"In a stunning weblog post, Susan recounts personally witnessing Thomas Leonard's passing"
As the person who was closest to Thomas Leonard, both in proximity and in ways of the heart and spirit, it's come to my attention that details leading up to his very unexpected death, have not been publicly disclosed. And discussing them might allow some folks to have some closure related to his passing. If not closure, possibly more understanding....
As most of you know, Thomas was a prolific writer, creator, innovator and the like. His modus operandi was full speed ahead then recoup/hide under a rock. Repeat. As far as I know, this was how he always operated. Room for improvement on the life-balance scale? Possibly. We talked about it often and he wasn't into life balance, so the concept didn't interest him in the least.
The fall before he passed away (August - December 2002), Thomas and I embarked on a 13+ city, nationwide tour. (Actually, the tour took us to London and him as far away as Sydney). We were basically on the road for 3 and 1/2 months straight.
The toll this trip took on both of us can not be underestimated. Especially in the event of his heart attack 8 short weeks later. We both took it relatively easy during the month of December. As a matter of fact, he pretty much went underground for the holidays. He didn't 'do' the holidays, so this really wasn't much of a surprise and didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary.
Then about 2 weeks before he passed away...he sent me this email....
Sent: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 3:15 PM
To: Susan Austin
Subject: can you come over and help me on wed morning?
i just cancelled scott and my massage guy for today -- and put a call into (name removed) to see what could be causing this spacey/woozie thing. exactly same thing as i felt last time and it lasted for a week.
i gotta snap out of it. 1400 emails in my in box, stuff is way late, etc. worked a couple of hours today but making very little progress -- it's all very blurry. like i'm on some drug or had bad tequila or something. my spirits are fine; my ability to concentrate/perform is zippo.
if you can help me for a couple of hours on wed a.m. i am hoping that will kick start me into revving up again.
My reply was a very simple...certainly, what time on wed?
i can barely keep my eyes open. it's too weird. hoping (name removed) can shed some light on this. had about enough! no more trips to XX until i can sort out whatever side effects are going on. ugh.
We talked about him not feeling well and didn't come to any firm conclusions. Are you coming down with something perhaps? It doesn't feel like it, etc.
That weekend Thomas and I hiked South Mountain in Phoenix and we were out on the trails for over 8+ hours. I couldn't keep up with him and basically said...go on ahead without me (he did) and we'll hook up later at the car. (we did). While we hiked together, we talked about the future... our future....life...his vision for CoachVille among other things. His spirits and health seemed wonderful. His tiredness/sluggishness seemed to be a fluke. Nothing more was said of it.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003, started like any other day, except I needed to borrow his laptop for some work I was doing. This bothered him to no end. Couldn't stand to be unconnected from the world. I kept getting calls... "are you finished yet?" "how bout now?". I finally returned it to him around 2:30 and we said good-bye. Nothing overly rememberable about the day.....just like any other day.
He walked me to the door....we hugged, kissed, said I love you (we always said good-bye like that) and when I went to return the keys I borrowed...he said...."You keep them, they are yours now".
Thomas then proceeded to do a little work, talked with Dave Buck and went to his scheduled work-out at 4pm. During his work-out he started to experience chest pains. He finished his workout though and then proceeded to throw-up when he was done. In hindsight, these are very telling signs, but it isn't unheard of for folks to throw-up during or after a work-out. Not normal, but not unheard of either.
His trainer suggested he go see a doctor, to which Thomas completely shot the idea down.
He then drove home. Climbed 3 flights of stairs. Took Fringe for a walk. Checked the mail. Chatted with a neighbor (said nothing of the pains and neighbor said he looked/sounded great), and climbed 3 flights of stairs again.
I was teaching a class at the School of CoachVille. At 6:01 I hung up and the phone rang. It was Thomas.
(freaked me out for a second, cuz he called just as I was hanging up the phone).
This is how our phone call went. The last time we spoke to each other.
"oh hey! I just go off a call. How are you?"
"I think I'm in trouble"
"What did you do now?" said lightly. Figured he sent an email he shouldn't have, etc.
