There's nothing like having your wife suffer a potentially deadly brain haemorrhage to make you think about what your marriage truly means to you, says Kevin Milne.
"These things certainly give you an opportunity to reassess your relationship," explains the New Zealand Woman's Weekly columnist and former Fair Go host, looking fondly at his wife, Linda, across their kitchen table.
Now, nearly a year on from Linda's health crisis, Kevin says somberly, "It was a frightening time; very, very scary." But there is a twinkle in his eyes, as he adds, "After everything Linda went through, I thought, 'I really must find myself a healthier wife.'"
Linda just shakes her head at her husband of 35 years. As they discuss her brain haemorrhage with the Weekly over Sunday lunch at their rural home near Waikanae, the couple can now smile about some aspects, but at the time it was definitely no laughing matter.
"It was absolutely terrifying, and made me realise you can't take anything for granted," says Kevin (64). He has had his own health scares in recent years, including a heart valve replacement and suffering a benign brain tumour, and he wouldn't have been surprised if something else had gone wrong with him.
The fact that it was Linda being taken to hospital in an ambulance with bleeding in her brain one night last November, and not him, came as a huge shock.
"She'd never had any health issues – I was always the crook one. She's never smoked, doesn't drink much, is reasonably fit... it came out of the blue."
Linda had no warning symptoms, although the day she was taken ill, a colleague commented on how tired she looked. The previous few months had been very busy for the early education teacher, who had been planning a trip to the UK and overseeing renovations on the house she shares with Kevin and the youngest of their four children, daughter Tommie (12).
That day, Linda went to Pilates after work. When she got home, she joined Kevin and Tommie for a meal he had cooked.
"I was doing the dishes afterwards when I thought of something I needed to do, but by the time I got to the hallway, I'd completely forgotten what that was," recalls Linda. "Then, all of a sudden, I was struck by this big pain in my head, followed by what's known as a thunderclap headache. It was like being hit by a sledgehammer."
Linda went to the bedroom, where she was in so much pain, she could hardly move. She remembers struggling to the bathroom and vomiting.
Something was very wrong. "I spied myself in the mirror and I was grey. I thought, 'This isn't good.' I thought I might have meningitis."
Kevin arrived, took one look at his wife, and immediately drove her to the local after-hours medical centre.
When staff took Linda's blood pressure, "it was like there was suddenly a red alert", and the doctor who examined her said she immediately needed to go to Wellington Hospital by ambulance.
Kevin and Tommie followed in his car, and the veteran broadcaster was glad the paramedics had warned him they might stop from time to time on the hour-long journey, to administer pain relief.
"When you see the ambulance with your wife in it pull over to the side of the road, it feels like your heart is going to stop beating," he says.
Tests at the hospital showed Linda had had a brain haemorrhage, which means a small blood vessel in her brain had burst and bled into surrounding tissue. She was put on medication and had to lie flat for four days, to avoid putting undue pressure on the brain.
Linda wondered if stress, or even flying long-haul, had anything to do with the brain bleed, but doctors told her no. "You can't stress yourself into a haemorrhage – it was just one of those things. There was nothing I could do about it."
Kevin says, "You should never go online for information in times like this, but it was scary to read that 35% of people who suffer a brain haemorrhage die, and at least as many are left with some sort of ongoing disability.
"Linda is one of the lucky survivors to emerge with semingly no ongoing problems – it's a huge relief."
She spent 11 days in hospital and was off work for three months. She needed to take long afternoon naps for quite some time, and was plagued with headaches for about six months.
But now, 10 months later, there are no lasting side effects and it's hard to believe she was ever so sick.
Kevin and Linda are both well aware that the outcome may have been very different.
"The doctors never actually said to us that I could have died, but I'm sure that was the case," says Linda.
Kevin admits he had feared he might lose his wife that night, and every time he left her in the hospital to return home to Waikanae, he worried he might not see her again.
"Saying goodbye to her when I left was really hard," he says.
It was his daughter who gave strength to Kevin during the tough times.
"Throughout everything, Tommie has been absolutely amazing," smiles the proud dad. "The night it happened, she was just brilliant with Linda, doing everything she could to help. Then, when we came home, she was a fabulous support for me. I was quite distraught, and that night Tommie and I cuddled each other to sleep. It was like she was taking me through it and being there to hold my hand, instead of the other way around. I couldn't have got through it without her."
Kevin and Linda, whose sons Alex (30), Rory (27) and Jake (23) have all flown the nest, had some concerns about being older parents when they had Tommie at 52 and 44.
"We thought general lack of energy would be the problem. The irony is, we haven't had that at all and, on a day-to-day basis, parenting this time round has been a lot easier than I thought it would be."
"But we never believed we would have such serious problems between us. My heart problems and brain tumour weren't good, but Linda's brain haemorrhage was the most dangerous of the three."
"We've spoken to her about it quite solemnly, haven't we Tommie?" says Kevin, turning to his daughter. "And we've told her not to do that to us again."
Since retiring from Fair Go three years ago, after 26 years on the hit show, much of Kevin's time has been spent as a hands-on dad to Tommie.
A talented swimmer, she trains five days a week at the local pool, and while that means a lot of driving her around, Dad is more than happy to do it.
"I love being involved in what she does," says Kevin, recently named number nine on the Reader's Digest list of most-trusted people.
He's also Linda's "2IC" at home, cooking dinner most nights, and following a daily list of jobs she leaves for him to do around the house and their six-hectare property.
He also writes his column on consumer advice for the Weekly, is a spokesperson for Waikato company Carpet Mill, talks on radio, and does a fair bit of public speaking.
Meanwhile, the health scares in the family have not convinced him to write a "bucket list".
"We've got friends travelling the world and doing all these things they want to cross off their list, but we've got commitments here with Tommie, so we'll just keep going on as we have been, while she's still at school."
Linda adds, "I think thatpeople who change their lives drastically after going through a serious illness are doing so because they have been dissatisfied in some way. Illness makes them consider what they really want."
"I'm just pleased to have recovered enough to be back where I was. I haven't felt the need to go and do new things. But since having the haemorrhage, I don't let little things worry me so much. They're not important."
Kevin feels the same. "There's no point in worrying about the things you can't change. And if there is something else I've learned in the last few years, it's that you can't take your life for granted. You never know when something could happen that may change everything."
Photos: David White • Hair & Make-up: Miranda Millen • Styling: Amanda Harward. Linda wears goodness top, max jeans, keats boutique jewellery. Kevin wears hurricane jeans shirt and jumper. Linda wears keats boutique top and necklace, max jeans. Linda wears max clothing, patina necklace from keats boutique. Kevin wears farrys shirt, hurricane jeans jacket. tommie wears pumpkin patch throughout.
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