Four Days, Four Flights
I was at the top of the totem pole.
I had surpassed all others on my globe-trotting climb to the
top of the financial industry. I was a man on a mission—a constant
blur of motion as I steadfastly pursued my career goals.
I have a resume that would impress the best of the best. I spent
years devoting nearly every waking moment to the Price Waterhouse
financial services consulting group. I started and grew their Tokyo
division, which led to my designation as partner.
When that challenge was no longer enough, I left Price Waterhouse
and joined Credit Suisse First Boston as the regional financial
controller for Asia Pacific. When they moved me back to Manhattan
to serve as American financial controller and then on to global managing
director of financial systems and strategy, I found myself bored
once again. I needed an even greater challenge. I had to keep moving.
So my wife and I relocated, yet again, to Chicago, so I could take the
position of global controller at Citadel, one of the most successful
hedge fund companies in the world. At forty-one, at the peak of my
game, I was the go-to guy in the financial services arena.
I have an impressive resume, but it didn’t come without a great
deal of effort.
And in an instant, it was all gone.
I remember bits and pieces of the weeks leading up to my collapse.
For instance, I remember being impressed by the view as my wife
and I landed on Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa, en route
to an all-inclusive resort. As would be expected, we were dressed for
relaxation when we walked out of the airport into the bright sunshine,
with sunglasses in place and shorts showing off our untanned
skin. Winter in Chicago had, as usual, been brutally long. Things
were starting to thaw there, but it would be another month, at least,
before we had day-to-day nice weather. We were in major need of a
warm getaway, and I remember the sun feeling exceptionally good,
despite my wandering mind.
I was, as always, thinking about work, wondering if the last presentation
had sealed the deal with a stubborn international client.
Those concerns had me checking my email, via BlackBerry, as often
“What are you doing?” Kelly asked as someone had to weave
around me, my nose pointed directly at the mobile screen.
“Just checking my email,” I mumbled in reply, too busy absorbing
what I was reading to meet her eyes.
“Don’t worry about your email, Ted. Look! This place is beautiful.”
Though the words were true, her voice lacked its usual conviction,
and that did make me take notice. I placed an arm around her
shoulders, thinking that she really could use the sun. Her face was
Then my BlackBerry beeped an alert, and my eyes were back on
the small screen.
When we climbed into the back of the car that would take us the
rest of the way to the resort, I looked up at Kelly again. She was resting
her head against the black leather seat. I poured a drink from the
decanter beside me and offered her one. She shook her head ever so
slightly, turning the drink down.
“Is there a gym at the resort?” I asked, believing that conversation
would help her perk up.
“Yes. You aren’t going to work out this week, are you?” she replied.
“Of course I am. I always do,” I answered. It was an argument that
she couldn’t win, so she just shook her head at me, as she often did.
“Try to enjoy the vacation, Ted.”
I chuckled and slid in closer to her. “I will.”
She smiled but still didn’t lift her head.
“Are you okay?” I asked, feeling the warmth of the back of her
head seeping into my arm.
“I’m okay. I think I must have gotten motion sickness on the plane.”
I knew that wasn’t the case, and so did she. We had been together
for years, and in all the time I knew her, she’d never suffered from
motion sickness. A fever took hold of her later that day, and she spent
the majority of our time in Mauritius in bed with the flu.
Without my wife to keep me from it, I worked. That’s how I was
and what I did. I spent most of our trip using the resort’s Wi-Fi to
keep in contact with my colleagues and clients. Many were all too
happy to take a trip to the African island to meet with me in person.
After all, Kelly was right; the place was beautiful.
A week later, with Kelly feeling much closer to her normal self,
though without the tan that she had so hoped for, we boarded a flight
headed back to Chicago.
“When do you leave?” she asked as we buckled into our seats.
After taking the requested pillow from the stewardess, I turned
to Kelly. “I leave Sunday. Shouldn’t be gone more than four or five
days.” I went to Europe on business about every six to eight weeks.
“I’ll have to check the itinerary. Overnight, though. Ten-hour
direct flight to London, then on to Luxembourg . . . and I think
that’ll be the only other stop this time.”
“That’s good,” she said, accepting a cocktail from the stewardess.
A devious grin tugged at her lips as she looked up at me and sank
deeper into the airline chair. I watched her take a sip of her drink, and
then she set her hand on my arm. “It’s not all bad, you know. Comfy
pillows, drinks, snacks. I could get used to flying all of the time.”
I laughed. “Well, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you know,” I
responded, leaning back a little farther in my own chair.
That flight to London on the Sunday after we returned from
Mauritius was the first of four international flights that I would take
in a matter of four days. The final flight of the four was the return
trip from London to Chicago on Thursday. On this flight, I was
exhausted, which wasn’t like me, and I figured it was just the lack of
sleep, jet lag, and being away from home for so long.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?” the stewardess asked after
handing me the pillow.
“No, thank you. This’ll be fine. Can you just wake me ten minutes
before we land for a cup of coffee, please?” I said.
“Of course, sir. Sleep well.” Whether or not her words had anything
to do with it, I can’t say, but I do know that I slept that entire
flight. I didn’t wake for the meal, a drink of water, or a trip to the
bathroom. “Sir, it’s time to wake up. Sir? I have a cup of coffee for
you,” she said in a sweet voice. I smiled in thanks and took a sip of the
coffee. I never sleep through an entire flight.
