The Confessional

Between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, I spent well over 24 hours in a hospital room with an 80 year old gentleman. When they first wheeled him in on the stretcher, the attendants were gushing over what a model patient he was, assuring the nurse and CNA that he wouldn’t present a problem. I myself, took their praise as of him as justified. For the next 28 hours he refuted all of their claims.

Before the nurses made it back to their stations he began screaming how much pain he was in. The nurses call button eluded him so he resorted to screaming at fever pitch for relief. A nurse would of course return and placate him for for 5 minutes and educate him on the call button but 5 minutes later the cacophony would start anew. This went on for an hour before I finally spoke to him through our shared confessional curtain. He had fallen in the bathroom and broken his neck and lower back. He was helplessly bedridden in a neck brace which prevented him from seeing anything but the ceiling.

I calmly spoke to him of my wife and her fall that left her a quadriplegic. He said to me “Oh, so you can relate?” I replied that I can more than relate and told him the fact that he can feel pain is proof that he is alive and he should be grateful for the feeling which is more than I can say for my wife. He seemed to weep at this thought though I would never truly know what went on behind that curtain.

As the minutes dragged on into hours his mental health deteriorated and it soon became apparent to me that he was a dementia patient. Although his call button was clipped to his chest he nevertheless managed to lose it. His box of tissues placed carefully within reach eluded his grasp. By the second day, he was convinced he was at his home. He spent well over a half an hour hollering for his wife. He often was convinced he had one shoe on and actively tried to enlist the housekeeping staff and me to help him with the other. at one point the IV was ripped from his arm as he struggled to gain leverage to stand up.

As his fell deeper into his disease, I marveled at the strength a 4′- 6″ woman showed in comparison to the 6′- 4″ male in handling the constraints placed upon them.

The curtain hung before me obscured his image, but his actions and words told the tale of what he had been and what his future would entail. His side of the curtain almost certainly held him in days long gone, days never to return.


Gina’s Obituary

Regina Marie Page, 48

So Portland – Gina Page passed away at home with family by her side on August 19th, 2015 as she tried to recover from a severe spinal cord injury that left her a quadriplegic on life support.

She was born to the late John ‘Dude’ Renna and Donna Wilkinson of So Portland in Portland Maine on July 5th, 1967. She married Daniel Page in South Portland on June 21st, 2003.

Gina graduated from South Portland High and went on to attend UME Farmington and SMCC where she obtained a liberal arts degree.

Gina gravitated toward people and her work history followed suit with the following jobs: Assistant Manager at Pizza Hut, Manager at Mariner’s Grille, Special Orders at the USCG Exchange, Customer Service Clerk and bookkeeper at Shaw’s MillCreek, and bartender at Evelyn’s Tavern and Griffin Club. The toll of everyday challenges led to retire with disabilities from Shaw’s.

Gina was born with severe scoliosis. She spent a year of her childhood embraced in a body cast at Boston Children’s Hospital as they worked on straightening her spine by implanting titanium rods. One day members of the Red Sox showed up in her hospital room and she instantly became a lifelong die-hard Red Sox fan. It’s worth noting that her father, husband, and step-father embrace the Yankees.

When football season comes around, Gina is all Cowboys. She never came right out and said it, but I suspect she once had a crush on Troy Aikman which would explain her devotion to the team.

When Gina was young she spent her idle time at the South Portland Boys and Girls Club where she picked up the art of pool. Her small stature gave her an advantage when it came to making sure and clean shots. Her spinal abnormality didn’t stop her from engaging in strenuous sports. Her resilience drove her to compete with the others and I’m told she often scampered around or beneath the opposing players in basketball games. In baseball games she was a “tough” out because of her short strike zone and had the knack for laying down a bunt.

Gina loved campfires, Miller Lites and card games. She was frequently the first to call for the cribbage board and deck of cards for a one-on-on best of three with a friend. She collected her coins in buckets for poker at the monthly ‘girls night’ poker parties. She nearly always returned with more coins then she left with.

Gina’s friends ran the gamut from bad-ass bikers to doctors. She befriended everyone with the simply awesome gift of a smile. When she ran the customer service desk at Shaw’s she bounded up the stool with a bounce in her step keeping that smile intact despite the pain it caused to her body. When she tended bar your drink was forever full until either you or her stopped the tap.

Besides her husband, mother and step-father Greg of South Portland Maine, she is survived by her best friend and sister, Tammy Tardy and her partner Jeremy Wherren of Ocala, Florida, her nephew Steven Tardy also of Ocala and his daughter Madeline, her niece Ashley Tardy and her fiance Kyle Watts, their children Riley and Bentley all of Port Richey, Florida and an estranged half-brother Robert Renna.

