One minute you are centered, focused and peaceful. Standing on a New York City curb, waiting for a taxi heading eastward, and then something changes. In a flash, the doorman suggests that I should catch a different taxi, heading westward instead. It will get me there, at my morning breakfast destination at midtown, sooner, where my dear friend Mark Willis, an executive with JP Morgan Chase, a longtime supporter of Operation HOPE and a member of our regional board, was waiting to join me for breakfast (I hate breakfast, but I love my friends…). And so, I headed west, instead of east, and everything in my life changed, in a flash.
You step into a taxi assuming a lot actually, yet knowing very little. Who is this person, that I have suddenly placed instant trust and confidence in? Who is he, what is his driving record? Has he ever been in an accident? What is the state of his emotional and pyschological health? What do we know actually — of course the answer is somewhere between very little (a charitable response), and absolutely nothing (more like the truth). But in you go anyway, placing more "faith" and trust in and for our lives on a total stranger, …than we seem willing to do with someone who has proven, over and over again that he loves and cares for us beyond measure — God, Almighty. Interesting… Maybe the only thing saving me on this day, yesterday in New York City, was that I was wise enough to believe in both; one out of convenience, and the other out of conviction.
South the taxi went, on 7th Avenue, doing a good 50 plus miles an hour. I was concerned about his rate of speed, but I was on the telephone, …and like I said before, I had an assumed "faith" in him (the taxi cab driver), and Him (my man upstairs). Well, soon enough one would tested, and the other simply confirmed. As I began a conversation with my ATTORNEY (hello!!!!) — actually one of Operation HOPE's pro-bono attorney's, Steve Ryan of Manatt, Phelps, Phillips, I noticed something strange; my world turned upside down. One minute I was holding the phone in my right hand, facing forward, and the next the phone was sustained in mid-air, as my entire body was hurled forward in mid-air. You see, at that moment the taxi went from about 50 miles per hour, to about….well, zero. The driver, day dreaming or looking for who knows what in front seat of his cab, at that moment barreled into the cab directly in front of him. The one….sitting dead still, at the stop light.
In an instant I lost whatever control I thought I had, ..and had to rely on faith, instead. Faith in Him, …not "him."
A day after this potentially tragic accident, I am absolutely convinced that this accident could have been much, much worse, and at the least, debilitating. And the only reason I did not become the taxi's hood ornament was the Plexiglas installation separating passenger from driver…..which I hit, head and knees first, with maximum impact, I might add. Ouch, …is right.
I almost wanted to laugh, immediately following the accident, when the driver actually asked me was I "okay." "Of COURSE I am not okay," was about all I was able to get out of my mouth. Amazingly, I did in that moment also manage to pick up the telephone and tell my attorney I had been in an accident, and would need to call him back (this sounds SOOOO ridiculous now, but it seemed to make sense to me at the time), and I actually called Mark Willis on cell and left a message; "not able to join you for breakfast, …heading to the hospital," or something to that effect. Thank God by the way, because it was that message that then alerted my loving and caring staff, and immediately thereafter my wife and family, in New York, and then in Los Angeles.
As the ambulance technicians placed the full body back, neck and head brace on me before even moving me from the backseat of that taxi, I knew that this was not viewed by anyone as a simple fender bender. They were concerned about spinal energy, internal bleeding associated with my head injury (they didn't know that I was called "hard headed" growing up for a reason, ha, ha, ha), or worse…
This said, what I did not know was the worse of this experience was still yet to come. Yes, worse still… Frankly, it is still hard for me to talk about this part. The accident was simple. The driver was "simple." Anyone getting into a Yellow cab in New York City knows what they are doing, or should. Fine. He rear-ended someone. He is not a brain surgeon, he is a CAB DRIVER IN NEW YORK! That is what they do! But the hospital, that was different. Or shall I say, it should have been.
As the ambulance wheeled its way through Manhattan streets I heard the EMT tell the driver, "take him to St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital." Powerful words. All powerful, and I had no vote in it. My fate was at the hand of a random hospital referral. "Left, not right…" Not good.
