Orlando or Bust!

“Congratulations! You have been selected for a follow-up appointment at an upcoming Jeopardy! contestant search for the Orlando area, exclusively for those who successfully passed the online test. This is the next step in becoming a Jeopardy! contestant. We have reserved the following appointment for you: When: Tuesday, June 20th Time: 12noon Where: Orlando, FL You must RSVP within two business days of receipt of this email to secure your place in the audition. . .”

So began the email I received the morning of May 11. I was mildly stunned, and very excited. And the timing was perfect. I’d be in Ft. Lauderdale for the CALI conference from June 14 – 17, then Lisa and Micah would come down from Melbourne, where they were visiting Lisa’s mother and brother, pick me up, and we’d visit my mom and sister in Miami for two days. We’d then head back upstate to Orlando.

I began watching Jeopardy! more closely, mostly to see what the men were wearing, because the instructions said to dress for the audition as you would for the show. And most men were wearing coat and tie. So much for the casual, nonchalant contestant.

I worried about button technique. I’m sure Ken Jennings’ success was due as much to his skill at ringing in first as it was to his vast store of trivia. My children suggested I practice on the PS2 version of the game. I know I have several weak areas, but I decided not to try any boning up before the audition.

The week before arrived – time to take off from work and head to Florida for the conference, then my appointment with destiny at the Westin Grand Bohemian. But of course, best laid plans …

The morning of Tuesday, June 13, my sister emailed me that my mother was in the hospital with gall stones, awaiting word on whether she would need her gall bladder removed. I called her and then my wife, and changed my plans: I would travel directly to the hospital from my arrival at the airport, then attend the conference when able.

The morning of Wednesday, June 14, our elder daughter Kimberly phoned an hour before I was to leave for the airport. She too had been very sick overnight. I told her she needed to see her doctor right away, as she had a history of symptoms suggesting years of gall stones. ( I had gall bladder surgery shortly after arriving in Durham and Lisa had her own only a year later.) I was torn – I did not want to leave Kimberly, but I knew my mother and sister needed me as well. I set up a three way call with Kimberly and Lisa. Mary Elisabeth, our younger daughter, and her boyfriend Mike, who were to head to the beach that day, would drop me at the airport and then take Kimberly to her doctor’s appointment. Lisa would wait to hear if Kimberly needed surgery. I was taken to the airport and made my flights.

When I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Dave, my sister’s husband, met me at the airport and told me Mom was back at home. When we got there she and Kathy were in her apartment. She had left the hospital that morning, in a panic because of mention of an MRI. So later that day Kathy and I took her back to the E.R. and waited with her until 2 A.M. She was admitted late the next morning.

In the meantime, back in Durham, Kimberly too was admitted to the hospital after a long stint in the E.R. Her boyfriend Will kept her company, and our deacon and friend Betty also lent support. My mother and daughter were to have their gall bladders removed within the next two days.

Thursday, after 4 hours sleep, I made it to the conference just as it began. Throughout the day I was in touch with my sister, wife and daughter, waiting to learn when surgery was scheduled. That night we learned they could both have their surgery on Friday.

Friday dawned a little better – both patients were scheduled for surgery, Lisa left Melbourne headed to Durham, and I had enjoyed a full night’s sleep. I attended the conference in the morning, then after lunch returned to the hospital to stand by during my mom’s surgery. Will and Betty were tending Kimberly.

My mother went into surgery at 3 PM and came out at 3:45. The surgeon said the laparoscopic procedure had gone well. Kimberly went into surgery at 4 PM and came out at 5:30. Again, her surgeon reported the laparoscopic procedure had gone well.

Kimberly and Lisa had both told me to stay with my mom and then head to Orlando – they did not want me to miss out on my lifetime dream.

Saturday the conference ended and my mother was released late in the day, just before I got to her apartment. Kimberly was also released that day, a few hours after Lisa and Micah had arrived back in Durham.

I helped my sister care for my mother until Monday afternoon, then Dave took me to the airport; I flew to Orlando, picked up my rental car and found the hotel. I settled in for a good night’s sleep before my audition.


  1. Technically I set up the three-way call. It’s good to know there were times I went in and out of surgery. I didn’t know these things because I was all medicated.

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