In the Same Boat


Wilson_edited-1(22.07.13) In my blog last week “Different Paths, Inspiring”, I pointed out the reality that not infrequently people take different approaches, travel different paths, to solving problems. I indicated that what is important in the end, is getting to the same goal.  The other side of that coin is of course that there are times when working together, going down the same path, singing the same tune is essential – because in the end we are in the same boat. And that is today’s message.  

Over the past several weeks although I have had some local assignments there has been a brief hiatus from international travel. Enjoying the warm (my wife says hot, hot, hot) sunny summer days here in my home state of Florida has reminded me of one of the pleasures I have had over the past years - sailing. Florida is blessed with beautiful water and a climate that encourages being out year round. 

When I think about the challenges faced by countries around the world in changing, health care systems to make them better, I am reminded of some of my adventures – and misadventures – sailing here in Florida.  And how they might illustrate a larger truth. Interestingly, those mishaps occurred when the whole crew was made up of doctors. Here’s one: 

We sailed south from Ft. Lauderdale on a summer morning bound for the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. By nightfall we were off the west coast of Cuba. This was some years ago when Cuban authorities were known to seize boats that came too close to their shores. 

So we closely monitored Cuban radio for signs of danger. Our James Bond moment was cut short when an ocean-going tugboat bearing down on our path surprised us. A collision seemed imminent. We frantically started to alter course to pass behind the tug. 

And then we saw it had three white lights mounted vertically on its aft mast. We stared blankly until one of us remembered that the lights meant the tug was towing a barge on a cable longer than 600 feet – that’s equal to two football fields. Thank goodness for U.S. Coast Guard navigation courses. Because of the length of the cable, the barge was invisible in the darkness. If we stayed our course, we would be sliced in half by a steel towing cable, or smashed to bits by the barge. 

Imagine the jolt of adrenalin as we scrambled to reverse course and get out of harm’s way. Desperately, we jibbed. But in our abject terror, we forgot to release the boom that had been tied to a deck cleat to better catch the wind in the mainsail. As a result, the boom as it swept across the deck with great force, yanked out the cleat, leaving behind a hole that would swallow water anytime a wave broke across the bow. Which was frequently. I did say the whole crew was doctors, right? 

Somehow, we managed to avoid the tug, the steel cable and the giant barge. We taped over the hole with masking tape and two days later limped into the harbor of Isle de Mujeres in the Yucatan. 

After this brush with mortality, some might think our trip would have disintegrated into resentments and second guessing the captain. The course he had plotted, and the actions he had taken – or not taken. But out on the ocean, there was a realization that we were all in the boat together. No one jumped overboard, without life jacket or lifeboat, into the shark-infested waters. Instead, after an initial shock, we worked together, avoided disaster and patched up the damage afterward. 

Had we acted solely as individuals, we could have triggered a shipwreck. Acting together, we avoided one and lived to tell the tale = and sail again. 

These times call on us to work together to bring clarity to the issues before us, to understand them, and to make them work for patients and physicians. I am encouraged that I see a growing majority of members of the medical profession responding to the challenge. We are after all, in the same boat.

 

WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.