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Will You Be Crashing Through?

July 20, 2010
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief
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Life lessons on fearlessness as an industry embarks on an uncharted path
Mark Hagland
Mark Hagland

I've been mesmerized recently by Robert Kurson's 2007 book, “Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared To See,” about Mike May, a man blinded at the age of three whose sight was restored 43 years later. It is a story of courage, hope, luck, science, and, dare I say it, destiny. And not only is the book phenomenally inspirational; it also offers fascinating insights into the science of sight restoration for the small minority of blind people who have the potential to restore their eyesight lost after birth.

There are many lessons to take from this book, including the awesome capacity of human beings to survive and even thrive in the most challenging of circumstances. The book also made me think a bit about how we as individuals and groups frame the challenges facing us. Mike May's mother, following the tragic home explosion that rendered May blind, steadfastly refused to define her son as disabled (even after exhausting all possible medical avenues available at the time), and constantly encouraged him to defy all obstacles in his path.

Reading the book, it becomes clear why May would end up, through a combination of fearlessness, a sense of adventure, and the cultivation of the right types of friendships, as the world speed record-holder in downhill skiing (at 65 mph)in the Winter Paralympics. That single episode is just one of many that illustrates who Mike May is. It demonstrates how his courage enabled him to survive and thrive, and then to take the considerable risk to achieve restored vision in middle age, as he moved ever forward with the resolute mindset of an adventurer and explorer on a mission.

The title of the book comes from May's habit as a child of fearlessly running everywhere, crashing into objects on playgrounds and city streets, and yet continuing to go, often at the cost of multiple bruises and even a few near-death scrapes. Of course, there are limits, and there are moments while reading “Crashing Through” that one at least temporarily doubts May's common sense, and even his sanity. But all in all, he exemplifies the kind of indomitability that allows someone to move forward regardless of the obstacles present, even in an environment of great uncertainty.

In other words, there's something to the Mike May story that we should consider as we as an industry move into healthcare IT's version of Ultima Thule-the land beyond any maps-at what feels like breakneck speed. As I am writing this column, our industry is awaiting the final rule on meaningful use for the HITECH legislation; indeed, by the time this issue is published and you are reading this column, that rule should have been released. Will the IT, clinical informatics, and clinician leaders in your organization panic, freeze up, or abandon ship, because of the enormous challenges facing everyone, in a high-intensity, time-scarce environment? Or will they rise to the challenge and move forward determinedly, despite all the obstacles in the path ahead?

In my mind, there is no question that some aspects of character and personality-in particular, courage and leadership qualities-will end up playing as important a role as strategic and technical preparation in the coming months. Will you and your organization end up “crashing through” to success? Or will fear, and limited vision, keep you from reaching your highest potential? Only time will tell.

Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief Healthcare Informatics 2010 August;27(8):6