Back when I was working in pharmaceutical sales, I was up every morning at the crack of dawn. After dropping the kids off at school, I was in my territory to begin a full day of nursing in-services, product presentations to physicians, and juggling appointments for forty hospitals in Northern California to which I was assigned. Although there were physical demands associated with the position--including walking the equivalent of 3 miles each day in HIGH HEELS-- it was the mental part of my job that was most taxing. By 10:00 at night I was fast asleep on the couch, resting the brain that hit sensory overload hours earlier. Although I missed out on many of my favorite shows, there was comfort knowing I could shut my eyes at a moment’s notice.
Suddenly, and tragically, my husband was injured in an ocean accident on a family vacation to Hawaii in August of 2012 and was rendered a quadriplegic. In an instant our lives were turned upside down. Without hesitation I left behind my career in pharmaceutical sales to embark on my new role as "Giver of Care."
Each day, in-between bouts of 10 minute cries or contested phone calls to our insurance company, I plowed through my caregiver duties, giving everything I had to give. It was an endless cycle of lifting, pulling, bending, and reaching. By the end of each day, my body was wrung-out like a marathon runner hitting the wall at mile 18. What was once end-of-the day fatigue, earned by thinking and long-winded conversations, was now complete and utter exhaustion due to the physical demands and emotional fallout that plagued our new situation. I no longer had the privilege of falling asleep on the couch during a Giant’s baseball game, or an episode of Survivor; for duty called 24/7. The luxury that I was once afforded, one that I seemingly took for granted, became a thing of the past.
Due to the my husband's inability to move, it was imperative that I wake-up in the middle-of-the night to re-adjust his position in bed. This nightly ritual of shuffling pillows and switching sides, was crucial to prevent the dreaded bed sore-one of many complications that can plague spinal cord-injured patients.
As the days and weeks rolled on in the first few months after my husband came home from the hospital, my body was growing more weary. By 10:00 each night I was wiped out. All I wanted to do was go to sleep, knowing I would be back at it only four hours later. Yet every night there seemed to be a battle of wills: I wanted to go to bed, and my husband wanted to stay up and watch TV. Honestly, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t just as eager to go to sleep and get a respite from the nightmare he was living on a day-to-day basis. But every night it was the same old story...we negotiated, we bargained, eventually settling on a time somewhere in-between. In spite of the compromise, my sleep debt was mounting. I was inching closer to falling off the edge of the proverbial cliff.
One day I finally reached my breaking point. I sat down with my husband and went on a long spiel about sleep debt, raccoon eyes, and a concern that I was living the life of a zombie. I insisted that for the sake of my health and overall well-being the TV had to go off by 11:00 pm; no ifs, ands, or buts. I set down my foot and said, “NO MORE!”
I expected a sympathetic response, but what I got instead was silence and a very long pause. He looked sad and dejected. His eyes started to well-up. I didn’t know what to think. Gosh, was I being that harsh? I figured he would understand...
His lip starter to quiver as he spoke. “Swede (we call each other Swede), the reason I want to keep the TV on is not because I want to stay up, it’s because it sucks to go to sleep. When I was in the hospital for three months, I dreaded bedtime. I was sad and lonely. It was dark, I couldn’t move, and because of the ventilator, I was unable to talk. It haunted me to go to sleep, because I was trapped in a room without the ability to communicate. To cope I had the nurses keep the TV on so that I wouldn’t feel alone and afraid. I watched TV all night, including all the late-night shows. Those were the only shows that got my mind off of things, and lowered my anxiety. Eventually I was able to fall asleep.”
At that very moment every brick from my wall of weariness came crashing down. I had no idea how much comfort those late-night shows gave my husband. Somehow my lack of sleep and demands for “lights out” seemed so trivial and inconsequential compared to the loss of security that would be yanked from a man who had already been stripped of life’s basics functions. I knew this wasn’t a time for insistence.
In the spirit of the motto: “If you can’t beat them, join them," I decided to hop on his
late-night bandwagon. We would trade “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show” for “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show.” We adjusted, scheduling therapy sessions and other appointments for the afternoons. We already had one life-changing event, what was one more?
And so began our daily, er nightly, routine of burning the midnight oil with the Late-Night comedians. During the long stretch when we were unable to get out of the house and do meaningful things, we at least had Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers to look forward to. They brought laughter to our days, which often times were filled with pain and sadness. Never before did I become more attached to a celebrity figure than I did Jimmy Fallon, my favorite among the late night comedians.
Three years after the accident my desire to see Jimmy Fallon in person skyrocketed. I wanted to go to one of his shows and see the man in person. After doing some internet research, however, I learned that getting tickets to The Tonight Show would be hard to come-by. In spite of the odds I decided to go for it anyways. I had great hopes that I would be able to check a "biggie" off of my bucket list.
