In my last post, I talked about how bad things will happen and that understanding and internalizing this truth will help you build your personal resilience. Today, I want to help you understand that none of us are immune to having bad things happen in our own lives. To do this, I want to share two stories from my own life where my personal resilience failed me.
In April of 2012, I got the phone call that nobody wants to get: my parents had been in a serious collision. Just how serious, I didn’t know at the time, but serious enough that they had been taken to hospital. I will freely admit that my resilience failed me. I didn’t know what was happening, and I started making rash decisions because I was scared that I was going to lose one or both of my parents.
Without getting into specific details, I will say that I broke a few of my own personal rules, and may have skirted the boundaries of some others, but I was panicked. I immediately jumped in the car and started the 12 hour drive to where my parents lived…it was now 10pm and I’d been up all day. Like I said, rash decisions.
As I drove along, the information just kept getting worse and worse, with my mother being flown to a trauma center in a medically-induced coma to help stabilize her airway and the bleeding. To make matters worse, the area that I was driving through had only sporadic cell service and I could only get updates every hour or so when I went through another town.
I had passed the limit of my resilience. I drove all the way through the night, usually over the speed limit (thank you to the police officer who flashed their emergency lights as a warning instead of pulling me over for speeding), and pushed the limits of my own exhaustion in an effort to make it to the hospital where, for all I knew, my mother could be dying. Despite all of my experience as a dispatcher, a firefighter, a first responder, and years of seeing other people’s traumas, my resilience was pushed past the limit by this collision.
Almost a year ago now, I was coming home late with my 3 year-old after visiting friends for a backyard BBQ. As she was getting out of the car, my 3 year-old tripped over the door frame, hit the ground face first, and then continued the rest of the way over, hyper-extending her neck before landing on the ground. She’d gone feet over head, with her head serving as the pivot point.
For the people who know me, this shouldn’t have been much of a challenge for me. I’ve taken or dispatched tens of thousands of 9-1-1 calls, and responded to over a thousand more. I taught advanced first aid to first response teams, pulled people from car wrecks, done CPR on dozens of people, and helped in some of the worst times of people’s lives. This should have been easy…
I lost it! I full-out panicked. I called my wife in a panic and told her to come home. When she didn’t answer, I texted her frantically. When she finally answered, she told me she had left the phone in the car and didn’t get my messages until later.
Instead of engaging my training and experience, I saw the blood on my daughter’s face and I lost every bit of knowledge that had ever filled my head. I dialed 9-1-1 and asked for an ambulance. I did so knowing that my partners from the fire department would also respond, and by having their support, I would be able to get through this. My hands that had taken care of dozens of similar injuries didn’t know what to do this time. My brain that had never failed me in recalling treatment and assessment techniques just couldn’t process the fact that this was my daughter, my baby who had blood pouring down her face.
The point here is not for you to feel sorry for me, but instead to point out that no matter how much we know or how well-trained and experienced we are, bad things still happen to all of us! Knowing that I wasn’t immune to bad things meant that even after my resilience broke, I was able to adjust to the new normal and regain my equilibrium much faster. It’s the same for everyone, the more you prepare for the fact that something bad will eventually happen to you, the better and sooner you can recover after that something bad happens.
As for my parents and my daughter…well, my dad had minor injuries and my mom was up and dancing at my wedding two months later. My daughter will be joining both of them for 10 days later this month as part of her summer travels.