I knew things would not be good as they rolled me out of the ambulance and the conversation was about how this and that person was doing since last they saw them, and NOT a peep about me! I was incidental to what I would learn over 5 excruciatingly painful hours was the real show — the hospital staff's personal lives! Yes, I learned more than I ever want to know about all of the financial and personal and family plans, and grips, of the employees of St. Vincent's Hospital. Wish I had not.-They wheeled me into some area — I don't know where because I was locked down literally from my head down, and all I could do was look up — where I was forced to lay for more than an hour and a half. This was AFTER the EMT told the nurse upon my arrival, "hey, this guy has been in traction for his head for more than 45 minutes, ..you might want to release the pressure soon." FOUR HOURS LATER….this small task had not been done. Can you believe it? I still cannot.
I remember at one point calling out for help, into the air I was so frustrated… And after the third or forth time, a nurse from the emergency room came over and I asked her when I would be removed from the head brace. The pain was worse than the accident itself. I was concerned about internal bleeding and wanted to know when I would see a doctor, and of course, get an XRay. Have any idea what she told me? Get this — "you can't have internal bleeding if you can stream like that…" And with that, she turned and walked away. Needless to say, that nurse, and the hospital, will regret ever telling me that… But that moment was no time to protest, for I did not have a vote. I was a nameless, registerless, personless taxi cab accident victim, and now a new patient (whether I liked it or not) and guest of St. Vincent, and I had no vote. It was painfully obvious to me that my pain "inconvenienced" almost all around me, charged with my care. Unbelievable. Why DO this work, if you are numb to people's pain? …Well, that is a whole other story.
Anyway, I was finally
rolled into the "LINE" for XRay, or shall I say the hallway, where I proceeded to SIT, no LAY there, for another hour and 20 minutes! Again, no one cared. By this time it was 20 minutes to noon, …and the accident occurred at 8:15am or so…and I still did not have an XRay done.
Bottom line — I could have died in that hallway, and no one would have known. Having been there, I am absolutely sure someone did (die). I am going to try to insure that no one does again…. Yes, fixing the emergency room at St. Vincent's, and hopefully other New York hospitals, has now been added to my life-mission "to do" list, thank you very much.
Well, I could not take it anymore, and around 12:30pm I demanded to see the hospital administrator. I told the nurse, one of them, that I was a Presidential Appointee (yes, I had to use THAT to get some attention), and it was AMAZING how quickly attitudes, and service standards, changed — for me, I mean. Not, for everyone else.
Within 15 minutes I had two top administrators, and the head doctor (who really WAS a brain surgeon), along with the head nurse, all crowded into my tiny hospital room. Now I could not get any care because there literally was no ROOM to provide it! Amazing. They listened to me attentively, and with obvious concern on their faces, saying "amen" to each and every one of my listed grips.
Well, I got dressed, wiped the blood off my face, and limped out of the hospital on the loving shoulder of one Mary Hagerty, a senior vice president of Operation HOPE officially, but a dear and loving friend, on this day. I thought that "maybe" I had made a difference, and could move on to other things in MY LIFE. And then I realized, that was the problem. I COULD MOVE ON, TO OTHER THINGS. Those patients, still there, could not. One poor guy got there when I did. He was still waiting for an XRay when I left… I made sure the hospital took care of him.
I will work to make sure they take care of EVERY patient that comes into St. Vincent, with NO VOTE OF THEIR OWN….in the future.
Love. Glad to be here. Humbled, and appreciative. Thanking God, for his loving grace. Guess he is not through with me yet. — Back to work. We have movement work to do!!
Thank you to all my family and friends — from Mark Updegrove, to Andrew "Bo" Young, III and Ambassador Andrew Young (thanks for your prayers n– I KNOW you have a direct line to God and all…), to Naheed Elyasi, to the great Mary Hagerty, to Rod McGrew, to Bernie Wilson and Landon and Tawnia (thanks for the incredible floral arrangement you sent to the holel, and my home my friends…), to Mark Willis and his assistant Sandy, to Desiree O'Neill, to Wendy Profit, Rachael Doff, Lance Triggs and everyone within the HOPE family, and everyone at the Essex House Hotel (it is at times like this when you realize you are genuinely loved), THANK YOU — for your love and your prayers (I realized that I am much better at giving than receiving love, by the way — smile).
And so, I have concussion, and whip lash, but most of all…I have renewed HOPE. And perspective.
Onward, with HOPE