Many adults, much less seniors, won’t attend Burning Man out of fear. How many of life’s richest possible experiences are missed for this same reason? So I’d like to spend the next few posts allaying fears about the festival and – I hope – eliciting additional concerns that have stopped you from attending one of the greatest examples of Americana still going strong annually.
Let’s start with the general issue of what happens if you get hurt or ill at Burning Man. There is probably no place in the world with better, cheaper and more reliable healthcare than Burning Man. Think I’m kidding? Black Rock City is a model for universal healthcare that is largely free for all, easily accessible and totally wired into the nearest system of critical care facilities (Reno).
This unified healthcare organization has been refined over the years to near perfection. What used to be a single, centrally located medical tent near center camp has now been split into a decentralized group of medical tents at three different sites around the playa. Any one of the dozens of active Black Rock Rangers can radio for a golf cart or an EMT van which will reach you in minutes, or you can be walked over to a medical tent if you’re ambulatory. If a Ranger doesn’t see you’re in trouble, a Black Rock citizen will, and that’s when you see the difference between a city and our City. No one passes by people who appear to be having a problem without checking on them.
Once you reach one of the medical facilities, you’ll be evaluated and treated by trained doctors and nurses who volunteer for set shifts in exchange for free entry to the festival. These medical professionals are fully trained not only in their own areas of expertise, but in the typical problems that beset people on the playa – including dehydration, sunstroke, eye irritation and simply excessive partying. For most Burners, they’re back on the playa in anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Our medical magicians even make house calls if you’re too sick to leave your tent or RV.
Although services of the doctors and nurses are completely without charge, the EMT services and ambulances are not cost-free, nor are rides to Reno (whether by ambulance or, in extreme emergencies, by helicopter). But all services take insurance and Medicare.
In six trips to the playa, beginning at age 60, I have never been to one of the medical tents except to pick up my son who has needed his eyes irrigated a few times. We know that the best way to prevent problems is to prepare for life on the playa, and that will be the subject of my next article.