I want to share a story from my life about where I found myself just more than 10 years ago.
My health began to decline significantly in the summer of 2009, and I had intense stomach pain, significant weight loss, significant blood loss and, honestly, mild loss of bowel control that slowly turned to complete loss of bowel control. I’ll never forget toward the end, before my hospital admission, sitting in a puddle of tears at the bottom of my shower feeling completely helpless as my loving wife reached her hand into the shower and held on. We had no explanation for what was going on.
By Dec. 30 2009, I was admitted into the hospital at 169 pounds, having lost about 40 pounds in four months. On that day, the doctors sat my wife down and told her that I most certainly would not have lived another week without medical intervention. The reality of life without me stood before my sweet Emily. At that time, the H1N1 virus was at its peak, so the hospital banned visitation, and my four-year-old, two-year-old and seven-month-old could not visit.
With so much uncertainty, no answers and an endless number of questions, the infectious disease team descended on my room and testing began. They discovered that I had contracted a rare virus called cytomegalovirus colitis, or CMD colitis.
During my month-long hospital stay, I learned four lessons that have infinitely affected my life, and I think they would be applicable to all as we go through the struggles of today.
Lesson 1: Confront the facts of the situation, and maintain unwavering faith to move forward.
The people that get along in life can confront the brutal facts of the situation but maintain hope to make it through. The facts of my situation were that I was sick and dying. I could have laid in bed crying and, honestly, I did that for 72 hours. But at the end of the 72 hours, I chose to take control. I began writing letters to my kids and essays on lessons that I’d learned in my life as if I didn’t have time left.
The same opportunity lies before us today, with so much unknown about our situation. This pandemic is putting unusual stress on people, families and our residents. With that said, we have the opportunity to shine. We will have brilliantly clean living environments. We will run, hustle and build relationships with unwavering conviction. It is our choice to take action.
Lesson 2: Choose to anchor thoughts to facts instead of fear of the unknown.
As my body was wasting away, my mind was still sharp. I wrote and read to educate myself.
In regard to today, instead of allowing feelings and thoughts to be fueled by the news, focus on the facts at hand. We can lean on the most accurate sources of information: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. I encourage all of us to choose to be masters of our emotions and anchor our thinking in facts.
Lesson 3: Learn to control what seems uncontrollable.
I laid in that bed for 30 days as the nursing team continued to inaccurately record my liquid intake. I couldn’t control that someone was really poorly doing his or her job, so I painfully pulled out my computer and built my own liquid intake spreadsheet as a patient in the hospital. The doctor gasped on day two of this spreadsheet. My action orientation forced them to take a step up in play and change their ways.
In the coming days, this exact opportunity lays in front of each person. There will be missteps in the community as new situations arise, and you can choose to respond with joy in your heart and solutions in mind.
Lesson 4: Create an environment of ownership and positivity; people will respond more effectively.
People respond to how you feel more than what you say. As the leader of my home, I could see my wife and kids looking to see how I really felt about my situation, regardless of how it looked. I was certain there was good that was going to come from all that I was facing. That was a choice, and my family could see that.
If you have some anxiety about the situation, don’t try to pretend that you don’t. Go to a leader or peer who has pep in his or her step and ask, “What are you choosing to think about in the midst of the unknown?” Have the courage to go to a leader, address your own thinking and create an environment of ownership, positivity and hustle.
Les Strech is president of Thrive Senior Living, headquartered in Atlanta.