In December 2014, I went for a back surgery to fuse and fix my prolapsed discs. The plan was to get them fixed, take 3 weeks off and then get back to work in January 2015.
That didn’t go to plan. Instead, I was sent to a rehab hospital as a paraplegic just a few days after my unsuccessful operation. I then spent the next 6 months at this former second world war hospital in Caulfield and came home on a wheelchair.
My world changed forever. And in the days, weeks, months and years that followed, I also changed.
The more I look back and reflect on my injury, my rehabilitation at Caulfield and the ongoing recovery to date, the more I recognise that a lot of changes have happened.
Some of the family, friends, staff and business partners, people who I thought were close to me, became strangers. Things that were second nature to me once, became alien. And some strangers became good pals.
What did I discover so far from this life changing experience?
Well, here are some things that I learnt during my time at Rehab. I hope this gives you some perspective should you come across tough challenges.
I would also love your feedback. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Lesson 1 – Life goes on, no matter what
When you go into a surgery after posting a selfie on Facebook, only to wakeup feeling nothing below your waist, it is a shock to your system. Since I was also heavily medicated, it was a surreal feeling that one would want to pinch themselves to confirm. Too bad, I couldn’t feel that pinch either.
After some time, it becomes scary as I start to see the worried faces of family members. Even the ones from far away began appearing and it begins to sink in that this must be bad.
Couple of days of routine visits by the surgeon and no apparent improvement on my condition, I realise that “stuff has actually hit the fan” this time around.
Then they tell me the good news that I can have a shower, while lying down using this special shower cap. It felt so good having a shower after some days of horizontal living. I also got a take away from maccas (it was delicious), I watch the cricket and wait for a miracle.
It is funny what you will believe and do when you are desperate. I prayed so hard to all the gods of all the world’s religions to no avail.
Finally the hopes of walking out of there get squashed and I start to ponder the next steps and they confirm my discharge into a rehab facility. So, I am not going home. but hey, I am getting “rehabilitated”.
Ok, they couldn’t get me into the more modern Austin hospital, which would have been ideal, but let me be happy that they found a bed for me at Caulfield.
It is just a 2 hour drive each way from home. BTW, my father in law just passed away (first death in our family in Melbourne), one of my staff wants to return the company leased car (after 8 months into a 3 year lease), 2 of my team have resigned, one of the projects got cancelled and we need to meet payroll and tax repayments. So, let me quickly call these two clients and hurry them up on overdue invoice payments before they shutdown for XMas.
Nobody gives a damn about you. Life goes on. It always has and it always will. Suck it up and play your part! (There is no wifi for patient use at Rehab. I had to get Telstra to add data packs and then 4 more of my staff resigned.)
Lesson 2 – Strangers can become Friends and Friends could turn Strangers
When you get admitted to a hospital, you meet many people. You come in contact with Nurses, Allied health staff, Doctors, trainees, other patients and their families. Most of these people are lovely. They are part of the system and the world that you have just been dumped into.
Some of them kind of know that you are freaked out. Some of them know that you are stuffed. Some of them try to help you. Some of these good people also rely on the inefficient system to function. That is the only way for them to be relevant and useful. Improving this system at will is impossible. It is important every patient understands that. (Patience defines a Patient)
Family and friends are a different kettle of fish. They are affected by your shocking situation. They see you in your sorry state. They hate to see you in that condition. They don’t know how to handle it and this is not something they have prepared for earlier. So, these encounters become pure drama.
Friends, good friends, are the ones that shine a light on a dark moment. They chuck a curly joke and make you laugh. Or they remind you of something that makes you cry. Some friends can be worse than family. They tell you that you have changed and are mad because of it.
Strangers tend to find it easy to work with you and you feel the same. There is no baggage to carry on there and so strangers tend to get a good wrap than family or friends.
A stranger who helps you out is indeed a friend and the stranger who doesn’t help remains a stranger, so no harm done there. But, when a friend becomes a stranger though, that is real sad. It does happen.
Lesson 3 – You can work from anywhere
I closed our first Canadian deal and the first UK deal for our PowerToolz software while at rehab. In fact, I was getting an antibiotic dose through my vein when I emailed the software ownership certificate to the Canadian client. (Shortly after that I had a panic attack.)
I worked whenever I have to. I also worked whenever I wanted to. Rehab can quickly become a lonely place and thank God for my laptop, iPhone and earpieces, I was somewhat productive and kept myself busy. I did manage to keep the business alive although we sustained massive losses during this time.
