When Patricia met her husband Tim McPhail at university while they were both studying for a business degree, their worlds instantly collided. “We were 17 and just clicked — we were inseparable,” she told Yahoo News Australia on Friday.
After travelling, getting married and buying a home, the couple settled into their life raising their two children, Emily, 16, and 13-year-old Ollie, who was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy as a newborn, in Sydney.
Tragically, after 28 years together, the couple’s plan took a devastating turn when Tim, now a 45-year-old “fit and healthy” business owner, died on April 18 — exactly one month after he was admitted to hospital with severe headaches and migraines.
“I’m still in shock,” the grieving widow said. “The plans that you have just go out the window and I’ve really learnt never to assume anything because things can change so quickly. How on earth does this happen?”
Dad 'never felt validated'
Tim’s failing health began in April 2021 when he was diagnosed with viral meningitis after suffering migraines and a fever for weeks. The Aussie dad was told it was manageable, given over the counter pain relief and ordered to follow up with a neurologist every six months until it clears out of his system naturally, which they warned could “take a while”, Mrs McPhail said.
But the excruciating headaches and migraines never stopped. “Every day he was going through Panadol and Nurofen like you wouldn’t believe,” the mum, who is also 45, said, adding that Tim told her he had “aged 20 years since having meningitis”.
Despite frequent trips to the neurologist and his GP, Mrs McPhail said her husband was told “it was just a side effect” he was “going to have to live with”. “He never felt validated…and always felt like he was wasting everyone’s time,” she said.
However, things just got “worse and worse” for Tim, who earlier this year also began vomiting, feeling fatigued all the time and suffering from blurred vision. He believed he had meningitis again but couldn’t understand why there was no fever this time around.
Despite nothing sinister being found in his blood work, Mrs McPhail insisted he get an MRI and took him to the hospital in March 6. It was there he tested positive for Covid and was asked to manage at home while infected.
Wife demands husband be hospitalised
“That week after he got worse, he was not eating much…he was so off balance and everything just hurt” the mum said, adding Tim lost about 10kg over the span of roughly a week. She recalled carrying her husband of 18 years up their stairs because he was “so dehydrated and so disorientated”.
On March 18, the couple called for an ambulance and insisted they take him in. “He said ‘I just feel like crap, there is something wrong with me and I need to figure it out’,” Mrs McPhail said. “Within an hour he had a CT scan and a chest X-ray. Bloods were done. Nothing obvious came up.”
It was when the neurologist on call suggested the couple go home and book an eye appointment for the next day that Mrs McPhail said she put her foot down, telling them no and demanding Tim stay overnight. After collapsing while trying to find the toilet, a lumbar puncture was performed showing the dad’s white blood cell count was abnormal.
'Everything I’m about to tell you is bad'
Additional tests revealed a black spot on the bottom of Tim’s right lung and a “couple others scattered around”, prompting a biopsy. In early April, Mrs McPhail said an oncologist broke the news they had been dreading.
“Tim was asleep so I met with him. He goes ‘everything I’m about to tell you is bad. There is nothing good in anything I’m about to tell you’,” she said. The 45-year-old — who rarely ate junk food, never smoked and enjoyed the occasional wine — had aggressive, terminal lung cancer and it had spread to his bones, lymph nodes, brain and spine.
“Ok, I’ve got cancer and I’m going to die,” Ms McPhail recalled her husband saying when he awoke. “And he said ‘that’s ok, I’ve lived a great life, I’m ok with that. You guys are going to be alright, don’t worry’.”
Although they had not been given an official timeline, and oncologist hinted to the family Tim could have six months left to live. Ollie began counting how many dinners he had left with his dad until “he gets too sick”, but the heartbroken mum said she didn't have it in her to tell their son it probably wasn’t going to be so many.
“He went downhill fast,” she said. On April 18, Tim died holding his wife’s hand while surrounded by his family.
“From March 18 when we got in there to April 18 it was just this cyclone, lots of tests and results — not once did I think that him going to hospital meant he wouldn’t come home,” his devastated wife said. “The thing that got both of us is he was ignored so many times and discounted because he was young and fit and healthy.”
Mum's desperate message to others
Mrs McPhail said she still thinks Tim is “on a work trip and he’s just going to come back through the front door”. With Ollie needing 24/7 hour care, the widow said she is physically and emotionally exhausted and grateful for her community and loved ones, who have created a GoFundMe to help support the family as they grieve their momentous loss.
She also wants to prevent another family from going through the same trauma. “People just need to look after yourselves and don’t take no for an answer,” she said. “If you’re not well just push, there’s no harm in pushing, otherwise it could be too late.
“It’s not just about you, it’s about your whole family unit if something happens to you.”
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