LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM MY BYPASS SURGERY
It was spring – time to shake off the dormancy of winter and get back to the gym. But it wasn’t the same as before. I could only get through the machines once and I became short of breath with my heart racing for an hour afterward. Thinking back, I remember sitting bowed in the locker room and having someone say, “Are you alright?”
So I went to my doctor. I explained the symptoms including the chest pains. The response? “It’s probably allergies. Use a nasal spray and your asthma inhaler.” Not! However, a stress test was also scheduled.
I did well on the treadmill, pushing through to the speed and heart rate expected. Nothing major showed except a small “blip” on the EKG when I was pushing hard. A retired cardiologist working part-time saw the result and urged me to see a cardiologist. I was advised to go to the Emergency Room if I had chest pains.
Until I could get an appointment a month later, another stress test was ordered using radio isotopes. The same “blip” was there. I went to the Emergency Room the next day with chest pain.
Nuclear imaging and echo cardiograms showed that there was nothing wrong with my heart. After all, I had not had a heart attack that would have caused damage. The emergency doctor looked at the imaging and said my heart was fine. Not! Again, attention wasn’t paid to the symptoms. I went in with chest pain and left with chest pain.
I am so grateful for the wisdom of my cardiologist who looked at the big picture, including a very severe family history of heart problems, and recommended an angiogram. The discovery of severe blockages resulted in quadruple bypass surgery!
In the time I was waiting for the cardiologist appointment, my primary physician reported that my heart was fine. So I went on retreat, camping at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, trying to hike and ride my bicycle in the heat of the desert. I came home and put a new roof on the patio and cleaned the yard and garage.
After the angiogram, a nurse said, “You must have had an angel keeping you from having a heart attack.” Somehow my heart had been working around the blockages for years, but was reaching its limit.
Here are some leadership lessons I have learned from my experience.
Trust your instincts. You know yourself and work better than anyone and sense when something is not right. I was slow on the uptake but finally recognized that my symptoms where an indicator of something more.
Pay attention. Notice when you are not getting the results you want even when doing more. I now recognize how long I had struggled with exercise, but attributed it to aging and kept trying to push harder. It only got worse.
Seek advice. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see what you can’t see. If the recommendations don’t seem right, get a second opinion. My primary physician’s first diagnosis missed the mark.
Benefit from experience. Seek guidance from those with mature wisdom and insight. It took a retired cardiologist with experience to recognize the small sign of a big problem.
Be your own advocate. If you sense that something is not right, keep searching for an answer. When my primary physician said my heart was fine, I had to ask, “But what about the EKG?”
Find an expert. If you want to make changes and succeed, there is no substitute for expertise. My cardiologist and surgeon are affirmed for being among the best in their field. They saved my life.
Believe in yourself. When you are on the right path, persist until you succeed. I have taken my recovery step by step. The day came when I turned the corner and began to experience new energy of mind, body, and spirit that is carrying me forward.
After two-and-a-half months my recovery is going well. I am exercising, losing weight, and looking forward to many years of life and service. And as a coach, I still have a heart for helping leaders succeed!
Ethan Raath, ThD.
Executive Leadership Consultant & Speaker