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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Patient Activists: Swimming Uphill

Three of the best things about Boston occur within a three-week period every springtime: the Boston Marathon, the Walk for Hunger, and the herring run in Weymouth. In each, tens of thousands come together for a single crazily ambitious purpose. Whether they're running 26.2 miles, walking 20 miles for a charitable cause, or swimming 78 feet uphill through fish ladders to spawn, their raw effort and grit are hugely inspirational.

I watched the Boston Marathon again this year, from a vantage point near the top of Heartbreak Hill. The Kenyans and the ordinary shlubs, the blind runners, the wheelchair racers, the runners with artificial legs. I didn't see Dick Hoyt, the 70-year-old father who runs behind his wheelchair-bound adult son Rick, though I read that they, too, finished their 29th Boston Marathon. (Fourteen years ago, when I ran the marathon, my seven-year-old son, seeing me at Mile 24, almost four hours into the race, said, "Daddy's gonna win." Right.)

Of the three, the herring provide the most apt metaphor for patient activists. We're all small fry. The odds seem daunting. But we swim uphill relentlessly: it's what we do. We gotta spawn more of ourselves; that's what we live for.

The game warden told me that once a day or so, when the density of herring becomes crowded enough, they suddenly surge forward en masse over the next ladder. We activists need to keep growing a critical mass, for the same purpose. So, tell your lagging friends to jump in; the water's fine!

For inspirational human stories of patient activist heroes, see Chapter 12 of my book, Getting Your Best Health Care: Real World Stories for Patient Empowerment.

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