“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”
I will never, ever forget those words.
I’ll never forget how they sat there, black against a grey bubble on a glowing screen in my hand. I’ll never forget how the interior of my roommate Meghan’s car went from glowing to dark as I dropped my phone and it landed face-down on the floormat. I’ll never forget the look of horror on her face when I told her what I just read, and I’ll certainly never forget the jerk of my neck as she romped down on the accelerator and took her car over 100 miles per hour to get us to the hospital as quickly as possible.
He was fine just a few hours before, when his wife Kelly left him to join us at our house for a much needed home-cooked meal. Fine enough, that is, that she felt it was okay to leave his side — the first time she’d done so since he entered the hospital four days previous.
It was a Monday. It was the first day since he went into the hospital that I didn’t go up and visit. I went to work and went to the gym and went home. A normal day, by most counts, with the notable exception that one of my best friends was in the hospital and I was trying to pretend I didn’t have that on my mind the entire day.
I didn’t visit that Monday because the day before, it seemed he had finally snapped out of the haze and the funk of being sick. It was Sunday. Football was on. More accurately, Tom Brady’s perfect hair and smug face was on the television in the hospital room, and Jeremy and I, in usual fashion, took turns berating him. It was always fun to do that, but that Sunday, it was especially fun. After a week in a nearly catatonic state, Jeremy Dale, it seemed, was back.
It was a nice change to hear his voice, especially with the quality of jokes Jeremy is capable of producing. Prior to that, all we really heard out of him were feeble grunts and very direct, short answers to questions that doctors and nurses would ask… Most of them needing to be repeated by Kelly, because they were mostly inaudible.
But he was back. He’d watched football with me, and made jokes about Brady and the Patriots and the new Moon Knight comic book and it was all gonna be just fine. He was on the mend! He and Kelly needed a day to themselves. It was fine for me to go back to work. It was fine to go to the gym. It was fine to go home and cook a meal and let Kelly leave the hospital for a night to eat decent food. It was all going to be alright.
The next thing I know, I’m in the passenger seat of a Subaru WRX doing 110 miles an hour on the interstate, too shocked to feel any sort of panic whatsoever, reaching to the floorboard to try to pick up my dropped phone and be sure — absolutely certain — that’s what I just read.
“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”
One week earlier, I was talking to Kelly on the phone. She was calling me to inform me that Jeremy and she couldn’t make it to dinner… For the third time in a week.
“It’s just really bad Con Crud,” she replied when I asked what was going on.
Con Crud, for the uninitiated (and you should thank God that you are) is a type of flu one catches when they attend large conventions. It’s basically a stew of bacterial and/or viral infections, formed by the tens of thousands of walking vectors for disease we call humans walking around, coughing and sweating on each other. It’s basically what’s going to eventually morph into the outbreak that causes the zombie apocalypse (but conventions ARE fun, really. I promise. Don’t let that dissuade you from coming to one. I’ll see you there. Look for me, I’ll be wearing the Akira-themed SARS mask).
Jeremy and Kelly cancelled on plans so rarely, one might as well say it never happened. And this was the third time in a week.
“You guys never cancel this much… I’m getting worried,” I said.
“I AM TOO!” my roommate Meghan said from the other room, loud enough that Kelly could hear her through the phone. It made her chuckle.
“I’ll keep you guys posted,” Kelly replied. I could hear her very practiced calm demeanor shining through. I could see her smiling that lovely Kelly Dale smile that she was so famous for. That one she has when it’s time to back off. Not rude, not mean, not even stern. You just know to respect it.
Kelly and Jeremy were pretty private with Jeremy’s previous health matters. I knew he had asthma, and that it was pretty bad. I knew he grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, which was an industrial town and is famous locally for having an abnormal number of respiratory illnesses per capita. I knew he also didn’t really like people all up in his biz. So I knew not to push.
“Well, let me know if I can do anything at all,” I said.
“ME TOO!” Meghan yelled from the other room.
Another chuckle. “I will,” Kelly answered.
I knew she totally wouldn’t.
Kelly and Jeremy are both famous in the comics world. Together, they are known for being the nicest people you will ever meet. They are known for their honesty, generosity, friendliness and the way they treat each fan like they’re the only people that matter.
