I was eight years old, lying in a bed located in a children’s ward at Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Los Angeles. I had a series of symptoms that were confounding the doctors in my hometown fifty miles away, so they had sent me to the teaching hospital to run tests. My parents had to leave after my third day to take care of my brother and sister for the rest of the week, so I was pretty much on my own. Not a fun way for an eight-year-old to spend a week, especially when rounds of doctors were coming by my bed to discuss my case as if I did not exist asking me weird questions like, “Do you have an issue with nose-picking?” Now there’s something you want the other 10 children in the ward to hear. There was Dr. Ponytail (my name for him) who always snuck in a wink and smile to let me know I was actually a part of the conversation; I loved him.
The ward consisted of 12 beds separated only by a thin curtain should the patient choose to close it; 11 of the beds were filled. My immediate roommates consisted of a 16 year old to the left of me who hated the world and every one of us in the room, so I stayed away from her and made sure not to touch that curtain. Across from me was Belinda who was learning to walk again. I never discovered her illness, but knew that her family couldn’t afford to visit her. So at the tender age of 11, Belinda spent grueling hours screaming in pain with no family to comfort her. Next to Belinda was Georgina, a young girl who had one kidney left, and it was failing. She died a few weeks after I left the hospital.
The night my parents had to leave me, I remember that every footstep echoing down the hall stepped directly on my heart. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be by myself for several days. So, against my better judgment (I’ve always been stubborn about showing emotion), I started to cry. In a few minutes I heard Belinda’s soft voice say, “Donna, are you okay? Don’t be sad – you’ll be fine. You’ll be home soon.” When I realized that the girl who had been in the hospital six months with no family visits was taking care of me I stopped crying. I realized, in that moment, that it would be my role to cheer everybody up while I was there.
The next morning I got out of bed early and found three wheel chairs in the hall. I woke up Belinda, and helped her into a wheelchair (not an easy task since she was twice my size). I then woke up Georgina and got her positioned in the second one. We rolled into the quiet hallway, and prepared for the race I had just announced. I declared the winner would receive a certificate I had made the night before and extra ice-cream (a deal I brokered with the retired volunteer who delivered ice cream each night). As we lined up, I was thrilled to find the nurses were nowhere to be found, so the coast was clear. Belinda and Georgina were squealing with delight – finally something a “normal” kid would do. At the sound of my quiet but enthusiastic “GO!” we took off like maniacs, mostly running into each other and laughing until we couldn’t breathe. We made it all the way down the hall to the finish line (the silver line that divided us from the next hallway) with increased speed, getting quiet with a sense of competition. At one point Belinda and I made eye contact, silently deciding that Georgina should be the winner since she was the sickest and least likely to leave the hospital.
When Georgina crossed the finish line we cheered and I handed her the certificate I had made the night before. She held it to her chest like it was gold. Unfortunately at that time we turned a corner and I ran into a doctor (literally). Therefore, the race was over, but not the feeling that changed my heart.
In that moment I realized that helping others felt a lot better than feeling sorry for myself. I have to say that this lesson replayed in my head this morning because I’ve spent a year trying to “define” myself for social media. If you’re struggling with self-identification, try improving someone else’s life for a day. That focus will make you the best salesperson, the best manager, the best coach, the best friend and the best social media strategist EVER. Figure out how to make other people better, and your business will grow. You know what? I’m just here to help people. To cheer them up. To organize their wheelchair race. My focus is change because that’s what people fear most. To Georgina and Belinda – you changed my life, and I hope someday we can meet again and run our race together, out of hospitals and wheelchairs, but still laughing!