High Fives Mar 1, 2013

The pearl behind the high five is the fact that someone did what "seemed like the thing to do."

by Rick Rader, MD

Darn this flu.

The thing about the flu that makes it a high priority is its potential potency.
Potency, yeah, that's the right word. It can get you a day out of work or school, could end up giving a tag on your toe. It can give you the blahs, the aches and the shivers, or it can infect 500 million and kill off 50 million as it did in 1918.

Yeah it's got potential potency.

While relegating you to a day off from work, or having you added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report (MMR) is bad enough, this last week saw a new level of sinister activity from the flu; a new level of civil and social disruption.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo very recently declared a public health emergency in response to the wide spreading flu epidemic and some drastic action was taken. They have banned the "high fives"!

Dr. Valerie Parkas, an infectious disease specialist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who is also the president of the Manhattan Soccer Club, a youth soccer league said, "We just thought it would be prudent to have some safety protocols in place for the kids."

They have banned both the high five and, also, hand shaking. At the end of the game, the opposing teams will form traditional "post game lines" and bump elbows as a precaution to spreading the flu.

While no one is disputing the significance and wisdom of precautionary actions (the flu can be deadly) the news brought new light on the high five.

It made me consider where and when did we first start high-fiving each other as a gesture of congratulations, good sportsmanship, high achievement or support for a favorable comment.
According to sports historian Jon Mooallem, in an article for ESPN, these are the origins of the high five:
"For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that the first high five occurred between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 2, 1977 in Dodger Stadium.
"It was the last day of the regular season, and Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker had just gone deep off the Astros' J.R. Richard. It was Baker's 30th home run, making the Dodgers the first team in history to have four sluggers — Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Reggie Smith — with at least 30 homers each. It was a wild, triumphant moment and a good omen as the Dodgers headed to the playoffs. Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it." "His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back," says Baker, now 62 and managing the Reds. "So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do."

The pearl behind the high five is the fact that someone did what "seemed like the thing to do." While there has been an abundance of misadventures crafted by that rationale, in the area of supporting people with special needs, it has probably contributed to virtually every best practice we have ever seen.

One can imagine French physician Dr. Philip Pinel deciding in 1795 to remove the chains and shackles from 200 mentally ill patients in the seventh ward of the Hospital Bicetre thinking that it "seemed like the thing to do."

Or, nine months after his inauguration, at a press conference on October 11, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his intention to appoint "a panel of outstanding scientists, doctors, and others to prescribe a plan of action in the field of mental retardation." He too obviously thought that "it seemed like the thing to do."

The high five seemed like the thing to do, and it was.

Unfortunately, exceptional parents do not have an abundant opportunity to use the high five; their victories do not come often enough despite expending more energy, heart and soul than was ever displayed in Dodger Stadium.

They would relish the opportunity to exchange high fives at the conclusion of IEP meetings, dispute resolution meetings with insurance companies, and with physicians and therapists who commit to trying one more thing.

When it comes to celebrating even small victories, exceptional parents are eager to give the high five to anyone who becomes a part of their team, even if they are relegated to only using their elbows.

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