Finally, thanks are in order for the tender care administered to her during her 10 month ordeal.
First to the nurses CNA’s and physicians in the SCU and ACU departments at MMC. They trained me in the most important parts of their job so I could bring her home and care for her safely. Most prominently of these was Sonja Orff who took Gina under her wing and kept in oftentimes daily contact with me answering my questions and concerns and sometimes giving me a shoulder to lean on. Second, to all the caregivers who took time out of their daily life to give me some respite so I could recharge my batteries. To Cindy, Gale, Kathy, Kelly, Melinda, Mo, Annette, Missy and Deb. I couldn’t have managed without your help. Thirdly, to VNA of South Portland for assistance in wound care.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Gina’s Eulogy

I was reading the online condolences this morning and came across one from Gina’s College Speech class instructor. The instructor remembered how Gina was hidden from the class by the podium she was to deliver the speech from, but Gina laughed it off and spoke to the class from the side of it. I remember her getting an A in the class.

Thank you all for coming to witness the Lord’s acceptance of Gina into his hands today.

In 1994, my sister, Julienne, went through this very same Catholic Mass at the age of 38. Less than a week later, I went into Evelyn’s Tavern for a beer. The bar was empty except for the bartender and a 20 something woman perched upon a barstool sipping at her beer. A few minutes later she lit up a cigarette. I had to use the men’s room and had to pass behind her on my way. As I passed I said “Hi, you realize smoking is bad for you.” I kept going, did my business, returned to my seat, grabbed my drink, and took the stool next next to her.

I told her stories of my sister and how quickly the cancer tore through the body of a still young vibrant woman. I told her how her May diagnosis led her to death in July. I said the official cause was lung cancer. And then we went on to inevitable everyday chat where you are trying to determine if the person is a good match. In other words, sizing each other up. I came out to be the taller one on the podium scale .

She told me later in life that she called Vicki Dean that very night and proclaimed to her that she was going to marry me. Gina generally gets her way, so our courtship in a sense began. It would prove to be long and difficult for her. To get an Irishman to commit is not the easiest task for a woman to accomplish. We broke up often, but we both loved each other so we always got back together again and again.

For my side of the story, I once told her that “It was my sister’s doing that we met that day, because she was the woman who watched out for me when she was healthy and she was passing that duty onto you, Gina.” Gina ran with it and as her health faded during this ordeal she was more fretful of who was going to watch out for me when she passed then that of the actual death she was headed for.

Gina and I got along amazing well when we traveled. The everyday drama of South Portland was erased from our minds when we visited another city. There were many trips to New York City, a St. Patrick’s Day weeklong trip to Washington D.C by train, an anniversary trip to Boston for a stay at the Four Seasons, but most memorable was the New York City trip for St. Patrick’s Day 2003. Planned months in advance, I purchased her an engagement ring to propose to her atop the Empire State Building. Three months later we were married here at Holy Cross by the co-celebrant this morning, Fr. Frank Morin.

For obvious reasons Gina couldn’t survive giving a natural birth, so we talked surrogate, adoption, and foster care. Ultimately we decided that we really did a great job raising our pets. We knew she would have been a tremendous mother but the injuries to her body were piling up and it would have hampered her in an emergency situation with a baby. She was over the top excited when her niece Ashley delivered a baby boy Riley into the world. For the brief periods with him she felt the joy of motherhood. Photos of him begin appearing in frames throughout the house and took the wallpaper position on her electronic devices.

For the past ten months, I have been and still am asked “How are you handling all of this?” Many times I answered that I took a vow which included these words, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It was my duty to honor that vow. More than once during this tragedy Gina said I could divorce her and each time I laughed and said you know me better than that, I’m with you all the way. So that in a nutshell is how I got through it. To all of you who are married or thinking of getting married and you run into a problem in the relationship just try a little harder because it certainly can’t compare to the problem Gina and I faced together.

In the obituary, I thanked the key members who helped Gina and me along this toll road. I inadvertently missed one key member who provided invaluable support to Gina and I. I’m sorry for the oversight Gale Murphy.

I am now going to use this opportunity to thank everyone collectively who helped. People like Mark and Diego who took care of Gina’s dog Seamus the days and hours I couldn’t be there. Scott Parker who held fund-raisers in his bar for her. The people who donated or sought out donations for her benefit and the choir of which Gina was a former member. No matter how big or how small of an effort, if you feel you made any slice of her day better please stand now so I can offer you Thanks.

Finally, there will be a reception and “Irish Wake” at the Griffin Club. Keep following Cottage Road past Legion Square Market. It will be a green building on the right. It is open now so if you are not going to the cemetery, someone save my seat at the bar.

Thank you from Gina and I.

Good Night Dave

Last night I said goodnight to a venerable broadcaster, David Letterman. I have followed his career for three decades. It started one night at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo TX. I was attending training there. One night coming back from the NCO club, I heard raucous laughter from a third floor room. The next day, I asked the inhabitants of the room what was so damn funny. They then introduced me to “Late Night with David Letterman.”

The show followed me to to my next base in Hawaii. My friends and I worked 3 day shifts, 3 swing shifts, 3 night shifts and finally 3 days off. Mondays thru Thursdays the VCR collected Late Night so whenever our shift was over we would gather in my room and see what Dave had to say. We never missed a show.

