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The night a bitter rivalry forged a precious friendship

 The night a bitter rivalry forged a precious friendship

By Gordon Monson
Updated:12/25/2009 02:46:51 PM MST

"In the past, there has existed an unwritten rule in medicine that forbids the emotional and personal involvement of physicians with their patients, as this would [supposedly] undermine the integrity of the physician-patient relationship. Similarly, a rule seemingly exists in the minds and hearts of those involved in a heated rivalry, that you should cheer for your team and against your rival at all times. That night on call, I broke both." - Steve Call, physician and BYU fan.

Those words to the left were lifted straight from a journal entry written at 2 a.m. on the April night the good doctor broke the rules. He broke another one, too, a few hours before, admitting a critical patient at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital without first directing him through the emergency room at University Hospital, according to protocol.

Steve Call, an attending physician at the Huntsman that night, received a phone message at 7 p.m. from another doctor about a cancer patient who was in dire condition. The doctor asked if his patient could come in directly. Call relented, although he wasn't authorized to do so.
"That decision changed my life," he says.

Admitted was Rich Lloyd, a 35-year-old husband of wife Marianne, father of three young children, nut-job Ute fan, president of a clothing company headquartered in Kansas City, former director of global marketing at Dell Computers, owner of a Harvard MBA, and proud graduate of the University of Utah.

How passionate was Lloyd about his Utes?

He was wacko, a certifiable lunatic. He loved all Utah sports, and was a season-ticket holder for football, even when he lived a thousand miles out of state. When he couldn't see games in person, he huddled around a computer or TV to see what he could.

"Rich was an intense fan," Marianne says. "It was so fun to see him get excited about games, even when he was sick."

And Lloyd was beyond sick.
Given three months to live " He had developed something called metastatic glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain tumor that quickly spread through his spinal cord, at first giving him massive headaches and then paralyzing him from the waist down.

Prior to the head pain, which started in August 2007, Lloyd had been living the dream: great wife, terrific kids, successful career, appreciation for life, and vivacity for Utah sports.

Then, after suffering his first symptoms on a Saturday, pain that Marianne says he described as "profoundly different" from anything he had experienced, Lloyd was diagnosed a week later. When he flew to Boston for specialized attention, a doctor told him to "go love your family, get your affairs in order; you have three months to live."

The doctor also advised Lloyd, since he was from Utah and had most of his family here, to head for the Huntsman Cancer Institute for treatment over whatever span of life he had left.

Rich and Marianne did exactly that, moving in with family members in Salt Lake City. At first, Lloyd enjoyed improvement, but, thereafter, in January 2008, over a period of just a few hours, the paralysis struck and he could no longer walk.

"Doctors said there was nothing they could do," Marianne says. "Basically, they taught him how to die with dignity."

Truth is, Lloyd did that on his own.

He already had been an unselfish man, an optimist who was grateful for the people and things life had brought him. And it had brought him a lot. Beyond his professional and familial success, Lloyd was a gifted pianist. From Mozart to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he could play all of the hits.

"We miss him, especially at Christmas," says Marianne. "He had a wonderful rendition of 'We Three Kings.' He was so talented. Whenever I hear 'The Flight of the Bumble Bee,' I think of him. Some people get it all. That was Rich."

She calls the chance to care for her husband over the next few months a "beautiful experience." Lloyd was in and out of the hospital -- highlights for him were visits from Ute basketball coach Jim Boylen and footballers past and present: Brian Johnson, Steve Tate, and Morgan Scalley.
He couldn't get enough of that.

One of Rich's and Marianne's dubious claims to fame within family circles - a splotch on their personal history together - had been that, while they were students at Utah, they met on a study abroad program in Jerusalem, sponsored by ... BYU.

"We don't talk about that much," Marianne says, laughing at the memory.

Revealing their colors " By April, Lloyd's body was shutting down.

That triggered the urgent Friday night phone message to Call.

