Portland, Maine — Let's face it, anyone over 40 has been thinking, even if remotely, what if? What if I test positive? The older we are, the more serious our thoughts become. Attorneys who specialize in Last Will and Testaments are swamped handling all the requests they receive.
The fear of the coronavirus has caused many, including myself, to ask the question: What would I do if I knew my time to be short?
The answer for me came from sad news I received. My childhood and adult sports hero, Al Kaline, passed away recently. Mr. Tiger (#6), as he was known, was beloved in Tigerland and in all of baseball. Mr. Tiger’s friends and colleagues noted in their interviews that they believed Al knew his end was near.
One of his close friends, Jim Leyland, told The Detroit Free Press the story of being invited to dinner recently by Mr. Kaline. As they were parting at the end of the evening, Al hugged Jim and said, "Thanks for being my friend.” Jim now recalls, "It was almost as if Al knew that he probably wasn't going to see me again."
So I asked myself: What if I only had two weeks to live and what would I want to do in those final two weeks? There are no bucket list items here. There is only one answer for me with no debate. And that is to say as Mr. Tiger did, “Thank You!”
If we weren't in the coronavirus pickle we're in right now, I would undertake a whirlwind trip and organize special dinners from Maine to Washington DC, to New Orleans, LA, to Dayton, OH, to Detroit, MI, to Berrien Springs, MI, to Chicago, IL, to Dallas, TX, to Southern CA, to Santa Rosa, CA, to Tamuning, Guam, and to Manila, the Philippines. To these dinners I would invite the many friends and colleagues I've worked with through the years. Of course, travel isn't an option and neither is a wonderful meal at any of the fantastic restaurants in these localities.
So, for me the next best thing would be to use this column to say, “Thanks!”
The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize that life is short. Virus or not, our lives could be snuffed out in an instant. If I want to emulate Mr. Tiger's example, I'd better start saying “Thank You” now so I won't have any regrets later. Here I go.
I want to thank all the board members, staff, consultants, providers, and caregivers who have been a part of taking care of special people in special hospitals and communities where I've served through the years.
A special thank you to Michel Augsburger, chairman of the board and CEO of Chancellor Health Care, who has been an excellent mentor for me and a leader in the Acute Care and Senior Care industries.
Also high on my list is thanking the schools and teachers who gave me the knowledge, the tools and the vision needed to develop my trade and to set my course in life.
I am eternally thankful to Andrews University, their School of Business, and all the professors who provided me the instruction I required.
One of my college professors, Irma Jean Smoot, business writing instructor, taught me the valuable skill of writing business correspondence. She had the habit of using the word “basically” generously in class. I foolishly took a fellow student's bet, and I counted the number of times “basically” was used in class one day. As class was ending, I shared this information with her. Fortunately, I was able to apologize to Mrs. Smoot at one of the Andrews Alumni weekends, and we both shared a good laugh. I also thanked her for the excellent tools she taught me in that valuable class.
Number one on the teacher list for me is my band teacher, Mr. Shultz, from high school days at Adelphian Academy in Holly, MI. Mr. Shultz taught me so much about music, but more importantly, about life.
I had not had any contact with Mr. Shultz since those academy days at Adelphian Academy mentioned in my "The Colored Print Shirt" story. Providentially, Mr. Shultz received my contact info recently. We exchanged emails and I've had the opportunity to thank him for the difference he made in my life. During those formative years, I lacked confidence and was very fearful of standing up in front in a concert or recital. Mr. Shultz helped me conquer those fears.
As I've thought about others I should thank, I thought of Ron Marx, my mentor from Washington Adventist/Leland Hospital days. I had not had any contact with him since he visited Maine back in 2004. I obtained his phone number recently and gave him a call. We had a great conversation and were able to reminisce about wonderful times. I reminded Mr. Marx of an important lesson he taught me after he had appointed me chief operating officer at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale, MD.
I had a business lunch meeting at noon at the Calvert House across from Leland with a community physician. I entered the restaurant, spotted my appointment, and made my way to where he was seated. As we chatted and ordered our meal, I happened to notice Mr. Marx and his wife sitting on the other side of the restaurant. As I approached, I noticed Mr. Marx's face was beet red. "Ted, when you enter a restaurant, you always scan the seating area to see if there is anyone there you know." I shared with him that, to this day, I always scan the seating area when I walk into a restaurant, thanks to this important lesson he taught me. I would have never been successful in the health care field without the mentoring and friendship of Mr. Marx.
I am also very thankful for the great foundation I received at the start of my healthcare career at Kettering Medical Center from Bob Willett, Dan Goronzy, Don Klasing, Art Caviness, Dick Rawson, Bob Dell, Joe Mantil, and others.
During these current dangerous and difficult times, I am most thankful to the Infection Control Nurse at Kettering in 1980, Betty Dunlap. I have never forgotten her employee orientation presentation as the green and impressionable new recruit who had just received his MBA from Andrews. She pointed her finger directly at me and said, “If you don’t learn to wash your hands, you are going to die.”
There are many other friends and relatives I want to thank: My wonderful wife, Sharon, my sisters and their families, the world’s best EA Paul Monat, and many precious friends who have made an enormous difference in my life.
I also want to thank Mar-Vic Cagurangan and my friends at The Pacific Island Times who have encouraged me along my writing journey in life.
To all of my friends and acquaintances, I'm so glad I've had this opportunity to say, “Thank you.” Before it’s too late.
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at email@example.com.