Action learning on the shores of coma…

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Here is a joyful greeting to all of you wonderful people that I have met in connection with the Global Forums on Action Learning during 20 years. As you may know, I fell seriously ill two years ago – overnight and due to an allergic reaction to a blood pressure medicine that I had used without problems for 8 years. Following 6 months in hospital, one of which in coma, 3 in intensive care, I have not been able to participate in GFs since then. Alas.

However, your concern and good wishes from those days are often remembered. Today life is good again – so even though some permanent damages have impacted my health, I feel happier and more content than ever. The photo shows me recovered – together with my fabulous wife, Annette. Although I am not able to join you in Paris, I hope that you will have a great Forum and will be faced with a lot of interesting learning and intellectual challenges.

Pardon me now, but as a dedicated believer in action learning, I cannot help reflecting on some of the things that I experienced when being hospitalized ‘on the shores of coma’. Luckily coma/intensive care is not a learning environment normally experienced by most of us. But nevertheless very interesting, I realised. Allow me to share a few action learnings from that:

Well, as a paralyzed patient in intensive care it was for me not at all very action-oriented at the start. All the action was happening with me, around me, but not by me. An unusual situation to be in – far from previous hectic workdays and high activity level. But in a strange way also calming and comforting – being totally free of liability and fully in the hands of good family and professionals. Imagine that – totally free of liability.

However, as I gradually got out of the coma, and became less ‘delir’, a lot of learning began to build. ‘Delir’ describes the situation where you - heavily medicated - have really severe difficulties in distinguishing what is fantasy and what is reality around you. In my ‘delir’, for instance, I often insisted on speaking German to certain nurses – God knows why. As weeks went by, the less ‘delir’ I was and the more “relevant” I apparently became. “Relevant” is nurse-lingo for being able to communicate in a rational way.

All the health care professionals, I happened to meet during my hospitalization, were in general friendly, professional and supportive. So the flaws, we experienced, turned out to be more linked to the system than to the persons. In that respect my fabulous wife actually turned out to be life-saving for me. Without her I would have departed a couple of times, simply because it takes some bold stamina to help the health system connecting its own synapses across silos. A classical situation was when a doctor on the night-shift once said to my wife: “I think we should do A with Geert in order to avoid the worst”. My wife had to raise her voice and concern loud and clear: “But doctor xx from the day-shift said that B would be the solution – please confer with him before you decide anything at all”. It then turned out that actually not A or B but C was the agreed and proper solution. It is of course comforting that good doctors are able to change opinions – on the other hand also scary that it takes a persistent relative to have them do so. I really pity patients in the system who do not have strong family or friends to defend their case or who is, for whatever reason, alone and short on consciousness and vocabulary.

Another learning – scaring, but also very comforting in a way – was to realize that the world actually moved on, even though I was not actively on board. Surroundings continued to develop and unfold despite my absence. Imagine that - the world seemed to be able to continue without me being there. Lesson learned.

When slowly getting back to a new set-up in my life, I was offered a lot of lifelines in the mental recovery process. An experienced and empathetic nurse from the very start encouraged my wife to keep a brief diary of what happened with and around me during my “blurry months”. And the nurses themselves presented me later on at a meeting with a detailed diary where they, page by page, day by day, detail by detail, had described for me what each day contained for me personally while in coma, e.g. massage, lift, more oxygen, who won the Paris-Roubaix cycle race, visits and so on. I was very touched being presented with that. Today, at intervals, I still consult both of these dear, written sources and they function as a kind of anchor and balm in my ongoing re-ignition.

The very best part of my story is that during my hospital stay I gradually moved from being treated as “hot” to being treated as “not”. For 3-4 months the doctors struggled with what was my diagnosis? Nobody knew, but everybody desperately wanted to. It goes without saying that the one doctor who could establish the correct diagnosis, also had a fair chance of having an article published in The Lancet. So I was really “hot” in the hospital system in those heydays – loads of clinical tests conducted and loads of doctors buzzing around me. As months went by - without a solid diagnosis – it turned out that I became more and more “not” – probably because I remained there as an embarrassing reminder of the boundaries of doctors’ almighty competence.

When I was finally moved to physical rehabilitation for 3 months outside the hospital, the prevailing diagnostic theory was that I suffered from an allergic autoimmune multiorgan/lung fibrosis - where the prognosis was that half of the patients would die within two years. The rest within five.

By beginning of 2019 it was concluded that I more likely suffered from a different disease - where half of the patients would die within 2-3 months, while the rest would find their way in life going forward, one way or the other. Since I - by far - had survived the first 2-3 months of my illness it was evident that I belonged to the ‘survivor category’ of that disease.

The result is that no article in The Lancet was ever written about me and my case. I can live with that - and I most certainly intend to do so with great gratitude.

Have a wonderful Global Forum in Paris :)

Kindest regards
Geert Egger

New Books By Global Forum Community Members - Congratulations!

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Drew Boyd
So You Want to Be a Professor: How to Land Your Dream Job in Academia (Amazon)


Paolo Gallo
The Compass and the Radar: The Art of Building a Rewarding Career While Remaining True to Yourself (Amazon)


Karen Hanna and Tammie Plouffe
Talent Troubleâ: How Leaders Can Harness Trouble and Unleash Talent to Deliver Results (Amazon)


Fernando Lanzer
Organizational Culture and Climate: Understanding, Maintaining and Changing (Amazon)


 Mike Rosenberg
Strategy and Geopolitics: Understanding Global Complexity in a Turbulent World (Amazon)

Action Learning: Research and Practice Journal

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Congratulations to Global Forum Community Member Dr. Lotte Svalgaard, Roskilde University, Denmark who has joined the Editorial Board of the leading academic journal on Action Learning. She joins other Global Forum members, Christine Abbott, Yonjoo Cho, Bernhard Hauser, and Mike Pedler on the Editorial Board. On the Editorial Advisory Board are community members, Hyeon-Cheol Bong, Otmar Donnenberg, Peter Mann, and Yury Boshyk.

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