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Spotlight: Split Second by Kelli J Miller

When does the American Dream turn into a trap?

What does it mean to succeed?

What really gives meaning to our lives?

Kelli Miller never had to worry about it – she had it all: a family, a career, a sprawling home, even an executive title.  She thought she’d escaped her Midwestern roots and was sailing towards a golden future.  Then, in a pivotal moment, confronted with the shadow of death, she found herself suddenly awake to the grim reality:  the dream had consumed her life, and left her lost and alone.

In Split Second, Kelli tells the story of how she set herself free, and recommitted herself to the most important pieces of her life:  family, community, and a new openness to experience.  It is the story of one woman’s journey to find out what really matters and where her happiness ultimately lay.


I grew restless. As I stared at the sterile waiting room walls, I remembered myself in a sterile business suit, sitting in a conference room, while a boss degraded me and I held back. I again saw myself frozen in a meeting with my colleagues, as the loudest, most obstinate co-worker barked out demands, holding back my thoughts because it was easier than prolonging the experience. I was again in a hospital desperate to get Dad better answers, but I held back my questions because Dad did not want to offend technicians and doctors. I held my words believing it was best. I held back to prevent difficult situations from snowballing into something worse. In my effort to make things easier for others, I was forsaking myself.

My restlessness grew. Finally, I pulled “the bitch card” and played it.

I had created and groomed the bitch card in my corporate life—something authority figures forced out of me for the sake of success. It’s the side of me that doesn’t cower to others in power. It’s the part of me that doesn’t conform to rules or social expectations for the sake of conforming. It’s the intellectual part of me that leverages facts in an unrelenting argument to get what I believe to be right. It’s a skill I’ve groomed over the years that proved my worthiness to corporate America leaders. A survival technique I’ve employed with coworkers after other tactics failed. I can argue with the best of them by questioning anything and poking holes in logic. I don’t like to use the bitch card, but if ever there was a good reason to use it, this was it.

I approached the women at the counter and kindly asked how they determine when a patient would be seen. After we exchanged smiles and when I had proven I was a level-headed daughter concerned about her father, I dug in, and the bitchiness came out. “He received a lung cancer diagnosis in August, and shortly after that, they found five tumors in his brain. He wasn’t doing well, but radiation turned things around quickly. I know you can see in your files that he was here at the end of October and we almost lost him then. He’s been doing well since that time. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and he is looking forward to Christmas. My three kids, his only grandchildren, are flying in from Seattle in eight days. It’s a shame they cannot be here now, but they’re all in school. He’s looking forward to it, and so are they. His blood sugar readings have been good—they were 285 last night and 195 this morning—his sugar is most likely not the cause; he is most likely dehydrated. Now, won’t you and the rest of the staff on duty tonight feel foolish if the only thing standing between him and the last good Christmas with his grandkids is merely a bag of saline solution? Won’t you feel foolish if you make him wait for so long that you make his situation worse than it has to be?”

I rattled through all this faster than that annoying voice at the end of a radio commercial reading the disclaimers. I was prepared to go further too and tell them about the “ball buster” lawyer we had on our side, but the saline solution comment seemed to be enough. I got what I wanted—someone immediately took Dad to an examination room.

He was suffering from dehydration with indications of pneumonia. The doctor, however, was uncaring and stuck in corporate rules and guidelines. Looking at the charts, he informed me what I already knew. As if to explain why I’d seen him sitting at a desk in the hallway for forty-five minutes instead of examining my father, he said, “Ms. Miller, your father is DNR, Do Not Resuscitate. If he fails, we will not revive him.”

I found the bitch card handy again and went toe-to-toe. “I was with my Dad at the kitchen table I’ve shared with him since I was a kid when he made the painful decision to sign the DNR papers in September. I sat with him in the doctor’s office when he signed the form. I cried with him in his truck after we left the doctor’s office. I understand my father is DNR. You will not let my father fail tonight. The man will survive because Christmas is only ten days away. His grandchildren will be here to enjoy that Christmas with him. You will play God tonight.”

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About the Author

Kelli Miller is a business executive specializing in Information Technology.  Her career includes thirty years working for some of the largest, most successful companies in America.  Kelli recently returned to her roots, farming her family’s farm with her husband, while continuing her technology career with a local mid-size manufacturing firm. Kelli is the mother of three. She loves to travel, hike and spend time in the simplicity and raw beauty of nature. 

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