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He Could Have Died. . .Putting Up Christmas Lights

December 9, 2013

He could have died.

We were afraid for awhile that he still might.

And it was all because of Christmas lights.

(This isn’t Mark’s house. He never really got this far. Photo Credit:
Maven Restorations)

Mark was one of the messaging engineers on my team. We all worked for a large non-profit. It was right around Thanksgiving time. I don’t remember how we found out that Mark was in the hospital. But, it certainly wasn’t him that called us. He had better things to worry about.

He had been installing Christmas lights like he did every year. Probably like you do every year. Like I do every year. Mark was putting them up above his garage. He had a ladder leaned against the wall. And while he didn’t actually have someone to steady it, he was only a few feet above the ground.

As he reached to attach the lights to the gutters, the base of the ladder slipped away from the wall. You would think that there is something you can do to save yourself in this situation. You’re less than 10 feet above the ground. I’ve jumped ten feet. The problem is that it happens incredibly fast. One second you’re reaching to attach the line to that gutter clip and the next second you’re eating the cement.

And you might think a fall of less than a dozen feet isn’t too serious. It can be. Mark was completely out of commission. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t crawl, he certainly couldn’t walk. Fortunately, his neighbor was out also hanging his lights. He saw the whole thing. He informed Mark’s wife, piled Mark into his car and rushed him to the hospital. Where the doctors informed that he’d broken both wrists and his left leg. These were severe fractures and breaks that required surgery. Had the neighbor not noticed his tumble, it’s likely that he would have expired from his injuries on his driveway.

Naturally, we were greatly concerned. It was a small, but extremely close knit team. Mark went to one of our great local hospitals and the rest of the team stepped in to pick up the slack. I went to see him in the hospital when he was all doped up on drugs. It’s weird because he recognized me, but later didn’t remember the conversation. He was greatly concerned about the team and the projects he was on. I assured him that all he needed to do was get better. We’d take care of everything.

You are probably wondering, why I’ve included this story in a blog about business and leadership.

It’s because Mark was only the first. We had six engineers on the team. Seven members counting me. Over the course of a single year, everyone of us was struck by tragedy of some sort. At first it was funny, and I took some teasing from other managers. But, eventually, it got past the funny stage.

I had to figure out how to keep a team running through injury and tragedy.

I’m not sure how well I succeeded because we didn’t have to try to hire anyone to our team that year. But, the rest of the division started to avoid us. It’s not that anyone was seriously superstitious. But, no one wanted our bad luck to rub off on them.

With Mark, he eventually recovered enough to go home. Weeks later he finally could return to work. He rode one of those “kneeling” scooters.

(Photo Credit: Mobility Equipment Training)
It was months before he was really back to normal.

Although we’ve both moved on to other companies, we had lunch the other day. It’s Christmas light season again and I asked him what his plan was.

Same as always, I hire it done.

This is the first in a five part series about the most snake bit team I’ve ever worked with. Tomorrow we’ll hear about another team member who fell from a height. Wednesday, we’ll talk about what happens when it’s the kids who are hurt. Thursday and Friday we’ll discuss team members who lost family members. All of these injuries and accidents took place within a single calendar year.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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From → Team Building

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