Saturday, February 22, 2020


Milestones...refers to a roadside marker that lists the distance to a particular location

We had just passed Mile 2. It will forever be etched into my mind. Our brains are just wired that way. Our triumphs and tragedies stick with us. Sometimes those memories linger for weeks, months, years. Sometimes forever. Its been almost six years since that day and I can still see that mile marker in my mind's eye.

It was a beautiful race morning. The sun was rising on our drive to Folsom on Memorial day for the Wounded Veteran Run 10k. Getting our BIB numbers was easy peasy and seeing our good friend Jim made it that much sweeter. Michael had the race route planned out just like always, because he is the BEST crew chief Ever!! He would take some photos for us at the start line and then meet us at Mile 2. 

The course was on a nice, shady, bike path for about 4 of the 6 miles. It was flat and fast. We were settling into our race pace. Still comfortable enough to carry on a conversation with Jim and catch up on "all things family". As we turned the corner at Mile 2, Ari saw Michael and waved. I yelled, "see you in another two miles". He smiled and kept taking photos as we passed him. Seconds later, I felt Jim tapping me on the shoulder. "Kelli, we have to turn around". I was a bit confused. Jim never stopped during a race. "There's something wrong with Michael. He's on the ground", he said. We made an abrupt 360 and got off the path. About 100 yards in front of me I could see Michael laying on his back with several people attending to him. Jim stayed with Ari and I ran to him. He was conscious and talking, but shared that he was in a great deal of pain. He said that his abdomen hurt. He didn't know how he had fallen. Others explained that they had witnessed him pass out.

Things went from bad to worse quickly. I called 911.The Fire Department took Michael to a nearby hospital in Folsom. After several hours and multiple tests later, blood work, and a CT scan, it was revealed to us that there was a serious problem, Michael had a very rare abdominal aneurysm. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I think I was still in shock. Michael had always been so healthy. How could this be true. I called our son. He was driving to meet us. I phoned our oldest daughter. She was booking a flight from France to return home as soon as possible.

Michael was then transported to Sacramento and admitted to ICU at Mercy Hospital. The team at Mercy Hospital began to prepare us for the news that none of us wanted to hear. The aneurysm was in a very difficult location to treat. The docs informed us that Michael "could bleed out if they did nothing and that he could die if they attempted to "coil it". Michael was being kept comfortable on pain meds but he was still alert enough to make decisions. He told the team his wishes, "take him into surgery and repair it".

Michael was in a race for his life. I was scared. I couldn’t imagine our lives without a husband and father. I was forced to have those conversations again, the conversations you never want to have with your children about death. Lindsay & Nic were all too familiar with Ari’s health threats and vulnerabilities. They had grown up with their little sister's disabilities and her frequent hospitalizations. And now it was their dad's life that was in jeopardy.

The first attempt to repair the aneurysm took five hours and failed. We all felt defeated. The medical team was relentless tho and would not give up. The next day Michael went back into surgery. Two days and 10 hours of surgery later, it appeared that he was finally out of the woods. The team placed eleven coils around that aneurysm. We began to let our guard down, just a little. Michael spent the next week in Mercy Hospital and was discharged home for a brief 36 hours before complications would set in.

We were devastated. Another hospital admission but this time at a highly skilled research and teaching facility. The next six weeks would prove to be some of the most difficult weeks of our lives. Nic and I stayed in a nearby hotel, to be close to Michael. He was in the trauma unit, had a Pic Line, and was receiving TPN (total Parenteral Nutrition). It was a watch and wait, hoping his body could heal. Every few days I would go home for a day. See my girls, take care of laundry, do bills, check in on my office, and attempt to sleep. At times I felt like I had hit the wall and couldn’t place one foot in front of the other. I vividly remember during week three, I was in the depths of despair. Michael had had a nightmare, he shared that in his dream he saw Christmas lights from his hospital room window and feared that he was never coming home again. Outwardly I kept a brave face on and comforted him, but privately I wept. These were the moments when I felt like I needed to dig deep and achieve a PR in mental toughness.

Getting Michael well became a family effort. I tried to tell myself that doing the small things would somehow make him feel better. I would change his sheets everyday and bathe him. Engaging in those simple tasks, in some way soothed me and gave me a sense of control, when internally I felt so out of control. Nic would shave him, carry his IV poles, and take him for a lap around the nurses station in his wheelchair. It was his physical therapy. Ari & I would challenge him to have wheelchair races on the floor. For Father's day we took the moment in and thanked the universe we were all together. Lindsay & Ari broke out with their classic tradition and had a dance party in the hospital room. Michael was able to smile again and even laughed. Slowly but surely he was making his way to the finish line. He gained back a few of the 25 lbs that he had lost. The Ashen color in his face began to fade away and I could finally see shades of pink. We celebrated the milestone.

...To be continued.

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