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March 22, 2020

When the World Gets Hit by a Truck

Alan Ibbotson-Changeologist. Founder of The Trampoline Group. Executive Coach. Keynote Speaker on Change, Leadership & EI

Anyone who knows me well knows that back in 2004 I was with a close friend when we were hit and run over by a garbage truck in New York City. Not my best moment. “How trashy” the joke goes. Ba-dom-bom-bom. I’ll be here all week, folks.

It was a terrible time for both of us, but I’ll speak only for myself here. I had only just gone out on my own as a consultant and trainer and didn’t have the security of a job with health benefits. I’ve talked about it with friends, colleagues and clients, but I’ve never written about it or talked about it in my work. Maybe one day I will turn it into my next standup routine or a keynote, but right now I’m realizing that the whole world is having that hit-by-a-truck moment.

All at once. All together.

The first thing I learned from my experience – broken bones galore, several months in the hospital, learning to walk again, multiple infections that threatened my hope of being able to keep my right leg – was this:

“This is not only happening to me. It is happening to everyone around me. We all got hit by this truck.”

I saw my closest friends, clients, family – most of whom didn’t know each other, all traumatized by this. I was seriously injured and looked it, so visiting me couldn’t have been easy. No matter. There they all were, showing up bedside having co-ordinated who was bringing the book, who was bringing dinner, who was bringing ice cream, who was going to do today’s update to my parents overseas.

It turned out that my flamboyant, salty mouthed friend got along famously with a CEO client even though the sight of them together at the end of my bed made my head explode, sending me into a panicked need to facilitate the conversation. I swear if I’d had a flip chart handy I’d have whipped it out, broken fingers be damned.

But no, I was not going to control this. It was just going to happen. And I was forced to surrender to it all as they made me laugh, played music, told stories, dished gossip and bonded with each other around my hospital bed, united in their goodwill and love for me but leaving their fears for my future sensitively unsaid. I was only in my mid 30’s when it happened and most of my friends were the same age. That brought home a sobering reality, which is that life can be irreversibly upended at a moments notice, without warning and with no fallback plan. Hello COVID-19.

What it probably won’t surprise you to read, especially if you know me personally, is that getting run over by a truck was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It made me shed my obsessions with work, forcing me to lean on others instead. It humbled me bigtime. There’s no holding onto your pride when you know you stink and there are three different clients sitting around your bed pretending not to notice.

You learn to laugh about it, because it doesn’t matter. I saw and felt, first-hand just how truly fantastic people can be. How a crisis brings out the best in others. How they are capable of channeling fear and hopelessness into creativity, empathy, generosity and community. Different circles came together to form one much bigger circle. They’re all still connected to this day, through that shared experience. Clients now friends with my friends. Clients who are now my dear friends.

I am a connector, of people, of ideas and possibility so I love that more than I can even say, even if I wish I’d been able to do so under entirely different circumstances.

I left that hospital on my own two feet with a new normal and scars for life but able to walk without a cane, thanks to the wonderful work of the doctors and nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village of New York City. I will never forget these men and women as long as I live. I kept in touch with some and they are now on the frontlines of COVID-19.

I never expected to get hit by a truck again, but here we are.

I am symptom-free and healthy as far as I know, but I am hiding at home in the woods of Connecticut feeling the fragility of 2004 all over again. My hope for all of us is that we bring the best of ourselves to the challenge of COVID-19, seeing this as one big reset button here to teach us all what matters.

Let’s take the lessons it brings to us – many new ones yet to be learned, forward for our collective good.

Stay safe. Stay home. Stay kind.