Mad as Hell Doctors in California: October 5, 2010

October 5, 2010

Today I rejoined the Mad as Hell Doctors ( on the road trip, this time in California. This day was a mix of planes, trains, cars, single payer health care, social justice and neoprene.

The Mad as Hell Doctors have been two weeks on the road in California, doing town halls for single payer. Some doctors are there for the entire trip, some have come for a week at a time, many local chapters of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP have local speakers and local providers join us at the events. Each event is different, with a mix of our team and the local team. One more week to go, ending in Chico, California on October 12th. I am leaving my practice and my children for one week, the last week of the trip.

The previous trip was from Portland, OR to Washington DC, 26 cities and more than 30 town halls, a road trip across the United States. I joined the Mad as Hell Doctors in Seattle and participated for a week. I flew home from Colorado and then rejoined them for the last 5 days, ending in a rally across the street from the White House.

Up at 3 am and quick finishing my packing, left at 3:40 after kissing the kids. Drove from home to Sea Tac, about two hours, down through Bremerton and across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as the sky is starting to lighten and then north on I5. I5 luckily not busy and not backed up. Left the car with some company on International Boulevard and rode the van to the airport. At the scanner after I checked one bag, security found a jackknife in my carry on. Rats. I did not have time to go back around and mail it home. I wonder what really happens to all the confiscated knives. On to the gate and the flight was boarding. Nice flight down to San Diego. We left at 6:50 am and arrived at around 9 am. I felt disoriented as soon as I stepped outside: the sun was too high in the sky and those palm trees are just wrong. The air is so dry after the Pacific Northwest.

I checked on a van to go meet my Mad as Hell Doctor compatriots, but it would cost $170. “No? How about $150? How much can you afford?” The 3 pm train was $17.00 so I waited for that. I checked my bag at the train station and wandered around San Diego for a while, had breakfast.

At 3:00, the train moved out. San Clemente Pier was the third stop. The disembodied train speaker said “You should be going down the stairs and be ready at the doors: this is a very short stop.” I was ready and the only one to get off. I rolled my bag along as the train pulled away. No one was there. Then I heard my name and from the ocean side a man was running, sort of, in a black shortie wetsuit with one yellow flipper in his hand and the other on his right foot. I must be insane, I thought, and got a very wet oceany neoprene hug from Dr. Mike Huntington.

I changed into my swimsuit and joined Drs. Huntington and Sapir ( in the ocean, my suitcase tucked up on the lifeguard tower. No lifeguard. The water was at a crisp 68, which is better than the usual Pacific Northwest 56 degrees. I bodysurfed for half an hour until I couldn’t feel my toes and my hands were turning bloodless and white. Changed back into clothes and we played frisbee on the beach, me with enthusiasm but little skill. Mark Sapir said, “First chance to exercise in two weeks. I went running today and now everything hurts, so now we’re letting waves pound us in to the sand.”

We trooped back to the houses where they were staying and I met our hosts. Dinner with 14 people, kind and gracious hosts. Much discussion of medicine and politics. This was a day off for most of the [What I learned from my first Mad as Hell Doctors week|Mad as Hell Doctors], though Dr. Paul Hochfeld was at a talk given by a Physicians for A National Health Program California Chapter Fellow to medical students. He was back for dinner, reporting on the event.

This trip is streamlined. Currently there are eight of us. The trip is still 3 weeks, but with a little recovery time built in. Instead of staying in motels, we have stays arranged with PNHP members along the way. Phillip Kauffman is with us, saying that this trip is both easier and harder than the one last year. We have less paid support crew so more duties have fallen on him, but it is also a smaller group of people to coordinate. Dr. Hochfeld called him a “butterfly herder” in his blog yesterday, but I still think we’re more like cats. I don’t think of butterflies as having the same sort of egos or defense weapons as cats. And I am delighted to return to the group. They are incredibly dedicated and stubborn and willing to go on fighting for single payer. They, or we, are ignoring the people that say, “Why work on this? The health care bill passed. You won’t get another for years and years.” They might be right: but social change and social justice is not attained by sitting back, being apathetic or giving up. It takes dedicated people continuing stubborn work. I feel closer to these people after less than two weeks last year then some physicians that I have worked with for ten years: to be back on the road with the Mad as Hell Doctors is like coming home.