"No, not that. It's my chest"
"What about your chest?"
"It's been bothering me for a couple of hours"
"What do you mean "bothering you?"
"Sharp pain, trouble breathing"
"OMG, we need to get you to a doctor"
"No-No, I'll be fine. It comes and goes"
"Thomas...are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure"
Now, keep in mind during this entire conversation, he is talking with me like he always does. Except for what he is saying, there is no indication he is having a heart attack. His voice is calm, he seems fine.
"Do me a favor."
"Go online and see if you can find out what the diagnosis is for chest pains. See what the options are"
"I don't need to go online to know that"
"Do it anyway"
"I'm going to call you back..the pain is starting again"
"Thomas you are starting to freak me out. Let me call 911"
"I'm coming over then. I think you need to see someone"
"No...I'll be fine. No doctors"
At that point, I didn't know what to do.
"Just check the web and tell me what you find out"
We hang up. I call his trainer and say.."What's going on? Thomas is having chest pains."
"Yeah, they started when he was here"
"Do you think he could be having a heart attack?"
"I don't know. He walked out on his own. He seemed fine when he left. He had drunk some water and it went down the wrong pipe, so to speak, so he thought that was what it was."
"Can that happen? Can you drink water the wrong way and it causes chest pain?"
"I've seen it before. But to be safe, why doesn't he get it checked out? I told him to get to a doctor while he was here, but he wouldn't hear of it"
"He's going to call me back, he doesn't want to go to the hospital"
I frantically get on the web and try to get a medical diagnosis for chest pains and throwing up. At this point, the adrenaline was ripping through my body, as the truth of what was happening was become clearer, first on a cellular level and slowly to an intellectual one.
I found a website. The minute I saw the questions they asked me I knew without a doubt he was having a heart attack:
For how many hours or days has the chest pain been present? 2-3
I hated to see this question. This told me heart attacks happen over a period of time. Which was bad news. I was hoping it couldn't be a heart attack as he seemed fine talking to me. If it was a heart attack he wouldn't have been able to drive home would he? This one question was all I needed to read to really know. It just got worse from here.
How old is the patient? 46
Is the chest pain sharp? Yes No (Yes)
Is the chest pain dull? Yes No (No)
Small twang of hope.
Is the chest pain crushing in quality? Yes No (Yes)
Does the pain spread out to the shoulder? Yes No (Yes)
There was no doubt at this point.
Is the patient a smoker? Yes No (No)
Does the patient have a family relative who has had a heart attack or angina? (Not sure)
It turns out Thomas' family history is ripe with heart attacks and male deaths at an early age due to heart failure. I did not know this at the time though.
When I completed the quiz and hit enter two entries came up:
1. Myocardial Infarction
2. Heart Attack
With the strong warning to get said individual to a hospital as soon as possible.
When Thomas called me back before I could say a word he said...
"Okay you win. Come get me. I'm scared"
"I'll be right there Thomas. Stay by the phone. I'm on my way"
And that was the last time anyone spoke to Thomas J. Leonard.
This was about 6:15ish, as he had called me right as my call ended at 6:00pm.
It took me no more than 15 minutes to speed my way to Thomas' apartment.
(normally would take 25 minutes)
I'll never forget what happened next.
I put my key in the door and screamed his name.....
Before he could answer or before I stepped over the threshold I knew.
I knew it like nothing I've ever known before.
He was gone.
I ran back to his bedroom and he was laying on his bed.
I wish I could say he had a peaceful look about him.
He looked like someone who died in pain.
The woman downstairs came up and she is a cardiac nurse and proceeded to try and revive him as we waited for the paramedics to come.
We never got any kind of life signs from him and at the time, it was all I could do not to make everyone stop what they were doing. Needles and electric shock, being poked and prodded. His worst nightmare.
But I knew we had to try.
How can you not?
I was completely in shock at this point.
Trying to answer questions I didn't know the answers too.
Feeling helpless and completely out of my league.
"Does he have a history of heart failure in his family?"
