Humbled, inspired, and hopeful. In that order. That’s how I felt after attending my first TEDMED conference. It’s a TED conference centered around medicine, public health, medical science innovation, with remarkable stories of human perseverance, resilience, and courage.
Who cannot be awed listening to the one physician who kept treating desperately ill patients when the entire rest of the medical staff abandoned a Liberian hospital at the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic? Or the lone Syrian female OB-GYN who continued to serve her patients, often performing surgery by the light of an iPhone flashlight while her beloved city of Aleppo was being bombed to ruins around her?
Who cannot be humbled by the brilliance of neuroscientists, computational microbiologists, biomedical engineers, CRISPR specialists, and computer hackers who are coming up with medical treatments that would have been unimaginable five years ago? Or the blind software engineer working on making computers more accessible to the disabled who also happens to be a paralympics cycling champion?
Who cannot have his eyes opened by learning about entirely new approaches to drug addiction and the opioid crisis? Or be amazed by the revolution in cancer treatment? Or cheer on the environmental scientist who is combatting big coal companies and government indifference to help the disadvantaged residents of Appalachia whose health is threatened by mountain top removal coal mining.
The list goes on and on. And the attendees were just about as impressive. I met, chatted and dined with passionate, accomplished, friendly people from all over the world.
You might wonder, how were the actual speeches? Watching TED videos online, one can get the impression that all the speakers at TED conferences are great speakers. However, from the 3600 TED events around the world that generate 25,000 videos every year, only about 240 make it onto TED.com. Only the best of the best appear online.
From a performance standpoint, the speeches ranged from OK to superb. I had not realized until seeing TED live how highly edited the online videos are. Some speakers delivered flawless performances. Others, however, blew lines or drew blanks about what came next. They would stop, check notes, and then go back and pick up where they left off. Surely all this will be cleaned up “in post.” What was great, though, was how supportive the audience was, applauding and encouraging the speakers who were having difficulty. Some even received standing ovations for their efforts.
Why, when it was over, did TEDMED leave me hopeful? I’ll let my wife answer that. As she posted on Facebook, “After spending 3 days listening to TED talks about everything from male birth control to drone delivery of medicine to remote areas in Africa to advances in cancer treatment to the efforts of a Syrian ob-gyn to serve her patients in Aleppo, I’m forcefully reminded that there ARE many, many, brilliant, passionate people out there who are dedicated to making the world better. For everyone.
“For the past year I’ve felt mired in a growing conviction that the whole world is being subsumed by stupid, venal, evil, callous people. It’s hard to maintain any optimism despite repeated calls to not get discouraged, to keep fighting.
“I’ve spent these days listening to and meeting so many men and women of heart, conviction, and supreme intelligence, and I head home a little more encouraged that there IS light, and hope, and goodness in the world, and that many are tireless soldiers in the fight to beat back the darkness.”