Folks are trickling in after Burning Man, some restored, some fried but all in need of a tune up. Their uniquely intense experience reminded me of a post I published a year ago.
This will be the fifth year (I just finished my 6th in 2013) I’ve volunteered in the medical tent for the Susan G. Koman 3-Day Walk for the Cure. It’s become my Burning Man. Let me explain…
First off, I should disclose that I’ve never been to Burning Man. It’s been on my To Do List for a few years, but I’ve always chosen the 3-Day event instead. Unfortunately, there is only a limited number of days I can take off.
Motivated by close encounters with breast cancer, walkers and crew spend three days waking up before dawn, sleeping in a cold tent in the middle of the Bay (we camp at Treasure Island), using Porta-Johns, and working hard than they do at work only to be back at work Monday exhausted while everyone else is refreshed. Sounds awesome, huh? There are three things that keep me coming back year after year despite the discomfort: individuals’ motivational stories, the community, and the teamwork.
Individuals are too inspiring to describe, but I invite you to check out my photos. I am not sure who inspires me the most: the survivors tackling this physical feat even though they’ve been through surgeries, chemo, and radiation; the moms who’ve lost their daughters; the daughters, sons, sisters, partners, brothers who’ve lost their loved one; or the people out there pitching in just because they understand even without that personal scare and tragedy that draws most of us.
The community: Immediately there is a camp-like connection based on everyone’s personal experiences with breast cancer. Most walkers, crew, and medical staff volunteer their time, money, and resources because they’ve been touched by breast cancer. I know I have and continue to be, in a way that I process and engage with and address much better at this event than at any other time in the year. That impassioned common purpose creates immediate bonds, excitement, support, and energy that must look insane to the outside world. Tears and cheers the rest of the world gets, but bras on our heads and tutus? You just have to be there…
The teamwork: I love how the cooking crew switches to costumed, frenetic cheerleaders when they have a minute of down time. I love how everyone picks up stray trash, sets up tables, and reaches out to lost people. Most of all, I love how the nurses, chiropractors, MDs, and therapists cooperate to get walkers back out on the course safely and quickly. We don’t engage in the turf wars that typically prevent providers from engaging in simple discourse for the good of the patient. I know in my day-to-day practice, it can take four phone calls to get a medical doctor to discuss a patient because s/he is frantically busy. Here, I walk across the tent or pick up a walkie talkie and s/he’s by my side in no time. In this money-less society, coordinated efforts get patients better care.
Do you start to see how it’s a liiiiiittle like Burning Man? Well, here is the different part, the part that makes me opt for this intense work instead of intense play.
Personal investment raises the stakes for the medical team in particular. In addition to our personal commitment to the fight against breast cancer, we keep walkers going for sixty miles. We have tough decisions to make including whether a walker is able to go back on the course. Individuals have raised money, trained hard, told loved ones they’re participating, and, often, dedicated the walk to someone who’s died, so I have to be at my best. If not, someone ends up sidelined and all the hope, courage, and work that finishing that race represents dissolves. Not all of it, but the triumphant final miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and that sense of accomplishment are priceless and the walkers and the doctors are all disappointed when walkers have to sit the rest of the race out.
Honestly I wish sometimes I could be like a car mechanic and switch out a bum knee, sprained ankle, and/or seized-up back for a new one. Normally when someone has injured him or herself, I encourage him or her to lay off that sport and cross-train to maintain cardiovascular strength. In this case, that has to be our last option; they have 30 or 40 or 50 more miles to go! I have to use every tool in my kit plus some extra resourcefulness and creativity. I rely on instrument- assisted soft tissue work (often called Graston) to break down scar tissue, Kinesiotaping (or Rock Taping), adjusting, and a little cheer.
I thrive on the spontaneity required by the event so it’s always a treat, even though it’s exhausting. In addition, I’ve noticed that it also improves my care for my patients who visit my Financial District, San Francisco office because everyone has something they want to get back to (whether it’s work or play).
Just return from Burning Man, share your opinions. Are there similarities? Tell me what you get out of Burning man at our Facebook page.