I completed all the required steps necessary to have a chance at getting tickets. I had to register with the outside agency that handles free audience tickets. I figured the more information I shared about myself, the better my chance for scoring tickets. I handily shared links to my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I shared as much information as possible about myself, even disclosing my height and weight! I would have handed over my first born child if it afforded me the opportunity to see Jimmy back stage! (J--K--!)
Fast forward to the morning of March 3rd...
While biting my nails and tapping my feet, I sat in front of my computer anxiously waiting the release of the show's April dates. At exactly 8:30 am I refreshed my page and voila...I got into the ticket website! I tried to maneuver through the process as quickly as possible, trying to get tickets before they were all gobbled up. Lucky for me I was able to secure three potential dates for Jimmy Fallon, and one for Seth Meyers! By 8:35 am all tickets were sold out. These weren't actual tickets, however. They were only "wait list tickets". We would be notified by email if any of our "wait list" tickets converted to a real ticket within two weeks of showtime.
The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became about this whole process. There was a high probability that we wouldn't make it into the show. Was I just a silly dreamer like most of those kids buying cases and case of chocolate bars in "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory?" hoping to find the golden ticket, only to walk away with dashed hopes? What if we got lucky? How would someone like us out-of-staters have enough time to plan? Despite all my worries and fears, I forged ahead to keep hope alive.
Fast forward a month later to April 5th... Bored and restless while waiting (yes waiting, always waiting) to be seen by our doctor, I was scrolling through email messages on my iPhone when, much to my surprise, I noticed an unopened email from “Late Night With Seth Meyers." I felt like the Senior in High School who nervously opens the envelope from desired college, praying that what's inside is an acceptance letter. With hesitation I double clicked the message. All I remember seeing next was the word, “Congratulations!” I squealed in delight! I reached over and shook my husband's arm, “WE GOT THE TICKETS! WE GOT THE TICKETS!” Granted, these tickets were for Seth Meyers and not Jimmy Fallon, but it was an opportunity to see another late-night comedian nonetheless. In an instance my “Jimmy or Bust” attitude quickly softened, and before we got home we were already talking about seeing this through.
It was 2 1/2 weeks til showtime and we had nary a trip itinerary, let alone a hotel or airline reservation. All we had were two tickets for the April 28th, “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show. What was I thinking? Had I lost my mind? How the heck was I going to execute this plan on such short notice? Due to the complexities of a spinal cord injury and all the planning and scheduling that goes into travel, the words “spontaneous” and “at the drop of a hat” were concepts that were removed from our vocabulary.
My organized self told me to reject this idea of going on a trip in such a short amount of time. I wasn’t twenty anymore, when I could hop on a plane at the snap of a finger. Things were different now. I was packing for not only myself, but a person who had a travel checklist that was two pages deep. Then I thought about the trip logistics: Would Vaughn be okay waiting by himself in the airport while I parked the car? What would happen if the Airport van got into an accident, or something bad happened to me? He would be stuck sitting outside of the airport with no way of knowing. What about the luggage? How would I push his wheelchair and carry our four bags of luggage at the same time? What about the people on the other end? Would the taxis stop for us, especially if they saw all of our luggage AND the wheelchair? Would we get lost in the city? Do the subways have functioning elevators? The questions kept coming. The more I thought about it, the more I was getting anxious, and the more I was trying to talk myself out of the trip of a lifetime.
But then there was my inner voice…”Don’t let life pass you by because you are afraid. You’ve been through a catastrophic nightmare. You’ve witnessed horror and someone on the brink of death. You have dealt with far worse for over three years and you are still here to tell about it. You can do this!” But it wasn’t until Vaughn showered me with sensibility and encouragement that I finally pulled the trigger:
“I’ll be fine waiting at the airport terminal for the 20 minutes while you go park the car. No one is going to steal me, I assure you! As for the baggage? We’ll get a bellhop. The taxis in New York? Let's Fuhgettaboutit and ride the subway! We’ll find our way around the city. We can do this! Now stop worrying and let’s get on with it!”
Get on with it we did. We scrambled to make all the necessary reservations. Two weeks later we were sitting on a plane headed for New York, wearing our badge of courage while holding Seth Meyer's tickets in hand. We were going to throw caution to the wind and make this the best trip ever.
The start of the trip went off without a hitch. We spent every day squeezing out as much fun as possible. We went to Central Park, Times Square, The Rockefeller Center, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, took a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, saw a Broadway play, and braved our first subway ride. I was pleased how everything was unfolding. We were seeing and doing more than I had ever imagined. But by Monday, April 25th- the halfway point of our trip-I got the first of three emails stating that we didn’t get the Jimmy Fallon tickets. The whole reason I wanted to go to New York in the first place was to see Jimmy Fallon, and now we had lost our chance. In spite of all the wonderful things we had already seen and done, I couldn't help but feel a little empty. I was let down. I was bummed.
