This is a guest post by Dr. Gary VanderArk, CCMU’s board president and founder. A retired neurosurgeon, he now teaches at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. He has spent his career as a relentless crusader for the medically underserved and firmly believes in equity for all in health care.
Ten years ago CCMU had its biggest educational meeting to-date: our annual conference held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Cover the Uninsured Week. It was held in the largest ballroom of the biggest downtown Denver hotel, and we were expecting over 500 attendees. CCMU staff had put together a spectacular 80-slide presentation for me on their Mac laptop. Having never used a Mac, I was nervous about the whole thing, so on the day of the event I arrived early and ran through everything with the hotel’s audio-visual expert. It all worked perfectly.
At precisely 8 o’clock, I jumped up on the stage and shouted, “Welcome!” Then, I clicked to the next slide, just as I had during our dry run, and all the screens went black. They turned on the house lights and CCMU staff and the hotel’s audio-visual team scrambled to fix the issue. There I stood, a room full of attendees staring me down, and all I could do was repeatedly say, “Welcome!” After a few minutes, I was told I’d have to give my presentation without the PowerPoint.
Well, how hard could that be? After all, I just had to tell people what CCMU had accomplished in the preceding year. So I did. When I finished, I looked at watch. To my absolute horror, only 20 minutes had passed, and another 30 still remained. In fact, our next speaker had not even arrived at the meeting yet. What was I going to do with this wonderful crowd of 500? In desperation, I patted my pockets searching for a solution. To my relief, I discovered a leftover visual aid from the previous day’s children’s sermon I had given at the Cambodian church: a little pouch containing five smooth stones. My message had been the story of David and Goliath. To fight the giant, David the shepherd boy used five smooth stones, carefully selected for use with his slingshot.
With my 30 remaining minutes, I explained that we were obviously facing a giant in Colorado. Our giant was the hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents of our state. However, we had the right weapon: the five smooth stones of love, joy, patience, courage, and strength, which are more than enough ammunition to defeat our giant. I then glanced at my watch again, and discovered I had successfully filled my presentation time.
Ten years have now passed, and recently my office phone rang. Dr. Angela Sauaia, an Associate Professor of Public Health, Medicine, and Surgery at the University of Colorado Denver, had been in the audience that day. She said she wanted to give me a copy of her new book, The Quest for Health Equity, and told me to look at the preface.There in the preface she explained how my ad-libbed talk of the five smooth stones had inspired her in her work to bring equity to health care.
Even today, that message is still relevant. It can often feel overwhelming when we think about the magnitude of work that remains in order to ensure our health care system meets the needs of all Coloradans. However, with our carefully selected tools of love, joy, patience, courage, and strength, and the belief that we can succeed, we will take down our giants and ensure a healthier future for all.