AN EXECUTIVE'S UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Today I’m talking with Ron Gold who will be sharing his story of grief and how it affected him personally and professionally. Welcome Ron, its good to speak with you today
RG _ Thanks, Linda. It’s good to be here today.
LT – Thanks and I know that you have a truly inspiring story to share with our listeners so tell us your story and how it impacted you and your work.
RG – I spent most of my career working on Wall Street, almost 25 years. I worked at Lehman Brothers and then when they went under, I moved over the Barclays since Barclays picked up some of the pieces post-bankruptcy at Lehman Brothers. I had always wanted to work on Wall Street. I went to Wharton. I worked hard at school. I made sure I would get the grades so I would be able to put myself in a position to get that type of job. I was very pleased my career was going well. I was a director at Barclays, and I was managing an institutional equity sales desk. It was a typical A-type high-intensity job where I did a lot of travel. I was at my desk at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. I travel overseas numerous times a year and multiple times in the US.
Things were really going well. I also had three great daughters, a great wife and it was the life that I have worked so hard for so many years to achieve for myself. I was also a very strong athlete. It was an important part of my life, may be more important than I had even realized. I would regularly do various fitness activities, let’s say five times a week either before work or after work and then on weekends. Weekends I would usually go for a run or frequently I would go on group bicycle rides, generally about 50 miles. We always went north to avoid traffic. It was almost five years ago, actually Thanksgiving weekend 2011, I went for a ride with a group of friends up to Harriman, NY that was just a few miles from home on a country road.
All of a sudden an SUV comes barreling at me. It was 1:06 PM on Saturday afternoon. For some reason, the driver of the SUV had fallen fast asleep. She crossed a solid line. She went clear across her side of the road into my side of the road. She hit my friend head-on and then hit me without breaking. My friend was sent flying over the guardrail almost into the nearby river, and she hit me head on, and that’s really the last thing I remember.
Medevacs drove quickly to the hospital. They say I actually went flying over her hood and then onto the pavement. I think about that day. I think about it every day, and I suppose I will. I always will. I wonder if I could’ve done something differently; if I could’ve avoided the accident somehow. The investigators who looked at it afterward said there was no evasive action I could’ve taken. There just wasn’t enough time. I was to the left of my buddy, and the first thing I knew of the driver is when she was about to go into him, and he started yelling. So I was right behind him, and there was really no time for me to do much of anything.
LT – Was he okay?
RG – He was not. He shattered his pelvis, and he had a hip replacement.
LT – And you?
RG – I had massive injuries. The surgeons at Hackensack Trauma Center (NJ) had a team of trauma surgeons and other surgeons ready to operate on me. They induced a coma. They didn’t think I was going to survive. They really had quite a laundry list of things to do. I was as I said, in a coma and I know very little from the first several weeks in the hospital. However, I do know that they had to prevent me from bleeding out. I had massive internal injuries. They had to reconnect my lungs to my aorta. They took out my spleen. They nearly had to take out my pancreas, and my femur was sticking out from my thigh, and my spine was smashed.
LT – That’s awful.
RG – Yeah it was. There no way to soft-petal it.
LT – Your right. Nor should you.
RG – No I don’t.
LT – Tell me a little bit about how your work respondent in the first few weeks.
RG – This is all second from my wife who told me, my friends, my family, my colleagues, they all came out to visit in the hospital. It actually got to be unwieldy, and my wife Betsy had to tell people that they shouldn’t come. There were just too many people coming. Many people gave blood which was the one tangible things individual could do. In all, I was in ICU for 51 days.
I don’t remember a lot from that time. One of the few things I remember strongly was when my neurosurgeon came into the room and broke the news to me that I would never walk again. I was shocked. He actually had to come in two more times until it started to sink in. I knew I couldn’t move my legs, but I had these big external fixators on to help them heal, and I just assume that once those were off, my legs would be will okay but that was not the case. After that, I was moved to Kessler for rehab for another three months before I came home.
