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How The Pickle Pledge Saved My Colon – And Lessons for Your Culture

The Pickle Pledge, The Self Empowerment Pledge, and other favorite inspirations on the whiteboard in my hospital room

After forty years of working in, with, and for hospitals, several years ago I had my first ever horizontal experience as an inpatient. I spent nearly two weeks at two different hospitals with acute diverticulitis.

About three days into my stay at the big university medical center, the senior surgery resident came into my room and said: Joe, the treatment is not working. We are going to have to perform surgery. We need to cut out a part of your colon and stitch the healthy ends back together. You are going to need to have a colostomy bag. If it goes well, we should be able to wean you from it in six months or a year, but there is a possibility that you will need to have it for the rest of your life.

No way! I replied. I would rather die!!!

That, she said, would be another option.

After she left, I felt myself beginning to sink into the emotional swamp of self-pity and depression. Then I looked over at the white board on the other side of the room (pictured above) where I had posted The Pickle Pledge, The Self Empowerment Pledge, and some of my favorite inspirational sayings.

I repeated The Pickle Pledge to myself: I will turn every complaint – this really sucks! – into either a blessing – the caregivers in these two hospitals saved my life, and thank God for morphine – or a constructive suggestion.

The only constructive thing I could think of to do was to grab my IV pole and start walking. That night I was up most of the night walking laps around the unit. As I walked, I talked to myself. And I talked to my colon, telling it to shape up because this was not a surgery we wanted to have to endure. (In retrospect, I’m surprised that the night shift nurse did not call the psych unit to request a transfer.)

The next day I walked a little farther, and a little farther the day after that. Every day I walked a little farther, and as I walked I talked to myself. And I talked to my colon.

A week later, I walked out of that hospital with my colon intact. It is still intact.

I came in later for my checkup and told the senior surgeon that I thought my attitude, and in particular my commitment to The Pickle Pledge, was almost as important as the clinical therapy in my healing.

He smiled and agreed with me. We see it all the time, he said. People who have a positive attitude are less likely to need surgery, and they do better when they do have surgery.

When I tell people that weaving The Pickle Pledge and The Self Empowerment Pledge into their personal DNA can change their lives for the better, I’m not speaking in a theoretical sense. I’ve seen it work in my life; I’ve seen it work in the lives of many people in organizations we’ve worked with.

And I know that if you make the commitment, it will work as well for you. Give it a try – you have nothing to lose but your own negative attitudes.

Lessons for Your Organization’s Culture

Your organization is a smoke-free environment, isn’t it? If that weren’t the case, it wouldn’t matter whether you had gym equipment in a workout room and broccoli in the cafeteria, you still would not have a healthy workplace, would you?

When you consider that toxic emotional negativity is the emotional and spiritual equivalent of cigarette smoke in the air, shouldn’t your workplace also be a PFZ – a Pickle-Free Zone? You owe that to the people you serve; you owe that to the people you work with.


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