I spoke and exhibited at the 2017 Planetree International Conference on Patient-Centered Care in Baltimore on October 16th and 17th. I was excited and humbled to have an audience of medical professionals so interested in hearing my perspective. My topic, “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Special Needs Parents and Caregivers”, was prompted by experiences as Nora’s grandmother, some of which are captured in my memoir, Waking Up with Nora.
Full of intention and open to all possibilities for how the conference might be a springboard to other opportunities, it turns out that the true gifts were the people I met. I think you’ll agree when I introduce you to them. These people inspired me with their humanity. They’re changing the world in their own unique ways.
I must start with the last man to stop by my booth before I packed up. He’d caught my attention a few minutes earlier as he made his way down the aisle of exhibitors. I noticed he hadn’t stopped at many of the other booths.
He approached slowly. It may have been the copies of my book on display that attracted him; the cover photo can be compelling to some. He lacked the pretention others in his profession can sometimes exhibit. In a soft voice he inquired about the book, and I offered a brief version of my story—my purpose for writing it and for being at the conference. As I spoke, I knew he recognized the medical terms, and with them I saw the compassion in his eyes. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to purchase a book, and asked me to sign it.
We talked for ten minutes about the challenges of his work; underlying the actual medicine was his mission to eliminate the stigma society assigns to his patients. We agreed our missions intersected at consciousness-raising—mine for how those with special needs are viewed. When he needed to leave to get ready for his keynote speech, I thanked him for taking the time to talk with me.
I had recognized him when I first spotted him, only because I saw his picture when I’d circled his keynote presentation in my program. It was the only speech I was willing to risk leaving my exhibit booth to hear.
He is Dr. Jim Withers, Street Doctor and 2015 CNN Hero. If you don’t know him, I promise you will be moved by this five-minute video by CNN.
Tears of gratitude fill my eyes every time I remember the honor of having his attention all to myself. I’m also reminded it would never have taken place if I didn’t have Nora in my life. Simply inspiring!
“All that I would ask is that we don’t judge people we don’t know. Don’t judge people until you walk in their shoes.”
Dr. Jim Withers