By Richard Knox
Mainer Jon Rogers started lobstering 47 years ago at the age of 10, when he’d go out on his grandfather’s boat.
Ask him about his health and he says, “No worse than anyone else who uses his body in his work. My hips are sore, my knees are sore, my shoulders are sore, my back is sore. I get up every day and it takes me awhile to get going. I hurt every day.”
But Rogers, who lives on a skinny, south-pointing finger of land in Casco Bay called Orr’s Island, doesn’t go to the doctor much. “I never really complained about too much unless I was really hurting,” he says.
“I’d schedule a doctor’s appointment with all the intentions of going,” Rogers says. “But if there was an opportunity to haul traps for a few days, I’d set aside the doctor’s appointment and go haul traps.” This summer he’s running 800 traps, which means his days starts around 5:30 a.m.
Rogers appears to be pretty typical of Maine’s 5,000 lobstermen, and of all 9,000 people who work in the state’s fishing industry.
“They work really hard and have a lot of chronic diseases,” says Miranda Jo Rogers, Jon’s daughter. “These people have a stoic mentality — they don’t seek health [care] until they really need it. So there are no really positive role models on how to be proactive and keep healthy.”
Miranda Rogers aims to do something about that. Although she’s still a Tufts Medical School student, she’s taken on a project she expects will take her to graduation and beyond — maybe decades beyond.
“I am happily indebted to the community that raised me, and I wish to make a long-lasting difference in Maine,” she wrote recently to the state’s lobster harvesters, asking them to fill out a 24-page questionnaire on their health.
It will be the most complete look ever at the health of a difficult-to-reach population with special health care needs, low rates of health insurance and high skepticism of outsiders.
“Up and down the coast, the commercial fisherman is very talkative on his own turf, but it’s a very secretive bunch and not that trusting,” Jon Rogers says. Continue reading