During the time of Covid-19, most of us have had significant increases in our average time spent watching TV, Netflix, Hulu, etc. A couple of programs that my wife and I have become hooked on are "Highway Thru Hell" and "Heavy Rescue: 401” on the Weather Channel. Both programs are set in Canada and the storyline is the heroic efforts of specialized tow truck operators that recover wrecked semi-trucks who have succumbed to the wicked winter storms that can brutalize the driving conditions of Canadian major highways.
These programs have reminded me of the only time I've ever ridden in the cab of a large semi that turned out to be an adventure I'd never forget.
My first vice president incumbency was at Hadley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. My boss at Hadley was Albert Dudley, CEO, whom I had worked with at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio. Albert was a prince of a boss and a great mentor.
Hadley Memorial Hospital was a wonderful 81-bed hospital in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. It was mission-driven to serve the healthcare needs of a resource-deprived neighborhood of SE.
The hospital’s founder Dr. Henry Hadley, was known for making house calls and serving residents regardless of their ability to pay. He was much beloved throughout the community. His clinical excellence and legacy is continued to this day by his grandson, Dr. Roger Hadley at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California. where he practices Urology.
I learned many positive lessons on life from this assignment. I was also afforded the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons on leadership from Haynes Rice, director of Howard University Hospital, who was a leader in the D.C. Hospital Association Board and a wonderful mentor to me.
Having been familiar with the fabulous fruit products produced in Michigan, we started a tradition at Hadley. It involved using gift boxes of Michigan’s delicious apples for Christmas gifts.
We found a supplier in southwest Michigan that sold us beautiful gift boxes of a dozen red and golden delicious apples. Even with the cost of shipping, the gift boxes cost us less than half of what we had been spending on chocolate boxes for our employees at Christmas.
Word of these popular apples spread to other hospitals in The District, and Haynes Rice asked me if we could supply 5,000 boxes to be delivered to Howard University Hospital for their Christmas Party. "Of course,” I said, and he gave me the date in December to deliver the apples by 11 a.m. to his hospital loading dock.
Our supplier lined up a trucker with a refrigerated 18-wheeler and Johnny, the truck driver, showed up at Hadley at 9 a.m. on the appointed date. We quickly unloaded 300 boxes for the Hadley employees. I performed a quality control check and asked Johnny to confirm my assessment (both ratings were a 10). I then hopped in the passenger side of this huge truck. How impressive. It even had a built-in sleeper.
Johnny pulled his big rig out onto northbound I-295 with me riding shotgun and giving directions. We had plenty of time to make it to Howard by the expected delivery time of 11 a.m. What a neat ride it was from such an elevated level above the roadway.
After merging into I-395, I had Johnny turn right onto the ramp of the 3rd Street Tunnel that would take us underneath the U.S. capital grounds, the best route over to Howard on Georgia Avenue.
We were on the downward sloping roadway prior to entry into the freeway tunnel under the capital when all of a sudden, Johnny slammed on the brakes. I was too scared to say anything as I gripped my arm rests while we came to an abrupt stop.
Johnny blurted out, "See that clearance sign? If it's accurate, we wouldn't make it into the tunnel. They usually have a few inches leeway, but I can't take the chance.”
We had only been there about two minutes when a D.C. police officer pulled up behind us and came up to the cab. "What's the problem gentleman?" After Johnny explained our predicament, the officer summoned colleagues and the police blocked off the freeway which enabled Johnny to delicately back up his big rig.
Finally, we exited the freeway and began a secondary route journey through the streets of D.C. I knew the area well and was able to direct Johnny on our way over to Howard.
We were getting close to Howard, where we could access the loading dock to unload our apples. Even with the delay, we were going to just make our 11 a.m. delivery time.
Turning onto a residential street, we were within a couple blocks of our destination. The entire street had on each side very old townhomes forming a continuous unbroken string of buildings.
About two thirds of the way down the street, Johnny said to me, "Look out your sideview mirror." On the entire street behind us was a perfectly laid pattern of black utility wires that we had left in our wake. The height of our refer semi had been snapping down most of the utility wires that had crisscrossed the street but our isolation in the cab had made us oblivious to the clip, clip, clip of the truck.
"Do you want me to stop?" Johnny asked.
I had to make a split-second decision, and thinking of making our appointed 11 a.m. scheduled arrival time, I replied “No, don’t stop now.”
We came to the end of the block and turned on a street that took us to an entrance into the hospital grounds and the loading dock.
After all the pallets were unloaded, I gave Johnny directions on taking Georgia Avenue out to the beltway, where he would make his way up toward Hagerstown to pick up a load of freight for the return to Michigan.
I then went up to Mr. Rice's office to let him know the delivery had been made, to arrange for my ride back to Hadley, and to brief him on the damage we had done in his neighborhood. When I walked in, Haynes had already been notified of the delivery and his staff had delivered one of the apple boxes to him, which he had on his desk. He was ecstatic and greeted me warmly. I then told him of the tunnel and wire clipping experiences.
He laughed and told me not to worry about the downed wires, that he would take care of it.
I thanked him and as I wiped the sweat from my brow I replied, "This will be an adventure I'll never forget.”
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.