This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
Kansas City, MO
I open my eyes and the ceiling of the Edina Westin comes into a hazy focus. Groggy, but we need to get up. We need to pick up the sandwiches for the post-memorial brunch. We need to see family, we need to drive to either Iowa or Nebraska. I raise my arms and arch my back, ready to enjoy the massive type of stretch #hotelement life can’t afford you.
Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.
I don’t know what’s happening, I’ve never felt like this before. At the base of my skull, something deep tangles and pulls taut. I’m not in severe pain yet but my body senses I will be; a subconscious level of my being knows what is coming. Without trying, I know I can’t move. Prone to stupid decisions, I gently attempt to turn my head.
An absolute searing cut of pain rocks my neck, my head, and shoots through my stomach to my core…and I’d only tensed the muscles to prepare to move my head.
“Joe, Joe. JOE. I need help.” He’s heavily asleep, no alarm set. I can barely move my forearms to swat at him. Cursed enormous bed. “JOE. JOE. JOEJOEJOEJOEJOEJOE. Wake up, now, wake up wakeupgetupgetup. I can’t move. GET UP. Please get up, help me. I can’t move.”
It’s the last “I can’t move” that finally jolts him awake. I may live my life in a state of anxiety, but panic is not my thing and I NEVER ask for help. Joe sees that I’m doing both and he’s suddenly wide awake. Ok, pause. This is some type of back problem, and everyone has back problems. I’m an adult, adults figure these things out. This isn’t even a big deal – honestly, I’m feeling a little like a back-problem-late-bloomer. Since I’m an adult and adults know how to handle these situations, I’m going to……….…I have no idea. What do you do when you can’t move?
Numerous feeble attempts at getting out of bed stop before I can get my muscles to shift any of my limbs. At some point, I try to move my legs. White hot pain, no go.
I can’t move and I’m out of ideas. Joe calls a nurseline. We are going to be late picking up the sandwiches. I find tardiness unacceptable, I’m furious that this is happening. The nurse won’t speak to him about my health. He puts the phone on speaker and holds it to my face. If I wasn’t in excruciating pain, this would be laughable. She asks a few questions. She tells me to go to the emergency room. If it escalates and I can’t get out of bed, to call the paramedics. She actually says that. Paramedics.
I’ll have a self-induced stroke getting out of this bed before I call 911, thank you very much. This is ridiculous. I’ve pulled a muscle, it’ll be fine in a few minutes. Except it’s been over thirty minutes and it’s getting worse. We are so, so late for sandwich pickup.
The nurse had suggested someone stabilize my neck while I try to move out of bed. No. One. Is. Touching. My. Neck. I decide I’ll attempt to do it. Joe picks up each leg and places my feet flat on the bed. I gingerly hold my own skull. Joe rolls me out of the bed like an injured baby elephant. Fireworks of pain light up the back of my eyelids while my eyes fill with tears. I’m up! Whew, that was horrific. But I’m up!
Now standing, I see that yesterday’s exhaustion has one redeeming quality: last night, I changed into yoga pants and a comfy sweater before spending time with Joe’s extended family and friends. We came back to the hotel late, and I laid down to talk to Joe before getting ready for bed. I promptly fell asleep. And now, here I stand, in those same yoga pants and sweater. Thank sweet baby Jesus, I’m already dressed.
I had insisted I wasn’t going to the ER, but post-bed fiasco, it’s apparent that will be our next stop. Joe searches for in-network hospitals. He starts making phone calls. Until this moment, I’ve never really pondered the phrase “adding insult to injury.” As I watch a cloud move over Joe’s face, this phrase comes to mind. Today is April 9th. Joe is told that our coverage was cancelled April 1st. I’m barely standing, holding my own head, wearing dirty clothes, and have completely forsaken the brunch sandwiches. So, you’re saying that technically, every hospital is out of network? Because there is no network? Because we don’t have health insurance? AFTER I ENSURED MULTIPLE TIMES OUR COVERAGE WAS SET BEFORE WE LEFT LAS VEGAS? The fiery pain consuming my neck, and at times my whole body, is not enough to keep my fury at bay. I can’t focus on anything except the pain right now, but it’s highly likely that the next IATSE benefits rep I speak with will end up in tears.
We go, slowly, to the nearest hospital. I feel nothing short of stupid as I am triaged because “my neck hurts.” People are dying, Kim. Try getting into a horrific car accident and have some real problems. The doctor is quick. He determines I haven’t torn any major blood vessels. No stroke danger (I probably figured that one out forcing myself out of bed, thanks). He gives three options to help me move again. Injections of both Valium and Toradol (an anti-inflammatory), a prescription for Valium to take by mouth over the next several days, and a neck brace.
