‘Get a second opinion’: 20-year-old resident opts for medical assistance in dying

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FORT ST. JOHN, BC – After a long battle with an undiagnosed medical condition, Fort St. John resident Eric Coulam made the difficult and deeply personal decision at age 20 to opt for the medical assistance in dying.

Medical assistance in dying, or MAID, occurs when a licensed medical professional administers or provides a drug that intentionally causes the death of a person at the request of that person. MA is only available to eligible patients.

Coulam says her battle began shortly after she lost her mother to suicide in 2013.

“It started with minor symptoms. My stomach was hurting, I was eating something, then I was in pain, but then I was eating the same thing again and it was no longer in pain,” Coulam said.

Coulam consulted a doctor who decided to examine his intestine and stomach with an oscilloscope.

“She got to a certain point and couldn’t go any further. She told me to drink the drink again and come back in a few days,” Coulam recalled.

When Coulam returned for another litter a few days later, he says the same problem occurred.

“She said it was weird that she couldn’t pass, and it’s never happened before, but you can tell it’s stuck and this and that. She then signed the paper, then she never investigated,” Coulam said.

“They didn’t tell me to take laxatives or call gastrointestinal doctors.”

Coulam says he visited the Fort St. John emergency room several times, sometimes overnight, but did not receive a proper diagnosis.

“[They said,] oh, that’s it, take those pills or take that, take those steroids. I just got so sick, and they weren’t diagnosing anything or even examining anything,” Coulam said.

Over time, Coulam’s condition worsened.

“Nothing moved inside me. I kept on eating, and eating and [my stomach] just broke up because it wasn’t going anywhere.

Coulam says the rupture caused the septic fluid usually contained in the intestine to enter his bloodstream, causing him to “go septic” and go into a coma for about two weeks.

Since then, Coulam has been in hospitals across British Columbia and Alberta battling pancreatitis and liver and kidney disease. He has lost his small intestine and suffers from severe chronic pain.

He says his doctors told him they were talking to specialists in Vancouver, but when Coulam met with those specialists, they said they hadn’t spoken to anyone in the area.

Coulam encourages residents who have health issues they feel are not being adequately treated to contact other physicians.

“Go get another hospital or a doctor and get a second opinion because that’s where I failed,” Coulam said.

Coulam says he started considering MAID as an option while hospitalized in Kelowna.

“One of the patients in front of me was getting a lot of visitors and looked very sick. A doctor came, left and she was dead,” Coulam said.

“I inquired about it, did some research and asked my doctor about it.”

Coulam says for the most part he is at peace with his decision.

“I sometimes lay there at night and sometimes I’m sad, but most of the time I wait for daylight because I’m in pain all the time. I take a lot of medication just to be comfortable for a few hours.

A Facebook page called Eric’s Army was created for Coulam to allow friends and family to share photos, memories and messages of support. Stickers with the name of the group were also made to show their support.

A celebration of life will be held for Coulam at his father’s estate on May 21 before he passes away. For more details, visit Coulam’s Facebook page.

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