Finding the super-person inside: Lee Woodruff shares how her husband's near-death experience transformed her outlook on life

On Jan. 29, 2006, Lee Woodruff received news that altered her life — her husband, Bob Woodruff, a journalist and news anchor, suffered a traumatic brain injury from an explosion in Iraq. The prognosis was not good, with medical personnel flagging Mr. Woodruff as "expected," meaning expected to die.

"Your entire focus is on this one person and keeping him alive. There are so many ways that we are called upon to dig down deep and find that superwoman inside of us," said Ms. Woodruff, best-selling co-author of In an Instant and contributor of "CBS This Morning."

Being a superwoman or superman doesn't mean doing it all — it actually is about quite the opposite. Embodying your super-person entails employing the help of others when needed, and recognizing that you may fall short in some areas.

"The greatest lesson of my story is that we are capable of so much more than we believe we are. At some points in life, you have to let things fall away. You have to take care of yourself," Ms. Woodruff said. "In my lowest moment, I had to rely on all the people coming into my life. There are moments we don't have to do it all. It is absolutely OK to ask for help."

For Ms. Woodruff, this entailed having others help with her kids so she could focus on her husband's health. For the 36 days that Mr. Woodruff was in a coma, many providers would tell Ms. Woodruff to prepare herself and listed off a series of statistics and symptoms that indicated a recovery was highly unlikely. After a medical staff member abruptly told Ms. Woodruff that it was not probable that her husband would make it out of a comatose state, she told this individual not speak to her that way, to think about how he would want to receive news of a loved one's probability of remaining in a coma and to deliver the news in a more compassionate  way.

"When you own it, stand up for whatever is happening and call someone out, that person's language can change," she said.

The same lesson is applicable in many realms of life, including advancing one's career. In her twenties, Ms. Woodruff's male coworker disclosed his salary to her, revealing that he made $5,000 more despite the two putting in the same hours and achieving the same results.

"I was quaking in my boots, but I went to my male boss and said 'I bring in just as much business and have been here just as long. I deserve a raise.' And what happened? I got that raise," she said.

While family members and patients may have to stand up for themselves and their loved ones, many healthcare providers went into medicine to accomplish one primary goal: to heal. This goal may sometimes be lost in the hustle and bustle of a provider's daily practice, from dealing with trying payers to meeting the many EHR requirements.

"What you [do] as medical providers is so important, even if it is the briefest intersection. Being kind is so incredibly important. Don't underestimate that when you are looking at the patient and their families," Ms. Woodruff said.  

A case exemplifying the importance of compassion is a Houston-based cancer ward. The hospital was at a loss after discovering one floor had substantially better patient outcomes than the other floor and was sending patients home earlier, despite practicing the same protocols. After a handful of weeks dissecting the numbers and looking at all aspects of each floor, the hospital uncovered the difference rested in the housekeeper. The floor with the better outcomes had a staff member who went the extra mile, with Ms. Woodruff referring to the woman as a "bundle of joy."

"You can add that something extra — that human connection that offers hope, healing, love and that promise of tomorrow. This is possible within what you do and you can be a superwoman or a superman," Ms. Woodruff said.

As providers and as humans moving forward in 2016, time is limited and no one person can do it all. To be the best version of yourself, that entails being your own advocate and asking for what you need, because as Ms. Woodruff said, the worst that can happen is someone can say no.

"Going through this experience, I feel like when I am honest and bring the cards to the table, I have a much better chance of getting what I want," she said. "There is something empowering in that. Every day, we can get up and put our feet on the floor and ask ourselves, 'where is the superwoman inside of us and how can we help someone else?' We all have the power."

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