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How COVID Changed My Life for the Better: Defining Moments with Attorney Michael Hawash

Melanie Bragg


  • This month, we profile Michael Hawash, whose LEAD Line is “Find Your Bliss, Discover Your Focus. Find Your Bliss and Focus Your Life.”
  • This successful Houston lawyer and mediator changed his mindset after nearly dying from COVID-19.
  • Michael rarely stays at the office past dinner anymore. He doesn’t miss a child’s sporting event or function at the school.
How COVID Changed My Life for the Better: Defining Moments with Attorney Michael Hawash
Anton Petrus via Getty Images

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This month I interviewed Michael Hawash, a very successful Houston lawyer and mediator whom I met when I was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, last June. He owns Hawash Houston Mediation. We were sitting around the pool enjoying the ocean view when we began to talk about COVID and how it has affected the world and the practice of law. When Michael shared his dramatic story with me, I knew I had to share it because it was so powerful and compelling. What happened to Michael could have happened to any one of us. My recommendation is to learn the lessons Michael learned vicariously through his story, rather than having to go through it yourself.

Michael’s LEAD Line is: Find Your Bliss, Discover Your Focus. Find Your Bliss and Focus Your Life.

He came to this LEAD line through his recent experiences with the COVID-19 virus. Michael was born in England and grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was not until 1981 that he came permanently to the United States. His passion for history fueled his desire to be a litigator. He loved building a case and using the facts and evidence to make it airtight. With his background in history, it was a natural segue to enter law school. He is very humble and considers himself just a hardworking guy who has been successful because of his efforts. He got married, had two kids, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.

Michael says there was “nothing particularly remarkable about my life before this COVID experience.” He was just a busy lawyer, doing what lawyers do—putting clients and their cases ahead of all else and counting his value from the fees earned after putting in all those long hours. He realizes now that the one thing he was doing, albeit unconsciously, was spending more time at the office than he really needed to and that he was not spending as much time with his family and friends as he wanted.

Michael shared with me the genesis of this mindset, which he formed a long time ago and which, for a long time, seemed to work. Until it didn’t. In 1991–1992, while in law school, he got a clerkship where he was making around $20 an hour. That was a decent law clerk wage at the time. He began to calculate his time in terms of his earning power and began to count every hour he spent doing something besides work as money lost. At the time, he was working as hard as he could, and this seemed like the smart thing to do to get ahead in life.

Once he was in practice, working the hourly billing system was already natural to him. Law firm minimum requirements bolstered his mindset of thinking about time “not working” as lost dollars, and it all became internalized. Looking back, he sees it was a dangerous mindset, and at some point, after his experience with COVID, he asked himself, “When is enough, enough?” He always seemed to find work to fill his time, and it was all subconscious. He typically came to work on a Saturday or a Sunday, and like so many lawyers I have known through the years, he worked until late in the day, often getting home and eating dinner after his family had eaten. Often, he would get home only in time to kiss his two children on the forehead.

Michael thought this was everybody’s life. And I can relate. I watched many of the male lawyers around me do the same thing when I was a young lawyer. I always felt sorry for the family at home waiting on Dad. But Dad was at work providing for his family, and that was what you did. Our good ole American work ethic.

Michael’s life-changing COVID story began on October 29, 2020, before the vaccines came out. At that time, he was a healthy 54-year-old man. He had a home gym, worked out at the health club, was fit, and did a cardiovascular workout nearly every day. He had no heart problems, diabetes, or other co-morbidity factors that would make him a candidate for a life-threatening COVID experience. And up until then, none of the people he knew with COVID had been sent to the hospital.

Then he went to Charleston, South Carolina, with some friends.

On the last night of the trip, the group he was with passed a busy restaurant, and they decided to stop in and get a nightcap. There was a big wedding party from NYC there having a blast. Michael and his wife toasted the bride and groom and had a great time. Five days later, after he was back in Texas, Michael began to get what he thought was allergies. He brushed it off, but by Halloween he was so sick he could not get out of bed to take his son trick-or-treating. He realized, “I need to get a COVID test.” He found a place near his house to get tested, and at 6:00 am the next morning, he drove himself there and was the first person in the line. The test was positive for COVID.

Michael took all the standard precautions for those testing positive, not thinking that he had any risk of a serious infection. Although he had great doctors who were personal friends helping him at that time, he continued to get progressively worse. For the next week he toughed it out at home, trying to get better on his own. He got a blood oxygen monitor and watched as his temperature went up and down. His wife was coming in to take care of him, but he was alone from 9:00 pm to 7:00 am each night. He felt terrible and had a hard time sleeping. When his temperature went to 104 degrees, he began to have visual and auditory hallucinations. Normally, he used a HoMedics sound machine to help him calm down and fall asleep. He says, “But I heard people screaming instead of waves; I saw black worms made of smoke crawling all over my body. Nights were rough.” As bad as he felt, the Texas fall weather was beautiful, and he would sit out on the deck outside his bedroom during the day.

On November 6, after his blood oxygen level plummeted, he and his wife knew it was time to take him to Methodist Hospital. When he walked in, there was a nurse in a Hazmat suit at the door. He gave the nurse his driver’s license and insurance card, and he was quickly and unceremoniously separated from his wife and placed on a gurney. That’s when he saw the big sign on the wall that said, “We reserve the right to not treat anyone who cannot afford to pay.” For once in his life, Michael did not regret the large health insurance premiums he had been paying. Michael had no idea of the journey ahead of him.

