When you least expect it…

Mar 6, 2020

If you don’t know already, the past few months have been pretty tough for my family. Between my mom, my cousin, my aunt and now my grandma, I’ll just say it feels like I have been spending more time at Gundersen Health System more than I have been at home. Oh yeah and not to mention unexpectedly losing an old boss/leader that I cherished deeply. Yeah, the last few months have quite honestly just sucked.

You know when you’re having a tough time personally but you still need to wake up, work hard, do life and try to be positive because that’s part of your “day job”? Maybe it’s just me but it sure takes a lot out of you when you need to try hard to put a smile on your face and not think about everything that’s going on personally so you can successfully get through your work day.

Being in sales for my “day job” I work from everywhere. I work from my house, my car, interstate waysides pulling a hot spot off my phone so I can hop on my computer to get a few emails done, coffee shops and even hospital waiting rooms. I have found myself at many more hospital waiting rooms in the past few months than I’d like. But hey on a positive note, at least the parking is free and I don’t have to buy an unwanted coffee so I don’t look like a jerk sitting in their coffee shop using their wifi to get a few emails done throughout my day.

Sunday March 1st my grandma was taken by ambulance to Gundersen Health System for heart symptoms. This would be scary by itself but it was even more scary because she just got home not long before that from being in the hospital where she did have to have a heart surgery. After I received that call from my dad, a call I never want to get ever again, I rushed to the hospital to be there with her, because honestly there’s no other place I’d rather be in that moment.

Monday was back to reality. I had sales meetings in the morning and then I had planned to stop by and say hi to my grandma and hopefully get some emails done in one of the many Gundersen waiting rooms.

Third floor CCU – Critical Care Unit, the waiting room was lined with soft seating and in the middle of the two sided room there was one large round table. That’s where I sat for a few hours catching up on emails and planned on eating lunch, just some snacks I had in my bag of course.

Around noon, after an hour of emailing and working on projects, a man in a motorized wheelchair and who I assumed to be his wife came right up to the table. She asked me if they could share the table with me. I of course said yes. The man wheeled up next to me sitting on my right side, his wife sat across from me. They had packed a lunch and needed a table to sit at while they ate.

As they sat there, the first words out of her mouth to her husband were, “Now you need to leave her alone and not talk too much, she’s trying to get work done”.

I laughed and said “Oh I don’t think we need to worry about him talking too much, I’m the one that you need to worry about, I’m in sales, I’m a talker!”

He laughed back and said “So am I!”

Then we all began to laugh. We talked for an hour. We talked about all sorts of things. What I do for my day job, talking to them about furniture and how to design with ADA accessibility. He talked about his career and his physical therapy he’s going through. I asked him who his PT was and he told me and of course I knew her! He praised his OT and PT people he worked with for the months he’s needed it. I asked him if he knew a specific person in that department and he said yes, she was an absolute angel with helping him get out of the hospital and helping to transition him at home with the new way he needed to get around, his new wheels. I told him that person is my best friend and yes she is an angel and a gift from God!

After talking for a while about all things in life, I asked him, “Can I ask what happened with your accident?” He told me he had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, got dizzy, fell and hit his head. That fall damaged his spine! Something so simple, going to the bathroom, losing your balance and falling can absolutely change your life in an instant. I was shocked!

He then proceeded to tell me that this all happened in September 2019 and after it happened he was not even able to feed himself. The way he presented himself while telling me these stories, made me proud and honored to be sitting next to him.

He then went on to tell me that earlier that day he “shuffled”. He held onto the bars along with help from the PT, he was able to shuffle. He then talked about the amount of time it’s been taking him. He talked about the ups and the downs, the struggles with therapy, mentally and physically.

I looked at him straight in the eyes and said “Bob (not his real name) I feel like we are pretty good friends by now.” He smiled. “You just told me 5 months ago in September you fell and you weren’t able to even feed yourself let alone walk and now you’re telling me you “shuffled” today? He replied by nodding his head yes. I went on to say “As an outsider, someone that hasn’t known you until today… you call it shuffling Bob, but YOU WALKED MY FRIEND!”

I saw a light in his eyes and he sat up a bit straighter and replied “Yes!”.

I said “you are living this life, you have ups and downs every single day, but you are fighting and you are making huge progress! 5 months ago you couldn’t walk or even eat by yourself and today you stood up and walked, you’re a true inspiration!”

He went on to tell me that one of his doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to use his right hand again and he’d have to learn how to write with his left hand. He said “Katey just like your story about the teacher that told you that you wouldn’t do good in college because you didn’t take his art class (yes I told him that story), I told that doctor, yes I will use my right hand again, watch me!” I smiled back at him and said “Heck yes you will!”

We talked a bit longer and then they had to head to another appointment. As Bob’s wife cleaned up their lunch, Bob joked with me and said “Katey I’m sorry I didn’t share my lunch with you, I dropped a chip on the ground if you’d like that!” I laughed so hard and said, “Well thank you for sharing your chip on the ground with me Bob!”

He then reached out his right hand to shake mine, I grabbed his hand, he squeezed mine, leaned in and whispered “I have a strong grip right?!” I smiled back and said “Yes you do Bob, you’re grip is hurting my hand!” ‘

He shook my hand with his right hand!!!!!!

He smiled back at me and told me it was nice meeting me and getting to know me. I told him I looked forward to keeping in touch with him and I look forward to the day he will out walk me!

He and his wife went on their way to his appointment and I just sat there smiling. I was so grateful to have met Bob (again not his real name) and his lovely wife that day. I don’t know how they felt about meeting me but it was honestly just what I needed that day.

Sitting in the Critical Care Unit waiting room working and painfully worrying about my grandma and everything that was going on was so overwhelming. I truly believe that God puts people in your life at the exact right time. I’m so grateful that they came into my life that day and absolutely inspired me. Everyday Bob is fighting and working to be able to walk again, WALK AGAIN! He is fighting to do things I take for granted. Bob was the light in my day… in a day that was overwhelmingly worrisome.

I guess the point of this entire story is, we all need to open our eyes and our hearts to the people around us. In today society, everyone is really in their own little worlds, with their heads down, doing what they need to get done. We don’t look up enough. We don’t smile or say hi to random strangers enough.

I encourage you to get out of your phone, look up when you’re walking, look around you, take notice of small little things, say hi to a stranger on the street, smile at someone. You really, really never know what someone is going through and your simple smile or a hi could change their entire day or even their entire life. Take time talk and listen to a stranger, I bet it will change your life!

Less Hate, Let’s Go Motivate!

Thank you to Bob and his beautiful wife for truly making my day!



  1. Brent Browning says:

    Hmm, love this story Katey, my same way of heading out in life. Exactly the same. Your story made me cry, and I know how hard it must be for Bob (not his real name­čśü) he must be so happy to have met you, and you him. Life is so wonderful hey! I also feel very lucky to have met you. Thanks for sharing such a heart wawmi g story.

    • Katey Fortun says:

      Brent, thank you for reading this story, I’m so happy you enjoyed it! You’re 100% right in everything you stated! Thank you my friend!

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