They say that if you live long enough, life will hand you a few surprises including a few crises along the way. And how you “Rise” to those challenges makes all the difference in moving forward.
Back in 2002, a company where I worked for 16 years and helped grow from 1.7 million to more than 170 million in billings per year was sold, restructured and I was out of a job. There I was: a husband, father, 3 kids in private schools, a mortgage, car payments and now unemployed. I was immediately humbled.
And so, I started StimulusBrand Communications— a full service marketing, advertising & design firm. In my previous company I was a Creative Leader, and now I had to learn to be a business owner. I felt fortunate, practicing my passion every day, and helping other companies to grow. Pretty good gig. We were successful with steady growth year after year, and with some pretty impressive clients. Everything was humming along.
It was July 4th, 2011. I was playing basketball in a group I had been with for 10 years, and was having a good day — raining 3 pointers! I’m was in the zone. Then, suddenly, I fell….I heard my knee pop and apparently tore it apart. And boy, could I feel the pain. My knee quickly looked like a bowling ball.
So, a few months later I had reconstructive surgery, landing in physical therapy. I didn’t yet know how that “assault” to my “athletic prowess” would be just the start of even scarier challenges ahead.
On my last day of physical therapy…I said my thank you’s and goodbye’s and headed out to have a physical.
Why not? I was feeling great. While being examined, the nurse gave me a Tetanus shot. I didn’t think much of it. I left with a clean bill of health, but within half an hour, I couldn’t open my mouth. My jaw was locked shut, and the right side of my face was numb (my best side if I may so say) Seriously…..I couldn’t open my mouth. (There are those who might not see a problem with that.)
Something was wrong and I was worried.
Later that night, I suddenly had a violent seizure, bit my lips, mouth and tongue — it was awful. By morning I found myself in the ER where I received a muscle relaxer, was monitored for a while and then sent home.
It didn’t work! I kept having seizures with serious bite-downs. My son got me a hockey mouthpiece to put in my mouth and took me to the ER again where I received a stronger medication.
I had an appointment with a neurospecialist the next day and this newer medication seemed to calm things down. I could wait one day, right?
So, I went to see my daughter’s swim championships in South Jersey. My face and mouth looked like I had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson (with no face tattoos), but I wanted to be there. Well, on the way driving home I had another “lock-down” violent seizure and bit right through my tongue.
So, now I found myself admitted to the hospital and quickly had a team of neurologists “studying” me…..for 6 days. Everyone seemed baffled by what I was experiencing. I was scared.
“This couldn’t be Tetanus, right?” I mean who gets Tetanus anymore? I lost 27 pounds and was pretty beaten up. After those 6 days, they agreed that I got a full load of tetanus from a bad inoculation. And, they mentioned that a gentleman from the CDC wanted to speak me.
One doctor asked to do another MRI and a Spinal tap and I said, “sure, why not?” Shortly thereafter, the team came in to tell me that I would be released, advised me to go home, rest, and to not work for a month. They wanted to see me in 4 weeks. Then they announced, “We found what appears to be a critical looking brain aneurism!”
I took a deep breath, my family gasped and I teared. My Mom grabbed my hand and said I would be fine. (She’d actually been gone for 10 years and yet I felt her there). I shouted, “wasn’t Lockjaw enough?”
“Ya know”, a friend then told me “your Mom somehow knew that you had an aneurism lurking and that the only way for doctors to know, would be for you to get an affliction that prevented you from talking.” That made me laugh …big time! (and my family members would be the first to tell you that I talk non-stop)
Now, once home, I was supposed to relax but I was suffering for 7 days from relentless headaches from the Spinal Tap. It felt like my head would explode. I mean, I was suffering! Once that headache dissipated, my wife and I decided to get our wills done. (very reassuring once you have these in place)
I then went for an angiogram. To get a good look inside. (Not much to see really)
I’m was having general anesthesia and was convinced something would happen and I wouldn’t wake up, but I did awaken!
The doctor said it would be tricky and could not recommend a less invasive “Stent” surgery. He also told me “I’ve never seen anyone with so much bone inside their skull structure.” My wife quickly laughed and called me a “bonehead!”
I proceeded to get a second opinion — from a renowned surgeon in Philadelphia whose procedure would be less invasive and get me on my feet more quickly. So, now I found myself driving home from Philly alone in my thoughts. It was a long ride.
What would I do? How would I decide? I trusted my instincts and stayed with my original surgeon. I subsequently learned that the second option (although less invasive) might have left me blind.
Weeks later I had a 10-hour, open cranial brain surgery. Since I would have no control, I requested my favorite music in the ER.
Once out and in ICU, I looked like Frankenstein….and a human bowl of spaghetti…with wires hooked up all around me. But, I was thrilled!!!!!
My head would be numb for more than a year so I was truly now a “numbskull.” And surely my “Kennedy hair” would grow back in no time. I took a week in Long Beach Island to recuperate where I saw the sun rise each morning, had the best cups of coffee, and read lots of books. Just lifesaving.
I could have wallowed in self-pity or convinced myself that I had earned the right to chill for a while. But……I decided to go home and just get back to work.
To RISE UP…if you will.
As time went on, I got to thinking………. Where did I get that courage and that strength? Perhaps lessons learned from colleagues, family, former coaches. Values of never giving up? Responsibility to family. To my business. My clients. To myself?
I just knew bigger things were still ahead.
I ask you, when we feel beaten, what makes any of us get back in the game?
All the work I put in over time to be at my very best for my clients, and to give my best to friends and family, earned me a break, a little room to breathe you might say. What could have been a catastrophe to my business and family, instead revealed countless blessings all around me. Every client stood by me —without me losing a single piece of business.
I became grateful for the good people in my life. Great family. Great clients. Great surgeons. They gave me then and give me now the strength to RISE UP every day.
So what does all of my drama have to do with business or one’s well being? I would ask you a simple question:
In this joyous holiday season, for whom and/or what are you grateful? Being grateful changes your attitude. Being grateful makes you more approachable. It makes you healthier. It makes you empathetic. It makes you happier.
Today, I workout regularly. My business is on the rise, running better than ever. I play drums in a rock & roll band, and even sing a bit.
When I rub my forehead, I can feel a screw. So, maybe my Mom was right… I’ve got “a loose screw.”
So, you see, when you face a life crisis or challenge, take a breather. You’ve earned it. Take stock in all the positive forces around you for which you should consider being grateful.
Then choose to rise up and get back into your game. For sure, great things still lie ahead.