Hospitals have a reputation for being sterile and grim. But sometimes, more than antibiotic-resistant MRSA blossoms — we’re talking about love.
Meet a couple who felt giving someone your heart wasn’t enough, another whose care started in an operating room but continued far beyond, and a third for whom broken bones didn’t mean broken dates.
It was a complicated series of events that led to George and Bridget’s first date, involving a co-worker of Bridget’s who sold mango butter and lacked certain boundaries. But when George came to dinner at the restaurant where Bridget worked, it turned out to be just fine.
“It involves body products from a fellow waitress and her kind of making comments to George, ‘Oh, you should come to the restaurant sometime,’ and basically humiliating me in front of him. It worked, he did come to the restaurant,” Bridget said. “And I acted like a total freak ... I just sat down and started talking to him.”
George said he wasn’t looking for love, but when he got to talking to Bridget, he was impressed.
“Because I had great work ethic?” she asked with a smirk.
“I just got to know her as a musician a little bit, learned about her life as a musician and it was all really intriguing to me. I was spellbound by her story. Who are you, Bridget Cross?” George mused.
Their first date was at Auke Recreation Area one March evening in 2006.
“We had the kind of first date where you just started telling each other everything,” George said, adding that what stones were left unturned on the first date were addressed on the second.
It was on their first date, thought, that George told Bridget about his hereditary chronic kidney condition.
“And she just blurted out, ‘Oh, I’ll give you a kidney,’ which, you know, doesn’t seem that strange — people say that all the time — when you aren’t really in kidney failure.”
George returned to his hometown of Austin, Texas, for several months, with the pair writing letters and sending CDs back and forth. It was months before Bridget was able to join him. They returned to Juneau and in summer of 2007, George began experiencing signs that he was going into kidney failure.
“I knew it was going to happen,” George said. “I was surprised that it happened when it did. I felt like I had a few more years before it was going to happen. I was so surprised by it I even thought, ‘Well, maybe I have MS or something.’”
Here was the real test. With a still relatively fresh relationship, was the kidney a serious offer?
Bridget said she had to “go through a whole battery of tests” just to find out if she was a compatible donor. After the long process, it turned out she was indeed “perfectly compatible,” George said.
“There was no decision, if you know what I mean,” Bridget said. “Of course I had a choice, but I didn’t really — I couldn’t live with myself if I could have given him a kidney and I didn’t.”
“I still have my kidney nearby,” she said. “It’s not like it’s left the vicinity, I still get to sleep near it.”
Making the decision was just one of many challenges, including tests, dialysis, preparation and dealing with the aftermath.
“It was like we had to have each other’s back during the whole thing. We had to be in each other’s corners for whatever family issues or financial issues or emotional issues,” George said. “Because it happened so early in our relationship, it kind of instantly became a part of who we are.”
Bridget and George married during the summer solstice in 2011 at Auke Rec.
“Really, it felt like we were married long before that,” George said, though Bridget said the day they married was still quite emotional.
Though they had already exchanged organs, they exchanged rings as well.
They also bonded as musicians, regularly collaborating as Playboy Spaceman — there will be an album release party on Feb. 28 — and George said they’re “always trying to find our perfect collaboration, mixing our energies in an alchemical way.”
He said, especially since they won’t be having children — Bridget was advised against it as a donor — they try to bring something of great value into the world as artists.
The couple’s great adventure continues here in Juneau for now.
“You don’t know what you sign up for in love,” George said. “You sign up for whatever comes.”
“I was working at a logging camp and had fell on a knot on a log and it punctured my knee, and I ended up having to go to the hospital,” Roger said.
Not exactly how your average love story starts. Especially when he went on about how the nurse who was trying to insert his IV was having no luck finding the vein.
“So she left and here comes Betty bouncing in. I said, ‘I bet you were a cheerleader in high school,’ and she was,” he said with a hearty laugh.
“I got the IV in,” Betty said.
As Betty tells it, Roger asked her out, then stood her up.
“I didn’t stand you up!” he protested.
But he did.
He returned to Juneau from the logging camp in Excursion Inlet, where he worked in the mid-1970s, and he had written Betty a letter asking her to go out to dinner with him. She wrote back that she would. But when he arrived in Juneau, he had lost her number.
“I come to town and I’m thinking, ‘I’ll just call the hospital and they’ll give me her number,’” Roger said. “Of course, the hospital wouldn’t release it, so I’m stranded.”
“I thought he stood me up,” Betty said, and he admitted that he did, in a way.
But when Roger was walking downtown near the Lucky Lady, he saw Betty near the Red Dog (where El Sombrero is now), he said.
“I said (to a friend), ‘There’s that scoundrel,’” Betty said.
But there was something about Roger that she couldn’t resist.
“If you look at him he just has this wide open smile,” she said.
And Roger added that he was a “young guy, strong, you know.”
“He just has this face, and nobody believes in love at first sight, but I can remember seeing him and thinking, ‘This could be the guy,’” Betty said. “Of course now, in retrospect, everyone says, ‘Sure you thought that.’”
They had a lot in common, each coming from families of eight and without much. She said they’d try to “out-poor” each other.
The enamored Roger asked Betty if she would consider joining him as caretaker at a satellite logging camp for the winter.
She said no, at first, and so they wrote letters.
“I think (writing letters) is sort of a lost art for a lot of people,” Betty said. “I think we got to know each other really well through letters. He’s an excellent letter writer and still writes letters.”
Circumstances changed and she decided to leave her nursing job at Bartlett Regional Hospital, asking in a letter if there was still a job for her at the camp.
