It’s 820AM and Sunday morning. The two teenagers are fast asleep. Mr. Plastic Picker had worked 3 extra overtime shifts Saturday, and then within the last 20 minutes of his shift (which he did telemedicine from home) was called into the hospital to do an urgent procedure. This kind of put a wrench into our plans as a family to have dinner. He was slightly annoyed and had to throw on scrubs and leave the house. We were planning on going to UTC in La Jolla for some window-shopping and dinner. The teenagers watched another English period drama episode they are watching together, and I waved him off standing in the front yard as he drove off in his old trusty Prius. When you are a young doctor newly getting paid to save people’s lives, the paging and the immediacy and the hero-worship can be thrilling and addictive. But for us well into middle-age and having been doing this competently for over 15 some would say 20 years, it gets old. It gets old – really fast.
It’s 454 AM and my body is coming along. I was in this daze of binge-watching some really good Kdramas and not getting enough sleep. The broca wernike area of my brain is so enjoying the Korean-language dump, and also the heart-wrenching story lines – that it was getting kind of ridiculous. If you know me in real life, any of my clinic friends will tell you – it was kind of getting obsessive. But I’m an adult and generally healed, so I turned it off to get some good sleep yesterday.
I just have a few minutes before we start off for the Rewild Mission Bay site. It’s been months in organizing, but we are bringing together an interesting group to the Kendall Frost Reserve for a nature-based session on education, land-restoration and wellness. I’m hoping that moves the needle locally to help build organic support to Rewild Mission Bay. I just submitted an article to Sketches, the San Diego Audubon quarterly journal, and my perspective as a pediatrician on the Rewild efforts. I spent a good amount of time on the article, and the response for the editors was gratifying. They have accepted it and will need just minor revisions.
But here at Dr. Plastic Picker, I understand the math. I understand the climate change math, and it doesn’t add up unless we divest from fossil fuels. Yes I pick up plastic but I know that divestment, even if it’s a pie in the sky effort, is something we need to do. SB 1173 is coming up and the environmental forces are mobilizing. The AAP California State Government Affairs Committe on Environmental Health and Climate Change has already signed on. But the vote will come up soon, and I’m trying to do my part in the state to activate lobbying on the grassroots level.
I’ve already forwarded the toolkit to folks, and organizing health care voices. After we return from the wetlands today, I’m going to leverage all the environmental connections I’ve made to try to make this happen. I never thought I’d be one of those that knew about bills and committees and an expert in lobbying. But I’m at that point now. I’ve done it enough, and I’m proud to lead the effort.
If not me? Who? If not now? When? Adults and pediatricians, we need to take a stance. It’s now or never. Here we go. SB 1173. Time to go for the most impactful actions. Divest from fossil fuels. Our HMO pension and also the CalPERS and CALSTERS.
I am so proud of this kid. A blurred image of him from our time in DC. I was a research fellow back them at the National Institutes of Health Intramural Research Program. I was working in an endocrine lab, but really just looking at surveys and spreadsheets all day. It was a magical year where I was getting a very small stipend that hardly paid for his preschool. We were hemorrhaging money that year, as Mr. Plastic Picker was finishing Musculoskeletal Radiology fellowship up in Boston, and was commuting to DC weekends to see us. We had a small apartment behind NIH, that was the shabbiness place that we had ever lived in. You could hear the neighbors running the bath. We think they were running a laundry service out of their apartment. It was furnished with IKEA furniture that didn’t withstand our young family. The apartment was semi-subsidized by NIH – but not really. It wasn’t that affordable either especially on my research stipend, but I could walk right into work as the back entrance of NIH abutted the grounds.
It’s 608AM and our oldest will be getting up soon to take his AP Spanish Exam. He is such a good boy, a good son and a wonderful older brother. One thing I want to do different from my children is not to foster a sense of competition among them. For some reason and I was the worse at it, there was always a sense of competition among my siblings. Friendly and in good nature, but still there. I don’t want that for them. There are two of them, and when I am gone from this earth that is hopefully habitable – they will only really have each other. I want them to love each other and to support each other.
That is what I’m trying to do for our climate and health community in San Diego. My mentor Dr. Bruce Bekkar led his last meeting as Chair of the Public Health Advisory Council of Climate Actions Campaign, and I’m next up. Those are big shoes to fill, but I think I’ve figured out the role I’m meant to play. I’m meant to be everyone’s cheerleader, supporter and just to keep us connected and going. That’s the most important role I can play right now. It’s a very non-Crimson University skill. In fact it’s probably the one trait that Crimson University is horrible at. But I’m glad that trait remained nascent in my psyche and has been able to grow.
