When I broke my neck in the summer of 1986 I learned that paralysis means much more to your body than just the inability to walk. At first, the shock to your body is so great that essentially everything shuts down. In my case my lungs, my bladder, my bowels, my stomach and everything in between stopped working–kind of like a massive work stoppage. It was as if the union representing my legs went on strike and every other union in my body locked out in a show of brotherhood.
This forced the doctors to get involved and help my body do the work it was designed to do. Because my stomach wouldn’t work properly my first days in the ICU necessitated an IV. The IV however is not a long-term solution. Knowing that this was going to be a long-term problem the doctors inserted a feeding tube in my nose down my throat and into my stomach. Throughout the day the nurses would bring in bags of Ensure that they would hang on the IV pole and connect to my feeding tube for me to digest. Ensure is a liquid that’s has its proteins broken down making it substantially easier to digest.
I lived weeks on the feeding tube. Finally, to my utter excitement the doctors felt like my stomach was back to work, the tube could be pulled and I could eat real food again. Unfortunately, although my stomach had resolved its differences with management, the muscles in my arms still had some grievances and had not yet come back in off the picket line.
This meant that the nurses and aides had to feed me every meal. It’s amazing how unpleasant they could make a meal. Regardless of the variety of the food on the plate, the foods that I ate had absolutely no variety at all. For example, if for breakfast I ordered eggs, hash browns, French toast and bacon, the nurse or aide would choose one to begin with and not move on until it was completely gone.
If we started with eggs I didn’t eat anything else until I ate all my eggs. Then, and only then, they would move to the bacon and I didn’t get anything else until I ate all my bacon. I remember watching a movie once where the star talked about eating “the perfect bite.” This was a bite that had a little bit of everything on the plate at once. The nurses and aides that fed me had obviously never heard of “the perfect bite.” They hadn’t even heard of “the mediocre bite,” “the average bite,” or even “the it’s kind of okay but not really bite.”
You can imagine then the excitement I felt when the doctor said I was finally ready to feed myself. My first “all by myself” meal was breakfast. I was so enthused I could hardly see straight. I was going to start with whatever I wanted and move through the plate with “perfect bite” after “perfect bite.” My fork and I were going to make some beautiful music.
In order to create this culinary symphony, I ordered up all the instruments. My breakfast plate had ham, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, pancakes, fruit, yogurt, and best of all, Corn Pops.
As the plate sat before me, with my spoon in hand, I had to decide which player I would choose to open my masterpiece. Not wanting things to get soggy, I chose Corn Pops. The nurse arranged my plate accordingly and ask if there is anything else she could do to help. Thinking that she had done quite enough already, I invited her to leave. Now, it was just me and my breakfast.
As giddy as Christmas morning I placed my spoon in my bowl of Corn Pops. Wanting this first bite to be “perfect” I made sure to get the right amount of Corn Pops accompanied by just enough milk. Then, as I went to lift the spoon to my mouth I realized that the morning was not going to go down exactly the way I thought.
Working to get that first bite I found out that just because the doctor said I had the strength in my arms to feed myself didn’t mean it was so. As I tried to bring my utensil to my lips the strain was so great I felt like I was in an Olympic weightlifting competition. It was as if my spoon weighed 1000 pounds. I pushed myself to get that first bite. The spoon rose as Corn Pop after Corn Pop and drop of milk after drop of milk fell onto my hospital gown until finally the only thing that reached my mouth was a cold, empty, spoon.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” I thought as I dipped my spoon into the bowl again. The bite looked just as good as its predecessors, and the results were just as bad. Again and again I worked to get my first taste of success.
Finally with every muscle giving every effort I got a bite–one bite. A bite that consisted of one small Corn Pop with a splash of milk.
Breakfast was over. The nurse came in to remove my tray and said it looked as though everything I ordered was either still on my tray or now on my gown. Completely worn out and as tired as I had been in a long time I told her that although for the most part she was correct, something was missing.
I explained that during the course of working to get my breakfast from my plate to my mouth I had successfully moved one Corn Pop and the little milk from the bowl to my belly. She asked if I would like her to help me eat the rest of my breakfast. I told her I was fine and that she could take my tray.
I was full–not because of what was in my stomach, but because of the feeling in my heart. I had set out that morning to feed myself breakfast and although it wasn’t the biggest breakfast I had ever eaten, I had eaten. It was the feeling of accomplishment that filled me that day. Never before and never since has a Corn Pop tasted so good or meant so much.
That day I learned “The Corn Pop Principle.”–There is no way to better improve our self worth than to finish a job; one spoonful at a time. Achieve to finish–not to see how that finish stacks up against the rest.
As we work daily to achieve success is important that we remember “The Corn Pop Principle” It’s important that we value accomplishment. So often accomplishment only becomes important to us if that accomplishment ranks higher than the accomplishment of others. “The Corn Pop Principle” teaches us that what’s important is that we work hard to complete the tasks we take on. Although it’s nice to have that task’s completion recognized by others it’s not what matters most. Finding our “Champion Inside” requires us to place significant value and high personal praise on our accomplishments regardless of where they fall in reference to others.
I have had breakfasts where I have eaten more food and I have had breakfasts where I have eaten better food. But, I have never had a breakfast that tasted better. It was only one Corn Pop and little milk, but I earned it on my own. If we let it, accomplishment can be the savor of our lives as it helps each day taste a little better.