ryan began a relationship with the Atlantic salmon of the rivers of Cape Breton. Thus began a dream to own land in the highlands of Cape Breton, to create a healing refuge for others, including the four legged ones and those great swimmers against the stream, the endangered salmon. Little did he imagine that he too would be in great need for such a place himself. This dream is the main thing keeping him going these days. That and the love of his constant companion, Calypso, the beautiful dog he rescued this past summer. Now there's a story …
The land came into our possession some time ago and now we need Ryan to become healthy and strong in body and spirit. We know it takes a village to raise a child and we now certainly know it will take a village to help that young man get well and his dream become a reality.
Georgina, Pat, Ryan and Calypso
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