Petach’s Parable

I asked a coworker, the eponymous Petach, if it was okay to share his story outside of Yahoo and he graciously agreed.

I found his story well written and inspiring and I hope you do too.

Context:
Yahoo would have a company wide meeting every Friday afternoon. Yahoo employees had the opportunity to tell a personal story in a segment named “View at the ‘Hoo.”

Petach would frequently ask tough questions to the executive team on behalf of other employees (and himself). He planned on giving the below speech as a “View at the ‘Hoo” but was unable to due to Yahoo’s recent acquisition by Verizon.


Over the years I’ve had people ask me how it is that I’m so comfortable asking tough questions in front of a crowd, or going on stage at a moment’s notice.

Don’t you get scared at all? What if you get fired?

I want to take a few moments today to share how I’m able to jump into situations like this; it’s not some big secret, but it’s also probably not what you think it is.

When I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which in my case meant my spine was growing like a corkscrew instead of growing straight up. While it was mild at first, as I started into my adolescent growth spurt the curve became worse and worse.

Initially, the doctors started me off with physical therapy and exercises to try to correct the curvature, but those proved to be ineffectual, so by the time I was 13, they decided to have me wear a body brace that encaged me from my pelvis all the way up to my head, to try to push my spine back into alignment.

Here’s a picture of me in Junior High…8th grade, I think it was, wearing the back brace:

Petach’s 8th Grade Back Brace

If you think adolescence is hard normally, try having to wear a body brace that prevents you from bending or turning your head or body around to see what’s behind you; that’s a recipe for serious social rejection.

For four years I wore this body brace for 23 hours a day, awake and asleep, only taking it off for an hour each day to shower, or when I was swimming. It helped slow the progression down, but it couldn’t stop it.

By the time I was 18, and heading off to college, my doctor had bad news for me. The corkscrew curve had progressed past the point where the brace could stabilize it; as it continued to compress downward like a spring under the weight of my head and shoulders, my rib cage would slowly squeeze my heart and lungs against my diaphragm. He gave me an estimated five years to live, until my heart and lungs were so compressed I’d die from cardio respiratory system failure.

Let me tell you, when you’re 18 years old, that’s a pretty bleak thing to be told. I asked the doctor if there was a door #2, because what was behind door #1 really sucked.

He said the other option was surgery. Risky, and it would forever limit what I could do physically, but at least I’d be alive. I figured that was a darn sight better than the alternative, so we started the year-long planning for the surgery, which would remove most of my spinal column and replace it with a set of long titanium rods. Lots of planning, and signing waivers noting I was aware of the risk of paralysis and death…and then 14 hours of gruelling surgery.

As you might have guessed, I survived the surgery, and slowly bounced back. I never forgot, though, that when I was 18, I was told I wouldn’t live past 23.

And so every day now, when I open my eyes, I think to myself:
 
This is a day I did not expect to have.
This is a bonus day, a free-play round in the game of life.
No matter what happens today, I’m going to celebrate it.
Win or lose, up or down, I’ve made it into the overtime round, and I will be thankful for this blessing, and live it as fully as I can.

Am I scared, sometimes, when I’m speaking in front of thousands of people? Sure! Who wouldn’t be? Do I worry sometimes that I might get fired for being outspoken? Sometimes, yes. But to have the chance to be here, to be alive today, no matter how scary it is, when by all rights I should have died at 23? When I think about the alternative, anything I face today just pales in comparison.

No matter what comes, no matter how things turn out, I’m going to hold my head high, and jump in with both feet; because I survived, I made it into overtime play, and I will live my bonus round to the fullest.

And that’s the answer to how I’m able to jump into so many seemingly scary situations so easily.

Thank you all! That’s my View at the Hoo. If you have a view you’d like to share, go to [redacted].

Up next is…


Petach never presented because he was looking for a photo of him in the brace to complete his presentation.

In his own words: …and this is why I never presented this…because I never found my stack of old photos from 8th grade. Still haven’t found them. But, when I realized today was the last ever FYI, and the chance to present this had passed, I pulled out the back brace, dusted it off, and took a photo of what it looks like, without me inside (I’m not nearly the same size I was back then)

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