"I don't know"
"Does he have high-blood pressure"
"I don't know"
"Is he taking any medication"
"I don't know"
on and on it went.
Turns out Thomas did have high-cholesterol, but I did not know that at the time. And honestly don't know how much it, the stress or anything else in his life direclty contributed. I think, if I remember correctly, he had an uncle who died of heart-failure in his mid to late thirties.
Questions without answers. Only speculations.
The drive to the hospital was a nightmare.
Folks I don't know, or care about, trying their best to keep my spirits up.
"It might not be as bad as it looks"
"The facility they are taking him to is very good"
None of this matters.
My friend was gone.
We were never going to laugh together again.
I was never going to tell him I love him again.
The life we were planning together was never going to happen.
My heart was crushing from the pain of it all.
And yet I was eerily detached from the proceedings.
I noticed the folks who drove us to the hospital went way to slow.
Like they were in no hurry to get us there only to find out the truth.
When I arrived, they escorted me into a room by myself and the doctor explained all that they tried to do to save him, but that they couldn't.
I stayed with Thomas' body for about 1/2 an hour, holding his hand, crying at the stupidity of it all. I was so sorry I didn't do something sooner.
So sorry I didn't follow my instinct and call 911 despite his protests.
So sorry he had to die alone.
So sorry he died in pain (a fear of his).
So sorry that it had to end this way.
None of it seemed real.
Like any moment it would prove to be a big mistake.
I started to get very claustrophobic at the hospital.
Get me out of here.
I need air.
I need space.
I want to get out of here.
Paperwork and more questions I can't answer.
"Who is his next of kin?"
"His dad I guess"
"How can we get a hold of him"
"I have no idea"
"Did Thomas have medical insurance"
"um. I don't know"
"Can I leave now?"
There was only one person for me to call.
One person on the planet who could get me through this.
I called her when I was driving to Thomas'.
Very cryptic call.
"I'm on my way to thomas'. He's having chest pains. Might be bad. Stay by the phone. I gotta go"
When I called her outside the hospital, she answered the phone..."Is he okay?" "No. He had a heart attack" "Oh my god, he'll be okay though won't he?" "No. He didn't make it"
"Oh my god Susan"
"OH MY GOD"
Tears, shock, more tears....
"What do I do?"
"I wish I could be there with you and give you a hug right now"
"I know...me too"
"I've never had to do this before. I don't even know what to do"
"Don't worry, we'll figure it out. We need to get you home"
It would be 4:30 before my head actually hit the pillow and alls I could do was cry and keep Fringe close to me.
I was completely numb and running on adrenaline for the next 48 hours. The levels and significance to his passing was something I could sense, but could not be with for the moment. That would have to wait. CoachVille would have to wait. The world would have to wait.
Even as I was informing folks and telling people what happened over and over and over, the same thought kept flirting in my mind. You should have called 911 sooner. You shouldn't have let Thomas talk you out of it. You should have hung-up on him, to call 911. If you had done that, he would be here today. If you had done that, your friend could have been saved.
I've since been coached, counseled and mentored on this subject numerous times. I get that Thomas was his own person and is ultimately responsible for his own life...but every once in awhile, especially when going back over the events of the day, I still stop and wonder what could have been......
Its been a year now.
Although in truth, if feels like just a few short months ago....
A year of tremendous pain.
A year of tremendous disappointment.
A year of disallusionment.
A year of being let down.
A year of letting down.
A year of letting go.
A year of loss.
Did I mention pain?
Anyone who doesn't have a spiritual side would miss the very obvious signs that we are so very spiritual beings. Despite the crushing pain and the crushing disappoinment, loss, and grief. There is something in each one of us, that will not stay down. Will not stay beaten.
Life moves through us, whether we like it or not.
Call it creativity, spirituality, whatever you want to call it, there is something that gets someone out of bed, when there aren't any reasons to.
And it's that something inside of me that is wanting to get out....that makes me smile and very glad I am alive.
And honored to have known Thomas, even for the short time that I did.
Miss and still love you tons t....