LT – Did you ever return to work at Barclays?
RG – I didn’t. I intended to. They always left the door open for me to come back and there were several times I thought I was close to being able to return and then each time I had a medical setback. As time went on, Barclays got further and further away, and I realized that it was just time for me to do something else.
LT – I certainly understand that Ron. Let me ask a few more questions because as you know, this podcast is really about overcoming personal difficulties or tragedies in one’s life and how to help others and how to help managers be better at supporting someone that’s had a traumatic experience such as yourself or others.
I understand you said they were supportive in the beginning. Is there anything in particular that your peers besides giving blood? It is difficult when there are not many tangible things you can do but is there anything they did that when you look back that seems like wow that was really good, that was nice?
RG – I would say one of the biggest tangible things that I had was a very good relationship with my boss and he came out numerous times. He came out to the hospital. He came to Kessler several times when I was in rehab, and he also came to my house when I got home. Clearly very genuine, very caring. He was really the person representing Barclays for me. I had more senior people at Barclays who came out to visit me. Some of the very senior people and just some of the other college that I worked with and they let it be known that I should take my time and whenever I was ready, they would be there for me.
LT – Did you think that was feasible given your injuries? Would they or did you think they could accommodate you?
RG – There were so many different things going on for me both physically and emotionally. For example, they did say I could work from home part-time because they understood that I was not going to be able to get into New York every day and certainly I wasn’t going to be able to get in as early as I have previously. At the time the thought of physically going into the office in New York and working a full day scared me, and it overwhelmed me. Maybe that was part of my reluctance to go back, but it’s a long recovery period. The accident happened in November 2011, so it’s over four and a half years now, and it’s not a six-month or a year process and then your healed, or you’re healed as far you going to get. It’s an ongoing process, and I know from my personal experience that where I am both physically and emotionally now is different than what I was even a year ago. Both physically and mentally I was not ready to go back, let ‘s say, after the first year. Could I go back now? Yes, I think I could. I’m physically stronger; it would be challenging, but I could do it.
LT – The question that I have for myself, my listeners, how does one come to terms with such a life-altering injury mentally, physically, emotionally?
RG – I don’t think I can give any one answer. I don’t know there is any one answer. I don’t know that I have the magic key or way to address that. I think everybody approaches the situation in a different way and they manage through it. I know for me there certainly wasn’t any one catalyst that I can point to say “Oh that happened, and after that, I was ready to go to back on the horse,” if you will. There was never that aha moment for me. I think certainly getting physically stronger help me mentally recuperate. So that’s one thing. I had a trainer whom I knew who had worked with spinal cord injury patients previously and he was a big help physically getting me to be stronger; working on my core strength which allowed me to sit up for longer periods of time.
I’m in pain all the time, and sometimes I take back pain medications but is something to some extent, that I just accepted. I try not to think about it because I don’t think there’s a lot I could do. I tried a number of different medications and the higher dosage, the more it knocked me out, and that really wasn’t an answer and it didn’t totally alleviate the pain anyway. I just didn’t like the idea of such high doses, so I moved away from that. Also, I look to my family. That was probably part of it. My wife had been at the hospital, at the rehab center almost every day, and then she had been there for me all the time, and she gave so much of herself when I got home to nurse me back. I felt geez, I owe it, not owe it in a specific sense, but maybe a metaphysical sense that I owe it to her to give it my all. Likewise, I have three girls. They were 14,17, and 20 at the time of my accident. One and a half year’s later they were moving on, and they’re coming into their own. They’re doing great things, and I’m, as the father, of course, very proud of them. They are making decisions about their lives, and what kind of profession they want to have, what types of relationships they want to have. They were moving on into college, and I realize that if I didn’t emotionally move on, I ran the risk of standing still while they moved on. The four of them were going to move on without me one way or the other if I didn’t make a commitment to re-engage as a father and husband. They no longer needed me in the same way they needed me when they were young, and they needed help with homework or kicking the soccer ball or driving them around. They needed me to set an example for them on how an adult, how a parent deals with adversity and challenges. While I pray they don’t have anything as catastrophic as what I’ve encountered, they will have challenges, and if I can help show them the way someone does that, then I still am filling my role as a father.