Yes to the Toradol, no to the Valium injection. I’ll take the pills, please and thanks, so I can sell them to stagehands in order to pay for this delightful visit. And for the love of God, please get me that neck brace so something can take over the job of holding up my head. My arms are getting tired.
We’re out of the emergency room in no time. Joe feels bad laughing at me – but he still does – as I hobble around the parking lot in dirty clothes and a neck brace. I don’t blame him, it’s hilarious when it’s not horrifically painful. Within the hour, I can feel the Toradol working. They assured me I wouldn’t be groggy, but I fall asleep almost immediately. We won’t be driving anywhere today. Joe extends the dogs at the boarder, Joe adds another night to the hotel. Joe attends the brunch, where the sandwiches were valiantly saved by Tom and Ashley (Thanks, Tom and Ashley. Thanks, Joe.). I’m furious I’ve missed the last family gathering. There are so many people I haven’t talked to, today was my last chance. They all talk to Joe while I blissfully slumber…in a neck brace.
By the evening, the drugs are working. I don’t feel great, but I can move. We have a quiet hotel dinner and sleep.
The next morning, we are on the road. Until today, I’ve done almost all of the driving. It’s obvious Joe has to take over now. We pick up the dogs and they immediately struggle in the car. Harry starts to fall from my lap and I instinctively grab him. The pain is as severe as when I woke up the morning before. It amazes me how quickly my recovery backtracks from one jolt to the neck. I’m back to moving slower, with a smaller range of motion. I can barely adjust how I’m sitting in the passenger seat. My head throbs for hours. For the first time this trip, the dogs are banished to the floor. They do not like it. I do not care. With me in the passenger seat, they soon resign to their fate. They know their sad faces only work on one of the car’s occupants, and he’ll be behind the wheel for the next several days.
We stop in Des Moines to visit Mimi and her sister, Mary. Mary provides us with a gluten-free spread of snacks and veggies. If there’s an end to the thoughtfulness of this family, I have yet to see it. Mary loves on our dogs, our dogs eat it up. We’re sent on our way with gluten free snacks for me and gluten-regular snacks for the dogs.
Omaha is an easy drive. We arrive past dinner time and invade the midtown neighborhood that’s home to our goodestfriend™ Nick. We’ve stayed only in hotels for years of trips to Omaha, but this time we were looking for a driveway. Nick immediately offered not just a driveway, but his guestroom. He’s one of the few people Joe and I feel completely comfortable taking up on the offer. A friend from many years back, maybe better described as an almost-brother, Nick has known both Joe and me longer than we’ve known each other. He perfectly understands my discomfort with emotions. We hurl insults back and forth like adult teenage boys. We make fun of each other, we talk slightly more seriously about our families and jobs and Omaha. We don’t discuss the time in college that Nick came to my house to see my roommate, fell asleep on our couch, woke up after I returned from work, and ditched my roommate to go out to the bars with me, but I love that story and now I’ve put it on the internet just because I can. Bearing pizza late on a Monday evening, two wild yapping dogs, a tall hairy man, and a jerk in a neck brace take over Nick’s home. Our dogs meet. Mr. Pickles, a delightfully fluffy and underbite-y Pekingese, has neither love nor hate for Harry and Leeeroy. I had imagined a long, deep dog friendship and I am disappointed. In response, Harry poops on the floor. My disappointment deepens.
Omaha. I was born here, I grew up here. I was an ill-behaved Mercy girl, and then an underachiever/overachiever at the University of Nebraska. I was a student because I was smart enough to be on a full scholarship, and a theater major because I had no desire to be a student. I attended few of my classes, but produced enough work to consistently stay on the Dean’s List. I worked in the scene shop, I put on shows. I worked full-time or, when I was busy with shows, nearly full-time as a sass-mouthed waitress/bartender. I lived in what I’ve been told was the Theater Department’s party house (post FAUST house era, should anyone from UNO be reading and think I’m out of line). I lived in this house when, at the infant age of twenty-one, I met some guy working at the Des Moines Opera. He had long hair and was pretty funny. He was smart, he was skilled at an unnecessarily complicated job. He was alright, I guess. But whatever to guys and jobs and school – my plan had always been to get out of this town. It was a pleasant surprise when that guy decided to get out of this town with me. I never imagined early on that we’d end up married. I really never imagined we’d end up living in my car, driving the stretches of Interstate 80 we so often used to drive as baby-adults, or driving our car-house past my college-house to reminisce. Omaha. I still have good friends here. Friends, like Nick, that – likely unknown to them – helped me deeply at ages nineteen and twenty and twenty-one. In those years, I considered these people my family. I still visit and bother them for breakfasts and bar nights. We’re all getting older and busier; I don’t want them to slowly slip away. I want to always know these people, I want to celebrate their wins and mourn their losses, I want to watch their kids grow up – at least as best as one can from thirteen hundred miles away. Omaha, more represented by my people here than the city itself (ok, and maybe also the bacon cheese fries). My city until the age of twenty-two, when I packed my belongings into a 1993 Honda Accord, sold everything that didn’t fit, and left for the bright lights (literally) of Las Vegas.