On November 7, after he had been in a regular hospital room for a day, the doctor came in and told him that his condition was deteriorating and that he was being taken to the intensive care unit (ICU). The doctor said to him, “If there is anything that you need to do or anyone that you need to talk to, do it now because there might not be time later on.” This message was conveyed seriously but lovingly. Michael’s reaction was calm. He told himself, “If this is my time, this is my time.” Michael states, “Any problems I had in my normal life suddenly evaporated.” He called his wife and told her to wake up the kids. He says, “I was really saying goodbye to my children in that conversation. I called my mentor and law partner of many years, Walter Cicack, and told him where to find my will.”

After Michael hung up the phone, the doctor asked him if he wanted to talk to the chaplain. As a consequence of his extensive study of history and the many wars “fought in the name of religion,” Michael is not a religious man. However, he knew “there are no atheists in foxholes.” He admitted that there aren’t any in the COVID ICU unit, either. He welcomed a 45-minute conversation with the chaplain. When they finished, Michael was filled with peace of mind. He says, “My logical brain told me I had been a good man, I had provided for my family, they were not going to have to work, and the fact I had checked all of those boxes gave me peace.” Now, keep in mind, even though he had peace, he was still worried as they wheeled him down to intensive care. A nurse with the most calming demeanor he’d ever witnessed held his hand all the way down to the glassed-in COVID ICU unit. There was little privacy there, and Michael saw a patient with a sheet over their head and a young nurse sitting in the chair next to the bed in a fetal position, crying her eyes out. Michael thought about what the nurse was going through. It was sheer hell. The COVID ICU unit was becoming a war zone.

The next five days were a blur, and Michael does not remember them clearly. When he did get better, he went to his personal physician and chided him for not checking on him while he was in the ICU. His doctor guffawed and showed him texts where they had been communicating every day. When Michael got home, his son asked him, “What was it like being in ICU?” But Michael had no recollection of the experience at all. “I can’t even remember the color of the ceiling I stared at every day,” he says. The only thing he knows is that the whole experience was so traumatic that God just took away the bad memories and buried them deep in his subconscious, kind of like what can happen to soldiers who have been in combat.

After he had been in the ICU for five days, the doctor came to him and said, “You are on a very good trajectory.” It was at that point that Michael had a panic attack. His first thought was, “I want more than anything in the world to see my wife and kids again. The idea of being mortal hit me like a ton of bricks.” Once he knew there was hope, it became the most important thing in the world to get well, and the fact that it might not happen scared him to death. He instantly created three life goals:

  1. He vowed to spend more time with his wife and kids;
  2. He made a list of all the places he wanted to go; and
  3. He made a list of the books he wanted to read that he had not read yet.

Michael swore to himself that he would do these three things for the rest of his life. He was moved from the ICU to the mobile medical unit (MMU), which is in-between the ICU and the normal rooms. He was dealing with so much anxiety at that time that they had to get a psychiatrist to talk to him. The psychiatrist helped a lot. Unlike the ICU, he remembers the MMU room as if he was there yesterday. He was hooked up to machines, and it was very difficult to move around. He could get in a chair next to the window, and, although the venetian blinds were closed behind a plexiglass shield, if he leaned in as close as he could get, he could peer through a cracked blind and see people on the sidewalk below. He says, “I sat there for hours each day looking out that tiny crack watching the people and wishing I could be one of them. Whatever problems they had, I would gladly inherit them as long as it got me out of the life-or-death struggle in the COVID unit.”

He did get well, but he was not fully recovered when he was released from the hospital. At that time, COVID was surging, and thousands of Houstonians were contracting the virus each day—and they needed his room. When Michael’s wife picked him up and drove him home, he never loved Houston so much. He had a new appreciation for everything and noticed the yards down to the blades of grass. No detail escaped him. He says, “It was the best car ride of my life.” He still could not breathe on his own, so he carried an oxygen tank wherever he went. He was on oxygen for the entire months of December and January. But by February he was using it less and less. By March he was off the oxygen. He had learned that when you die of COVID, it is because you can’t breathe, and there is nothing worse than not being able to breathe. “It is no different than drowning,” he says.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Michael feels that the whole experience was “absolutely a gift.” It is still a mystery to him why he was first at peace and ready to die when there was little hope, only to have the peace replaced by panic once the hard part was over and he was on the right trajectory. All he knows is that his life is very different after this experience. He does have permanent lung scarring, but he is back to 90 percent lung function with no restrictions except possibly at high altitude. And you can bet each breath he takes is accepted as a gift.

The main thing that has changed is the choices he makes each day. He rarely stays at the office past dinner anymore. He doesn’t miss a child’s sporting event or function at the school. He is much more aware of what he does and how he does it than he ever dreamed possible. He stops and smells the roses and notices all the great things in life so much more. He really feels he has been given a second chance. He celebrates a new birthday on October 29 each year. “This year I am going to be two years old again!” he exclaims.

The whole experience has also changed Michael’s relationship with time. He is never bored, and he values every moment. When I interviewed him in August, he was leaving with his son for a long trip to Normandy to explore the historic World War II sites. Michael says, “Enjoy each day because you might be gone tomorrow. Time is priceless. You can buy many things, but you can’t buy any more time.” Find Your Bliss, Discover Your Focus. Find Your Bliss and Focus Your Life. Please contact me with your questions or comments at [email protected].

Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul

Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul

Defining Moments: Insights Into the Lawyer’s Soul
By Melanie Bragg
ISBN: 9781641054195
Product Code: 1620777
2019, 241 pages, paperback and e-book
$29.95; member price $23.95