Interview: How To Survive Burning Man

Mar 3, 2016

Once a year, the dusty Black Rock Desert becomes Nevada's third largest city, housing almost 68,000 Burners.
Credit Gary Johnson

Every year more and more Burners make their way to the Black Rock Desert. As the Burning Man festival has grown, so, too, has its healthcare delivery system. To learn more, our contributor Luiza Vieira spoke with Dr. Gary Johnson. He works for the University of Nevada School of Medicine, but he's also known as Dusty Doctor G-Man out on the playa. Thursday night he'll be giving a lecture at UNR called "Surviving Burning Man."   

Johnson says providing medical care in the middle of the desert is not an easy task and the inventory must be estimated in advance.

Most injuries seen at Burning Man are small, such as cuts or lacerations. The medical team tries its best to keep the dust away but that's almost impossible there.
Credit Gary Johnson

“Of course there’s nothing there to begin with. They have to bring the physical buildings, air conditioning, heating. They’re set up with a small lab so we can do some blood tests, urine tests," he says. "They can take X-rays; they can do casting; they’re set up to do suturing--really, most things that a small hospital would have.”

Longtime Burner Johnson has been going to the event for 24 years and says he has seen a lot during the five years he's worked as a doctor. 

“People tend to be fun and crazy so there’s some serious emergencies going on out there, of course," he says. "We do a lot of sewing up and lacerations.”  

Dr. Johnson will teach people how to survive  Burning Man Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Auditorium which is in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at UNR. The event will happen from 7 to 8 p.m. Besides giving tips on how to stay away from the medical tent, Johnson will also talk about how the event developed from just a tiny bonfire at the beach to something that people come to from all over the world.