Around the end of 2002 we were concerned about the state of our finances. I had been self-employed for many years, and my income was never steady. I was working part-time in holistic health, and more time in information technology consulting. Some months I earned quite a bit of money, and then we would go through dry spells. The unpredictability of our income was unsettling.
Just before New Year’s one of my better infoirmation technology clients offered me a full-time position, with a generous salary, some flexibility in work hours so I could continue helping my health clients, and they included excellent benefits. I thought it might be interesting to be the Executive Vice President of Information Technology for a small mortgage company with about 100 loan officers and a staff of about 30 other people.
The interview went well and I took the job.
About 6 months into my stint as VP of IT, I ran into a very complex network problem that I could not seem to resolve. Despite my many years of experience in the IT field, with networks and other complex technology, I could not even determine the root cause. I felt tremendous pressure because it was affecting the work of just about everyone in the company. After struggling with it for a couple of days I hired a team of very expensive and highly-qualified and specialized network engineers to get it fixed, whatever it took.
Together we worked our tails off to try and fix it. But another week elapsed and still the network problem remained unresolved and not even improved. I had spent thousands of dollars of the company’s money, had been the target of hundreds of complaints from my colleagues and just about everyone who worked in the company, and didn’t seem to be much closer to a solution.
To say I was a little stressed out was quite an understatement. I was exhausted due to the long hours I had been throwing at the problem without any real break, frustrated about the seeming lack of progress, scared about the flak I was catching, and even beginning to feel hopeless about ever solving our problem. Of course, that latter was kind of silly, but the feelings were there and they were taking their toll on me.
About 10 days into this mess, around 3 in the afternoon, I noticed that I had chest pains, was feeling short of breath, and that my skin felt a bit cold and clammy. Uh oh! I tried to ignore these signs, telling myself that I was in good physical shape, did not smoke, was not that old, and for any number of reasons not at high risk.
When the symptoms were still there about an hour later, I realized that my escape in the land of denial was over. I called my wife who got me to the ER pronto. Of course, she was angry at me for not calling her right away, but she was too concerned to yell at me for very long.
The doctors and ER staff seemed very concerned about me, as well. I kept hoping they would look at me and tell me to knock off the malingering. But they never did. The initial tests were inconclusive, so to be on the safe side, they treated me as if I had just had a heart attack. When it became clear that they were going to keep me for the night, at least, so they could me monitor very closely, my wife, Sue, dashed home to get my toothbrush and a few things I might need.
At that point I did not feel a lot of fear, but the thought did cross my mind that I might not be coming home from this one. I felt sad, because there was just so much that I wanted to do, and now I was thinking that maybe I would not have the chance.
When Sue returned, besides my little travel bag she was carrying a small cardboard box. I was still surrounded by doctors and technicians when Sue came up to the ER gurney and set the cardboard box down by my side. Everyone else was too busy to notice, but I was sure that I had seen the box move just a little. Sue reached over and opened the top of the box. A small, furry black head poked out over the top, stared at me with what seemed like real concern. “Meow!”, Mickie said.
The doctors and ER staff were speechless. I don’t think I have ever seen an ER team more surprised. Mickie began to lick my face. And that is when I knew I would be coming home. How could I not with a wife who loved me enough to risk the ire of the entire ER staff, fierce nurses and all, to smuggle in my cat, who just knew I urgently needed his love and help. I can still feel the gratitude for all involved.
The next day I passed my treadmill cardio test with flying colors. The verdict? Although my EKG had looked somewhat ominous the night before, there seemed to be no real damage, and no evidence of a heart attack – just a whole lot of continuous and un-relieved stress.
When I went back to work a couple of days later, I spent about 2 hours with the lead networking engineering I had hired, and we nailed the problem. Everyone went back to work, and all was well.
What are some of the things I learned from this experience?
1. There is no point in blaming myself for things that go wrong. I may or may not be responsible, and I may or may not have control over the outcome, but blaming never helps. A subtle distinction to be sure, but one that can make all the difference!
2. When under stress, take plenty of a breaks. Help the people around you to get their breaks. Being under continuous stress, without breaks, renders us mostly ineffective, and can be dangerous to our health.
3. The power of love to heal and to fix problems is truly awesome. Use it whenever possible. Remember to be grateful. Thank you Sue, Mickie, ER team, and the engineers who helped me fix the problem. Thank you Universe and Great Sprit for an important life lesson.
Six months after that little caper I was very happily back in private practice, doing what I love, setting my own hours, and taking breaks whenever I needed to or wanted to. My gorgeous hand-made Flamenco guitar is still right next to my desk so I can stop work for a music break whenever I want. Mickie jumps up on my desk and stands in front of my computer monitor, blocking the screen, to remind me anytime I go too long without a break. Pretty great coach for a cat!
To your great health!