Many people throw out clichés to me. “This happened for a reason.” “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I don’t subscribe to either one of those philosophies, and I don’t push that on my kids. However, I do think that in this world we’re given a hand of cards, and we play them the best we can and that I do think that they’re able to do the best of their ability.
LT – And I want to interject here Ron, I have seen in other families, that when adversity strikes the family and people rise to that, while you can’t change the situation, you can certainly meet it head on, and it sounds as if you have me that effort. I believe that it changes families for the good. It calls out in your children, your wife, your self, this ability that one doesn’t know they have until they are pushed into that spot of having to respond. So I applaud you for that because what you’re saying is easy to say hard to do and I wanted to make that point, but I also want to say that what you have illustrated is that when something happens to your body physically, your value as a human being doesn’t diminish. It changes but it doesn’t diminish. My thought when you were saying that is that you still have so much to give your girls – by way of example, insight, memories, there is a long list of things that you still have for your daughters, for your wife, for your family that can’t be diminished by less than a “perfect” functioning body. I just want to make mention of that. We are not diminished by what happens to us. If we’re lucky, we can be “bigger than” and it sounds like you’re well on your way to that.
RG – Thank you Linda and that’s true, but I don’t think society views it that way. I mean I certainly see some people look at me differently. Some people that I was friends with, I’ve lost the connection with because they don’t know how to deal with me now. Other people, I didn’t know, when I met them for the first time, they talk through me as if just because I have a physical disability, I have a mental disability as well. I’ve had this conversation, and I’ve seen blogs written by others in similar situations, and they’ve experienced much the same that I have. You just don’t know how some people are going to react. Some of your old friends are great and are there for you, and they do whatever they can to support you, and others don’t know how to deal with you. There’s an aspect of your life that you shared that you can no longer share. Let’s say it’s a physical aspect of your life and once that’s gone the connections cut off and then by the same token there are new people who are incredibly impressed like you are related what I’ve been able to do, and others who sort of don’t really know and don’t know how to deal.
LT – Which is why I said it. I think that the more people such as yourself in your situation who speak up about it, about the difficulties, let the rest of the world know, the better. I’m not implying that it’s your job to change the world and their thinking but there is something to be said for a spirit that shines through and that is the part that I do see in you. I think that it’s important for others to be educated and in my case, my focus is to educate managers. You are the same person, and you are different, and that combination equals a full functioning needing, giving human being and managers need to know how to respond to adversity and know how to react to a person. What to say, what to do, what words hurt. And in light of that, what are some of the clichés that you have heard said to you? What are some of the things you wish people never did?
RG – Well the two examples I gave were two of the most prominent. There are just different things that people do, whether it’s parking in the disabled parking spots or using the disable bathroom stall, I think advice I would offer is if people don’t know how to address someone and they think someone might need help with a door or something, you can ask and if I say I’m fine, then I’m fine. If I can use the help, great then I’ll thank you but don’t insist and but rather, be responsive to my replies.
LT – You mentioned once before that people speak to you differently because you’re sitting in a wheelchair. Talk about that for a moment.
RG – it’s not something you can always put your finger on but there’s a sense of how people look to you and for the most part, people treat me fine but then there are certain people who look to whomever I’m with to sort of answer question from me or do something nonphysical where my physical limitation is not part of the issue, and you can just tell – I think “what are they think?” I’m perfectly competent to answer the question or address things or opine on various subjects, and that hasn’t changed.
LT – Is there anything else you can add that would help managers, would help people that have not had the experience of dealing with someone in your situation.
