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Let’s Talk: August 2016


July 14, 2016
By Mike Vilneff

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Hernia: the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it.

That was the diagnosis I received. Believe it or not, I was kind of relieved – thankful it was not something more serious. The doctor then ordered me to lose 25 pounds before he would operate. My mood changed from relief to disappointment; disappointed that I had let my body go and that I would have to wait a period before the hernia could be repaired. You possibly read about my weight loss in a previous issue so I won’t bore you any more with that story.

This story is about facing my fears. Thinking back, I believe I suffered the hernia while piling firewood about six months prior. It felt like something ripped and hurt at the time. The pain subsided and I continued piling wood. I did not notice anything different for a couple of weeks. Then the slight bulge started to appear. I chalked it up to an increase in fatty tissue, but I had a nagging sensation that it was a hernia.

I did not experience any pain except when it happened, so it was kind of easy to forget about it. As the months passed and there was no change in the bulge, I was more convinced it was a hernia.

After writing my first article about detoxification and encouraging you, the reader, to try something outside your comfort zone, I felt that I was being a little hypocritical by not stepping out of my comfort zone and seeking medical advice.

So, I faced my fear and the assessment confirmed an inguinal hernia. I booked the surgery four months into the future and started losing weight.

As the date drew nearer, I found myself becoming anxious and somewhat nervous. I began to talk about it with anyone who would listen and found that there are a lot of middle-aged men who have experienced this surgery. Those who went to the Shouldice Hospital in Toronto (where I booked) calmed my fears. Each spoke about their positive experiences and successful recoveries. I entered the clinic Sunday evening, had the surgery Monday and was driving myself home Wednesday afternoon.

Overall, I had a very positive experience with one little exception: if you ever find yourself in this situation, when the nurse asks you if you have a cough during the pre-surgery exam, do not lie. I had a cough but was afraid to admit this as I did not want to cancel. When I awoke from surgery, I quickly found out why they ask that question. I swear to any supreme being you pray to, the whole body is connected. When I coughed, everything from my toenails to my eyelids screamed in pain. Painkillers with codeine became my relief for a couple days until the cough left me.

I ended up taking a couple weeks off work to fully recover. Walking was the prescribed exercise and I followed the doctor’s orders diligently. The time off not only allowed me to heal physically, but it also let me clear my head and forget about work for a while. Although I could not do anything strenuous and therefore the list of household projects saw no activity, it was time off well spent.

You are probably trying to figure out the purpose of this column. There are really two reasons why I penned this. The first is to encourage you to meet your fears and deal with them head on. Your fear may or may not be a physical one like mine was. If it is, get to your doctor and get it looked after. We are blessed in this country to have access to world-class facilities and medical practitioners. Don’t be afraid to use them.

The other reason is to encourage you to talk. When I started asking about hernias, it was amazing how many people I encountered who had gone through this and kept it to themselves, as they were embarrassed to admit that they were suffering. My questions helped them see that there is no need to be embarrassed or feel shame. Thousands of people experience similar situations every day and it’s unknown how many of these suffer in silence. There is no need to.

We are now openly talking about occupational stress injuries such as post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, so why can’t we talk about physical injuries and ailments? Again, there is no reason to endure these events in silence. It’s really quite simple: let’s talk!


Mike Vilneff is the fire chief for the Cobourg Fire Department in Ontario. The 36-year veteran of the fire service is also a member of the Ontario Ministry of Labour Section 21 committee and is the chair of the advisory committee for the Fleming College pre-service program. Email Mike at mvilneff@cobourg.ca and follow him on Twitter at @84supra


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