I feel the gift of nature, the feeling of being alive as I stare out over the fields covered with dew, the distant blue mountain, and the rays of light beaming through the twisted old oaks that fill the rough grass with shadows. Nature, somehow, feels more alive this morning, as I realize I’m in a mode of praise when I could have been grieving.

If you read about last week’s worst day ever, you may not know that after 10 sleepless nights in two different hospitals, my son walked out as a miracle, surviving what most never survive.

Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray wakes up each day and repeats the exact same day, over and over. It’s comical, but also somehow profound.

Our son was living his own Groundhog Day, and we were not sure it would disappear. When the brain is shocked or given massive amounts of sedatives or amnesia-causing drugs, inflammation causes short-term memory loss.

Short-Term Memory Loss

For four days after my son’s heart attack, while he was perfectly conscious and seemed normal otherwise, we would tell him what he experienced. “Your heart stopped. They revived you. You were clinically dead,” we would say. Each time, he would say, “I was?” In fact, we did this probably 50 times in one day, and not once did he remember it, or anything else from that day. 

We brought some DVDs of his favorite TV shows (I’ve suddenly become a fan of The Simpsons), and he would watch the same episode over and over, not realizing he had watched it three hours before. Professionals told us his brain would return to normal in days or possibly weeks. But it was frightening during the days when he remembered nothing.

Our other Groundhog Day was life in the hospital. Though the hospital we were in is one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, with THE best cardiology and electrophysiology team in the world, the experience was, one day after another, a lot of waiting. A lot of the same routine as the day before.

Rushing to Wait

We arrived on Tuesday after my son was transferred, and by Sunday, five days later, he had had only one of the many tests he was supposed to have. It took two days just to do a CT scan. And we were told he needed and would have an MRI “right away,” but right away never came. First it would be Wednesday, then Thursday, then we were told the machine broke on Friday, and then we were told it would be Monday. Finally, it happened.

Though there had been tremendous value in their monitoring my son’s heart for a few days, a chance to see some other rhythm incidents, we were just parked in a room as he was cared for by very wonderful professionals — nurses, doctors, cardiologists, and others. But just sitting each day. Yes, we got daily visits for five minutes from the doctors, and regular drop-ins and care from nurses. But why could they not have done all the tests the first day or two? Looking for answers starts with the tests. Of course, the nurses and doctors have no answers for that. It’s not up to them.

Sudden Change

What would happen if the CEO of the hospital chain had experienced what we experienced? My guess is that every test would have been done the first day, the procedures done the second or third day, and the patient would be out the door. The problem is that too many CEOs of too many businesses don’t understand what their customers have to go through. If they did, things would change.

My guess is that I’ll get a survey in the mail, and my guess is that what I say will be the same thing hundreds of others have said, and nothing will change. And it crossed my mind that this could be a strategy to “sell” more room nights. I can’t imagine the size of our bill after 10 days.

Deeply Grateful No Matter What

Please keep in mind, I’m grateful. We would be thrilled to spend months on the cold blue vinyl couch if it meant saving our child. But it was frustrating, and I’m intentionally not mentioning the name of the hospital because I don’t want them to think we are anything but grateful.

But whether we’re talking about family, running a business, or doing anything in life, it’s critical that we see the world through the eyes of the people we’re in those relationships with. We all need to listen more. We all need to understand the needs of the other.

Each of us approaches our life with a built-in bias that tells us how we think things should be done, but most of us are wrong. It’s why friendships and relationships end, it’s why businesses fail. It’s why some hospitals still do things the way they were done decades before.

Two-to-One Ratio

My old friend David Gifford (Happy Birthday, Dave!) a wonderfully accomplished sales trainer, used to say, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. Listen two-thirds of the time and only talk one-third of the time.” Great advice for life. We’re all eager to speak, but we learn more when we listen.

Silence Is Golden

My dear old friend Steve Rivers used to sit and listen and never talk. He might nod, but usually it was a blank stare. It was very intimidating, and when he didn’t talk, you would ramble on and say more and more. He told me later, before he died, it was his secret weapon for success and the best technique he ever learned: Shut up and listen, and people will tell you everything you need to know. In those uncomfortable moments of silence when people were waiting for a response, he would look people in the eye and say nothing. So we would ramble on. He did not have the need to speak, just the need to listen. Listening is where you’ll find the answers.

Are you listening?

I have to admit, I’ve been a bad listener. Too many times I’m barking out instructions and directions instead of listening for answers. I’m trying to learn not to have to be the smartest guy in the room, and to become a better listener.

I’ve also learned that when you’re around someone with all the answers, you tend to clam up and say nothing, even if something needs to be said. No one wants to feel like a fool. I’m sometimes that way with others, but didn’t realize others were that way with me. So I decided to change.

What if we all listened more? My guess is that everything would change.

