“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The Signs We Missed
It’s hard for me to say exactly when this started. That’s because there were many incidents that later added up. It’s kind of like having a cruel prank pulled on you. So much seems odd and yet coincidental. Then there’s the point you realize the joke’s on you. Except it’s no joke.
For years I noticed Kelly had a tick. Her head would bounce a little when she was not paying attention. She didn’t even notice it. I was worried it was early signs of some form of dementia. I asked her to mention it to the doctor. Nothing ever came of it. I know that for a long time she complained to doctors about being tired. They tested her thyroid and it was low so they gave her a supplement. She felt better for a while. Then she felt worse. Her vision was bad to begin with but got worse. Way worse. Later I found out from a friend that she complained to her that she would mention things to the doctor but nobody seemed to listen. Sometimes I wish I’d listened more.
In July of 2015 I received an unusual call from my Kelly about midday in the middle of the work week. She was in Trenton (about an hour away) at one of the work sites she regularly visited. She covered several job sites and there were often days I wasn’t sure where she was. She was upset and complaining about confusion, flashes of light that wouldn’t go away, and general frustration. She told me that she had called rather than come home because she didn’t believe she was capable of driving safely.
I began to ask her questions and finally asked her what she wanted to do. Go to the Emergency room in Trenton, come back to Kirksville and go to the ER here (it was much bigger and in theory better equipped), come back to Kirksville and go to the Urgent Care, or see if we could call our family doctor. She wanted to come back to Kirksville and wanted me to try and reach our family doc.
I quickly hit the road to pick her up and in the meantime I couldn’t reach our family doctor and we agreed to try the Urgent Care. We just didn’t think of this as a life threatening situation and thus the ER was not our best choice. I also think we were both considering the cost. I hate to say that, but it’s true.
We soon found ourselves at the Urgent Care and waiting for a doctor. He came in and my wife described what was going on. I had already made an “arm chair” doctor diagnosis of Occipital Migraines. He soon came to that same conclusion. I have had these and had heard of them from many clients I had worked with. Most of the time they are pretty benign. Which is to say they happen for no really concerning reason. But when it’s someone you love you tend to dig a little deeper. I dug….but in hindsight not nearly deep enough.
Kelly was 49 years old and had been having some symptoms of menopause. Plus, she was under a lot of stress at work and at home. Not from me….of course. Well, maybe a little bit me. But more so from our three teenage children. She also had a lot of responsibility at work. I brought up how tired she had been and a lack of energy.
We discussed all of these things and some medications were prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of the migraines. A shot was given that would sedate her for several hours. Of course he also recommended we follow up with our family doctor.
I was a little frustrated and expressed myself as to the exact cause of the migraines. I don’t hide my feelings well when it comes to being dissatisfied. The Urgent Care doctor responded, “Well, we aren’t afraid to do an MRI but it’s going to require sending her over to the hospital”.
Here’s where I have to pause. I had made a visit to the ER a few years earlier after much consternation. But the pain I was in overruled my stubbornness and soon I had a diagnosis of dehydration and a large co-pay. I thought to myself, “Well, let’s see how she responds to the medication”. Kelly was in agreement. I think she really just wanted to go home and lie down. In that situation I needed to make the decision and in hindsight I made a bad one. Sure, many would have made the same one I made. But that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t the right decision and it’s those things that torture those of us who have made them. Maybe finding out sooner wouldn’t have made a difference. But you seek out where you went wrong because it gives us control when control is often just an illusion.
On our way out to my truck it was obvious the shot was taking hold and Kelly was having trouble walking and getting some relief from the headache. She even made a joke about me “taking advantage of her” in her sedated condition. That was our sense of humor. We laughed and my thoughts moved on to “Let’s see how this works out” and further away from the voice that was calling “GET the MRI”.
Kelly slept most of the next 48 hours and as she came out of it she felt much better. Soon the incident was almost forgotten and life went on.
As we talked to others some got behind the menopause theory. A couple of her friends told of the terrible migraines they experienced due to their own menopause. An inner voice would nag at me that their migraines were very different from the occipital migraines Kelly was experiencing. Hers were mostly visual but extreme fatigue, forgetfulness, and frustration became increasingly normal.
Maybe it was an attempt to ignore it and it might go away. Denial of some sort. I would think about the past year and her issues with her thyroid, increasing fatigue, and other symptoms that became the dots that would soon connect. But at the time it kept getting explained away as she would enter these periods of remission. Now that’s an ironic word.
