MONTREAL - A gruesome accident during what should have been a routine operation nearly killed hockey man-turned-parliamentarian Jacques Demers this summer.
The frail-looking Conservative senator has gone public to describe his brush with death.
Now resting at his Montreal-area home, Demers has lost 43 pounds this summer and even his voice is sounding a little thinner.
Demers described his ordeal in an interview with the RDS sports network, where he worked for years as a hockey analyst.
Demers said he was with Senate colleagues in Ottawa, one night in June, when he began feeling ill.
"My first reaction—because I'd never really been sick before—I thought maybe it was poisoning, maybe I'd eaten something that didn't really agree with me," Demers told RDS, the French-language equivalent of TSN.
What he had, in fact, was a hernia and Demers underwent surgery at an Ottawa-area hospital on June 29.
But something went horribly wrong.
Demers said he continued to feel stomach pain and, six days later, he noticed dark-coloured stains on his hospital gown. The doctor took one glimpse and immediately realized what had happened.
"It was all brown—all dirty (on the gown). . . The doctor reacted very quickly. He said, 'You need to go downstairs immediately for another operation,' " Demers said.
"Accidentally, through human error, the doctor apparently cut a piece of plumbing—of the intestine—and it apparently spread through my body."
With toxins flooding his body, Demers was forced to undergo a second operation to save his life.
Calls went out from the hospital to his wife, brother, and the Montreal Canadiens' team doctor, urging them to remain near the phone.
Demers says they were told, "Jacques is between life and death."
Demers is now on a three-month recovery break and could miss the early days of the Senate's fall session.
The longtime NHL coach, who in 1993 was the last man to lead a Canadian team to a Stanley Cup championship, was named to the upper chamber last year.
At the time of Demers' ordeal this summer, his Parliament Hill office kept mum about the details. It announced only that Demers was in hospital, in stable condition after two surgeries related to a stomach ailment.
The old coach, who turns 66 later this month, says he'll be taking things a little more slowly from now on. He says he realizes that at his age, he can't always be moving at "100 miles an hour" anymore.
"There was always something on my mind—I was always working, golfing, at a dinner, the phone was always ringing. People who've been through this will understand. Today, I'm a changed man."
Demers says his first thoughts after waking up from surgery were about his family. His next ones were of a more spiritual nature.
"My second reaction was to thank the Good Lord for giving me a second chance. I talk about this often, but it's sincere. I thanked Saint Anne for watching over me.
"It got to that point."