The 8 Habits: A True Partner in my Journey to Injury Recovery
Author: Kim Cummins
April 20, 2020
On February 25, 2018, I sat in the waiting room at the local emergency room, telling the nurse that I was quite certain I broke my arm as a result of the car wreck I just experienced. I proactively called my insurance company setting up my rental car, so I could report to Martin Petitjean Elementary the next morning for duty. The x-ray technician walked me back to take some scans. That was the last time I walked that day. I was placed in a neck brace and then in an ambulance and was immediately transferred to a trauma center.
My self-diagnosis, it turns out, was inaccurate. The scans revealed that I had cracked a sternum and three vertebrae, one of which was unstable. My neck was broken. My neurosurgeon told me that I should have been a quadriplegic. Instead, I suffered only some slight nerve damage in my left fingers. He performed a multi-level cervical fusion surgery, cutting a six inch incision into the back of my neck and upper back and cutting through multiple layers of muscle, in order to repair the damage. The next morning, my journey toward recovery began.
I have heard it said many times before that the 8 Habits are the most impactful when they have a problem to solve. From the moment the wreck occurred, I put those habits into action without even realizing I was doing so—it was just a natural application to my recovery process.
Habits 1-3 were the most crucial at the onset of my recovery. I applied proactivity through owning my rehab completely. To get back to my former self, I took full responsibility for everything involved. I committed to the use of proactive language. “I will…. I can….. I choose to…” The habit that most impacted my recovery was Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. The vision of my former self powered my daily recovery efforts. As I lay in bed anticipating the surgery, I set a Wildly Important Goal to recover completely. I never wavered from that WIG. I had a weekly action plan, and I stuck to it. My lead measures included daily workout minutes, rest, and healthy eating habits. Big rock scheduling in Habit 3 got me through each day. Those big rocks included my daily workouts and school work. Through all of the physical recovery work, my commitment to my school and those little leaders kept me engaged and excited!
Habits 4-6 propelled me forward. I learned quickly that I could not accomplish my WIG independently. Habit 4’s win-win thinking was the foundation of every day. Habit 5 was crucial, and most challenging for me, as I had to seek to understand instructions by my doctor and physical therapist to get through my physical challenges. Friends and family synergized to deliver food, assist with bandage changes, drive me to appointments, and keep me motivated. Without the support of others in this process, I could not have reached my WIG. Our students stepped up as my accountability partners. Every time I started to doubt myself, I read their inspirational cards and listened to their motivating comments. “Ms. Cummins, I really like your neck,” one sweet first grader told me one day after my return. Habits 1-3 set me on my path, but habits 4-6 guaranteed my success.
Habit 7 held everything together. This habit had never carried so much meaning before! Every day, all day, I focused on the daily private victory in all four areas. My work kept my mind fine-tuned. My workout regimen was intense by choice, and it got me back to my former self, physically. My heart was filled daily with inspirational messages from friends, family, staff, and students. And my spirit was inspired through my continued volunteer work during the recovery process.
In Habit 8, I saw the result of the great work our Martin Petitjean Elementary staff has done inspiring our students to find their voices. Throughout my absence, our first, second, and third grade leaders kept the show going. When I checked in daily with staff, they repeatedly said, “I know—the students told me that had to be done. They took care of it. They do NOT let us fall behind.” All along this recovery journey, we saw the impact of the Leader in Me on the functioning of our school. The kids, true leaders, kept all systems running smoothly.
My accident recovery would not have been as rapid or as complete had I not applied the 8 Habits. In February 2019, I ran into a nurse at the gym who had been with me during the surgery. He told me that my recovery was miraculous, and not the norm. He said, “Most people who have been through your trauma do NOT recover. They remain in bed, stop working, and their lives change completely.” It was in that moment that I realized the power of vision. From the beginning, I assumed my recovery was non-optional. I was thankful he did not share his perspective with me at the onset, as it would have likely derailed my success. This also reinforced for me the importance of expectations in schools. As we work with students, it is essential to remember the power of the paradigm that underlies Leader in Me: ALL children are leaders. Then we must give them the tools they need – the 8 Habits – to conquer their challenges, just as I did!