“I decided maybe I should go out and check out this logging camp — my family thought I was nuts,” Betty said, adding, “It was a great winter.”
They cared for the camp in the quiet off-season and Betty wound up as head cook for a small crew, then as an assistant cook for a larger one.
In the winter, Betty said, they were the only ones out there except for another couple at the cannery five miles away, whom they would see when they kayaked over to pick up the mail each Wednesday, singing every song they knew there and back. They would go exploring, saw whales for the first time and they also played a lot of cribbage.
“We were just living together at that point and we decided that we’d get married,” Betty said.
During the next break from the camp, they went to South America and traveled around, she said, “I bought my wedding dress down there and wedding rings.”
They got married in Minnesota, where Betty grew up. Roger is from Wyoming.
After getting married in 1978, they moved into town and bought the house where they still live.
Roger started working at a dental lab, which he now owns and operates with four employees. Betty worked with Roger in the dental lab while their children were in school. She went back to nursing over the years as well. Now she’s back at BRH working as a nurse, the same place the couple met all those decades ago.
“Room 207, bed 2. That’s where he was,” Betty said.
“She wants to spend the night there on our 50th,” Roger added. They celebrated their 35th anniversary in July.
The couple is happy all three of their children are back in Juneau now. They also have a grandchild.
They used to take their children on walks past the trailer where they lived in Excursion Inlet, where the kids said they “got marriaged.”
“I don’t think the kids ever have a doubt in their minds that we love each other ... I think that’s reassuring for them,” Betty said. “That makes me proud of who we are as parents. I think they want the same thing in their relationships.”
The Stidolphs have a little ritual that seems an embodiment of their love.
“One of the things we do is we wash each other’s back,” Roger said. “It doesn’t matter how mad at her I am, I’ll still go in and wash her back.”
“You can’t stay mad then,” Betty said.
“I might hit her with the sponge,” Roger teased.
“No you don’t,” Betty shot back.
They may tease quite a bit, and sometimes bicker, but they said they feel fortunate to have had each other all these years.
Betty said it was kismet that brought them together, but both agree it’s trust and caring that’s kept them together.
“I started taking care of him at Bartlett,” Betty said.
“And she’s still taking care of me,” Roger said with a smile.
“I’m sitting in the first day of art history and I’m trying to find the hottest girl in class,” Josh said with a sly grin. “And then Linda came in about 10 minutes late. That’s the hottest girl in class.”
They had both a painting class and art history together that semester at the University of Alaska Southeast.
He also had ceramics with Linda’s mother.
“I got to know the whole family,” Josh said.
At First Friday in December of 2009, the usually shy Linda was feeling bold after completing her art show opening — and she was determined to find Josh.
She ventured into the thick of downtown, finding a friend in the Alaskan whom she discovered didn’t have his number. The friend directed Linda to Zephyr to ask one of the waitresses, who ended up giving her the wrong number. Linda was feeling disheartened when she said she spotted Josh delivering a pizza. She waved him down in the middle of the intersection and asked him if he wanted to hang out.
They made plans to have a date the following day.
But while wrestling with a friend, Josh managed to break a rib. When Linda called to ask when he got off work, his answer surprised her.
“Actually, I got the day off work,” Josh said. “Because I’m in the hospital with a broken rib.”
He didn’t cancel the date.
Linda said the first date was intimidating.
“I had to pass the Carissa test,” she said.
Carissa Frisbie is a longtime friend of Josh, but it turned out there was no need to worry. Linda passed the test with flying colors.
From then on they were dating.
On March 19, 2012, they were booked to fly to Ohio so Linda could meet Josh’s family for the first time. Within hours of their flight, Linda heard some bad news.
“I broke my leg snowboarding that day. Last run of the day,” Josh said.
They had to reroute their trip to Seattle so Josh could get his leg set.
“Surgeons in Juneau were not even about to touch it,” Josh said.
Linda quoted the surgeon in Seattle as saying, “You didn’t break your leg, you exploded it.”
In addition to introducing Linda to his family, Josh had other plans for Ohio — he was planning to ask his grandmother for her ring so he could propose.
Instead, he was in a hospital in Seattle. His mom was flew out to him with the ring in tow.
“I wanted to wait until I could get on one knee,” Josh said of the proposal, which wouldn’t come until months later.
He had to sneak the ring back to Juneau through airport security and while in a wheelchair.
Josh said while going through security they asked if he was hiding anything.
“Yup,” he responded.
He explained the situation, telling them, “You can search me, but it’s got to be where my girlfriend can’t see.”
TSA was very accommodating, he said.
It was on July 3, 2012, when he decided to propose.
They were sitting on the porch, watching the fireworks, he said.
Linda knelt down to watch the fireworks, snuggled up to her dog Mikey, and Josh got down on one knee next to her, waiting for the finale. He wasn’t sure if he could get up and down again on his bad leg, so he stayed through what he said felt like the longest fireworks show ever.
“I was kneeling the whole time. It seemed like they lasted forever,” Josh said. “Finally they ended. I said, ‘Wait, here comes the grand finale — will you marry me?”
“I forgot to say yes,” Linda said.
She was ecstatic, asking friends, “Can you believe this?” before she got around to accepting the proposal.
They married a year later to the day at Skater’s Cabin.
A lot of what made them sure they could make it together was staying in love through the difficult times surrounding Josh’s injury.
He was in a hard cast for three months and a soft cast for another two, using a wheelchair for much of the time. They still have the wheelchair tucked away. It comes out for extra seating when they have company.
Josh was only able to get back to work in the past year.
“Linda just had to take care of me,” he said. “I knew if we could make it through that, we could do all right.”