Tuesday September 20, 2011 I met Ben Miller at the annual AHRQ meeting near Washington, DC. You might know him as @Miller7
on twitter and his social media voice is loud and powerful. I have followed his wisdom for years, but on September 20th I had a chance to meet him in person. He is a kinetic flame caught within a human form. His slight body moves through the crowd like raindrops on a windowpane. He is quick, unpredictable and oh, so very graceful.
He was wearing a three-piece suit and I offered to paint his jacket then and there. He cocked his head to the side and smiled with an impish grin replying, “My wife would kill me if you did that. This is my good suit.” Not wishing to create martial discord I offered to paint another suit as soon as he could send one. Then Ben invited me to attend his Mental Health Town Hall meeting the next day and I would paint the session.
I came to Ben’s session with my French Box Easel in hand prepared to weave through crowds in order to set up in the back of the room. I was dismayed to arrive and find a room designed to seat 300 with about 50 attendees. The room next door with its presentation about Partnership for Patients was filled to capacity. Was there so much stigma attached to mental health that even attending our session was verboten? I furiously began to paint.
I painted the jacket The Stream
during that session. I spoke to Ben afterwards saying I would like to help him in anyway I could, and especially would like to spread the word on what he was trying to accomplish in the world of mental health and patient access to data and health records.
Not long after he contacted me about his new twitter initiative and blog: #OccupyHealthcare
inspired in part by the #Occupy movement on Wall Street. Quite a few outspoken patients and providers had been saying some rather revolutionary things for quite a while now. We would tag them #hcsm or #ptsafety, but now we had a new tag #OccupyHealthcare. Ben created a site that would gather our words and magnify them and in the months hence he has taken on a lot of issues.
So this is Ben’s jacket: #OccupyHealthcare. In this painting the ivory tower is personified. Three careers stand tall before us. A primary care doctor, a surgeon and an academic loom large within the composition. They barely see the little people arrayed before them. Their eyes seem disconnected and distracted; the surgeon cannot even stop from checking her smartphone in this moment. Her eyes dart to the side as the small crowd forms beneath her.
The crowd consists of patients and providers waving banners that say things like: “ #Occupy Healthcare” and “Join Us!” with a twitter bird emblazoned on the sign. All those in the crowd face the monolithic ones and we cannot see their faces. But even with this limited ability to read intent, the viewer can see that is crowd is not angry. This is a crowd of collaboration. These arms are raised in welcome, not attack. They are occupying the space. They may be small and slight but they are many. If you think small and slight cannot wreak havoc on old forms, ask any homeowner their feelings on termites.
Nature is designed in such a way that which is old and dead will be recycled into something new. This can happen gradually through rot, mold and small creatures working diligently to deconstruct. Or destruction can come in a wildfire of change, but even then nothing is wasted. Cinders make great fertilizer and they are a key element in cinder blocks.
I am so happy Ben joined the gallery. He is one of 148 Walkers that scurry to and fro from medical conference to medical conference. At HDI in Washington DC on June 5-6, 2012, quite a few people were amazed how many jackets were at the conference. One attendee said, “I used to only see a couple of these jacket paintings at a conference, and now they are everywhere I look.”
You see we paint on business jackets for a reason, they a type of Trojan horse. A walker is invited to a conference. He or she looks normal from the front. They are allowed in and only then does it become apparent that the patient is in the room and the dialog must now change.
The Walking Gallery is a very simple concept; we are occupying Healthcare.