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Words With Friends

Going Viral

The Examiner’s Jeff Martin wrote on March 3, 2012, “Story of how Blue Springs couple saved Australian man’s life goes viral“. This is a followup to my original column in The Examiner, which was published in early January. Read how this story took on a life of its own and became a global hit, eventually leading to a Hollywood television show and a Wikipedia entry. My original story is at the bottom right of this blog page under Categories/Words With Friends

Playing word game online saves a life across the world

“Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises.”
Rita Golden Gelman, children’s author

I guess I could try to claim a little credit for introducing my friend Beth Legler of Blue Springs to the online game, Words With Friends, but it would be insignificant compared to what was to follow.

Little did I know that through her connection with this game Beth would ultimately become a key player in saving a man’s life in Queensland, Australia.

Neither did she.

Here is what happened. Soon after I talked Beth into playing Words With Friends, a wildly popular online scrabble-like game, I quit. I was addicted and slightly bummed that I could not beat my son and his law-school buddies.

Soon after I bailed, Beth became addicted, as well. For the longest time, Beth said she was too busy with work to play, but once she started she could not stop.

In a gesture of love and respect to her late mother, Beth created a username to honor her.

At about the same time in Queensland, Australia, Georgina Fletcher downloaded the new “hot” app “Words With Friends”. Georgina who prefers the nickname “Georgie” set up a game and was ready to begin. The rules state that one must choose from existing friends or choose a random opponent.

Georgie says she chose the random opponent option because she wanted “to chill out” at the time and simply play a game but not chat with opponents. The thought of conversing with strangers did not sit right with her, she recalls, so she preferred not to chat.

Here is where risk-taking, trust and serendipity enter our story.

Georgie’s first opponent, as it turns out, was Beth Legler of Blue Springs, an R.N. in the Blue Springs School District. She liked Beth’s online username. It intrigued her.

Georgie says that since they did not exchange personal information as they played the game, she guessed that her opponent was female because of her username. They played quite a few games, and eventually Beth sent a message saying simply, “Good Game.”

Hesitating to send back a message, Georgie, out of courtesy, eventually sent back “Thanks.”

From then on their chats would consist of one or two words. During the Christmas season of 2010, Georgie sent a message to her unknown opponent saying “Merry Christmas from Queensland, Australia.”

Beth sent a message back saying Merry Christmas from Missouri, USA.

Georgie says, “It wasn’t long after that you couldn’t shut the pair of us up, spending equal amounts of time chatting and playing.”

She continues, “We talked about our jobs, countries, children, husbands, parents, pets and eventually swapping photos of themselves and families, and Beth’s new puppy!”

Fast forward to September of 2011 when Beth began to worry about her friend Georgie. She had not heard from her, nor had they played in about four days.

Beth reached out through an email asking if everything was okay, hoping that the 16-hour time difference between their two worlds was the reason for Georgie’s online absence.

Not too long after, Georgie sent a message explaining that her husband Simon had not been feeling well for sometime. She wrote that recently after taking their dogs for a long walk, he complained of a burning pain in the back of his throat. Simon believed he was breathing in cold air and that was the problem, but Georgie was worried.

Georgia was perplexed as well, “I thought what is he talking about? We live in a tropical climate and the air outside was warm and humid, certainly not cold.”

As many men often shrug off illness, Georgie commented, he continued denying anything was wrong. Day after day, the pain in his throat and heartburn became more regular. Georgie suggested he see a doctor, but he brushed off the idea saying he saw one last month and had a great checkup. No cholesterol problems and perfect blood pressure. Simon said all he needed was an antacid.

Georgie began referring to her husband Simon as “Mr. Self-Diagnosis”, and believed he was avoiding the truth primarily out of denial and fear.

Eventually, Georgie began to share Simon’s dilemma with Beth online including an incident in which he could not walk to the mailbox without difficulty.

Immediately concerned, Beth shared this information with her husband Larry Legler, M.D. and longtime family physician in Independence.

Larry wanted Simon to take an aspirin and see a doctor immediately about possible angina.