But when things don't always turn out the way I want, I try to avoid the "cognitive dissonance" trap, refusing to embrace the notion that "things always happen for a reason." Instead, I carry on and do what I do best: I re-group, I try, I execute. Even though odds were not in our favor, I knew there was still a way to see Jimmy. All I needed was some guts, a positive attitude, and the buy-in of one person: my partner in crime.
When I first told Vaughn of my new plan he said, “Swede, are you kidding me? Do you REALLY want to do that?”
With pucker-lip protruded 3” from my face, I nodded my head and bashed my eyelashes. I swooped in close to his face. “Swede, you know it’s been my dream all along to see Jimmy. I don’t want to go home without trying. I don’t want to live life with regrets. Pleeeaaassse Swede?”
I knew my plan would stretch the Night Owl out of his comfort zone, so I did what he always taught me to do after you ask the last question in negotiations….you shut up! You wait. The first person who speaks loses. So I sat there waiting, hoping and praying. After 15 minutes of tortured silence he finally spoke.
“Okay Swede, I’ll do it. I don’t want to be the one to keep you from your dreams.”
I stood up and looked at him in disbelief. I shook his arm like I did a few weeks earlier.
“Really Swede? You’ll really do it for ME?”
I was so excited imagining the possibility of maybe seeing my number one idol, that I started skipping around the room.
Then he asked, “Well what time will we have to wake up tomorrow?”
I winced and said in a hushed tone, “Ummm, 4:30am. But I’ll get ready first and then I'll...”
“WHAT??” he roared. “Are you kidding me Swede?”
I knew it. I knew this wasn’t going to sit well with him...the idea that we would have to get up early and go stand in the cold to wait for standby tickets. So what did I do? I did exactly what he taught me NOT to do when you negotiate. I started talking...
“Well maybe I can get you up closer to 5:00 am.” I said sheepishly.
He stared at me and said nothing.
“Okay, maybe I can get you up closer to 5:15 am.”
He said nothing. I was starting to sweat.
“How about 5:25 am? I’ll just throw some pants and a shirt on you and we'll be out of here by 5:30 am!. Okay Swede-els?
He won the time battle, but he rolled his eyes and let out a heavy sigh anyways.“Alright.”
"THANK YOU SWEDE!!" I said excitedly, but inside I was feeling a little uneasy. I had it in my mind that we would be out the door by 5:00 am, but because of my terrible negotiation skills we were going to leave well past the time I thought it would take to secure a standby ticket. Previously I told him I only needed 5 minutes to get him up and out the door by 5:30 am, but in reality I knew darn well that it would take at least 15-20 minutes to get him dressed and into the chair, and that was sans the wash-up. We were really pushing it, risking the execution of my whole plan, but I had to tread lightly or else this whole thing could blow-up in my face.
As we were getting ready for bed I was feeling really nervous about our time schedule, concerned that a 10 minute delay could ruin our chances for getting one of the coveted tickets. Just as I was losing hope Vaughn said, “I think I’m just going to sleep in my clothes and shoes tonight and be ready to go. That way you won’t have to deal with all that in the morning and it will save a lot of time.”
I couldn’t believe it! It was music to my ears! He came through like a champ. But this is how he always operates. At the end of the day, he ultimately puts me first, even at the sacrifice of his own comfort. I knew it would be uncomfortable for him to sleep in not only his clothes but his shoes too, but he insisted, because he knew how much this opportunity meant to me. This large gesture would save us some crucial time, perhaps enough time to make my dream come true!
By early the next morning we were out the door by 5:35 am, headed for the standby line five blocks away. I ran while pushing my husband's wheelchair as fast as humanly possible without knocking into anything or anyone along the way. We made it under the NBC studio marquee by 5:50 am. By the time we got there 16 other people were already in line, including the two girls in front of the line who were fast asleep on their blankets and pillows. Supposedly the girls arrived at 1:30 am! Although we were further back in line than I had hoped, I figured we still had a chance.
So here we were... waiting in line at the wee hours of the morning. We were incredibly tired and worn out, for it was just 5 hours earlier that we had gone to bed (and that was after a day walking all over Lower Manhattan)! I was feeling a little guilty that I had dragged my husband out of bed for this silliness, making him sit in his wheelchair for hours in the cold. I would be feeling even worse if we didn’t get the tickets.
For the first hour I snuggled up on his lap in an effort to keep us both warm. By 7:00 am
I was talking to the people in front and behind us in line. The couple right behind us were from Idaho, taking another stab at standby tickets. They missed the cut-off the day before by one spot. Like me, they didn’t want to leave New York without seeing Jimmy, so they were back at it for a second day.