After Lloyd was settled into his room, Call entered to meet the patient and check on his status. He was blown away. "I would have thought Rich was dead," he says.

From the doctor's journal, he wrote: "I saw Rich, pale, breathing shallow with an oxygen mask on and looking terrible. I introduced myself and walked to the bedside and grabbed and held his hand. His eyes were closed. I asked, 'How are you doing?' He opened his eyes, looked at me, and said with a smile, 'So, good. I feel great.' I laughed loudly as I thought he was being sarcastic. As I found out the rest of the night, sarcasm is a word that is not in Rich's vocabulary."

Another entry: "I had expected fear, doubt, gloom and depression - all normal responses, given the prognosis. But I did not feel these at any time while I was in his room. The more we talked, the more I wanted to stay in the room and learn about this person. His personality was infectious, his optimism stirring and inspirational, despite his hushed voice and critical condition.

"I continued to try and hurry the nurses to get fluids, antibiotics, chest X-rays, blood cultures, and repeated vital signs. His numbers were fluctuating between bad and terrible, but his attitude and the spirit in the room were unwavering. All who took care of him were caught up in his personality, despite his condition; so much so that even I was calmed."

Throughout the night, Call re-entered the room and talked more with Lloyd. At one point, he had taken off his physician's garb, exposing a BYU shirt, a stunt the Cougar - Call did his undergraduate studies in Provo and came from a long line of BYU devotees - enjoyed pulling at Utah's medical facilities. Saying the young doctor was a BYU fan was like saying water is wet. Turns out, Call, true to his family lines, was as cracked about the Cougars as Lloyd about the Utes.

When Call came in with the BYU shirt on, he found Lloyd had donned a Utah beanie.

"His friends in the room were laughing that I was lucky Rich let me in there wearing that," Call says.
The talk that changed everything " From that moment forward, the doctor, holding onto Lloyd's arm, and the patient, holding onto dear life, spent hours conversing about Bronco Mendenhall, Kyle Whittingham, Boylen and Dave Rose. They hashed through every detail of the Cougar and Ute sports programs.

Marianne, watching this whole thing unfurl, says: "Sometimes, I don't understand the way men think. Here's a guy who's dying and a doctor who's treating him talking BYU and Utah football. It was good to see Rich excited about that. There was a lot of passion."
And compassion.

"Rich could throw a few words at his BYU friends," she says. "But it was always with dignity and kindness."

There was no hate here.

Call, who had grown up in American Fork and held season tickets with blue-in-the-face family members at LaVell Edwards Stadium for three decades, was captivated by his new friend and his new friend's attitude and partisanship. "I've never said I hate Utah, but many of my friends and family have," he says, shaking his head at the overload of idiocy in the rivalry.

The doctor told Lloyd the last time he saw him that night: "Rich, I've never met anyone like you."

Actually, the doctor had a secret.

Six months earlier, he also had been diagnosed with a type of cancer, and was uncertain about his own future. He admired the courage, grace, gratitude Lloyd demonstrated under such duress, and wondered - doubted - whether he could do likewise, if it came to that.

For Steve Call, it did not. His condition later was found to be much less serious, and he now is practicing medicine in Provo.

Rich Lloyd died a week after his Friday night encounter with Call. Call visited him every remaining day.

Just prior to the doctors placing him on life support, Lloyd stopped them and said: "Before you put that tube down my throat, I want to thank everyone who has been with me and helped me. Thank you."

Marianne leaned over him and said, "I'm proud of you. I love you."

Lloyd then slipped into unconsciousness and, shortly after, into the eternities.

And Call, the Cougar, remembers Lloyd, the Ute, with great respect and even greater fondness.

"I saw in him the person I want to be," he says. "I want to deal with life the way he did, even when it's difficult. I want to emulate him. I want to bring that kind of positive outlook to all situations. Rich changed my life. He is my friend. He is my hero. He's a man. And he's a Ute."