The other day as I was thinking about Kevin’s impact on my life and I pulled a memory out of the recesses of my brain that I hadn’t thought about for years. This isn’t a typical or especially fun memory of Kevin nor is it a fishing memory, but it is one of a time where he and I grew in understanding of each other and was probably the real start of our friendship.
Shortly after I graduated high school in 1989, I was diagnosed with a strange illness called ITP. It is an autoimmune illness where your spleen basically turns on you and starts filtering all of the platelets out of your blood. It is pretty bad because you could easily bleed to death, like a hemophiliac might, with a traumatic injury. As you can imagine I had A LOT of blood tests during the course of the illness. It was on many of these occasions that I would run into Kevin, who was working as a phlebotomist at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Kevin had only recently returned from his mission to Frankfurt, Germany – where I would be called to serve a few short months later – and was embarking on the first steps of his career in medicine.
The months after high school graduation are typically pretty care free days for most, but for me, they were filled with a fair amount of worry and loneliness as I tried to overcome the effects of this illness and, at times, wondering if I ever would. I remember that my nose would bleed for nearly an hour for no reason other than my blood was so thin it wouldn’t stay in my capillaries. My legs and arms would be covered in bruises from the slightest of bumps. Additionally, the only pharmaceutical based treatment and first line of defense was prednisone, which is an effective, yet horrible steroid tablet that causes severe water retention and acne – not really the look most 18 year olds are going for. It was a source of some real misery for me.
I remember Kevin drawing my blood and doing a pretty good job of it as well. But mostly I remember how he made me feel. He and I would talk while he drew the samples each week or if he happened to be in the lab when I stopped by. Of course his smile always shone through and instantly set me at ease. We would make small talk mostly about fishing or perhaps remembering times when we were younger and I was playing in his family’s yard. Regardless of the topic, he lifted my spirits and helped me to see a brighter side.
Ultimately, I ended up having my spleen removed to permanently fix the problem. I believe Kevin even helped care for me after my surgery at the hospital. Thankfully, other than a big scar and one less organ, I don’t really suffer any long term problems from this illness. I am
lucky blessed. I don’t really know why. Obviously in retrospect, looking at the way Kevin suffered his most cruel illness with absolute grace, dignity, and defiance, my troubles weren’t so bad and I maybe could have borne them better. I remember when I first heard that his cancer was back I was so sad. I immediately sent him an email suggesting we plan a fishing trip soon, thinking that perhaps it might never happen. How wrong I was. In the typical fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants style by which Kevin lived his life, he replied almost instantaneously suggesting that we get together two weeks later for a float down the Green (the subject of a later post). I could see he wasn’t going to take this illness lying down or feeling sorry for himself and I was supremely grateful for the opportunity to share the only healing balm I have – fishing. It meant so much to me to give back some of the kindness he had shown me when I was ill. Most especially I am grateful for the time it afforded us to reconnect.
What I learned from Kevin is that no matter what the situation, there is always room to make a person feel a little better, to cut through the negative and get to the heart of joy by connecting with them in a real way through simple kindness and a big smile. I am nowhere nearly as good as he was at it, but it helps to have such a great example for inspiration.