In the meantime my work was at a peak. Working at a university that specializes in graduate programs I would start each school year with presentations and a sharp increase in appointments. Our children were back in school and my daughter was starting college. Not to mention I was training hard for a master’s world championship in Highland Games. It’s my hobby but it’s very serious to me and my training was building to a peak for the end of September. This year was going to be my year!
I think Kelly deferred a lot of her own struggles to let me focus on my own struggles. That would have been something she would have done. My fear is I was so self-involved I was missing what was happening right in front of me.
Kelly complained about some vision issues and she had ordered some new glasses. Her eyesight has always been notoriously bad. She speculated maybe the headaches were related to her need of new glasses. I’m not sure how long she was waiting for them but I do know it was at least a couple of weeks or longer. I also remember me and the kids laughing about her wearing my reading glasses over the top of her regular prescription glasses to read or use her computer.
Then on September 17th things began to happen fast. That morning Kelly told me she was going to stay home. “Migraines again”. I headed to work and she took her medication which to this point made her feel somewhat better. Because my wife was not a complainer coupled with what I now think was a little self-absorption leading up to my World Championship this had become a little routine. She would get a migraine. She would take medicine. Eventually she would report she felt better. But in reality she had been in a downward spiral that had been so slow I had missed it. To this point. I remember coming home hoping she was “better”. But this time she wasn’t. Not just by her report but she just didn’t look well to me.
I keep bringing up my being self-absorbed because later her friends would tell me that she was telling them a different story. That she was feeling worse. Maybe I just wanted her to be better and saw the little improvements but not the overall decline. I mean…that’s what happens when people get sick. They get better. Right?
The next day, Friday, she told me she was going to stay home again. This bothered me. I had never known Kelly to miss much work and I could never recall her missing two days in a row. A feeling began to well up in my gut. It got worse when I didn’t hear from her until 2 o’clock that afternoon. Most every day we would at least text each other repeatedly during the day. I was thinking in her likely boredom at home she would be texting and calling me. Yet here it was late into the day and she had just called.
What she said was even more worrisome. “You won’t believe this, but I just woke up”. She had been asleep for over 18 hours! She also skipped her Friday volleyball that evening. Something she really enjoyed.
All weekend she was tired. She slept a lot. I kept hoping she would pull out of it as she had before. Sunday night came and we were watching TV. She was on the love seat to my right while I sat on the couch. She was at about a 45 degree angle to me and within a few feet. I studied her face. It was grayish and she appeared 10 years older. She looked exhausted even though she had slept more than she had been awake for the past four days. Her eyes had dark circles under them and most of all, they looked empty. My gut feeling now felt like I had been gut punched.
I think up to this point I had been seeing her through rose colored glasses. Maybe her illness came on so slow that I didn’t notice the change. But now I was seeing her through clearer eyes.
I looked at her and said, “No offense…..but you look terrible. Tomorrow we are going to the doctor and I want an MRI even if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket.”
Kelly just looked at me and said, “Okay”.
I think at this point she knew it was something more than menopause, age, stress, or some slightly more mundane issue. I know I did. But I kept hoping it would be like my visit to the ER. Dehydration….here’s an IV and force some fluids. Something simple that could be fixed.
The next day, Monday, my focus changed. Everything else in my world became second to my mission to find out what was going on with Kelly. We called our family doctor and they got her in. Kelly wanted me to go to work and sometimes I can get in her way. I think she wanted to be able to talk to the doctor openly. I was emotionally involved and being a take charge kind of guy I can forget to listen to those around me. She needed the focus to be on her. All I wanted was the MRI. I went to work but I didn’t get much work done. I waited for her call.
Soon the appointment was over and she called to say she had a referral to a neurologist for the next week. I wasn’t happy with that being so long a wait and between the two of us we got that moved up to the next day. Kelly worked that day and seemed a little better. I had some hope.
Tuesday came and she saw the neurologist. I was hoping that she would get the MRI that same day. This was not to be the case. The MRI was scheduled for the next week. However, he stated she did appear to have some vision loss and recommended she go to an Ophthalmologist and rule out other issues such as diabetes. There was some blood work being tested from our regular doctor from the previous day. So things were in motion but nothing was finished. I grabbed onto the hope that she had diabetes. She had gestational diabetes with her pregnancies. It sounds funny to be hopeful that someone had diabetes, but I did.
