The moment that changed my life

It was a beautiful sunny spring day and I had just taken my nine-month-old son on a walk in his stroller.  He was a chubby, healthy, happy baby and I loved to make him giggle and gurgle. He was just getting old enough where it felt safe to let him crawl around in the grass and play around in the sandbox.  Every day was a new adventure as my little boy grew before my eyes.

When I laid him down in his crib for a nap after our trip to the park, he seemed to be acting strangely.  More than tired. Something else.

I checked in on him in an hour and he wasn’t sleeping. He was lying on his stomach just staring blankly. How very strange that he hadn’t conked out after our day in the park.  I asked him playfully why he wasn’t sleeping and he just stared.   I made a funny face to make him laugh. Nothing. I picked him up and he was like a rag doll. He was completely unresponsive to any stimulation.

My wife and I rushed him to the hospital.  The doctor looked very grave and said he suspected that my son had spinal meningitis and that they were going to do a spinal tap immediately. He took my baby from my arms and told me he would bring him back when he was “cleaned up.”

I was 27 years old.  I had been promoted three times in three years as I clawed my way up the corporate ladder. I was focused on being in the right places and meeting the right people and saying the right things to get to the next job grade. I had just bought my first home and was embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with my builder. My wife’s parents were going through a messy divorce that had cast a cloud over our daily lives.

But at that moment, all I wanted was my baby.  You could have my job. You could have my house. You could take my very life. Just give me back my little boy, safe and sound.

This story has a happy ending.  He didn’t have spinal meningitis … he didn’t have anything they could detect at all. In a few days he perked up again, the victim of some mysterious virus that never showed up again.

But that day changed everything for me.  My priorities shifted for good. I know I became a better man, husband and father after that scare.  I lived with less anxiety and fear because I knew nothing I ever faced in my life could be as bad as the moment my son was in danger.  When I face trouble in my life, I think, is it as bad as that day?  The answer has always been “no” and things settle back into perspective.

Today I see many of my young friends and students filled with the same piss and vinegar I had at that age …  life priorities determined by money, fashion, gadgets, and now, “followers.”  My wish for them, and for you, is that you don’t have to have  a life tragedy to re-set priorities.  My hope is you can just imagine what it would be like if the thing most precious to you were ripped away … then live your life with the grace, kindness, compassion and urgency of knowing that everything could change in the span of one, single heartbeat.

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  • I faced the same situation when my eldest son was only 9 weeks old. I never felt so helpless. God has a way of helping us see what’s important when we take our eyes off the ball, doesn’t He? Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • Mark

    @Carrie You’re welcome. Glad things worked out for you too.

  • Mark,
    This is such an important lesson for all of us to learn, and remember on a daily basis. Our legacy will live on in our children. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt story. You’re an inspiration.

  • So true! As a parent (and grandparent) I’ve learned that life lessons like this tend to change your priorities, or at least make them clearer.

  • @Mark, Thanks so much for sharing this. Your sentiments are spot on and I hope we all take them to heart.

    Aside from that, you’re also demonstrating how a slightly off-topic, more personal post can strengthen your audience’s faith and trust in you.

    Guess that’s why Grow is my first stop in my RSS feed each morning.

    Talk about a blog that really rocks!

  • I was a restaurant manager. I worked 70+ hours a week. Then my first child was born. That was all I needed to “shift” my priorities. I’m making sacrifices right now getting through school at night and starting my own business but I devote the best to my five children. I fully realize that I have more unconditional love in my house in one day than some people get in a year. I hold that close. It’s what drives me to be better, to work smarter not longer, and save that time to spend with them.

  • Polly

    Thank you for the gentle reminder of what’s really important … I definitely need to be slapped upside the head every once in while so I don’t shift in the wrong direction.

  • Mark,

    Thanks for having us all take a break from the grind and reflecting. I have a similar story, but yours was written so perfectly … I’ll leave to that and hope many absorb and learn.

    Social Steve

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  • I’m so with you on this, Mark. When my daughter was 3 I went through a very similar experience, except it WAS meningitis. She was in hospital for 3 weeks and pretty much had to learn to walk again afterwards, but she survived and today is a beautiful, happy 10 year-old.

    During those first few days when it was touch and go, nothing else mattered, and it brought home to me a comment my boss once made to me when he saw me, head in hands, stressed about something or other:
    ‘Don’t worry, it’s only your job’.

    I love my job, and don’t take it lightly, but it’s not my life.

  • Mark, your story brought back many emotions for me. My husband had meningitis a couple if years ago. Words cannot convey the feelings of potentially losing the man you love and father of your 3 year old child (now 6). Like you our story had a happy ending and my husband recovered although it took a long time. A few years previous to him having meningitis we had jacked in our jobs in the corporate world to live life more in line with our values. As Martin recovered it strengthened even more our resolve to really live life by what was truly most important. Thank you for sharing your story. It is important in this crazy world that we get back to basics. Back to what life is really about.