RG – I think it’s really about common sense and logic and if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Don’t try to force something to feign some kind of identity that doesn’t really exist. Nobody is expecting you to understand what it’s like being in my shoes. All we’re expecting is that you know what you know and you know what you don’t know, and that you address a college, an employee, or whomever you encounter with consideration and respect. The same respect you would give any able-bodied person. I think that’s really the most important thing. As an example or something that maybe more people can relate to is when somebody close to you suffers a death in the family, you don’t always know what to say. Maybe if it’s somebody close, you do know what to say. But if it’s someone sort of somewhere in the middle, you’re not really sure what to say, and sometimes you don’t say anything. Sometimes you just say, “My sympathies,” “I’m sorry” sometimes you try to say something that’s going to be somehow more profound and it falls flat because you realize you overreached and you tried to get someplace where you really can’t get or you have no right to get to. I would use the same sort of example. I think people should stay within themselves to say what they know, say what they feel and not try to overreach and to think you know more than you do. Just be yourself.
LT – Great words Ron. I think that it will help many people. Just hearing “be yourself, stay with what you know and don’t’ try to be something else.” will help all of us. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing today.
RG – When I decided I was not going to go back to Wall Street, I realized I needed to find something to do that would energize me and allow me to make an impact. As it turned out, my experience post the accident opened up something for me. When I got home after five months in the hospital, I was shocked to find out that my home care coverage that only lasted two months and this is something anybody who deals with seniors or home cares is very aware of. Private insurance and Medicare don’t cover very much, and that comes as a big surprise. I figured I have been working at a good company with the private insurance. I’ve been paying toward it all these years, and now that I need to use it, it’ll be there for me. But it doesn’t work that way. I needed to continue to have home care, and really I had two choices. Anybody has two choices, sort of two opposite sides of the spectrum. One is to hire care through a licensed agency. Which is what I had done when insurance was paying for it but when insurance is not paying for it, and it’s being paid out of pocket it’s expensive and restrictive. What many people do, probably most people do when they are paying out of pocket, they look to find someone on their own. A personal recommendation, a neighbor’s uncle’s cousin. Use someone or a message on Facebook or some other social media or other referrals. The problem is you know very little about this people. There’s no way to vet them and I didn’t like that either. So really you have two options neither one of which I thought were satisfactory, and I knew that there had to be a better way to go about things. I knew that I want to hire someone for my home because it was less expensive and because it would keep the money without anybody taking a cut. Therefore they would make considerably more money, and I could bring them into my home, or one’s parents can bring them into their home, someone whom they choose. The problem is you need to have some peace of mind around the vetting of the people that come to your home, and you also need to feel comfortable that if for some reason, the caregiver can’t make it whether they’re sick, on vacation, or if for some reason it’s not working out, there’s going to be somebody else for you. That isn’t generally there. My wife and I decided that we could address what we thought was a broken system. We’ve created a network of caregivers that people hire privately, indirectly on their own. So people will come to us and we’ll give them a hand-picked caregiver that meets their needs. They end up hiring them themselves, and we’re there to provide the backup. We decided to call the company “Lean On We.” It’s a play on the song, but it’s also an acknowledgment that when you need help, you need a team to lean on and that’s what we are.
Lt – It sounds like it fills a tremendous need for many people especially with elder care such a growing issue.
RG – Yes it does, and the feedback and testimonials have been tremendous. It’s been very heartwarming for the two of us to be able to contribute like that. I invite anybody who thinks we might be able to help them to call us. The phone number is 844-532-6669 and the website is www.LeanOnWe.com.
LT – Thank you so much, Ron, for speaking with me and for your open and honest discussion about your tragedy and how it might help others.
RG – Thank you, Linda. You are to be thanked for the work you’re doing in helping people overcome trying situations.
LT – Thanks, Ron. For our listeners, if you want any further information, please visit my website www.griefcoaching.com, or you can reach me at 551-800-1127.