Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Chronic Pain. Blue Wheelbarrow. Where's Dennis?
NOB HILL--The blue wheelbarrow was all alone...sitting next to the Starbucks at Tulane and Central. I looked at the Route 66 stickers on the side of it...the safety vest...the harness...the flags and bungee cords. Yes, it was time to find the owner.
A man stood on the opposite side of the building. His hat and vest seemed to be decorated in the same DIY magic-marker block letters as the stuff on top of the wheelbarrow. It spelled WALKING.
"Is that your wheelbarrow?" I asked.
Dennis Kinch is walking Route 66--the whole thing--from the Chicago Art Institute on Michigan Ave. to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. He is the national spokesperson for the National Pain Foundation. He is doing this to raise awareness about treatment options and pain information for both patients and doctors. I personally do not live with chronic pain, but there are plenty of people who do. Dennis stops at hospitals along the way to talk to everybody concerned with this huge problem.
Dennis Kinch has chronic pain of his own, in his legs and back. This makes using a conventional backpack out of the question. Instead he carries his gear in a two-wheeled wheelbarrow he pulls backwards with a special harness attached where the handles are. There is sort of a padded waistband with a strap that goes over one shoulder. He demonstrated putting it on. Also, he has fashioned a few adjustments for going uphill and down. When that wheelbarrow is balanced just right, it is almost weightless...you just have to pull it.
He has some trip support, including a website maintained and updated by a volunteer in Chicago. It is called "Where's Dennis?" You can follow his day-to-day adventures.
Living with pain has a few tricks. Dennis Kinch knows many of them, as this walk demonstrates. His basic message is that help is out there, and you can do more than you think.
Chronic pain is one of those "invisible" illnesses. And sometimes nobody even believes you have it. It eventually cost Dennis his wife, job, kids, and left him homeless on the streets of Boston. Ironically, it was his homelessness that opened the gates of the health system to his getting help.
Tonight Dennis said he is staying somewhere near Old Town. His website states he has walked almost 1400 miles so far with about 900 still to go.
"You didn't happen across 30 or 40 Indians running east did you?"
"No...no I didn't."
Good Luck Dennis Kinch. And in honor of St. Patrick's Day: