The Head Fake

April 7, 2010

Randy Pausch described the “Head Fake” in his famous Last Lecture as the thing you really learn when you think you’re learning something else.

I’ve experienced a head fake on this journey.  So we’re here to try to learn something about global health disparities, and to teach those things to others.  But in reality I think we are all learning more about America than we are about places far away.  Everyone we talk to is another slice of this great country.

While we were biking along the Mexican border, I was able to talk with Border Patrol officers who were searching for illegal immigrants.  At the time I remember thinking that they were very nice people in spite of their shotguns and German Shepards, and that I wished them no ill will, however I also thought that if at that time I had come across some Mexican immigrants I would probably have given them my water bottles and Powerbars.  I think that would be the only humane and compassionate thing to do, even if I would be aiding “criminals.”

In Buckeye, Arizona we met the middle school club wrestling coaches.  One was a middle school Phy Ed. teacher who also was the only middle school health teacher in the district (he explained that Arizona has no mandated health education in middle school) and the other was a high school Social Studies teacher, who was also originally from Ohio.  They both talked about the difficult living situations their students face.  They said, “If we don’t teach these kids no one will, because they have no one else.  Their parents don’t teach them about how the human body works, or human sexuality.”  There are high school students who don’t even know what the heart does, other than making noises.  They told us that many of the students join programs like their after school wrestling club because they don’t want to have to go home to their living situation.  These were good men who acknowledged that their students did not have the same social and educational benefits that they had (or we had, for example).

Hopefully what the riders of the Ride for World Health will really take away from this trip is a better understanding of the state of the American people.  There is an insurmountable economic, social and educational chasm that separates me from my patients, but by biking across the country I can learn about how they live, and hopefully the people I meet along the way will learn something about the compassion of their doctors.

In the end this may not be a trip of education, advocacy and fundraising, but rather a way for each of us to start a dialogue with the American people at a time when we are about to embark on a career of service to the benefit of their health.

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