9 Sep 2011

On Change

Author: onq | Filed under: Pontifications

One average Tuesday morning in September, I headed into my IT department’s manager/directory meeting like we did every other week. We went through the various reports via PowerPoint and had nothing that was particularly exciting or different that was coming up in our schedule. As we concluded the meeting and started to head back to our offices upstairs, several of us did what we always do at the end of the meeting – check our pagers for headlines using the news subscriptions that came included with our pager accounts. I had just flipped my pager open when I heard one of my peers say “Oh God, a plane has hit the Word Trade Center in New York City.” At that point, all of us opened our pagers to see what the headline alerts said, and quickly made our way upstairs to check out the TV in our small conference room.


By the time we got up there, several of our staff were already congregating in the conference room around the TV watching the live news coverage. By the time I got up there, the second plane had just struck the second tower. Needless to say, a pallor had fallen over the otherwise usually energetic feel of our 2nd floor group. When I finally got back to my office, I checked voicemail and had a message from my mother just saying that she figured I had heard the news by now and that she loved me and would talk to me when convenient. I called and left a voicemail for my wife, who is a school teacher, to call me when she had a chance. Since the office building is located across the freeway and just a few blocks down from the Dallas World Trade Center, there was some talk of evacuating our building and the surrounding area early in the day, then once more became clear about the nature of the attacks, talk of evacuation was lifted, and I took and early and long lunch break to go find a hand-held TV so I could follow the news coverage from my office, where my staff was already coming to track me down to talk about what the attacks meant to us in particular and our company in general. Then around 2 in the afternoon, our department director called an all-staff meeting (only the second one that had been called in the 9 months I’d been working there) where we as a department talked about the impact the attacks had on us personally, departmentally, and as a global company.


Over the course of that afternoon, it became perfectly clear that life as we knew it had come to an end, and we were all going to enter a new reality, and no one knew what that reality would look like. Within a couple of months, I had first hand experience with the new reality of air travel, as I had the opportunity to fly to Chicago for the company to do some training with a group that had just been acquired through a merger. I was already terrified of flying, but all the changes that happened since 9/11 had taken that to a new level. I compromised with my company by agreeing to fly to Chicago if I could return by train (I wanted to do a round-trip by train, but I couldn’t get to Chicago in time by train). Well, that set off all kinds of alarms with the TSA – someone who hadn’t flown in nearly 5 years gets booked on a one-way flight to Chicago for no apparent reason. Yep, I got “randomly” selected for extra security screening. Twice. And almost again right at the gate.


Since 9/11, we’ve all adapted in one way or another to the changed reality that event brought to all of us. And as I recall the events around those first few days after the attack, I can’t help but relate that to another change in my life.


One Monday in January I went to see my doctor about a strange pain in the right side of my abdomen. I thought I may have pulled a muscle and hoped that he could just get me something for the pain and recommend ways to keep from injuring the muscle even further. As a matter of course, he drew some blood, since we hadn’t had any bloodwork done in a while, and wrote a script for a pain pill. The next afternoon, I got a call from him regarding my blood test. The test showed that a couple of liver enzymes were showing on the high side of normal, and he’d like me to get a CT scan just to rule out any problems wiht the liver. We were able to schedule the scan for the very next Thursday, as I was scheduled to fly to Seattle for MVP Summit on that same Saturday. Since I have trouble with iodine contrast, they allowed me to do the scan just drinking the oral contrast (if you’ve had an abdominal CT done, you know that lovely chalky stuff that they tell you is cherry or orange flavored to try to get you to think it’s not as horrible as it actually is). I got done with the scan quickly and went right back to work, still feeling yucky in my stomach thanks to that chalky crap. Just a few hours later, my doctor called and said that the CT scan showed a growth in my liver that wasn’t really clear on the scan, and he wanted to have an MRI done to see if it was a fatty liver tumor or something else. Amazingly, he scheduled the MRI for the following morning. Usually it takes several days to get scheduled at this facility, so I was a bit surprised, and when I asked him about it, he said he had pushed it through becuase he knew I was leaving town for a week and didn’t want me to worry about this while I was gone. So, 4 days after my initial visit with my doctor, I’m having an MRI done mid-morning on a Friday. Less than four hours later, I get another call from my doctor. The tumor is possibly cancerous, and they want to do a biopsy to see if it’s malignant or not. That’s when I started making calls to cancel my trip to Seattle so that I could stay home and have the biopsy done.


As it turns out, I ended up going to the emergency room that night with extreme abdominal pain and nausea and ended up checking into the hospital for a week. During that week, I had a number of tests run, including a PET scan on Wednesday morning. Later Wednesday afternoon, as my wife was coming back from making a quick run to the house to pick up some items, the hospitalist and another nurse came into the room. She asked where my wife was, and when I told her that she’d be back in a few minutes, she said that she had some news but she wanted to tell both of us at the same time. My stomach immediately knotted up. I called my wife to ask where she was, and she told me she was in the elevator and would be in the room in just a couple of minutes. The doctor and nurse left, my wife came in, and a few minutes later the doctor and nurse returned. She said that the results of the PET scan showed that the tumor in my liver was likely cancerous, and the scan showed several other spots in the abdomen that appeared to be cancerous as well. Over the next few minutes, once the sudden wave of nausea passed and I started breathing normally again, I realized that life as I knew it had come to an end, and I was going to enter a new reality and I had no idea what that reality was going to look like.


In the eight months since we had that conversation in the hospital, I’ve had major surgery to have a section of my liver removed, and I’ve been undergoing chemotherapy treatments. I’ve been through hell and back, but am finally starting to feel well again, well enough to get back to work full time for the first time in months. That’s why this blog, along with my others, has been very quiet. I’m adapting to my new reality with some difficulty, but the picture is finally starting to get clearer, and things are beginning to look up in their own ways.


So how does all of this relate back to the IT industry in general, which is really the focus of this blog? Well, in this industry we’re constantly facing change. Sometimes the change is sudden and life-changing, like going through 9/11 or finding out you have cancer, and sometimes the change is slow and gradual. As I look back over the 25 years I’ve been in this industry, I have a hard time imagining how we were able to provide any level of quality support even 10 years ago without the tools we have now. And in my time in the industry, I’ve gone from being a Novell guy to being a UNIX guy to being a Windows guy to being a Mac guy (well, I’ve kinda mostly always been a Mac guy, it just took me a while to figure that out) to being an SBS guy who is passionate about small business and small business IT in general. Point being, if i had been stubborn and stuck to being a Novell guy or stuck to being a UNIX guy, I’d certainly not be where I am now, the owner of two IT-related businesses and a contributor to a greater SMB IT community.


Change happens. How you handle it defines how successful you will be through the transition. As you look around at the changes that are happening in our industry, if you’re taking the stubborn approach of doing the same thing you’ve always done, you’re probably not going to be very successful as the world is going to continue to pass you by.


If having cancer has taught me anything, it has taught me that I have to be open to not taking things for granted. I did that for a lot of my life and may have missed out on some opportunities as a result. But no more. I am grateful for every day that I have and look to find things to appreciate about every aspect of my life, work included. And that, for me, has been a significant change…

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