I’m nostalgic in this city, unless I’m irritated by the slow pace of people walking or driving (sorry Omaha, it’s true). Nostalgic for when life was the exciting type of exhausting, not the plain old exhausting it’s recently become. We drive through the city. I miss greasy Midwestern food, hash browns from the 11-Worth Cafe, loosemeat sandwiches at B&G, bacon cheese fries from the Millard Roadhouse. I miss drinking champagne on tap (Homy Inn, I pledge my eternal love.). I miss all of my people here.
Omaha is always over-scheduled. We see family, we see friends. Being a resident in a city of visitors, I understand everyone here has busy lives. I’m grateful they find a few hours for me within theirs. I feel disconnected, I reconnect as quickly as I can. My grandma, a life-long dog lover, meets Harry and Leeeroy after nine years of only seeing photos. She loves them, they love her snacks and her attention. We visit friends, we find that the dogs refuse to be left alone in Nick’s condo. The dogs come with us and shackle us to outdoor activities. My parents, who now “winter in Las Vegas” (chichi, right?) have just returned home. We take the dogs to their non-animal friendly home, possibly as an act of childhood “no, you can’t have a pet” rebellion. The dogs run free in the backyard and then sleep on the floor of the kitchen, house undestroyed. It’s already time to leave. We’ve barely made a dent in what we meant to do, but we need to move on. Joe has business to attend to.
Our sixteen hours in Kansas City were not part of the original plan. Kansas City surfaced as an idea somewhere between Texas and Florida, and was made official with the purchase of baseball tickets in Nebraska. The drive there is so easy, it’s laughable. Three hours during the day? No near misses with deer? We’re damn near party bus status in the #hotelement. We stop for VIP BBQ treatment at Joe’s Kansas City,
compliments of Joe’s cousin Doug. In a quiet back room, I pile brisket and potato salad into my face – both outstanding. Joe has a massive brisket-onion-ring-provolone sandwich and a pile of golden fries, I long to try both. Gluten robs me of happiness yet again. We enjoy the meal and the company Doug provides. We talk about barbecue, we talk about writing and books (Doug’s written a few), we talk about Steve. Almost as quickly as we sit down, it’s time to move on.
Joe finds a hotel near Kaufmann stadium. It’s the last game of the Royals’ opening homestand. I’ve never been to a Royals game before, always demurring so Joe, his dad, and his brothers could enjoy their game weekends as they had since their youth. It’s now my turn to attend. As we walk through Kauffman, I instinctively observe the facility. To embark on our life in Baton Rouge, which morphed into this trip, I’d left a job in which I’d managed the operations of two facilities – one of them a AAA baseball stadium. Out of habit, my eyes move from the staff, to the cleanliness of the concourse, to the food and beverage lines. I observe trash removal and watch the flow and control of the crowd. I think of the facility and staff I’d recently left behind. Over a thousand miles away, they’re also in the middle of their opening homestand. I wonder how they’re doing. That version of my life feels entirely foreign now, how could it have only been three months ago? As we join the crowd climbing the stairs to our seats, I return to the present. Joe’s familiar with this place, he knows exactly where he is going. He’s mostly quiet. I imagine the Buttry brothers here with Steve during the World Series. I imagine them here as boys with their dad.
Our seats are in the Craft and Draft, which means we get a waitress and nicer food. We place an order. The game starts, announcements boom, things happen. The national anthem starts. We stand, we cover our hearts. It finishes, we sit. I look at Joe. It’s rare to see, but his eyes are watery. Immediately, so are mine. We look like we’re unstable, or maybe like we’re in the middle of a fight, when the waitress returns. She leaves and we dry our eyes. Joe watches the game, I post baseball photos on Instagram and discover I like gin. I think people are booing but they are actually yelling “Moooooooose.” Moose is one of the few players I can point out. I used to know who Country Breakfast was, but I guess he’s gone now? I’m pleased I’ve never done anything to earn the nickname “Country Breakfast.” I mix up all the other important players (Salvy? Also #6? And that guy that pulled his hamstring that one time?). Joe is openly disdainful of my Royals knowledge. The Royals win and we walk back to the hotel. Families entirely decked out in jerseys are celebrating. We smile at them, we go to bed. We need to get up very, very early.
Tomorrow begins our journey west – we have our sights set on Denver and Manitou. After that, it’s either Utah or the Grand Canyon on the way home. Joe has booked a job and our time is dwindling. Our old life, and Las Vegas, begin to hazily reappear on the horizon.