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CIO Unplugged 7/24/13

July 24, 2013 Ed Marx 11 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The unEXPERIENCED Life is Not Worth Living

The famous phrase by Socrates about “the unexamined life” has made its way into many lectures and speeches beyond its philosophical niche. No, I’m not a philosopher. But as I dug deeper for the sake of this post, I stumbled across a distinction he made between people (Athenians) who watched life and those who experienced it.

Observing an Olympic athlete cross the finish line gave a “semblance of success,” but was it true reality? We love to admire superb performance and bask in a new world record. But what would happen if we personally strove for such experiences ourselves?

I choose experience. It doesn’t need be extravagant or expensive. It can be turning off the soccer match on TV and joining a local team. Signing up for ballroom dance class rather than just watching “Dancing with the Stars.” Putting down the books about the missionary taking care of the poor in India and signing up at your local soup kitchen. Turn off Facebook virtual relationships and instead host a live get-together with living people.

My plan had been to share with you fresh leadership and teamwork insights from a recent climb atop Europe’s highest mountain, Elbrus. That was a victorious experience. But my heart isn’t into writing about climbing because of a tragedy that unfolded two days later.

Tradition calls for celebration following a summit. While touring St. Petersburg, five members of my team, including myself, walked down the bustling main street, Nevsky Prospekt. We traded climbing stories and talked about our motivation to climb. People we met said interesting things about the danger of climbing mountains. Our common response became, “Life is short, and a sheltered life was no life at all. You might get hit by a car while playing it safe, so you may as well embrace risk.”

Still light outside, midnight was approaching as we began the journey back to our hotel. Approaching the intersection at Kazan Cathedral, we formed a quasi column so we could pass pedestrians coming from the other side. I entered the crosswalk, leading my friends and walking immediately behind two ladies age twenty-something. In a split second, tires screeched, headlights blazed, and I instinctively dove out of the way. To my left, I heard flesh hit metal … then glass (windshield).

As I landed on the ground, I viewed the unthinkable out of the corner of my eye—those two ladies cartwheeling through the air. By the time I rolled to a stop, they landed 10 meters away. Unconscious. Contorted. Broken. A surreal scene.

After a few seconds of verbal rage and gathering our wits about us, we jumped into action. JJ, our mountain guide, took command. We became docs, EMTs, and comforters. We had both patients stabilized. The dozen policemen who showed up were completely clueless and just stared at us.

I recall vividly watching my bunkmate Frank clasp one girl’s hand and speak calmly to her. She told us she was visiting from Siberia. Her friend lay unconscious and deformed, with her head held stable by our buddy Zac. At the 10-minute mark, a “first aid” vehicle showed up and a woman wearing scrubs emerged. She was with infection control and had no real medical supplies. Applying smelling salts, she was trying to get both patients up and walking before understanding the severity of their injuries.

Adding to the chaos, a policeman grabbed Zac, thinking he was the negligent driver. Tried to arrest him. Bystanders intervened, and our friend was released. We continued providing support, but our counsel to the “infection lady” and the swarming, interfering bystanders was ignored. Ms. Infection was forcing the second patient, now conscious, to move despite obvious skeletal trauma.

I backed off and prayed over the situation, asking God to send the Holy Spirit for comfort, healing, and wisdom. Not having our passports in hand, we left a few minutes later as the mob grew more aggressive. My team prayed from a distance.

Once back in the hotel room, I buried my head in the bath towel and sobbed. I Skyped my wife and texted a friend. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw those ladies doing cartwheels over me. I slept for three hours and returned to the scene, which had since been cleared. I wondered what happened to the Siberians and how they were doing. Who was looking over them? Who was holding their hands? I spent another 30 minutes just praying and reflecting. I could not stop crying.

Today, my team is still processing what we experienced. As traumatic as it was, we were glad we’d been there and hoped the aid we provided helped save a life. We witnessed firsthand how quickly life can be taken away. In a blink of an eye. Something as safe as crossing a street.

Life is full of tragedy and heartbreak. You can bank on it happening again tomorrow. But does adversity really hold us back in life? I’d venture to say it’s our fear-based belief about painful incidences or the possibility of them happening that paralyze us. Instead of falling prey to that paralysis, experience the depth of heartbreak and then grow stronger from it. Conquer the fear and keep living.

Living life with no regrets means crawling out of the ashes of tragedy and walking stronger. On purpose. Determine to live a life fully experienced. We Live.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed,

    What a shockingly sad story. Although it has to be hard for you, I am sure you gave comfort to those in need. Good for you for reaching out. I hope I can be as brave should the need arise. Thank you for sharing and making us remember, once again, why we are in the healthcare business.

    Susan, RN

  2. Ed,
    Thank you for sharing this story. I am reading it over and over. You have captured a very important lesson. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Patti, MD

  3. Thank you so much for that story. I am sitting here in my hotel in NYC today and just wondering why I have experienced so much pain/tragedy and challenges in life. I now understand that I am truly living. You have said what I have been trying to put into words for years.

    Thanks Ed.

  4. I never miss your stories, Ed, and this one is just another reason why. Needed to hear this today. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Ed,

    Thank you for sharing this story and for you and your team doing everything you could for your two patients. A great example of a Good Samaritan.

  6. Thanks, Ed. I could not agree more with your philosophy, and I deeply respect your willingness to experience both the triumph and the heartache of getting out there. I’m reminded of the many similar comments a favorite author of mine has made. Here is one I think is worth sharing.

    “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
    ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

  7. Thanks for sharing, Ed. Although the story was quite sad, your message is one we all need to hear and heed. The action taken by you and your team was quite admirable, and no doubt aided and comforted those two young ladies. May God bless you and your team for being a blessing to others.

  8. Ed, thank you for sharing this experience. Thank you for your willingness to share with us excatly what you did and how you felt. Life is in fact about the now.

  9. Very humbling and inspiring story, Ed. You have been given so many gifts and I thank you for sharing some of them with the rest of us. God Bless you!

  10. Ed, thank you for sharing this experience. Especially as you had just said with your climbing friends, “life is too short, and to embrace life”. You were in that spot for a reason my friend. I truly believe that- as you and your colleagues were there to help those young ladies with this tragedy. Speaking calmly to the women, stabilizing another.

    I am passionate about doing the right thing-and stepping up to help when we can. Also realize is is was hard to share with the IP Nurse- to not move the patient- and keep them stabilized. We are so lucky here in our medical communities- the training that are caregivers have to . That relived back in your hotel room and days after. Having been through something similar in my own life- I can sincerely say- this image will stay with you- but also realize- because of stories like this- we all need to say THANK YOU and appreciation to our outstanding medical community, trained EMTs, trained volunteer fireman, people who train in CPR and basic First Aid -etc..

    I have found by just stopping and saying a genuine thank you and appreciation to people- for stepping up to volunteer to help, or going out of their way to help an elderly person out of the car into the hospital, being alert to medical situations, having leadership culture that extends to the entire staff- that we all can make a difference and can work together.

    I saw it first hand at the scene of the Boston Marathon tragedy. Or when we say “thank you” to Military personnel when we see them in the airport, or a volunteer fireman – who was up all night putting out a blaze, and gets up to work the next day. Just saying those 2 words- inspires people to make a difference when they can – and know next time it may be you who will need that help, or you can make a difference to someone’s mom, cousin, co-worker, or son or daughter.

    Thank you Ed for writing this to as it is a compelling reminder of why we work in healthcare to make a difference in some way. I personally thankful and appreciative of living in the NE near some of the best medical care in the US- and frankly -the world. They “walk the walk” of how to care for patients and one another.

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