As many of you know, my beautiful daughter started a serious medical journey with seizures almost 4 years ago this month. I was asked to write an article for Mompreneur Magazine about how to run your business when crisis hits. They since changed gears and never ran their last printed issue, so here is our "story" form the business standpoint. If you want to see our journey from the medical side, please visit my passion project at www.ketokitchen.ca!
Journal Entry: March 24, 2010 12pm
We had just finished lunch and Sophie seemed to be back to herself from her first early morning seizure. This was only the 3rd one she had had since our journey started a week earlier and I was still in disbelief. We started to get up & ready to go visit my new, new South Center baby store when she said her stomach felt "funny". "Do you think you are going to be sick?" I asked. "No, not like that, it just feels funny, inside my body ...so weird..." she responded.
My mommy radar went off and I immediately switched gears and said "We're staying home, ...why don't you climb back in my bed." She was relieved and she curled back into the pillows and snuggled into the afternoon sunshine warming my bed. She fell asleep quickly but seemed very fidgety and restless as she slept.
I went downstairs to upload an iphone app I had heard about that morning, (for tracking seizures) and luckily, I left my 11 yr old son, Ben, with Sophie because within minutes, he yelled for me to come back upstairs.
Sophie had started seizing again. I ran into my room and saw Sophie seizing violently on the bed. I knew instantly that this seizure was different than what I had already seen. Within 1-2 minutes she was turning blue; she wasn’t breathing at all. She was biting her tongue and a blood was pouring out of her mouth. This was my worst nightmare, what the doctors had warned us could happen; only now it was real; and my baby was now turning purple and she had been seizing for over 3 minutes now.
My son, Ben calmly placed the 911 call while I tried to help Sophie breathe. He stayed incredibly cool, even though he had tears in his eyes and his voice was shaking. He clearly explained to the 911 operator that his little sister was having a tonic clonic seizure and was turning blue and could not breathe. He ran downstairs to unlock the front door, put the dogs in the kitchen and then ran out front to wave down the ambulance & firemen. Sophie seized for over 5 1/2 minutes that afternoon; very long in the world of T/C seizures. She was unable to speak or articulate anything for a further 20 minutes, although she could nod her head slightly in response to our questions, her tongue would not let any words out. It was the most terrifying moment of my entire life.......and I would soon know, that it was only the beginning.
This was the beginning of my worst nightmare as a mother and as a business owner. The week that followed the 911 call had Sophie maxing out at 65+ seizures per day, (we would eventually hit 120 seizures a day within 4 months). She was having negative side effects to medications, 30 hour EEGs, MRIs and yes, more seizures.
As a self employed mom, it was also the first time in the 13 year history of my company, that I had a crisis to deal with that was going to greatly affect my ability to work (or not work) in my 7 stores.
With Sophie being admitted to Alberta Children’s Hospital via ambulance the day of her 911 event, I had some pretty fast scrambling to do in order to keep my business functioning without me. We were in the middle of a renovation for one baby store, I was opening another brand new, baby store in South Center Mall that very week and I had 3 other baby stores, a shoe store, a toy store and a magazine to oversee.... I was trying desperately not to panic.
This was my first serious lesson in fast contingency planning, serious delegation and realizing that I needed to tweak my flimsy, “hit-by-a-bus” theory in order to make this work. What WAS crystal clear was the fact that I needed to be at my daughter’s bedside until we were through this tunnel and I needed to get amazingly organized, in a very short period of time.
As Sophie was struggling through medications and multiple types of seizures in hospital, I was by her side, on my laptop and phone, fast tracking everything I could think of to wipe my work load clean so I could focus on her completely.
My first plan of attack was to maintain some control over the new store by in fact, giving up control. I decided to have the senior staff at my established stores arrange a “an inter-store support network” amongst themselves. With each new store I have opened, I have always gone and trained the staff first-hand, myself. This was not an option and I needed to rely 100% on my strong and capable staff. Having a brand new store literally open and launch without me was difficult on many levels, as I had no idea if the final displays had been properly executed; were the new part-timers getting trained properly? What did the store look like? I had no idea, but emotionally, I didn’t have time to care. My daughter was in a hospital bed, so fully medicated, she was unable to even walk by herself and was wheel chair bound. (Photo above) Priorities had shifted drastically.
I delegated from her bedside and made sure the staff knew I needed them now more than ever. They all knew it was sink or swim and they also knew failure was not an option; either as a Mom, nor as a business owner.
The biggest saving grace at the time of this journey was that I had some fantastic staff and an amazing personal assistant. My Asst.Manager at Crowfoot, jumped in with both feet to take on whatever she she could to reduce my stress load. Kerrie was the back bone that helped the new staff launch the new South Center store successfully and helped to keep an eye on the other corporate stores I was running. In the midst of my chaos, my personal assistant Julie, literally took over the entire operation of my parenting magazine. To this day, I am so incredibly grateful for the genuine support and love I received from my senior staff. It was a true lesson in giving employees wings and then letting them fly on their own merits. I had always felt that I needed to have my finger in just about everything that was going on in my company and yet this past year has taught me that if you have hired the right people; it is not necessary. Actually quite the opposite will happen, they will surprise you, support you and lift you up with a desire to prove their strengths. I was humbled by their initiative, compassion and hard work. We have some new senior ranked staff since our medical journey started and part of that success was due to these individuals jumping in quickly and hitting fast-forward in their training and performance due to this crisis.