It was Thursday afternoon, and I was checking the incoming
emails on my BlackBerry on my way out of the airport when my limo
driver called out to me.
“Good afternoon, sir. How was your flight?”
It was then that I noticed that I wasn’t walking right. I found
myself limping every four or five steps as I walked over to the limo.
“It was fine, thank you.”
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Just tired from the flight,” I answered, further baffled
at the fact that, despite the hours of uninterrupted sleep, it was
a true statement.
The driver glanced at my leg as I got in. I guess my limp was
more obvious than I thought. “Leg is bothering me. Too much time
sitting on the plane, I guess,” I said, rubbing it a bit as I sat in the
soft leather seat.
The driver didn’t say anything more, and I promptly put the
thought out of my mind. There was work to do, and besides, this
wasn’t the first time I’d had trouble with my legs. I had long since
given up on the idea of having legs free of varicose veins. I had asked
several doctors about them and was always told that the noticeable
veins in my legs were superficial and not the dangerous kind. Even
if I had them stripped, for cosmetic reasons, varicose veins like mine
usually come back anyway. Genetics at its finest.
When I arrived home, Kelly greeted me as soon as I walked in the
door. “Welcome home,” she said and then gave me a small kiss on my
cheek before quickly returning to what she had been doing before I
walked in. I watched her make her way to the kitchen. She had laid a
stack of my mail on the entry table, like usual, so I grabbed it on my
way to my office.
“You’re not going out, are you?” she called from the other room.
“No, I’m going to get these bills paid and get stuff ready for work
“Do you need help getting unpacked?” she asked, sticking her
head into the doorway.
I smiled and shook my head. Even though traveling was part of
my routine, she always seemed excited to see me come home. “No,
I’ll do it. I’ve got to get my gym bag packed anyway.”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. I knew that most people didn’t
work out like I did, but it was a part of my routine that I wasn’t willing
to part with. So the next day, like every day, I would wake up by five
so I could be in the city by six. That gave me an hour to work out and
a few minutes to get cleaned up before I had to be at the office. Kelly
laughed at me, but she was health conscious too. We both maintained
a healthy diet, didn’t smoke or take recreational drugs, and drank infrequently,
in moderation. Physical fitness was a priority for us in life.
And for me, not only did it allow me to feel good, but it didn’t hurt my
image in business either. I was the picture of good health.
Except, my leg hurt.
When we walked out of our home an hour or so later to get some
dinner, Kelly asked me about my leg. “Why are you limping?”
“I’m not limping. My leg . . . it’s just a little sore.” I rubbed it and
made a conscious effort to walk naturally. “What do you want to
“Sounds great,” I answered, opening the front door for her.
We arrived at our favorite local sushi restaurant in the next town
over and were seated in the dining room.
“Don’t you want a drink?” Kelly asked after the waiter came to
take our drink order and I declined anything other than water. Typically,
I would have ordered a large hot sake and enjoyed every warming
sip with our sushi, as I had done when I lived in Tokyo.
“Not tonight. Just water is fine,” I said.
She looked at me with a funny expression but let it go and told
me about how she’d spent her time while I was away, saying once
again how much she wished that she hadn’t been sick on our trip. I
was happy to keep up the usual stream of conversation, happy to be
seated across from her eating the delicious meal, but when the bill
came, I quickly pulled out my card and handed it to the waiter. I was
ready to go home.
“Would you do me a favor tomorrow?” I asked Kelly as we walked
through the front door of our home. “Can you call and schedule me
an appointment with my doctor? Just sometime later this month,
after your appointment.”
“Are you all right?” she asked. Concern covered her face. “I can
try to get you in sooner.”
“I’m fine. It’s just that my leg is sore, and sometimes it feels like
I’m experiencing growing pains. The doctor will just say the same
thing he always does, I’m sure. ‘Don’t worry about the pain. It’s no
big deal.’ But it feels worse than usual.” I rubbed my hand over it, and
she agreed to make the call for me.
I made my way to our bedroom and sighed as I sank into the
couch in the sitting room of our master suite. Kelly laughed and fell
back in the chair beside me. “You’re not going to sleep already, are
you? It’s only eight o’clock.”
“Nah. Not yet,” I said groggily, picking up a Men’s Health magazine.
I really was tired, but I flipped a few pages until I came to an
article of interest. “Look, maybe I should start taking this supplement,”
I said, showing her the article.
“You already take a few different ones,” she answered. I pointed to
the list of the four supplements men should be taking. I was already
taking three of the four.
The Apprentice was on, and a few minutes into the show, Kelly
asked, “Did you see that commercial?”
I picked up the remote and rewound it, thinking again how wonderful
TiVo was. I watched the commercial but didn’t respond.
“Did you see that?” she asked again, looking to me, surprised that
I didn’t have a comment to make about it. “What’s wrong? Don’t you
think that’s funny?”
I didn’t respond. I realized I couldn’t respond. Suddenly, I couldn’t
get my mouth to form any words. I was extremely light-headed, and
I began to shiver. I felt pain in my head like a really bad migraine but
something I had never experienced before. I couldn’t say anything,
and nothing made any sense.
“C’mon, Ted. It was funny, and you know it. It wasn’t that bad.”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. I was too busy almost dying.
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