Ask any comics creator at any convention if they know the Dales and they won’t just say “yes” — they’ll tell you how they met, how funny they are, how great it is to talk with them… They’ll tell you the date and convention they first met at, and their favorite “Jeremy Moment” whether it be a fast comeback joke or a hilarious photobomb.
Individually, Jeremy is famous in the comics world for his work on G.I. Joe, Popgun and his creator-owned book Skyward. As an artist, his work is celebrated for being very expressive and the exceedingly high quality he achieves in such a very short timeframe.
Kelly is famous in her own right. She’s the manager’s manager. She runs a tight ship. She’s unflappable. She’s able to make just about anything that needs to happen, happen. And she does so in a way that makes you feel like you owe her a favor afterword, because she’s just so damn nice about it.
In the midst of any chaos, there is a rock in the tempest. It has red hair and freckles and answers to Kelly Dale. And this rock called us for help, for the first time in recorded history.
It was that Wednesday, two days after our call. I was at work. The phone rang. It was my roommate Meghan.
Meghan only texts. Meghan never calls.
“We need you,” she said.
Some part of me knew exactly why and what for. But I asked anyway. Kelly had just called. She was crying. Jeremy was unresponsive, and couldn’t even get out of the bed. She didn’t know what to do. Kelly never cries. And Kelly never asks for help.
I dropped everything, stood up, grabbed my keys out of my bag and literally ran out of the door. My boss saw me as I rushed by and gave me a quizzical look. I just waved and left.
I arrived at Jeremy and Kelly’s home to find Jeremy pretty much as described. He was feverish, clammy and unresponsive, except when a direct statement involving his name was said at loud or higher volume. His responses were short and you could hear his attempt to be As Jeremy As Possible, but it was for naught: he was in bad shape.
We tried to help him to the car to take him to the hospital. We made it as far as the living room couch. Jeremy was unable to move his legs. They weren’t just weak. He was paralyzed from the waist down. It wasn’t that he wasn’t strong enough to walk; he literally couldn’t move them.
We called the paramedics, who said “Sounds like the flu. But the legs being paralyzed… We should take him to the hospital to be sure.” So they carried him out and transported him to the hospital.
The doctors took a look at him. They said it was “Likely just a bad flu. But the legs being paralyzed… We better run some tests to be sure.”
So they ran tests. And then, they ran more tests. And then, the sun was going down, and they were still running tests. And then, it was getting close to midnight, and they were STILL running tests.
“He’s going to have to stay here overnight,” they told us.
We went to a 24-hour Pho noodle shop and caught our breath. It had been a long and confusing day. But hey, Jeremy was safe. He was at the hospital now. He would be okay. The doctors think it’s just a bad case of the flu. His legs… Well, that was confusing. But he was in the absolute best place to be.
He was going to be just fine.
That was Wednesday.
I arrived at the hospital Thursday late morning. The tests had come back. Not a single thing was wrong with him, aside from the fact that he was very dehydrated and running a slight fever and pretty much unable to form complete sentences or keep his eyes open. But they were running more tests, and they were going to let us know the second they found anything.
We kept ourselves busy. Kelly mostly managed the hospital staff and doctors. There was a lot of paperwork to do. Meghan drew comics. I brought my laptop and did some work, and when that was done, I wrote a scathing social media post about the quality of the “food” at the hospital.
I mean, It had a McDonalds in the cafeteria! Along with a pizza bar, tons of fried food, chips and sugary snacks… It was appalling! Here we were in a building dedicated to getting people healthy and back on their feet, and I was literally working from a heart disease foundry.
The day came and went, and there was no news about Jeremy’s condition. There was simply the fact that one of my favorite people in the world was laying immobile on a gurney, unable to do much besides drink a little water here and there and laugh at my terrible jokes (when he was awake enough to hear them). And one of my other favorite people in the world sat by his side, feeling helplessly hopeful and scared. So I sat at the hospital and ate bad food and made bad jokes.
I like to think it helped.
Thursday ended with nothing much besides a shrug and a promise that something WOULD be found out. Eventually. But until then, Jeremy was staying at the hospital for observation and fluids and Reality TV, because that’s pretty much the only thing the television picked up.
