Crippled CEO Blog #100:
I was 6. I was in a hospital bed with surgery scheduled for the next morning.
I had been at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children for a few days while they ran tests and prepared me for the rather serious orthopedic operation I’d be going under in just a few hours.
My mom was there with me. The hospital was four hours away from our house, and she had made the trip while my dad stayed back with my younger brother and the business.
I was scared.
It was about 9:30 PM and a nurse rolled in a television.
My mom turns to me and says, “I have to run out. I’m going to be back in an hour. I’m going to put a movie in for you. I’ll be back before it’s over. Okay?”
I nodded tentatively.
She then looked to the nurse. “I know the cut off time for TV is ten o’clock, but would you mind…?”
“No problem,” the nurse smiled understandingly. They slid the Little Mermaid VHS tape into the VCR.
“I’ll be right back.” My mom patted my foot, stood up, and walked out of the room.
And I was alone. But I had the TV.
(For some reason, I am crying as I write this right now. I clearly need therapy.)
At about 10:03, a different nurse walked in. “Alright, time for bed. Let’s turn off this TV.”
I looked at her in terror, my eyes huge, and watched as she crossed the room and turned off the television.
It was not only my distraction that was allowing me to hold it together as I watched the clock tick one moment at a time, counting down the seconds until 10:30 when my mom would return, but it was also the token of her existence, the tool she left me with to accompany me in her absence, in this strange place, the surgery looming like the shadow of a monster.
My world immediately collapsed and I lost it. Total meltdown. Sobbing uncontrollably, I blubberingly tried to explain how she’d be back at 10:30, how the other nurse said it was okay. I recalled witnessing another instance where this particular nurse had no patience for a spoiled, crying, entitled brat, and scared she’d conflate my authentic emotional breakdown with THAT, I cried even harder, my words lost in sobs and and snot.
“It’s alright,” she said. “We will put it back on until your mom comes back.”
There are a dozen perfectly legitimate reasons that woman could have left the TV off. It was the policy of the hospital. It wasn’t fair to the other children. If they let me do it, how could they say no to somebody else? It was what her boss told her to do. And so on and so forth.
All companies have policies that exist for excellent reasons. We create rules and procedures for people to follow, for the good of everyone — employees, customers, the company.
But you have to leave some room for a bit of humanity when it is necessary. Hiding behind a policy when you’re doing the wrong thing is still the wrong thing. And if you’re the boss, you need to not only grant these exceptions yourself, you need to give your people the autonomy to do so as well.
My uncontrollable sobbing immediately switched to sniffles and trying to catch my breath as she turned the Little Mermaid back on. She broke the rule, but I was able to survive the remaining 26 minutes until my mom came back because of her, and I still appreciate it 33 years later.
Because we need more people like that nurse. If you’re in the position to be her, then be her. And if you’re in the position to let other people be her, then please do that, as well. It can make all the difference for somebody.
Hey. This is #100. Crazy, right? Whether you’ve been here since the beginning, or you hopped on recently, thanks. It means a lot.
(I don’t even want to tell you what YOUR mom puts on my TV, though there are mermaids involved. She also gets a link to my blog every single week because she sent a text to the number 484848 with the word CRIP as the message. You should, too.)