"I never found the 'shot with a bullet' chapter in the manual."
I am known to many first and foremost as an entrepreneur. Some of you may know that I co-founded Kitchology, a mobile platform to help people who are dealing with special diets. I contribute often to our blog, writing about food, technology and the like. Today, however, I am writing something different. It’s about getting shot. Me getting shot.
If you read, “Woman shot, wounded while driving in Rockville; bullet pierced car door” in the Washington Post or watched TV news around Christmas, you might remember the incident. I wish I could tell you I was taking one for the team; being heroic because running a business is damn hard and we should expect the unexpected in whatever form it presents itself, right? No. In all my years as an entrepreneur, launching and working in many companies—now Kitchology—I never found the “shot with a bullet” chapter in the entrepreneur reference manual. I had to start writing that chapter. So, here I go.
I have accepted risk, uncertainty, and rejection as tenets of the life of an entrepreneur—there are good things too, but being a founder is not for the faint of heart. Your need to be strong. Like many in business, I have used metaphors about shooting for a target, pulling the trigger on a program, finding the silver bullet to get a customer.
Yet nothing could have prepared me for what happened that December night. I could never have imagined that I would experience gun violence. It only took one bullet. Without a doubt, that has been the absolute worst, most unthinkable horror that has ever happened to me. This experience has changed me. I know I will never be the same person I was before that fateful December day. I know my family will never be the same. My team at work will never be the same. That bullet has changed the way I live, the way I work, the way I see life.
That December day started as a good day. My co-founder was taking his first vacation since starting Kitchology, heading back to France to see his father. I had just received news I had been nominated as Maryland’s Small Business Administration’s Women Innovator of the year, quite an achievement for a woman entrepreneur! Celebrations with my team were in order. And at the end of that long day, I took my car to the Metro to pick up my son. I was only thinking about the satisfaction and acknowledgment surrounding my entrepreneur journey at Kitchology.
As I was driving through Rockville, Md. to the Metro, a short ride from my home, my car was suddenly rocked by something that felt like an explosion. I guessed I must have hit something on the road. A deer maybe? The impact was severe. The car shook. I was worried about the windshield breaking, but nothing broke. I didn’t immediately notice anything else strange, so I waited a moment to collect myself and went on.
Remembering it now, everything was in slow motion. I stopped at the next intersection, moved my right leg from the gas pedal to the brake. And then the pain hit me, really hit me. I felt blood gushing from my right leg. In fact, blood was gushing from both legs. I touched my knee and felt the wet, warm blood. I realized something very bad had just happened to me. Oh my God! Both legs bleeding. I screamed. I saw the hole in the car door. That’s when it really hit me—I had been SHOT. My hands started to shake.
Courtesy of Iris Sherman
Adrenalin must have been holding me until that point. I took a deep breath and called my son. Thank God for blue-tooth! All I had to do was push a button on my dashboard. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had to use the phone with my shaking, bloody hands. When my son answered, I screamed: “I know this is hard to believe but I have been shot.…I am not kidding. I am bleeding pretty bad.” He said, “Oh, my God!” and hung up on me! I started driving again. I just wanted to get away from there as fast as I could. My goal was to reach my son at the Metro. Another block, more pain. A left turn that took forever. The pain went to the next level. An indescribable horrifying pain. Felt dizzy, nauseous and cold. I pulled over to the side of the road.
Then my son appeared. He lifted me from the driver side to the passenger side. My hero! He had called 911 and was taking charge. He drove the car against traffic to the Rockville fire station as instructed by the 911 operators. The rest is kind of hazy. I remember blue lights and red lights flashing. And then, nothing.
Later, the doctors told me that the bullet in my right thigh lodged itself less than a half an inch from the femoral artery and femoral nerve. I could have been killed instantly that night. I could have lost the use of my leg for the rest of my life. Half an inch of unthinkable outcomes. The bullet was a 45mm bullet, not your everyday bullet as the police explained to me numerous times since.
Courtesy of Iris Sherman
The next three month were long. You would think doctors would take the bullet out that night, right? No! Too dangerous. The swelling had to go down. I had to wait for the infections to clear, rebuild strength and then decide what to do. Maybe I would have to keep it the rest of my life. Imagine having this type of discussion with my boys or my parents. There is no “shot with a bullet” chapter in the mom reference manual, either. I had to deal unrelenting physical pain but keep it to myself so as not to scare everyone. I couldn’t find restful sleep for the longest time…even the weight of a blanket covering the leg was too much to bear. Forget about running. Forget about tight pants! I had to relearn how to walk. Going back to the office would take some time. Skype has never been so appreciated. For someone like me accustomed to running my business at 100 mph, being so conscious of movement has been a challenge. But I am getting there.
Beyond the physical, there were emotional scars as well. Doctors and police told me that PTSD is the word. I found myself reliving the whole nightmarish experience over and over again. It took two months before I could drive past that place. But I finally got cleared for surgery. This 45 mm center of pain was out. Still, the recovery journey was only beginning.
Getting back to work would be key to my healing. And it has been.
I sold the car. It had to go. I got a cane… and a new car.
Courtesy of Iris Sherman
Emotionally, I don’t think I could have gone through this whole ordeal without my family, my friends, my co-founder and the Kitchology team by my side. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal being brought to you by true friends. Fellow entrepreneurs, partners we let in on the “secret/situation/that thing” have been wonderful. There is something about having to bootstrap, to persevere, that transcends experience. At work, with every milestone we achieved since then—customer traction and discussion with brands—I found myself slowly getting stronger, more in control.
There are still hurdles for me and my family to pass before becoming whole again or at least being a new whole. I have more physical therapy, PTSD, and sleep issues to deal with. I know I will. I am a survivor, I am a warrior.
I continue to be the entrepreneur warrior, now with a stronger purpose to have the company prosper and do good things. I have been back at work at Kitchology for a while; first, only internal meetings, working with our software team on the roadmap feature of the next release of the app. Then more. I started pitching the company again as we raise funds to move forward. I continued talking to brands and partners.
The cane gives it away, though. “What happened to you?” they ask. So, I have told my story to some, and today I have the courage to tell it to all. The saying goes, “What does not kill you makes you stronger.” 45 mm of lead changed my life. 45 mm made me stronger as a mother, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and an entrepreneur. It gave me renewed purpose. Some pain is still there, but I am stronger. Kitchology got stronger. I can even get back into my jeans.
Courtesy of Iris Sherman