Friday came around. It seemed like it was going to be a repeat of Thursday. But then, late in the afternoon, the doctors went ahead and put forward a possible diagnosis.
It might be Guillain–Barré Syndrome. This incredibly rare syndrome affects less than 20,000 people per year, and was highly treatable. It is the gradual paralysis of the limbs that occurs when the immune system suddenly decides to attack the nervous system. But if you cure the cause, you cure the syndrome too.
Treatment for this was incredibly invasive. So they wanted to hold off on treating for it until it was confirmed.
“It’s not Guillain–Barré Syndrome,” the doctors told us. “It looks like it, it sounds like it… But it’s not it.”
Back to square one. More bad food and more Reality TV and more waiting around for something. For anything.
But SUNDAY! Sunday was different! I walked into the hospital room and there was Kelly and Jeremy and two big bright smiles!
“Hey man!” Jeremy said.
I wasn’t shocked per se… Delighted maybe? Taken aback with happy joyfulness? Whatever it was, it was great to hear his voice have some of that trademark Jeremy Dale brightness behind it.
I hugged him. I had to go over to his bedside, because he still couldn’t so much as flex a toe, much less walk. And of course, we were all still very concerned about that fact. But Jeremy was back, and that was cause for celebration.
And celebration came in the form of making fun of one Mr. Tom Brady and his Pantene-infused locks and his lonely hand no one will high-five and his insistence on manipulating the rules to win games. But mostly his hair.
Jeremy was back. And that was a great relief. Kelly was notably much happier. The hospital staff were still fairly confused as to what exactly was happening. Maybe it is Guillain–Barré after all? Maybe not? Maybe it was just one of those crazy flukes and he was on his way back to health?
Whatever it was, my friend was sitting up and laughing and making fun of Tom Brady. It was the most normal things had been in a week.
That was Sunday.
Monday came and so did the first normal day any of us had had in a while.
Work. Gym. Home. I made dinner. Kelly came over. Meghan, Kelly and I shared some laughs. Conversations about Jeremy’s condition ensued. He was alert and doing well, but still couldn’t walk or move his legs. Does that mean it might be Guillain–Barré after all, and maybe the treatment knocked out the sickness but the effects of GBS were still there? Was this some sort of adult-onset paralysis no one had ever heard of? What the heck was it?
It was like a real-life episode of House M.D. And that joke would have been a lot funnier if Kelly and Jeremy had actually watched the series. But still, Kelly laughed. And this laugh didn’t have nerves behind it like almost all the laughs I’d heard the past week. She was relaxing. It was nice to see.
It was time to go. She was going to swing by the hospital on the way home to kiss Jeremy on the forehead and say good night. We were going to wait up until we heard how he was doing, then Meghan would go back to work and I would go to sleep. It was 9 o’clock. I said I felt old. Jokes were made about my slowly greying but otherwise nearly-perfect curly hair, including the fact that it wasn’t as perfect as Tom Brady’s.
Kelly waved goodbye. We waved goodbye. I sighed, and began doing dishes. Meghan sighed and began watching me do dishes.
A few minutes into it, we got a call. It was Kelly.
“Don’t panic,” she started. Of course, this immediately induced panic.
“Jeremy’s had a very severe asthma attack. They’ve taken him to the Intensive Care Unit.”
“Uh… That’s worth panicking over!” I stated.
“No no, don’t,” she reiterated. “This has happened before. He’ll be okay. His asthma gets like this sometimes.”
“Well, we’re coming up there,” I stated.
“You don’t have to do—”
“We are coming up there!” Meghan yelled, knowing exactly what Kelly was saying even though she wasn’t on the call.
Kelly knew better than to argue.
We hopped in Meghan’s car. It was agreed I needed to man the phone just in case something happened. Of course, nothing was going to happen. Kelly just told us this happened before. This is just an asthma attack. It was unrelated to anything that had been going on. He was going to be fine.
My phone buzzed. My lock screen said it was Kelly Dale.
I unlocked my phone. I read the text.
“Jeremy died. Please hurry.”
I dropped my phone. Meghan dropped the accelerator pedal to the floor. The world dropped behind us in a blur as we sped to the hospital.
