Experiencing multiple Death Tours and living to tell about it

Sunday, October 31, 2004

As many of you are now aware, I underwent emergency surgery on Sept. 27 after an ambulance trip to KU Medical Center and am still attempting to recover enough to do simple things like writing this column after having been hospitalized until Oct. 15.

The first person to express concern about the state of my health was my good friend Kevin McKinley who inquired, "Is this a Death Tour?" Aha! I bet I have your curiosity piqued.

As recently as 1990 I had no idea what the word "sick" meant. I started working at the Nevada Daily Mail in 1973 and had taken exactly one sick day in 17 years. The last time I visited a doctor was for a physical near the end of 1971.

As stupid as I was in 1991, I was even sicker and McKinley was smart enough to know that while the Nevada Tigers were in the stretch run of the greatest basketball season in their history, the only thing great about me was my heart was still beating.

By the time the Tigers reached Springfield and the Final Four, McKinley was relatively certain that I had reached the end of the line and the wonderful undefeated season that Dave Adams was engineering was the last I'd witness. I made it to every game, although often it was nearly a life-and-death struggle just to get out of bed every morning at 6:30 and keep going until after midnight when we played on the road.

Sometime earlier Michael Jackson had come up with his Victory Tour and they were holding special nights at ballparks the last time some player came through in his final farewell tour.

So, McKinley dubbed what he thought was the end of my days, the Death Tour. At one time he didn't even refer to it in my presence, figuring I might be offended. I could have cared less about that, what I didn't like was being sick. Pretty near everyone figured my days were numbered as I stubbornly refused to see a doctor.

Well, I made a comeback after spending a few weeks in the hospital both here and at KU. Luckily, I got to see our great basketball season from start to finish and even hung on until the end of the school year. It was during June of the Griffons season that I checked out. I somehow recovered and everything seemed fine until 1996 when I was again struck down and forced to go under the knife, this time at St. John's in Joplin. McKinley was quick to jump on this one and it was dubbed Death Tour II. It happened in the fall and I was forced to miss two road football games.

In early 2000 in the midst of the basketball campaign, Dr. William Turner got out his sharpened scalpel for surgery at Nevada as Death Tour III took place. I didn't feel all that badly and know how happy the nurses must have been to get rid of me and all the activity that took place in my room. I never realized the severity of my problem until Dr. Turner walked into my room one night and said, "You know, you were knocking on the door." I didn't ask him if the Grim Reaper was waiting on the other side. I didn't have to.

Then came Death Tour IV in 2001-02. No one thought I had even a slight chance of surviving this one. It began on the last day of March when the Tigers were opening their baseball season in the Bolivar tournament and I wasn't going to miss watching my nephew, Chase Owen, pitch in that one. I failed to last the spring, went back to work and lasted until the Lady Tigers were eliminated from district basketball at Pleasant Hill. A day later I was in the hospital and a week later it was back to KU.

McKinley wasn't the only one who knew how bad it was this time. I don't think there was much of anybody out there who hadn't written me off.

Still weak, I was back at Logan Field for the opener in 2002 and everything seemed at least relatively OK until the fall of 2003 when McKinley suffered his own Death Tour. This was unreal. Here was my friend, my buddy, sick at 40 with something so horrible they couldn't even ascertain what it was. Heck, at 40 my future health maladies were still years into the future. And McKinley was the picture of health. Something was not right here.

He got over it, thank God, and while I didn't feel all that good, I had no idea that something as small as possibly a hair can destroy a person who takes immunosuppresant drugs. Yep, enter Death Tour V. As soon as McKinley heard I was ailing he called and asked if it was a Death Tour. I answered in the affirmative and have only recently attempted to get back with it after surgery at KU again.

So that's it. Now you know what a Death Tour is and who invented the term. You know, the worst thing about a Death Tour is actually having one.

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