Kelly still had the theory that her headaches were related to her need of new glasses. Now when I say headaches she was having occipital migraines that weren’t with head pain like a traditional migraine but she would feel overwhelmingly tired and agitated with vision issues. She made the appointment with the Ophthalmologist for Thursday.
Then on Wednesday I needed a ride to get my pickup after getting the brakes fixed. While Kelly has never had a serious accident our vehicles seemed to always have more than their fair share of dings from her driving. I would joke about it and often it would irritate her. Our solution was that I would always drive but she picked me up in her company car. I can’t drive it so I was forced into the passenger position.
The first intersection we come to she pulled out in front of a truck coming from the left. It was too close for my comfort and as she edged out I yelled at her to look out. She looked hard to her left and then shot me an angry glance that she “Saw that”. I sat back and soon she missed a left turn she should have taken. Then she missed the last turn she could have taken without doubling back. I said something and we began to argue.
She then said half in tears, “I don’t know where I’m at”.
I was stunned as she had lived here for over 30 years and lived in that neighborhood in college. What did she mean she didn’t know where she was at! But we got her back on track and then she seemed to do okay. I just asked her to pay extra attention and she again blamed it on her need of glasses.
That evening her glasses had come. I had a feeling of hope. Maybe those glasses would solve our problems! All would be well and the MRI would just be an expensive “double check”. She pulled them out of the box and asked me how I liked them. I had helped her pick out frames so of course I liked them. But what struck me was they looked like coke bottle bottoms! I kind of chuckled and joked that she should be able to see everything with those things on.
But she put them on and looked around and said, “I can’t see any better with these on!”
She was disappointed as was I. This was not going to be the easy fix I hoped it would be. But I was confident this could be fixed.
I was due to spend Thursday working at the Dental Clinic in St. Louis and Wednesday night I left. I would go down there once a month to check on our students. As I headed down town I went by Barnes Jewish Hospital. It is a very large hospital that you can see at least a mile before you get to it. I remember glancing over and “noticing” it. I recalled going there for various reasons over the years. This included when Kelly’s mother had cancer. I had never really thought about it the other times I came down. But I did this time. Let’s call that “foreshadowing”.
Kelly was initially going to come down with the kids early Friday and be there when my Championship started at noon. Then my family would be there all day Saturday for the conclusion of the competition.
As I was at the clinic Thursday I had several appointments. Then I spent the rest of my time walking around the clinic visiting informally with students between appointments. As I did I know Kelly had her Ophthalmologist appointment and I was hoping for some good news. Instead the news was fairly shocking. She was missing much of her vision in the left field of BOTH eyes. My mind began to grind. Had she had a stroke? She stated he told her that this was possibly a tumor or something putting pressure on the optic nerve. That she needed to get back to the neurologist.
It was sometime around then that I suggested she not drive until we figured this out. I said I was coming back. She told me not to. She knew how hard I had worked for this championship. So I deferred to her decision. She assured me she would be okay.
She called the neurologist and my recommendation was we do the MRI immediately. However, they were booked up. I told Kelly to ask them to contact her with any cancellation and she agreed. I put in a call through my connections at the school to make this happen and got some push back from another doctor who is a friend of mine. It irritated me as he seemed to be putting off my concerns and sticking up for the decision to put off the MRI to next week. Later he would apologize to me stating he treated me like a patient and not as a friend. At any rate I was now grinding harder and looking for information, help, whatever I could get and becoming less and less concerned with how I got it.
Kelly soon got a call that there was an opening Friday at 1:00pm. I said emphatically, “TAKE IT”. She was not so sure since it would cut into our weekend plans. Maybe she was now the one in denial or maybe just looking to protect my chances for this World Championship I had trained hard for. Or maybe one last care free weekend not knowing the truth. Whatever it was at this point I insisted she stay in Kirksville and get it done. She agreed and as Thursday night wound down I went to the meet and greet for the Championships.
Usually these are very fun events. I see friends I’ve known for decades. We get some cool swag and championship gear. But I was fixated on Kelly. Then to top it off I found out my training partner Bill Leffler, who was favored to win his age group, had been in Columbia where his wife had been taken by ambulance with intestinal issues. She had stabilized and insisted he drive over for the meet and greet. But he was as distracted as I was.
