The “lighter” side of TEDMED

TEDMED, Wurman, Nurjana BachmanTEDMED was fascinating, and it was a great experience for the Children’s team who attended. Based on the conference attendees and the intimate size of the gathering, it offered our constituents ample opportunity to interact with peers from other fields, policy decision makers, media influencers, future collaborators and potential sponsors in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in any other setting.

The TED conferences are the brainchild of Richard Saul Wurman, and his sole purpose and goal for TED is to make complex information understandable. Following his own curiosity, he gathers people around him who explain complex and important subject matter to him and to one other, with an emphasis on connecting this subject matter to what makes us human (there was a lot of talk about mortality and savoring life at this conference, and the technology segments were presented in this context). Being at TEDMED felt like being a voyeur in Wurman’s living room, where he had organized a modern-day salon for his friends, featuring the excellent thinkers, artists, musicians and intellectuals of the time.

The 3-day conference felt much longer, because the days were packed with talks, most, if not all, with potent emotional power. We saw a lot of material, a lot of diverse material. Wurman, in one of his commentaries, said that the conference is a story, with a narrative to follow. Yes- one could consider the entire conference a long performance piece (or as one Tweeter put it, “a variety show for intellectuals”), and it will likely take each of the attendees several months to digest the entire message, story and impact, as there were many threads of ideas interweaving and interacting in a delicate dance. Things that seemed disparate at first came into focus when another piece was added to the puzzle.

Ok, now let’s talk about the food. It was healthy. Maybe too healthy. After the first day and a half (interestingly, right about the time of the “Wellness” session on eating well and exercising to prevent disease), I remarked to my Children’s colleagues, first in a whisper, “I knew that TEDMED would be interesting, but I didn’t realize that it would be FATCAMP!” It turns out that I was not alone. Wurman, who had evidently lost 90 pounds over the past year or so, must have wanted a bit of this asceticism to rub off on the rest of us.

While I love vegetables and was under the impression that they are pretty much all I eat, I quickly became aware of my powerful addiction to refined sugar and carbs (at the dinner the first night I asked the guy who was serving halibut, again, in an embarrassed whisper, “Excuse me but is there any bread around? Pasta? Rice?” (Desperately: “Potatoes?”). Answer: “No.” No dessert either. By the afternoon of the third day, meringue cookies finally appeared (egg whites, sugar! (though I was told later it was honey)), and I had to hoard about 4 of them to fill the void.

Interestingly, and to me, surprisingly, it turned out that I had more will power than some of our colleagues- as the topic was discussed, nearly everyone said something like, “After lunch I had to go and buy ice cream”, or “I went and had a burrito for breakfast” (the single piece of toast with almond butter and apple butter didn’t quite go far enough), or “I went and had a cheeseburger for lunch” and lastly, a colleague said in passing, showing us a Twix bar, “the ice cream shop was closed.” Some of us were on a stakeout for diet sodas, indulging in these whenever possible. Somewhat hilariously, several folks made an effort to hide their indulgences from Dr. David Ludwig, who runs the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program at Children’s. Thank goodness there was coffee. The organizers probably didn’t want a riot on their hands. A large group of under-caffeinated intellectuals is not a pretty sight.

The collegiality of the group from Children’s was one of the best aspects of this trip- to be able to spend time with and get to know people from around the hospital who work on different things away from our excessively busy days in Boston was great, and I think we all enjoyed it.  I have no doubt that we will each take the ideas, projects and relationships forward from TEDMED into the next year. I know that I look forward to doing so! Thank you to the Hassenfeld Family Initiatives for making this possible for us.

So…we are refreshed and inspired and maybe even each a few pounds lighter. I know I will try to take all of this into Monday morning and beyond (despite the hundreds of emails I know I and others have to review and all the work there is to catch up on)…let’s see how far we can get with the momentum of this experience pushing us forward!