Imagine being 50 pounds overweight, woefully out of shape, and recently discharged from intensive care after suffering an infection that devastated your liver and kidneys. You’ve regained your physical health through the skill of your doctors and nurses, but you can barely walk across the room. You are beyond couch potato… you’re Jabba the Hut!
This was my exact situation after a simple case of salmonella food poisoning resulted in severe dehydration and hepatorenal failure. In essence, my liver and kidneys had all but shut down and my body spent two weeks using not fat, but muscle as it’s primary fuel source. While I had lost 15 pounds, but I had not lost more than a pound or two of my excess 50 pounds of fat.
I had been a competitive swimmer in my youth as well as a competitive martial artist while in medical school. I had intended to begin exercising after the first of the year. The holidays had not yet passed, but it was clear that I had to do something to regain even the barest minimum of physical strength and stamina.
Imagine jumping into your 40,000 gallon bathtub in December, literally. Even in Florida, even in a heated pool, it is a shock. Fortunately fat floats, so my risk of drowning was low. The first few strokes were incredibly painful. Not only had I not exercised at all during my extended illness, but these were muscles I hadn’t used to any great extent in decades. By the time I had swum the 200 yards it took me to warm up I was physically exhausted and panting like a greyhound after a race. By 400 yards my now warm limbs were screaming and my face was hot and flushed. I could almost feel steam rising from my body even while I was in the water. By 500 yards I called it quits for the day.
Not much of a story on physical resilience except that the next day I got back in the water and again the day after that and the day after that. By February I was swimming two miles three times a week. I had lost 35 pounds of weight and an estimated 45 pounds of fat. My muscle mass was up and at the end of two miles I was not breathing any harder than when I entered the water. My kidney and liver function were back to normal and I was in the best shape that I had been in since medical school.
Physical resilience is about dedication to repeated practice, to education, to creating resources needed for any event or situation. Physical resilience is the development of perseverance through perseverance.
Physical resilience is also the easiest resilience to develop. In terrorism and disaster training it is simply the accumulation of knowledge and materials. Five days of training, a 72-hour survival pack and four pocket handbooks shrink wrapped into a waterproof brick are sufficient to turn any healthcare provider into a proficient disaster response professional. It is not the knowledge or the “brick of books” but the Four Canteens of Resilience that are key. What will you do to fill your canteen of Physical Resilience?
(Excerpted from my lecture series and book Avoiding Business Disasters: Lessons from the Disaster Field Office)