FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – After a long battle with an undiagnosed medical condition, Fort St. John resident Eric Coulam has made the difficult and deeply personal decision at the young age of 20 to opt for medical assistance in dying.
Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAiD, occurs when an authorized health professional administers or provides a drug that intentionally brings about a person’s death at that person’s request. MAiD is only available to eligible patients.
Coulam says his battle started shortly after losing his mother to suicide in 2013.
“It began as minor symptoms. My stomach would hurt, I’d eat something, and then I would be sore, but then I’d eat the same thing again, and I wouldn’t be sore,” Coulam said.
Coulam consulted a doctor who decided to investigate his intestine and stomach with a scope.
“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 couple of days,” Coulam recalled.
When Coulam went back for another scope days later, he says the same issue occurred.
“She said it weird that she couldn’t go through, and it’s never happened before, but you can tell it’s blocked and this and that. She then signed the paper, and then she never investigated,” Coulam stated.
“They didn’t tell me to take laxatives or phone any GI (gastrointestinal) doctors.”
Coulam says he went to the Fort St. John Emergency room multiple times, sometimes overnight, but didn’t receive a proper diagnosis.
“[They said,] oh, it’s this, take these pills or take this, take these steroids. I just got so sick, and they weren’t diagnosing anything or even looking into it,” Coulam said.
As time progressed, Coulam’s condition worsened.
“Nothing was moving through me. I kept eating, and eating and [my stomach] just ruptured because it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Coulam says the rupture caused septic fluid usually contained within the intestine to enter his bloodstream, causing him to “go septic” and enter into a coma for about two weeks.
Since then, Coulam has been in hospitals throughout B.C. and Alberta, battling pancreatitis and liver and kidney disease. He’s lost his small bowel and suffers from severe chronic pain.
He says his doctors told him they were speaking to specialists in Vancouver, but when Coulam met with those specialists, they said they hadn’t spoken to anyone from the region.
Coulam encourages residents who have health concerns they feel aren’t adequately addressed to reach out to other doctors.
“Go reach out to another hospital or doctor and get a second opinion because that’s where I was failed,” Coulam said.
Coulam says he first began considering MAiD as an option while he was hospitalized in Kelowna.
“One of the patients diagonal from 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’s at peace with his decision.
“I sometimes lay there at night and get sad sometimes, but for the most part, I’m waiting for the day because I’m in lots of pain all the time. I’m on many meds just to be comfortable for a few hours.”
A Facebook page called Eric’s Army was created for Coulam to allow his friends and family to share photos, memories, and messages of support. Stickers with the group name have also been made to show support.
A celebration of life will be held for Coulam at his father’s property on May 21st before his passing. For more details, visit Coulam’s Facebook page.