Remembering red flags: Happy 17th anniversary, to me

Today marks 17 years since I became Mrs Ryan. And despite the absence of Mr Ryan, I like to mark this day as it was the start of some of the happiest days of my life.

This year, I had planned to enjoy an active weekend to celebrate and remember my wedding. I planned to run a half-marathon this morning and climb in the Pentland Hills tomorrow. I was really looking forward to getting out into the fresh air and to celebrating the life that I have today. A life that, despite the pain of widowhood, is a good life that was shaped so profoundly by my years with Paul – before and after we got married.

Frustratingly, my plans have changed to “nothing” because I had some routine blood work yesterday that revealed a low platelet count – which led to two separate calls from doctors (my GP around 5pm and a haematologist around 8pm). Each called to tell me that they are concerned, and I should rest as much as possible over the weekend and to have more blood work done first thing Monday morning and possibly medical intervention if needed.

And now, instead of spending my anniversary weekend running and hiking, I am spending it on the couch. This isn’t fun, but it has reminded me of a funny story of being (very) sick shortly after meeting Paul. And I thought that, for our 17th anniversary, I would share the story.

So, without any further ado…

It all happened 20 years ago, in February 2002. February 21st, to be exact.

Paul and I had only met two weeks previously, and in the second week (Valentine’s Day) I had come down with a cold that really sent my immune system for a loop. So much so that I went to my GP’s office and was sent to hospital – on my birthday, no less!

It seems that my platelet counts had plummeted to a seriously dangerous low of 8 (normal = 150-400) and they were very worried about me so felt I would be best served being admitted. Which was really upsetting because I was at risk medically speaking, but also because I was planning to spend my 28th birthday with this amazing man I had recently met.

I called Paul to cancel our plans because they were going to admit me, and he cancelled our reservations and then made plans to visit me in hospital. But then, they decided to let me go home with a high dose of steroids (120mg) and I would just go back first thing in the morning. So, Paul came to pick me up at hospital.

From there, we walked to his flat a little over a mile away – with a stop at the shops to pick up groceries so that he could make me a birthday dinner.

And that’s where the “red flag” came in!

We purchased two bags worth of groceries that evening and as we left, I tried to carry one of the bags. Only Paul quite adamantly would not allow me to do so. He insisted on carrying both bags and it was not open to discussion. (In hindsight, he might not have been as forceful about it as I felt he was being. But that’s hindsight for you.)

Paul’s insistence that he carried the bags caught me off guard and came across as a very “I am the man therefore I will carry the bags” attitude and it was a red flag.

It wasn’t a “RUN” flag, but it was a “wait a minute…” flag. The last thing I wanted or needed was a man who thought it was his duty to open doors and carry things and to “take care of” me.

It was a little out of character, but I had only known the character for two weeks, so I didn’t really know how this episode fit within his wider being. And so, I tucked that red flag aside and paid attention to see if there were other “warning signs”.

In the weeks and months to follow, I had countless doctors’ appointments whilst dealing with the extreme side effects of the steroids and another awful medication. Paul looked after me when I was unwell and put up with me (with kindness!) when I was suffering the effects of the medication. Despite only just meeting me, he took care of me and willingly made adjustments to how we spent time together, based on the rollercoaster ride I was on and what my body would allow me to do from one day to the next.

In the end, the Great Bag Drama was a one-off event. Instead, I found Paul to be a kind and generous man (yes, a Nice Guy) and whilst he looked after me when I was unwell, he generally showed his Proud Feminist side.

Fast forward to sometime after we got engaged when I relayed this story to Paul: Who was aghast at the idea that I thought for even a moment that he might be one of Those Guys.

He recalled that night quite well and made two points clear: (1) He insisted on carrying both bags because he had just picked me up at hospital and I was clearly unwell and (2) had he realised just how serious my condition was, he would have put me in a taxi from hospital and done all the shopping himself after settling me into a cotton wool-wrapped couch!

Seventeen years ago, we made vows to be there for each other in sickness and in health. And I didn’t doubt for a moment that he would be there… until death do us part. Only, I hadn’t expected that death would come so soon.

I always miss him that little bit more when I’m unwell. I can almost hear him now “Get back on the couch! Rest means rest, I will get it for you!” … Not because he was controlling, but because he was loving.

I was blessed. I will never forget that.

Happy anniversary, Paul. You brought my soul to life all those years ago, and you will live in my heart forever. I luv ya, luv.


Way back when we first got married, Paul created a couple of short photo videos to share with our family and friends who were unable to attend our wedding, so I thought that I’d share them with you here again. Just in case you want to roll your eyes over how terribly sappy and in love we were.

The “formal” shots
YouTube did not allow me to upload this video with the music Paul had it set to, so the track on the embedded video isn’t as fun. Click here to load the original version.

The “candid” shots
This one is loaded with the original music. So no other link is needed!

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