Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Am not sure I like this picture. I sort of do, but then again...
I have been asked how I met Karen. I'm not sure if I've written about this before but in any case, I like the story and it will make me smile (and probably cry too!) to relive it!
Phil and I got a home PC in the 90s and at that time I had no idea what I'd do with it apart from a bit of word processing. We spent a bit of time searching for the most outrageous porn we could find (that very soon got dull, especially for me!) but after that I couldn't think of much to do with it. We were on dial-up then and it wasn't cheap so idle web surfing for hours wasn't for me. I remembered how I'd had a few short-lived penfriends from foreign countries as a child and wondered if there were any sites that could match up people who wanted "email penfriends". I found a site called Cyberfriends that seemed ok. I posted my details and got TONS of replies! I made a point of replying to all letters. It soon became apparent that some people were not my cup of tea, some were downright weird but a few were great - normal friendly people who, like me, were curious about other people in other parts of the world. Through Cyberfriends I met Karen, as well as Jim in Las Vegas, Quiet Rage and the Blissful Artist and we have been good friends ever since.
I can still remember Karen's first email; we had so much in common and were reading the same book! I was fascinated by her life in rural Canada which was so different from my own. we emailed almost every day. Karen was a trained typist and I was (and am!) a one-finger, one thumb person, but we never ran out of things to say to one another. I confided in Karen, as she did in me, we helped each other through difficult times and we made each other laugh.
Karen was always busy doing tons of different things; the only thing that ever slowed her down were allergies in the summer that affected her breathing. She got shots for those. We talked often about me going to see her but my girls were small so it always "when they are older".
Very gradually, Karen's health deteriorated. She had tests but nothing was found. Doctors hinted that it was "all in her mind" and I remember her anger and frustration at this. Slowly she had to give up things she had always done and her life became more limited.
Eventually she got a diagnosis - primary pulmonary hypertension.
In some respects it was a relief to know what demon she faced but it's a scary disease and early detection would have made all the difference. Sadly it is very hard to diagnose as most doctors will never come across it. Nothing Karen had done had caused it; she was just unlucky. Her lungs were already badly damaged by the time her treatment started.
As always, Karen was positive and cheery and determined to get well. Then one day at work, I checked my email and read one from Karen that stopped me in my tracks. She basically asked me if I could go to see her as she was unsure how long she had left. For Karen, who was the least dramatic of people to say that was a huge shock. I rang my boss, asked for some unpaid leave, rang Phil who told me I should go and he'd manage fine in my absence and then we booked my flights.
I'm the sort of person who gets lost in railway stations and the idea of flying to Canada was daunting to say the least. Especially as I had to change planes in Toronto for Edmonton where Karen would meet me. I was both excited and terrified.
I lost count of the number of people who told me I was insane to fly alone across the world to meet a "total stranger". I was told Karen might not be sick, she might not even be a woman! This was despite the fact our friendship was already about 7 years old by then!
When I reached Edmonton and saw Karen, it was like coming home! It was not like meeting a stranger; we just started chatting and laughing and acting like old friends. We had two amazing weeks, doing simple things like visiting family and friends, talking for hours, driving around her neighbourhood. I can't explain how natural it all was (just as it was when I met Quiet Rage for the first time!)
One of the things Karen and I shared was a relaxed approach to meals - we'd happily miss breakfast and have ice-cream for lunch and eat dinner whenever we felt like it! Karen introduced me to the joys of coffee at breakfast, Dairy Queen and "everything" bagels! I introduced her to a proper cup of English tea :)
When I left I gave Karen a gold charm I'd bought in a jewellers in Grande Prairie. It split in half and I had the other. My half said "we are together" and hers said "friends for ever". Mine went on my charm bracelet, hers on her necklace.
The drug treatment didn't work well and Karen eventually had a double lung transplant! This cured the PPH but she developed diabetes and the strong anti-rejection meds had lots of side-effects. I kept hoping to go back to see her but she was often in hospital. She was no longer strong enough for much emailing so we spoke on the phone instead.
I believe that some people are destined to be our friends and that I was meant to meet Karen. I'll always be so grateful for the Internet because of the great friendships it has brought into my life and for how it has made the world seem a smaller, friendlier place!