More Real Feedback

Recently I asked my team to talk to our customers more, saying each should talk to a couple every week. That goes for me, too. It’s easy for me because I’m always talking to people. But I need to do more of it, not only with my customers, but starting at home with my wife and my kids. I think they would talk more if I talked less and didn’t dominate the conversation so much. 

Tell Me More

There is an old technique I learned in a class one time. We were told to go to lunch, engage a waitress in conversation, and after the first question, just say, “Uh-huh, tell me more” (and find different ways to say it), and see how long we could keep them talking. I was amazed at how much I learned from my waitress. People love to talk about themselves.

I tell my kids, when on job interviews, to ask questions. Ask for advice from others. Again, people love to talk about themselves, and when we listen more than we talk, we can deliver a better relationship or customer experience. I wish I had known that at 17. 

Try it today. Ask questions, then listen. Don’t be in a hurry to comment or give your opinion. See how long you can keep it going without speaking other than “Uh-huh” or “Really? Tell me more.”  I think you’ll find it will open doors and help you in new ways.

Listening is the key to all great relationships. And life is about relationships. Let’s listen more.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’m heartened by all the messages this past week about my son. Thank you all for the thoughts, good wishes, and prayers. We received hundreds of e-mails, comments, text messages, phone calls, and an outpouring of love and concern. Friends brought food to the house for the other two kids so Laurie and I could concentrate on Brady. 

Brady has made a full recovery. They discovered some abnormal heart rhythms that were causing his issues, so they were able to remove those electrical pulses in surgery and placed a defibrillator in his chest as a backup. We can all breathe easier. We returned home on Wednesday and life went back to normal. Laurie and I feel as though we experienced PTSD, and we’ve been absolutely exhausted, catching up on our sleep.

We are extremely grateful for all the good wishes and prayers, and we know that Brady is a walking miracle. First, because he was in a public place when this happened. Had he been home or at school, he probably would have not been revived because a defibrillator was necessary. Second, because when EMS could not revive him, a doctor who, unusually, happened to ride along that night was able to bring him back. Third, we later learned a harsh, gruff doctor at the first hospital wanted to send Brady home because he was convinced he had done drugs (he had not). Thankfully, a young cardiologist named Jason fought to send him to the children’s hospital, where they discovered this defect in his heart. That doctor’s bias, had Brady been sent home, probably would have resulted in his not surviving another heart attack. 

PS2: Hundreds have told me they are taking CPR classes as a result of last week’s Sunday Coffee, and many have bought defibrillators for their homes, businesses, and schools. We met a young man who had the same issue as Brady, who coached him on life with a defibrillator. This young man convinced the state of Texas to make a law to put a defibrillator in every school in Texas. We need to make this a federal law for all schools, all malls, all public places, and honestly, it should be in every home and business. I bought one this week for our home. 

PS3: I’m very excited about my upcoming Plein Air Convention this May in Denver. It’s our best speaker-teacher lineup yet, with some of the best artists in the world. If this plein air thing is something you want to explore, this is the best possible place to experience it, but we don’t have a lot of seats left (this is our biggest ever). Last I checked there were 94 left (unusual to have so few seats left this early), and you can save $500 off the price by booking before February 14, Valentine’s Day, which will be here soon. And right before the convention, we have a rare Scott Christensen workshop, a great Thomas Schaller watercolor workshop, and a Plein Air Basics Course for beginners.

PS4: I should also mention that my event in the Adirondacks, where we paint for a week (no training), is almost sold out. I think we have 15 seats left. This is the 10-year anniversary, and I’m planning some new and different things for this year only. And my Fall Color Week painting retreat for September in the White Mountains will be sold out before we know it too.

PS5: You may have heard me say I’m going to spend three weeks in China on a seven-city speaking tour, speaking at the top universities teaching art and meeting with top art leaders and artists in China, as well as attending two massive plein air events there, all while filming three documentaries. You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going until the coronavirus has been eradicated. I will, however, be heading to Russia soon to film an art instruction video with the top Russian artist in St. Petersburg, and to shoot some documentary footage for two films I’m producing. Like Russia or not politically, they have the two best art schools in the world, and saved realism when other countries had moved into modernism. I’m also working on planning for a painting trip to Russia in September 2021, a rare chance to paint in the exact spots painted by Repin, Levitan, Shiskin, and others, including small Russian villages with livestock in the streets and women wearing babushkas and carrying water to their charming little dachas. It will include visits to the top museums and tourist attractions in Saint Petersburg, and hopefully meetings with my friend who is the director of the Hermitage, along with visits to the best art schools in the world. We will be accompanied by some of the leading Russian artists, who will work with anyone wanting some help. I’m only able to take 50 people, and if you have interest (with no obligation), send an e-mail and simply say, “Yes, I am interested in Russia.”