I remember saying during that time period that someday I would go to a live taping. I never did get to a “Late Night” taping, but I have been to five “Late Show” tapings. Had Dave gotten “The Tonight Show” I doubt I would ever have had the chance to see it live unless he taped in NYC. Fortunately, he lost out and Howard Stringer hired him and gave him the Ed Sullivan Theater as a venue.

Back somewhere around 1994, I started getting these curious CD’s in the mail from a company called AOL. I had dabbled in local BBS’s, but AOL promised international connections. Hooked. Suddenly, I can connect to like-minded folks around the world. Lo and behold there was a chat room dedicated to David Letterman. Hey there is a fan club and I’m now a member and golly there are no dues! Sign me up.

This AOL fan club has gravitated with the times from AOL to Usenet to Facebook. We count as members not only fans but a full spectrum of the Late Show staff which got their severance check yesterday. They have truly been wonderful to us devoted fans. The staff has welcomed us on to the stage after a taping, showered us with gifts and tours of the backstage and most all of allowed us to sit at Dave’s throne.

A month after my last opportunity to attend a show, my wife fell and became a quadriplegic. I reached out to writer Steve Young when we planning a benefit for her and asked for some Late Show stuff. He came thorough in the nicest way with vintage Late Night and Late Show gear. I had gotten some comedians to perform for the benefit and I was able to pay them with Dave swag. They were overwhelmed and said to me “We’ve never been paid for a gig before.” Thanks Steve!

Benjamin Franklin

once said – Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

I have spent days by Gina’s bedside carefully watching the skilled nurses tending to her needs. After a period of time they let me assist in her care. It was as simple as positioning her wheelchair underneath the Hoya lift, assisting with repositioning her in bed, or doing range of motion movements with her limbs. Once we got to rehab, I was allowed to become more involved.

Her life revolves around a ventilator to assist her with breathing through her tracheotomy incision. Without this assistance she cannot maintain an airflow to keep her alive. Tammy and I have both gone through the training on a “live” mannequin. Live in the sense of the word means it does breathe. I went through four repetitions of swapping out the trachea device and felt confident at that point to go the full route and perform it on Gina. This is something that will be needed monthly. It must be done quickly because she will be unable to breath normally during the swap. It needs one person to do the swap and a helping hand to assist. Gina was due for the swap that day, so I did it with a helping hand of my instructor. Gina and the instructor gave me an A.

The company who is supplying the ventilator here in Maine requires their instructors to sign off on Tammy’s and my proficiency before they will release the equipment to the house. We will be training here at our house mid-week to become certified.


Two words that are close enough to be cousins and yet can be interpreted disparately.

Gina and I are anxious to get her home into a familiar environment where she can have family and friends visit at will without the restrictions of travel. This is a good feeling to have between us and I encourage her to look forward to it.

Gina and I both exhibit anxiety about the future ahead of us. It is an uncertain path we are both following together. The biggest obstacle we face is can our physical and mental health withstand the strain of everything to come before us. I have to hide my anxiety from her so as not to increase hers.

We have taken many large and small steps towards getting her home these past six months and I have found that continuing reassurance is tantamount to getting her over the threshold of our house.

She should be home shortly so the anxiousness will disappear, but the anxiety I fear will always be at our doorstep.


One evening Gina was out with friends and a woman at the establishment she was at harassed her because of her small stature. Gina did not take too kindly to this and a confrontation ensued.  Gina came home and recounted how she stood up to a woman two feet taller than her and just plain out wailed on her with her fists. The woman called the police and Gina was nearly handcuffed and put into the back of the cruiser. Thankfully, the policeman looked at the two of them and talked the woman out of charges, probably knowing full well that that the charges would not have held up in a court of law.

Gina is shackled now to a hospital bed but the gumption she demonstrated that night hasn’t wavered. No one will keep her down if she can help it.


In a few days it will be six months since Gina’s fall changed our lives. In that time, we both grasped the enormity of the situation before us. She has  the lead role in this drama and I have the supporting actor part.

Gina is the breath of fresh air that keeps life to what we are witnessing and my role is just the supporting actor who keeps her character fresh.

I taped this movie one morning just before I proposed to Gina atop the Empire State Building. Little did I know how true to life it would become.

Google “An Affair to Remember”  Wikipedia explains it all.


My aunt Judy was a nurse. She occupied the operating room at Mercy Hospital. She was also my second mother. Gina adored her. I brought Gina to her first holiday gathering with my family and my aunt thrust a beer into her hand, drew her into her living room and then let her loose into the fray, but checking back on her to see if she was okay.  Her actions left an indelible mark on Gina. She often mentions this when talking about our family. She felt welcome and comfortable in a delicate situation.

Gina has had a variety of nurses this past six months. A great majority of them have been outstanding. Many and I mean MANY have followed up on her care through the facilities she has been cared for since the fall. Gina has made such a mark in their lives that they deeply care for her after their shift overseeing  her is over, much like my late aunt Judy did with her.