VANCOUVER – Water from a toilet bowl and thoughts of his family kept a 62-year-old Dawson Creek, B.C., man alive for a week when a stroke left him partially paralyzed on his bathroom floor.
Sitting in a wheelchair at the Holy Family Hospital in Vancouver, Steve Adsley calmly recounted his harrowing seven-day misery after he collapsed in his condominium on June 26.
Jammed between the vanity and the toilet, the retired financial controller and father of three said he struggled to move his body but his entire left side was paralyzed.
He yelled for help to his neighbours, but said he knew they were at work. Hours passed, and Adsley said he grew thirsty, so with his good right arm, he unscrewed a small cup that covers the toilet bolt and began to scoop water from the bowl.
He said he drank it, and there was no “ick factor.”
“It’s not great but it beats no water,” he said when asked about the taste. “When you lay there for awhile (with) no water you get thirsty, and you have to have water.”
He said he continued his yelling but grew tired, noting it’s not possible to yell for 24 hours.
“You can only yell for a couple hours and you lose your voice,” he said. “You get too tired to yell.”
Realizing his best chances of being heard were in the early mornings and evenings when his neighbours were leaving for or returning from work and were outside in the parking lot, Adsley said he waited for those windows of opportunity.
“I would yell, ‘help, I need help,” as loud with ‘help’ as I possibly could, and I’d yell like that for about 15 minutes and then your voice gets weak and help comes out less loud,” he said.
Adsley said while he isn’t someone who grows despondent by nature, by the third day he began to question his survival.
He could hear his neighbours in the parking lot, and sometimes even their movements in the building, but said he felt like he was being drowned out.
“Yeah, after about Day 3, I figured I’m done,” he said. “No one’s going to find me. I’m going to end up dying of thirst, I’m going to run out of water and I’m never going to be found.”
The self-described stubborn man thought about his family for strength.
“Really, I drew on my family more than anything, my kids,” he said. “I have three children, and even though I felt that I might not make it, I wanted my kids to know that (Number) 1, I didn’t give up and Number 2 that I want to be around for them.”
At the end of Day 4, Adsley ran out of water because he couldn’t teach the lever to flush the toilet. He continued to yell.
“Even though I felt I probably wasn’t going to make it, (it) didn’t mean that I was not going to try,” he said. “I was going to try. It was just a matter of trying to see if my strategy of calling when people were going to work was going to work.”
The plan paid off on the seventh day, when Adsley said he heard a neighbour approach her car parked near his bathroom window.
“So I just yelled as loud as I could, ‘help,’ and she responded, said ‘Steve: is that you?’ Because all she could hear was muffled help.”
Adsley said his neighbour couldn’t get inside the condo, so she called 911, and paramedics got through a sliding-glass door.
He said he felt joy the moment he saw a paramedic standing above him.
“Oh, I was happy, I said, ‘oh, man am I glad to see you, which I knew I had gotten help … It’s a feeling of relief more than it is anything else, ‘I am going to make it.'”
He was taken to the local hospital, where he stayed for two weeks before being transferred to hospital in Vancouver.
He’s being treated for dehydration and urine burns, but has been told by doctors he’s expected to make close to a full recovery, although he may still walk with a limp.
“I’ve since learned that what I had was a blood clot in my head. That’s what caused my stroke,” he said, adding he had all the risk factors for a stroke; high-blood pressure, a two-pack-a-day smoking habit and was overweight.
Adsley said he’s considering moving to Vancouver to be with his children or even to Victoria, where his sisters live, but he also wants to pass on a lesson he learned about himself during the week-long ordeal.
“You’re a lot tougher than you think,” he said. “Hang in there. You can survive almost anything if you put your mind to it.”