Off The Sidelines

"I"m Still Here" witten into sand in beach.

Dawn Smith writes “I am still here” into sand on the beach after radiation treatment for her brain tumor.

They say the sidelines are where gladiators go to rest.
Some of us can race back on the field.
The rest of us warriors must ride the pine.

Rest. It is a marathon, not a sprint, they tell us.

Beware of gladiators prowling on the sidelines.
While the world eyes the battle on the field,
we soldiers find energy in our rest

Yes. Solders on the sidelines hunger for ground.

As the world whizzes pass, we gain life inch by inch.
Our movement is steady against the wind,
Our cause, sure. The field is ours today.

This field is ours today.

Love Heals. Are Your Friends Doing It?

I braved my symptoms today to pose a simple question: If love heals, are your friends doing it? It is no coincidence that the ABC News study discussing the healing power of friendship came out so close to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Everyday acts of kindness — no matter how small — have a healing effect on those facing health care battles.  Life becomes more enriching when you focus on healthy friendships, instead of people who take up space and energy.

Please pardon the appearance of my friend, SavannahWhite, who is always worth my energy.

Elizabeth Edwards & the Person in the Casket

Much has been said about how Elizabeth Edwards advanced the cause for health care for every American — how she met adversity with matchless grace and dignity.

But family members do not mourn through the lens of politics.

Seven years ago, President Bill Clinton stood over the casket of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson inside the Atlanta Civic Center. Politicians preached to the choir of Atlantans that the only way to honor the lion of the new south was to attach Jackson’s name to the airport he made a global success. With Mayor Jackson’s grieving family members behind him, President Clinton reminded mourners why they were present.

A man was in the casket. Atlantans were mourning someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s friend.

When a light such as Elizabeth Edwards dims (only to shine in the next world), family members feel the loss more. The person in the casket is not a health care advocate, creature of politics or an embattled wife. She is a mother and, yes, still someone’s wife and a friend.

After Philly

When we finally reached CIGNA HQ, CEO Ed Hanway chose to shut his door to Dawn, and to the thousands of people who stood with her in the journey to Philadelphia. Instead, Dawn had a conversation with CIGNA’s Chief Medical Officer, who met her with a fistful of half promises and partial admissions of guilt. She certainly has their attention, but still doesn’t have any guarantees as to whether she’ll actually get the care she needs. Dawn and her companions on the journey will be heading home this weekend, but her fight isn’t over.

I’m convinced Dawn’s story can’t be heard enough — every time she tells someone about her illness and what CIGNA put her through, I see them starting to think differently about our health care system. Even when you already know how broken it is, hearing Dawn speak deepens your commitment to change. Each person thinking differently is a grain of sand tipping the scales of the national debate towards reform. But we need to keep pouring the sand on.
Dawn’s trip shows that the messy distractions and lies of the anti-reformers can’t withstand the voices of real people wronged by a broken health care system. It’s up to all of us to keep sharing their stories and piling on the grains of sand that will tip the scales and make health care available for all Americans.

Dawn’s First Day in DC

Atlanta feels like a million miles away. Today on Capital Hill, we met with lawmakers and opinion makers about Dawn’s extraordinary experience. Walking through the halls of congressional offices, overhearing conversations in the cafeteria, it’s easy to see why the folks on our journey would feel like their voices aren’t being heard here. The talk is all vote counts and bill language — it seems easy to lose track of why health care reform is needed.

That’s why Dawn is here.  Today I watched her speak with reporters, congressmen and activists, and you could see her impact immediately: as soon as Dawn began to tell her story, people sobered up and paid attention. She forced them to think about health care reform as a matter of real pain and suffering, rather than cloture votes and log rolling.

But at the same time, the reaction of folks in DC didn’t differ all that much from the response of folks in Norfolk, or Asheville, or Atlanta. And that’s probably our greatest source of hope for the creation of a decent health care system: that the people eventually calling the shots remember what it’s like to feel at the mercy of indifferent illness, and do what’s right for people like Dawn.

A Day of Downtime for Dawn & Her Crew

Today we took some downtime. We’d spent the previous 2 days on the road moving at a pace that left even the healthier members of our crew wiped out, but today we recuperated in the great hospitality of Candice and Klaus, two MoveOn members in Raleigh, NC.

Reform has been debated against a background of artificial deadlines, every day the news cycle churns on with its daily crises‚ it’s hard for us to not feel rushed by the pace of politics. But today reminded us of what gets lost in the shuffle.

We have a health care system that not only lets people get sick, but also lets them become invisible. Some of us fighting for health care reform have the luxury of walking away from the issue after the workday ends or a bill gets passed, but the people who need change most — like Dawn – are still stuck with the day to day exhaustion of their illness.

It’s up to the well to make sure the unwell have a place at the table when we decide what should be done. That’s the ultimate importance of Dawn’s journey‚ making the voice of the ill present once more in the machinations of CIGNA’s corporate offices and the halls of Congress.