Another thrower friend of mine had lost a friend to suicide earlier in the year and I had offered support via emails and texts. She was appreciative of what I had done and came up and hugged me thanking me for the help. I almost broke down crying from the pressure of my own thoughts and problems. An event that was usually so full of joy was now an emotional roller coaster.
I felt guilty. My friend Bill had a “real” problem. My friend that had the suicide of another friend had a “real” problem. At this point I had no answers and I told myself over and over things would be okay and not to worry until I had something to worry about. That would have worked if it had been any other person other than my wife. She was the center of my world.
Usually we would go in groups to go eat and tell old stories after the “Meet and Greet”, but I went out to eat alone. My mind was spinning. Possible outcomes filled my thoughts. I remember sitting in the restaurant going from best to worst outcomes for the MRI. Meanwhile I kept getting invitations to eat here or there. This was supposed to be a very happy time. Kelly was originally supposed to be there. Instead I was calling doctor friends trying to get some feedback on what the possible issues could be. I was not liking some of the answers.
I texted Kelly several times and eventually went to bed early with a good night text after watching some Thursday Night Football. I was nervous about throwing the next day but my focus was on Kelly. Winning that World Championship had been the top priority for me and now it was the farthest thing from my mind.
I had talked about my ideas for my novel for years to Kelly. But I had not written anything. It was just an idea but she enjoyed listening to my ideas.
When We First Met: Part I
I’ll tell a little story about how Kelly and I first met. We both worked at a pizza delivery place while going to college. So we were co-workers but I was an assistant manager so technically her boss.
I’ll never forget the first time she walked in the door. I thought she was beautiful. To be honest….I thought she was hot!
My daughter once asked me what first attracted me to her mother. I said, “Well, if I’m being honest, I thought she was smokin’ hot”. My daughter rolled her eyes and said, “I get it, but what about her made you like her”. I knew the answer right away. Her work ethic. I hate laziness. When Kelly came to work she worked. Hard. When we got busy she worked even harder. She would get serious and determined like what we were doing was the most important thing in the world. If she took pizza making that serious then how serious would she take a life or death situation. She was a determined woman. Yet she had a fun time doing it.
We started out as co-workers, then we became friends. I would purposely schedule her to work with me because she was reliable. She was also fun to talk to and we would always be laughing and kidding around. I saw her as a friend before I ever considered dating her.
The place had a rule about dating employees. But I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend so I didn’t think either one of us thought about each other in a romantic way. But after about 3 months I broke up with my girlfriend and decided to see if Kelly was still seeing her boyfriend. She said she that they had broken up.
I decided to make my move.
I found out that Kelly and her roommates were having a Halloween party through a mutual friend, Steve. I was thinking about figuring out a way to get invited when Steve said, “Why don’t you come with me.” I was in!
I vividly recall walking up to her alley apartment. I was feeling nervous thinking about the possibility of rejection, or worse yet, ruining our friendship. I almost walked away. Then I saw Steve on the deck. He called me over and soon I was in the party.
I watched Kelly from afar. She was wearing a yellow and black sweater with a turtle neck and two or three gold necklaces and a couple of gold bracelets…I think they called them bangles. She had knee high boots and a denim skirt on. She was mingling with the guests and drinking a wine cooler. She was laughing and having a great time. She had “big hair” which was popular in the 1980s and makeup. She never wore makeup or her hair up at work so this was the first time I’d seen her “made up”. I had never seen her outside of her work uniform and here she was all dressed up. Don’t get me wrong, she was beautiful without her hair, make-up and beautiful clothes, but I would describe her as stunning that night.
I visited with her off and on. I was trying to be cool and not seem too interested but just interested enough. She didn’t seem all that interested in me and I thought maybe I’d made a mistake.
At one point a guy who was drunk and a member of the college football team thought he’d be funny and poured shampoo into the bathtub and turned the water on. He made a mess. When confronted he got an attitude. I was about to “come to the rescue” when Kelly tore into him. Here was this short, little blonde getting right up in this big, football players face wagging her finger at him and chastising him. Everyone stopped and stared and he stood there red faced and finally apologized and left.
As the party went on later in the evening people started to leave and I stuck around. Finally, it was just the two of us. We sat on the couch and talked and laughed. Then I made my move. I went in for the kiss. It went well.
The next day I didn’t want to seem too desperate so I waited a couple of days to talk to Kelly again. I asked her on an official date. And the rest is history.