Beth wrote Georgie: “Larry thinks Simon is in a whole lot of trouble, get him to a hospital ASAP, and Georgie, Larry believes Simon will need a cardiac catherization procedure right away.”

Georgie explains what happened after that: “We presented at the hospital and saw a heart specialist. I told the specialist what Larry had said and why. The specialist was quite bemused by a diagnosis given by someone from the other side of the planet and a Words With Friends pal, just to make it all the more bizarre.”

The doctor actually concurred, however, remarking, “I agree with your friend Larry and will order a test where a dye will be put through Simon’s veins and then a scan.”

Later that afternoon, they received a call from the cardiac surgeon saying cath surgery would be first thing in the morning and that Simon had a 99 percent blockage of the left ventricle.

After the surgery, Georgie said the surgeon told her that Simon would have been dead by afternoon if someone had not intervened. He is the luckiest man in the hospital today, the doctor added.

Georgie emailed Beth and Larry immediately saying how impressed they were with Larry’s diagnosis, made with little information. She wrote: “ We are forever grateful to him. And to you Beth, they say that nurses are God’s angels, well you are an angel to us!”

Moral to the story: Simon says never, never self diagnose, and Georgie says, “Please chat with your random opponents on Words With Friends or whatever game you choose. I got over my fear of opening up, took a risk and told the truth, and it saved my husband’s life.”

Epilogue: The two women hope to meet one day in person but until then have visited on Skype.

Georgie dumped Beth from Words With Friends because she was getting bored with the game. Beth says it was more likely that Georgie was tired of Beth beating her.

Now, the two women play Hanging With Friends (Hangman online) every chance they get. Beth says Georgie prefers this because she beats Beth mercilessly at this game. Apparently, this highly addictive and fierce pastime between these two is not for the faint of heart.

I’m staying offline. They scare me.

We know a rare bird when we meet one

“A rare bird on this earth,”
—Juvenal, a Roman poet and author of Satires.

Each day I receive a dictionary word of the day in my email inbox. Today, it is a Latin word “rara avis” (pronounced RAIR-uh-AY-vis), a rare or unique person or thing.

Immediately, I thought of my friend Nancy, a rare bird herself.

Not incidentally, Nancy was an avid bird watcher and that pursuit is part of what brought us together. I will explain in a bit.

I did not know her last name, not for the longest time anyway.

Still, I count her as a one-of-a kind, a rare find of a friend. We met in an exercise class in which we only use our first names. Over time we came to know one another, and eventually we got around to mentioning our last names.

You may have noticed I speak of Nancy in the past tense, but not with sadness although that would be a perfectly fine thing to do. Nancy lost a short yet valiant battle with lung cancer just weeks ago. Since she never showed a spec of melancholy, I will try not to either.

The “ladies of the three o’clock class”, as we affectionately call ourselves, loved Nancy. She was in her early 70’s I think, but one could not really tell for sure. She was spry, witty, and doggedly determined to make her weight-loss goal. If you do, then you get to be a queen for a day and are awarded a paper crown, flowers, and heaps of praise.

In the last months of her life, Nancy came to exercise class with an oxygen tank in tow and worked hard to meet her goal. Nancy did not quite make “queen” before she died, but she was close.

So, last week the ladies of the three o’clock class gathered outside on an exceptionally windy day, said our good-byes to Nancy, gave her a symbolic crown, and released balloons in her honor as our “queen for a day.”

I promised I would get back to how I met Nancy because it had a lot to do with rare birds.

The first time I noticed Nancy she was wearing a sweatshirt lauding Squaw Creek National Game Refuge and its famed Eagle Days. Since I grew up just across the road from the refuge and knew about the rare eagles there, it was a natural way to strike up a conversation. So, talk about rare birds we did, on many a day.

Last week at the balloon release in Nancy’s honor, wind currents quickly caught the balloons taking them high above us where they soon mingled with birds, all manner of birds.

Nancy would have loved seeing those birds sail with her balloons.

A fitting good-bye to a “rara avis”, rare bird herself.