At 9:00 am an intern came out to the line and checked all of our IDs, and issued numbers according to the order that each of us were in line. We were numbers 17 and 18. We went back to the hotel, took a 3 hour power nap, showered up and were back to the NBC studio promptly at 3:30 PM to find out if we had made it into the show. The only way we would get into the show is if people with tickets didn't show up.
We lined up inside the NBC gift store in the same order that we were waiting earlier that morning. One-by-one the others came in too, finding their spots and looking much better and more refreshed than they did earlier that morning. We were happy to see each other, fist-bumping and hugging one another as if we had been friends for a long time, but in reality we were simply linked together by the strong desire to see one of the funniest men in showbiz.
At 4:00 PM, after thirty minutes of great anticipation, a gentleman walked over to Vaughn and said, “Okay Sir, we are ready to take you upstairs.” (Because of the wheelchair we needed to go first and get situated). I looked over at my buddies in line, smiling from ear-to-ear. I mouthed the words, “OH-MY-GOD!” The 16 people that were in front of us in line started cheering, for they knew that if we were going in, they were going in too. As we exited the room I looked over at the couple from Idaho and raised my hand with crossed fingers. “Good Luck Guys. I really hope you get in!” I shouted. I prayed that there wasn’t truth to the saying, “Nice guys finish last.”
After going through security and the check-in process, we finally made it into Studio 6B. As we sat in our chairs I looked around, taking note of all the studio details: the lights, the TVs, the place where the Roots play, and the stage where Jimmy would soon perform. I was thrilled to catch sight of that couple from Idaho. We made eye contact and gave each other the "thumbs-up" gesture. I was so happy that after a two-day wait, they finally made it in. I sat there, soaking it all in. I tried my best to remember everything as I saw it. I repeated to myself, “Remember this. Remember these moments,” for I knew, as was the case with the day of our wedding, time would fly by in warp speed. Before long the show would be over, and all I would have left would be a wrist band and a collection of mental snap shots-that would eventually fade to memories.
The moment had finally arrived. At the top of the hour Steve Higgins (Jimmy Fallon's side-kick) announced, " Ladies and Gentleman...Jimmy Faaaalllllonnn!!" The curtain swung open and my idol enthusiastically walked out on the stage. Everyone rose from their chairs, cheering with thunderous applause. The energy in the room was so incredible it could light up ten football fields on a Friday night.
As always Jimmy was funny and entertaining, delivering jokes with his trademark giggle and silly laugh. Steve Higgens, The Roots, and all the other guests, including Chelsea Handler...they were but icing on the cake. It didn’t matter who the guests were that night; they could be stuffed animals or wooden sticks, and I would be just as happy. I was here to see Jimmy and he didn't disappoint!
At the end of every show Jimmy walks up one aisle, and back down the other while lending "high-fives" to the audience members along the way. This is his signature ending. During the show I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I was sitting in an aisle seat. I was beyond thrilled that I had the opportunity of a lifetime. Although I was excited for me, I was a little bummed that Vaughn was in the wheelchair zone, unable to participate with the audience as they stood-up and cheered. He would also miss out on any opportunity to high-five Jimmy.
As the show was coming to an end, I was getting excited, anxiously waiting Jimmy’s arrival. He made his way up the far aisle, giving "high-fives" along the way. When he got to the top of the stairs, he walked around the back of the studio, but before he started down my aisle he did something that blew me away: He walked over to the wheelchair section where Vaughn was sitting, and said to him, "Hey Buddy, how are you doing?" He extended his hand and gave a fist-bump to my Swede-the person who was unable to high-five, or stand, or clap, or walk into the studio, or do most of the things we all take for granted. Jimmy was every bit the gentleman that I had envisioned. I was overjoyed and on the verge of tears. THAT moment was the highlight of my trip.
Finally the moment arrived...after Jimmy greeted Vaughn, he turned around to head down my aisle. I knew it was my turn. Within a flash of a second there he was...right in front of my face-my favorite person on TV, my idol, my dream come true. Instead of putting my hand up for a “high-five," I spontaneously stretched open my arms gesturing for a hug. He smiled, opened his arms, and as he was giving me the best, teddy-bear hug ever, he said, “Ohhhh, wasn’t that a beautiful thing?” referring to the amazing, yet poignant and emotional, tribute to Prince, that was sung by musical guest, D'Angelo. Ironically, Jimmy's words captured the essence of my night and the special gifts he had unknowingly given to me and my husband. I hadn’t felt this kind of happiness since my kids were born! Could life get any better than this? I didn't think so!
After the show, we went back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed. We were utterly exhausted, but mentally and emotionally charged and satisfied. I leaned over and put my head on Vaughn’s shoulder. I thanked him for his sacrifices and his patience, for without them today would not have been possible. As we turned out the lights Vaughn uttered his usual end-of-the night salutation, “Sweet Dreams!”
To which I replied, “They already came true!" To which he replied, "Not completely...
We still got Seth on Thursday!"
“All our Dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”