We did have some new staff at the new store who made some unbelievable comments about me being the “unprofessional, absent CEO during a store opening” that were in such seriously poor taste, it was shocking. Needless to say, we swiftly cleaned house and terminated those who were not willing to be respectful, focussed and empathetic team players. Those who we kept were rockstars.
Using technology was extremely helpful throughout our ordeal and it still remains a strong reason why I am able to continue to work successfully from home as I continue to support Sophie through her treatment. What I found most invaluable was:
RMS HQ Software
iPad & Laptop
Facebook (yes, you read that correctly)
Mediafire.com and Dropbox.com (file exchange and database)
Gmail chat was handy for quick chats when working at the hospital as it didn’t wake up my daughter (as phone calls would), nor did it interfere with nurses, tests etc. I just kept my gmail open during peak times at the stores, and could chat with any staff at any of my 7 stores. Then with logmein.com, for example, I could dial into the new store (or any of the other 6) and help new staff with certain training or computer procedures/tasks, sign off on Purchase Orders and offer training while my daughter slept. The RMS software has an integrated Headquarters computer/server (at my home office) that I could access with my Rogers Data stick (if no wifi). My corner of her hospital room became my mini office and when she slept, I worked. When it was time for meds or doctors, I was able to be right by her side.
Another great saving grace from the world of technology was actually Facebook. I could update my page with Sophie’s medical updates from my i-phone which saved having to make repetitive, multiple calls to well wishers, staff and family members. The day of her 911 event, it was via my i-phone & facebook that I was able to co-ordinate school pickup of my other 2 kids, and arrange for my dogs to be fed and walked and let family know where we were. Post your crisis on facebook and let your world of friends and family jump in to help!
Mediafire allowed for me to download and proof magazine issues, ads, trade show agendas, vendor catalogue and any sized file I needed, no matter where I was. Large files were not an issue and this website saved me enormous amounts of editing and processing time on so many projects.
LETTING GO OF PERFECTION:
Beyond the stress, the sleepless nights, the worry, the emotional pain and anxiety. One of the hardest things for me to let go of was the desire for everything to be done my way, or as my now ex-husband would say, “in other words; perfectly.” For us “A-type” personalities (and Capricorns), this a test in self discipline and evolution.
Having to re-prioritize my entire life and business plans meant having to learn to let go of this trait. Yes, the stores may not have had perfectly executed displays and I am sure the cash counters were not kept as clean and tidy as when I am in store. But letting go of that sense of perfectionism has been a necessary and liberating act. The staff will learn your directives and follow to the best of their abilities, but beyond that, you have to let it go, for your own sanity. If they are not capable of following through, then perhaps you do not have the right people at the helm of your ship.
ACCEPTING HELPING HANDS:
In any family or business crisis, one thing that needs to be recognized, is the unbridled kindness of others. In the midst of the worst week of my life, the love and light came pouring in from every channel and avenue. We had family & friends offering to make meals, customers offering to help in the stores, I had friends helping pick up my other kids from school, (thank you Charlotte) family came to watch Sophie for me in the Hospital room so I could shower, (thank you Liz and Dad) I had other friends plan and organize Sophie’s entire 7th Birthday Party as she was in hospital right up until the day before. Others made cakes, (thank you Corinne P.) checked in on my boys, fed and walked my dogs and I even had vendors offering to come help in the stores to do inventory counts and purchase orders, and others from as far away as Ontario offering to literally fly out and work in my stores if I needed the help. (Hugs to you Donna R., you are a beautiful soul!)
Being somewhat stubborn, I used to have a hard time accepting help from people, I always felt indignantly capable to “do” for myself. This was another humbling life experience for me as I truly learned that it is alright to hang your head and lean on a supportive shoulder. It’s okay to cry from sheer exhaustion and let your girlfriends pick you back up, and most of all, it’s more than okay to accept help in every aspect of your life when you have been dealt such a life-rattling, curve ball.
Say yes to every single person who offers to help you in this situation. In fact, take it one step further and have a list handy of things you know you require some help with. So the NEXT time somebody offers to help, but asks you what you might need, you have some tangible tasks you can hand off. Even if it is just to pick up dry cleaning or buy printer toner at Staples. It is one less task on your insane “to-do” list and one more thing you can write-off as accomplished.
This journey has taught me just how incredibly brave and strong my kids are, but it has also taught me that none of us are immune to life’s big events. It can happen today, tomorrow, next week. So make some contingency plans now and even put some of those plans into action NOW, and test drive your action plan!
For updates, visit me online, facebook & twitter!
Leah Chevallier, serial entrepreneur in the Juvenile Industry sharing insight, success and 18 years of award winning retail experience! Took $2000 Micro-credit loan and turned it into $30 million!