Finding the way forward

The path to healthcare reform is often described as a journey without a map or one without a clear destination.  I recently read a book by a writer who was once from Minneapolis about her personal journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.  She was at a vulnerable time in her life and in her book she eloquently describes coming to terms with challenge, difficulty, loss, and grief through the real life metaphor of traveling along the Pacific Crest Trail.  Throughout her journey she becomes lost, disoriented, threatened, scared, significantly alters her plan, and even hikes many miles using duct tape and a sock as her substitution for a lost hiking boot.

As a doctor what I find particularly striking is the authors willingness to describe personal struggles that involve subjects which carry a great deal of social stigma.  She does so in a matter of fact way that is skillful and honest.  It requires the reader to experience the reality of her life in order continue alongside her personal journey.  She writes so adeptly about these topics that she’s already 5 miles down the trail before you realize she’s done describing it.  Her book allows you to see the depths of a personal experience and at once move past it, recognizing that life goes on.  At times the author even reflects that everything in her past has brought her to the present, searching for positive meaning in parts of her past that do not automatically give her a sense of pride.

In the book, Wild, Cheryl Strayed has definitely created an enjoyable read, if nothing more – for its ability to let us live vicariously or perhaps at times as a voyeur looking at her life with a freshness and candidness that breaks us out of our preconceptions about people and what separates us.  She seems to effortlessly move from one aspect of American life to another sometimes over the course of months, sometimes in the matter of minutes.  She often moves from a predicament to an invitation by a generous stranger which brings their lives into the landscape as well as she traverses 1,100 miles of American soil.

To suggest that redesigning our healthcare system is as monumental of a task as a novice hiker taking on the tallest mountains in the contiguous 48 states (and perhaps not quite making it) and traversing the rugged trail along the Pacific Crest Trail is no more of an understatement than it is hyperbole.  I hope that we all keep moving slowly, steadily forward on our journey of healthcare system redesign.  I hope that we all demonstrate individual perseverance, communal generosity, and acceptance of life’s unpredictable nature as we do so.  I hope that each of you takes time in your life for rest, renewal, and rejuvenation.  Perhaps it will be through reading Wild, or perhaps through a walk along a local nature preserve – imagining just what it might be like to be Cheryl Strayed finding her way along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Best to you all –
Samuel Hanson Willis, MD

Family Medicine Physician


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