It’s Tuesday morning and it looks like the middle management meeting was cancelled today. I don’t worry too much about office politics anymore, am I purposefully being left off emails? How are things running? It’s probably my overactive imagination anyway. Many people can be thoughtless, and I don’t think I’m that important to be the target of any political machinations. You have to care about someone to let them hurt you, and honestly thinking of everyone as just part of nature has helped me. You don’t get mad at compost nor at the carnivorous insects that devour a carcass? It’s part of the cycle of life, right? And I honestly think that is true for many human relationships as well. I met a young new doctor yesterday in the program that I used to run, and things were not going smoothly. I had written my workflow out many times when I was asked. It’s funny that I had written out step by step my workflow, and even those that had asked for it – I don’t think ever read it? I found it in my files when I was trying to get the new young doctor settled in. I was there and provided her supports and checked in on her, but it’s not my job anymore. I decided to let that part of life go and I’m forever grateful I did. It’s not anyone’s fault just the system is not running smoothly. The system will sort itself out. It’s not my job anymore.
With that, I’m so lucky to have meaningful work – both my work work and my volunteer climate work. I was a doctor yesterday and saw many patients. Lots of kids with fever and lots of my own patients. With each interaction, I felt I left each family a bit better. I addressed parents concerns, and sometimes I just listened. I shared their burdens. It’s funny how that simple thing can be very hard in the cacophany of our modern world, but it’s sometimes the most important. If I as a doctor don’t acknowledge their illness and their symptoms, than did it happen? I need to acknowledge. I need to witness. I need to be present.
It’s 645AM and I’m blogging this morning to process everything that happened yesterday. My mother-in-law is puttering around the kitchen and has another upcycled matt someone gave her. Our house kind of ebbs and flows with the upcycled things that enter into it, and then exit out mostly donated to Goodwill or gifted to someone I know. Choosing to step off the consumerist wheel was one of the ways I have been able to be such an active climate and health advocate. When one stops shopping for fun, you gain so much of your time back.
We still buy things here and there, but choosing to value things and people as precious and non-disposable has been the core of my activism. That has been true for most of us in this work. I’m looking out into our backyard garden, and it’s so gorgeous and worthy of any eco-magazine. You can’t replicate it, because it’s upcycled planters and tomatoes overflowing with hidden sweet cherry tomatoes. It’s our rosemary bush that was propogated from my friend Dr. Jill Gustafson’s cutting several years ago. We don’t have to buy rosemary anymore. It’s the plethora of flowers from rescued plants my mother-in-law picks up from friends and the local Sprouts, whose manager knows her well and is happy to have her take the plants that would otherwise be thrown out. Yellows, reds, and little white flowers that look with baby’s breath from where I sit. Even the vegetables when they are seeding give off flowers, as we save the seeds for next season. It’s tended with a loving hand and appreciated by our sustainable family, knowing that we are a part of nature and the result is this confusing yet sensible mess.
It was a frustrating three hours on the virtual queue again yesterday to give public comment at the San Diego City Council budget meeting. Riley Gilbertson, one of our premedical advocacy interns, and I have been working on this leaded aviation fuel project for the last seven months. This is when we first heard about it from the Montgomery Gibbs Environmental Coalition. https://www.mgecsd.org/index.html
I’ve never understood regret. The Korean word for regret is 후회. Honestly, I don’t think I even know the word in Vietnamese despite being fluent. Just googled it. I do know the word. It’s tiếc. I guess I don’t hear my parents regretting that much growing up, unless it was a some food that was actually spilled. I remember once going to Costco (Price Club back in the day) and an entire large tray of eggs flipped and was summarily all broken and unedible. My father, young back then, had been joyriding on the shopping cart which caused the tray of eggs to be broken. My mother probably did regret it, and likely said ” tiếc” in Vietnamese. But I don’t think my father would have regretted that moment, because I remember him laughing and joyful and handsome in a young father way.
So here I am, older than my father when he was joy riding in the Costco (formerly Price Club) parking lot on the shopping cart. The tray of eggs, since they were mostly biodegradable, have been cycled back into the earth somehow (hopefully). And I’m thinking of regrets.
I’m thinking of regrets because I talk to more people now. No, that’s not true. I’m listening to more people now. I’m trying to share the burden of more of my friends, especially climate friends. And what I’m hearing is regrets. I’m hearing reflections. I’m hearing them processing professional and personal experiences and wondering, was it worth that time? Was it worth all those sessions preparing, when the session did not go as planned? After the comments, after the rejections, was it worth it?
I listenend and shared and tried to reflect some of their emotions back. Friends are dealing with it. Job rejections. Grant rejections. Feedback that may be intended to be constructive but feels like professional rejection or dismissal of your efforts.
I don’t have regrets. That’s all I can tell the readership. It’s your journey and it’s often circuitous, and that wandering in life is what makes it yours. Maybe that’s the commonality among those I love personally and professionally and their difficulty in processing things. They’ve never been rejected that much, and they live with too much regret when it rarely happens.