National medals, zeolites and avocation


I had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Norm McCombs this week.

If you missed the announcement earlier this month, McCombs, the senior vice president of research and development at AirSep, will be awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House in February for his work on pressure swing adsorption (PSA), a method of separating gases that made oxygen concentrators possible.

Imagine that you and your co-recipients were called “inspiring American innovators” by POTUS?

It was a heady conversation full of terminology I don’t hear every day: the aforementioned PSA, synthetic zeolites, process engineering.

But it was heady, most of all, because McCombs said something that I feel is really representative of the majority of the people who work in the HME industry. When I asked McCombs, who is 75, why he isn’t retired, he said:

“I’m going to be 76 soon, but I’m still invigorated by my work. It’s my vocation and avocation. If being retired is doing what you want to do, I’ve been retired all my life.”

(I’m going to honest, I had to look up avocation, too: something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby.)

How else do you explain why Shelly Prial, who is retired, is still attending Medtrade events, writing a blog about industry issues and tirelessly championing association membership?

How else do you explain why Larry Wegner, president of Family Care Home Medical Equipment, repaired Michael Shockley’s wheelchair for free?

How else do you explain why Ed Dressen, owner of Dressen Medical Supply, repaired Will Privette’s wheelchair, again, for free?

I could go on.

They do these things because they’re committed, yes, but they also do them because they love what they do. They find pleasure in it.

When you strip away reimbursement and all the hassles that come with it, that’s what this industry is all about.