Lesson 4 – Internet is Amazing and FaceTime is a Killer App
I am grateful to all those tech titans who made it possible for me to make FaceTime calls to my family.
Seeing my son walk for the first time, witnessing my daughter’s school performances and being supportive to my wife would not have been possible without technology.
I was able to read to my daughter at nights, play with my young son and was able to feel close to my wife during those very dark 6 months of my life partly due to those FaceTime calls. Although I spent a fortune with Telstra on their data packs, every cent was worth it.
Lesson 5 – Weekdays, Weekends and Holidays are Nothing but an Illusion
My family couldn’t see me every day. They just couldn’t physically be with me every week either. So we settled with fortnightly family meetings and weekly short visits by my wife.
After a few months, I start to recognise the differences between those weekends where I will be seeing my family and those where I will be alone. I was witnessing days stretch based on what was planned for me on those days, whether it is a day my Physio is on leave or the day my wife was coming to see me.
Extrapolating on that further, I realised that, every day is essentially the same. There is no real difference between a Friday and a Saturday. It is just another day.
It is us that created the work days and the holidays. It is us that created the 9 to 5. Besides night and day, there is no real difference with a day being a weekend or the month-end.
This then gave me the sense to not get too sad about a day or become too excited about another.
If you treat every day as a possibility or an opportunity, and take that day for what it is and focus on the tasks at hand, you will do very well in life.
Lesson 6 – Transformations take time
It is said that people tend to grossly overestimate what one could accomplish in an year and massively underestimate what one could do in a few.
At rehab, my routine was to wake up, get ready (this was not quick), do physio (this will become a few blog posts), get jabs, eat as the food is delivered and sleep.
I had a food regime put in place on my request which cut my weight dramatically. I was sitting on a 16Kg wheel chair (that could have been older than me) and was wheeling around the hospital from one end to the other many times a day. I miss that work out.
I started to notice a skinnier me emerging with strong biceps. I also lost a lot of muscle on my legs due to wastage. And on those days when I got my haircut done, I looked very different to the person who came in on the ambulance months ago.
I decided to get real strong. I wanted to become independent. I wanted to come home. I tried to let go of the anger and move out of my state of denial. The next few months passed very fast and I finally made it home 3 weeks after my wife’s birthday.
While I was at rehab all I wanted was to “walk out of there”. Although I “wheeled out of there”, I was glad that I came home.
I overestimated what I could do in 6 months of rehab and looking at the recovery I have accomplished, I also underestimated the improvements I could get in the long term. Transformations take time. Patience is a virtue and I am patient.
Lesson 7 – Confidence is everything
While at Rehab, I didn’t want anybody I knew to see me in a wheelchair. I avoided taking full length photos. I didn’t even want to see my team members. I didn’t want people to know of my condition. I was happy to meet new people and expand my network but was not keen to talk to people already in my network about my problems.
I also thought that accepting the reality is like giving up the fight to walk. All I had to do was to stand up and walk and everything will be back to normal anyway.
As time passed, I just couldn’t keep hiding behind emails and phone calls any further. Rehab management also wanted me out as I was becoming part of their furniture. They needed others to take my bed.
I realised that the missing piece of the puzzle is me gathering up the courage to become comfortable and confident of the new me. After finding it, it became easier for me to meet my team members.
After I got home it took me another 3 months to visit my offices and then another 6 months to start driving.
Believe me, while it is hard to be confident all the time, remembering that “confidence is everything” served me well.
Since coming home, I got my license back and started driving with hand controls. I have presented at two SharePoint Saturday events in person and visited many client sites. I have hosted customer events, flew on planes, stayed at hotels, celebrated my 40th with a charity fund raiser gala dinner, invested in a number of promising startups, released my debut pop album, sponsored community events, setup new business partnerships, hired some great new talent, fired some clients, partners and staff that weren’t the best fit for us, secured external funding, won 2 prestigious business awards, negotiated multi-million dollar deals and began sending cupcakes to my rehab staff annually.
I still crash at times but remembering that “confidence is everything” is the key to my bounce back and the reason for me writing this blog post.
My 6 or so months at Caulfield spinal rehab taught me some valuable lessons. I have captured 7 of them in this post.
I hope you liked what you read and got some value out of it. Please share, like, tweet and comment. Appreciate your feedback.