In March 2014, a blood vessel ruptured in my brain. While I did not know at the time – it happened a few days before I traveled from my home in St. Louis to Chicago for a work visit to Walgreens’ corporate headquarters. It became evident that something was dangerously wrong when I was alone in a hotel room in Deerfield, IL on the outskirts of Chicago.
I had a debilitating headache for several days, but on that night as I lay in bed wide awake at 1 a.m., suddenly I was unable to move my neck. I knew instinctively that something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t think clearly. Instead of calling 911, I got up, did my hair, rifled through my suitcase in search of the right outfit, and headed down to the lobby. Instead of alerting the hotel staff, I stumbled outside and hailed a cab, directing them to take me to the nearest emergency room.
It took less than two hours for a doctor to give me the sobering diagnosis—a brain aneurysm, and the likelihood that I had only hours left to live. For the first time in my life, I was forced to face my mortality.
Lying in that hospital bed in the wee hours of the morning, grappling with the reality that my life was about to end, I called two people. The first was my husband. And because I couldn’t handle the heartache of breaking the news to my parents and siblings, I asked him to call them and tell them what was going on. The second person I called? My boss, Marcus Raney. At 4 a.m., just before I boarded the ambulance that would transport me from the suburban emergency room to Chicago Northwestern for surgery, I picked up the phone and dialed Marcus to let him know that I wouldn’t be able to deliver my scheduled presentation the following day. And because under normal circumstances I would never miss such a critical meeting, I told Marcus the reason why I wouldn’t be there.
While Marcus had always demonstrated good leadership at work, had a strategic vision, and regularly encouraged and empowered his team members to “run your business”(a phrase he was known to say), it was his response to my call that night, and the way he demonstrated both mindfulness and compassion, that makes him a true Mindful Leader.
In that scary, vulnerable, and life-altering moment, Marcus heard me. Though I could tell he was shaken by what I told him, he remained calm and asked me if I had any sort of religious practice.
“Yes, Christian,” I replied.
“Would you be okay if I prayed?” he asked.
Marcus said a brief prayer and then asked, “How can I help?”
I hesitated to answer, not knowing how to best respond to my boss in this personal moment of crisis. But Marcus reminded me that he wasn’t just my boss—he was a human being who wanted to help. So I shared my fears and anxieties—that I was so far away from home, that I hadn’t even checked out of the hotel, that I didn’t know how to figure out the logistics of seeing my husband and two young children, my parents, and my brothers, possibly one last time.
Marcus jumped into action. Though it was the middle of the night, he drove from his downtown Chicago condo out to my suburban hotel, packed up my things, and brought them to Chicago Northwestern before the ambulance carrying me even arrived. A few hours later, he picked up my husband and daughters at the airport, but not before stopping at Target to buy two child car seats for my girls to keep them safe. They managed to make it to the hospital just minutes before I went into surgery. Though I couldn’t speak to him and I vaguely remember, the last thing I saw before they wheeled me into the operating room was my husband’s face.
When I awoke fourteen hours later, the rest of my family was there, having taken the train up from southern Illinois. They, just like my husband and daughter, had also been the recipient of my boss Marcus’s compassion.
“We love your boss!” they exclaimed, sharing how much it meant to them that Marcus, anticipating their emotionally distraught state of mind, had picked them up at the train station and brought them to the hospital so they would feel comforted when they reached Chicago. Marcus had also missed much of that critical work meeting the next day to ensure my family’s comfort and safety while I was in surgery. Even today five years later, when talking about this fateful night as we do on its anniversary every March, Marcus’s kindness always comes up. His actions and the way he made me and my family feel is an important part of our war story.
But Marcus’s actions as a Mindful Leader didn’t stop there. Months later, when I was back home in St. Louis recovering, it was time for our quarterly team meeting. This meeting could have been held anywhere in the country, but Marcus chose to host it at our St. Louis facility—not so I could attend, but so he and my work peers could pop in at my house one late afternoon for a surprise visit to me. Marcus coordinated this surprise with my husband and I was so grateful for an afternoon spent laughing with my co-workers and getting caught up on the lighthearted happenings at work.
As I recovered from my trauma, I was buoyed by my incredible team at Walgreens—not just Marcus, but my co-workers and direct reports (Paul Jensen, Woody Elliott, Rochelle Whitaker, Mark Wolfe, Stefani Cheseldine, Stephanie Couri, Lynn Schorfheide, Sean Baily). Each and every one of them went out of their way to support me and my family in countless ways. In fact, during those first months of my recovery, every Friday night at 6 p.m. like clockwork, a variety of pizzas would show up at my house, my colleagues’ attempt to make my family’s life just a little easier. And they did. That generous effort gave my husband, whose life had also dramatically changed as he was now caregiver to a wife who could barely walk, one day off each week where he didn’t have to think about cooking for me and the kids.
My road to recovery was long and arduous. It involved years of struggles related to migraines, as well as the threat of another aneurysm forming. But last year I had an angiogram and was given a clean bill of health. I had (coincidentally) a check in with a neurologist just one day after the five year anniversary of this event (last week) and discovered some minor residual effects from the aneurysm. I was not sad – only happy to be here and grateful for those who helped me to recover (my medical staff, family, friends)… I’m also grateful for Marcus’s Mindful Leadership and the compassion shown by my co-workers, which made it all a little easier.
Monica Sauls is a founder of CCLT and a corporate human resources leader with expertise in talent management, career development, change management, training, and organizational development. In her additional time, she writes, speaks, and coaches professionals—from entry-level employees to executives—on thriving from one stage of their careers to another. For more information about Monica, please visit http://monicasauls.com