Community Building, Planetary Awareness, and Mentorship: I’m planting little activist trees
July 2, 2020
I had a full day of clinic yesterday and everyone showed up. I was mostly catching up on physicals. We are desperately trying to make sure we get the vaccination rates up. Because of COVID-19, the national vaccination rates have plummetted and we are worried about the collatoral damage of a vaccine preventable disease outbreak among children especially measles. I’m on the vaccine planning committees for our HMO and we are getting ready for drive-through vaccine campaigns and have generally been very proactive in this work. Our area’s vaccine rates have not plummeted and have indeed remained steady, and hopfully will increase with our work.
But in addition to worrying about the COVID-19 pandemic and a possible secondary vaccine preventable disease outbreak among children, I always think about the climate and plastic pollution crisis. You would think I would have a return of my middle management headaches. Indeed as I talked to another irate pediatrcian yesterday on my drive home, and tried to actively listen to their concerns about the lack of PPE – I did have a little bit of a nagging headache. And then I didn’t expect to work in the afternoon but stayed for a full clinic day. But then I came home, and Mr. Plastic Picker had made a vegetarian dinner with grilled cheese, salad, and cherries. And the cherries were so sweet yesterday! My body felt tired and rather than forcing myself to pick up plastic or run, I went to sleep early. I checked Instagram and all my eco-aware Instagram friends are very excited about plastic-free July. And then I went to sleep with a clear mind, and woke up fine. No headache.
I think why I’m better these days, is that I always have the environment and the earth on my mind. And as I’m trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, working on planning for vaccinations, and even just trying to take care of my own health (I have a breast ultrasound today) – I think about plastic and the earth and let that joyful environmental work pervade those other parts of my life. COVID-19 might give me headaches. Anti-maskers definitely give me headaches. And anti-vaxers is definitely migraine-territory. But talking about plastic pollution, gives me focus.
I bring to this environmental work a large skillset. I sometimes forget that in my mid-40s and at the peak of my career now, I have many skills. I was an academic advisor and premedical advisor at Crimson University for over a decade. I’m a decent communicator. I’m a pediatrician that is trusted in my community and by our HMO upper management. I’m fiscally responsible and good with budgets, and thinking about cost-efficient ways to manage our department and the world. And I’m happy. Being happy gets one pretty far in life.
As Dr. Plastic Picker I’m trying to leverage all these skills to engage my real life community around plastic pollution and climate change. I’m trying to build planetary awareness. I am trying to mentor future environmental leaders. I have my breast ultrasound today, and they ask you to save 2 hours in case they find something suspicious and need to do a biopsy. I asked Mr. Plastic Picker in passing, as this is within his department, what the chances are that I have cancer? My husband of almost 20 years said low. But he does not really know so I will entrust my care to the Breast Center specialist today at 245PM.
I entrust my care to professionals I trust. Parents entrust care of their children to me. And I also entrusted the care of the planet to myself and to all of us. This is what I have been working on lately.
- Handing Out Dr. Plastic Picker Bags Again! I have over 800 bags left. I brought 5 to work yesterday and handed out the bags to some of my families that are coming in for their yearly physicals. This brings awareness and the kids love it. Plus the bags are very pretty.
- Bamboo Toothbrushes: Paddle-Out Plastic is an Instagram Friend that is based out of LA. They clean LA Harbour when they go out on paddle boats. There was a deal through Zero Waste Cartel for bamboo toothbrushes, and I bought twenty which were less than $2 a piece. This is cheap for bamboo toothbrushes. For about $30, I will incorporate them in some sort of awareness about plastic at work or maybe hand it out to the kids as part of the Children’s Arts Council.
- Anti-Vaping Trash Art: Two of the pieces are at work. Since I’m seeing many tweens and teens, they have been powerful talking pieces about my anti-vaping and anti-plastic message. Most of the parents have never seen what vaping pens look like. I am hoping when they are driving home after our visit, the families are discussing this with the children.
- Dr. Sally Kaufman: She is an early career physician and has really grown in her environmental work. We are going along this ride together with a shared committment to the environment. I have been helpful in introducing her to other environmental activist in the community. It has been gratifying to see how much work she has accomplished in this short time with the AAP. She is working on helping create content for the AAP MOC 2 with one of the other climate advocates. I nominated her to join the Publish Health Advisory Board of Climate Actions Campaign as well, and she has been approved.
- Two AAP Climate Change & Health Interns: I am interviewing a second intern for our AAP Climate Change and Health Committee tomorrow. He is a premed student and this work will help him apply for medical school, but also will help the environment.
This work brings so much joy and hope, and a great counterweight to the stresses of COVID-19, falling vaccine rates and even my breast ultrasound today. I have to work on our Leadership Grid for our department, and give comments for our mentorship document. Next week I am slated to give a talk on HPV vaccines to our Urgent Care leadership to sell the story of vaccines. I finished the HPV presentation but need to edit it and practice. That will be my big project over the weekend. When their department asked about our lunch order, I told them I wanted 2 vegan lunches and we don’t need water bottles for RN Plastic Picker and myself.
And at some point, all these small and big actions I take on behalf of the environment will bear fruit. These actions are like planting a young sapling. These saplings are these small projects, these interns, these young early career pediatricians, these little patients. In total mosly through Eden Reforestration projects, I have planted 1468 new trees at 0.10 a piece. And as they grow, they will provide shade and regenerate the soil. They will provide oxygen for our earth, and more and more oxygen each passing year as they grow tall and strong. And growing trees are tools we use to combat climate change, more amazing than any carbon sequestering technology we could ever develop. And it’s crazy to think about, but all these mostly young people that I’ve handing out bags to, giving out toothbrushes, mentoring as AAP Climate Change and Health Interns, they are saplings and later on will be the largest carbon sequesters of them all – as they grow into their climate activism. These young are more powerful than anything.
I got a thank you email from my young cousin who graduated from UC Santa Cruz and starting off her young adult life. I had sent her a sustainable product for her graduation present. She wrote “Thank you so much for this gift, this was so thoughtful! I also received the tiffin and it’s perfect for me to bring to work. I have been looking for one of those! They sent me a free candle as well. I hope you are doing well and staying safe.” And in the body of that email was the donations email that went along with it. That email made me smile yesterday.