  • Jenn Whinnem

    Mark, thanks for sharing such a moving story. How terrifying that must have been. I do like that there were two happy results: healthy son, and better-perspective you.

  • Wow, a deep post for a Friday but a great story. Thanks for the priority reminder 🙂 And I’m glad everything all worked out ok!

  • Christine Melendes

    When I was pregnant I was worried about diapers, bottles, etc. – getting things perfect! When my son was born and needed to stay in NICU for 11 days it changed everything. My focus changed and I often think back when I need to “right” myself. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • You had me on the verge of tears Mark. I’m glad the boy’s okay and the story has a good ending. I’ve been through a couple scares like yours with my boy as well. You put into words what I had felt a few times but I was never brave enough to act on it. What a lesson! Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Wow, powerful story. Thanks for sharing, Mark. We lost my wife’s father-in-law last October and things certainly changed. I love this sentence you wrote:

    “My wish for them, and for you, is that you don’t have to have a life tragedy to re-set priorities.”

  • Bless your heart, Mark, that must have frightened everyone around you! So glad it turned out okay.

    Your point is well taken. As a corollary, Professor Stephen Hawking, while being diagnosed in the first stages of his malady (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,Lou Gherigs disease), stated that as he lay in his hospital bed, a boy with leukemia was his roomate. The poor child didn’t make it, and hard a time on the way. Professor Hawking, who up until that time, was bemoaning his fate, said after that he could never in good conscience feel sorry for himself ever again. Good to realize that our own misfortunes pale easily when compared with the suffering of others.

  • Mark

    Thanks for all the nice comments today. I’m glad the post meant something to you.

  • Hey Mark, thanks for sharing. My daughter was born a week ago (8 weeks early) and it looks like she’ll be in the NICU for at least another month. Things are going well though and I wholeheartedly agree that events like this can change your perspective ENTIRELY. Thanks for posting.

    Although, I could have used that “this story has a happy ending” sentence at the very beginning. 😉

    God bless,

  • What an amazing story… As a new parent, it is amazing how priorities change and you look at things so differently than before. I do hope that your life lessons help others realize what is truly important…

    Thank you for sharing Mark!

  • Amen!

  • Rebecca Renner

    Mark, I appreciate you sharing such a personal story and the subsequent path you took because of it. As with many others who commented, I had a frightening incident with my only child around the time she was one, but I packed it away and forged ahead in my career path for several more years before finally waking up and realizing I did not wish to spend the rest of my life sitting in a colorless cubicle, working for someone else and seeing my child for just a couple of hours a day. My income is a fraction of what it was and my work can be far more stressful at times, but the trade-off has been worth it. I’m still working toward proper balance, but spending more time with my daughter is priceless. Thanks for the reminder!

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  • Hey Mark,

    What a beautiful story. It’s very refreshing to read something heartfelt that reminds you that – hey, slow down, remember what’s really important.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    You’re a fabulous writer, oh by the way. 🙂

  • Mark

    I have the best blog community on Earth. Seriously.

  • Elizabeth Sosnow

    You had me from the headline. I loved it. Thanks,Mark.

  • Thanks for this story Mark. I am a new reader to your blog. Six months ago today, my four month old daughter June died of SIDS. My wife and I’s life and perspective changed in that moment, and so did the lives of many around us. While our story does not have the happy ending, we no doubt have been changed for the better, in a profound way that we continue to discover and probably will the rest of our lives.

  • That’s really deep. Thanks for sharing/

  • Mark

    @Trapper I am so sorry to hear of your suffering. You are very courageous to be able to report on your personal growth from tragedy.

  • Mark, this was a great blog post. Balancing family and what’s important with the struggle for the legal tender is a constant struggle.

  • How dare you make me cry at 11am on a Monday morning Mark!

    Nice one, brother. 🙂

  • Awesome, great reminder of what really matters! Happy your story ended well~St. Jude’s in Memphis fights hard everyday to cure cancer and treat kids. On my knees grateful for all healthy kids. Life is short. Live, live and be kind and compassionate (even on Twitter!) thx Mark. Love your blog!!!

  • Wonderful story, Mark. Thanks for sharing & reminding us all what it’s REALLY all about.

    My own daughter turned six in January. We’ve had our share of trials and traumas, though nothing as dramatic as what you had to go through. Still, even without a crisis, she has changed not only my life but who I am as a person. I think parenthood creates change both from the inside out and the outside in. There are some changes in your heart that hit before your child is even born, and others that develop gradually – sneaking up on you when you least expect them. And then there are the changes that start on the outside (lack of sleep, for instance) that eventually transform into inner changes (like realizing how important your time really is and learning how to spend it wisely).

    Of all my adventures so far, parenthood has definitely been the most challenging and the most rewarding. It’s cliche, I know – but a truth is a truth and cliches are cliches for a reason.

    Thanks for sharing the “softer side of Mark.” Always a pleasure.

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  • I couldn’t imagine living my life without my kids. As much as they drive me crazy, and they do, I’m not the person I am without them. Thanks for taking me back to this post!

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