I immediately called Kelly. There was no answer. Of course there wasn’t. Everything she needed to say had just been said in that one text message I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
I called our closest friends. The reactions were exactly what you’d think they would be. They rushed to the hospital as well. We all met Kelly, who was sitting in a chair in an empty room. Just Kelly. Not something any of us was used to seeing. And she had been crying. Another thing we weren’t used to seeing.
The night faded into the day.
At age 34, Jeremy Dale had suddenly passed away.
The official cause of death was “Heart Attack.” Which was technically true — during his asthma attack, his heart suddenly stopped. There was absolutely no chance of reviving him. But something just wasn’t right here.
A week before, the guy had the flu. Then, he couldn’t walk. Then suddenly his body systematically shut down. Nothing presented on any tests whatsoever. There was no sign of standard autoimmune, neurological, cerebral or cardiac problems. In fact, he was given a clean bill of health three times over… Except that he was nearly comatose and couldn’t walk.
We were all baffled. But here we were, in this strange reality where a young, healthy guy caught a cold and suddenly died. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.
It was reality. And it made no sense whatsoever.
Kelly posted the news to social media. The shock was palpable. The outpouring of respect was overwhelming. People shared some of their most tender and sweet memories involving Jeremy and Kelly. People came from across the country to pay their respects at the memorial service. Throughout it all, two things loomed large: Jeremy was gone, and there was no good reason as to why.
This wasn’t an unhealthy guy. He was in excellent health. His heart was fine. There was no history of heart disease or cardiac arrest. He maintained a rigorous convention and touring schedule, and that kept him quite active.
No one knew the whole story. Kelly and Jeremy don’t post on social media often, so the fact that Jeremy was even in the hospital was a shock to most people. But to find out he’d been hospitalized and then died suddenly… It was all so confusing. And the only answer any of us could give is “Heart attack… BUT IT WASN’T JUST A HEART ATTACK DAMMIT.”
The coroner performed an autopsy. When the results came back, something just wasn’t right. They wanted to dive deeper. And since no one had a clue what the heck had happened, Kelly felt it was important to rule out any sort of genetic or inherited conditions. If there was something in his family, they needed to know.
A few weeks went by. The coroner came back with a report. The report said… Nothing. There still was no clear cause of death aside from the fact that his body simply shut down and his heart stopped.
The coroner decided to call in a friend of his — a nationally recognized expert in strange death cases. Together, the two dove deep into the case, literally dissecting everything they could to figure out what had happened.
Like I said, it was like a real-life episode of House.
It’s never far from your mind when one of your best friends has passed away. But to be wrapped up in such a mysterious circumstance… It’s been a challenge not to obsess over it. But here we are, four months out, and time is doing what time always does… It moves on.
Four months had passed, when Kelly got an email from the Coroner.
Finally, there was an answer. There was a cause of death. And it is literally one of the rarest disorders in existence.
From the coroner’s report:
This 34 year old man, Jeremy Dale, died as a result of a demyelinating disorder [an example of which is multiple sclerosis], which most predominantly involved his spinal cord and brainstem. The microscopic changes are consistent with a diagnosis of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis [ADEM]. ADEM is a rare autoimmune disorder, which most commonly occurs after a viral or bacterial infection, or less commonly after immunization. It results in an inflammatory response in the brain and spinal cord that essentially degrades myelin, resulting in the slowing down of nerve impulses from the affected areas. The axonal damage, such as that found in this case, is reportedly more frequently seen in fatal cases. The onset can be acute and progress quickly, leading to hospitalization. The neurologic signs can be multifocal and non-specific, including motor function abnormalities. When this disorder is seen in adults, the prognosis is less favorable than with children, and there have been reports of 4–12% mortality rates. As per Jeremy’s wife, he had returned from a work trip approximately 1 week prior to his hospitalization and had symptoms of a “cold”. On October 26, he began to complain of weakness and tingling in his feet and that it hurt to walk. On October 28, he was unable to walk and was taken by personal vehicle to the hospital. He was evaluated in the hospital but his symptoms progressed and on the night of November 3rd, he had trouble breathing and was subsequently pronounced dead.
So, it really was just the flu after all. Leave it to Jeremy Dale to make even the flu something rare and special.
I love him and miss him dearly.
We all do.