Introducing Cyborg Frog: Bionic Eco-Warrior
November 28, 2020
I am always eager to get up in the morning (its 4:44 AM, yes three 4s in a row) to write to you. This morning I got up trying not to wake Mr. Plastic Picker or irritate the 12-pound poodle fur ball that sleeps with us as well, But very little will deter me from sitting in front of the computer tapping away on my laptop. I turn on the electric hot water kettle, check on my vinegar projects (which sits on the shelf under the coffee station) and give it a quick stir, and then settle down to write. Literally this morning I woke up and thought, “what nonsense can I write about this morning?”
At some point about 5 years ago, I remember getting up from a patient room which is commonly filled with laughter as I’m rolling off another joke or a pithy life observation when I said, “I’ll be back after this commerical break.” I actually didn’t even mean that as a joke. I just paused in astonishment in front of the family and we looked at each other. And I started laughing and confessed, “That’s actually how I think of the patient rooms as I’m juggling several families. Each of you is a TV show, and I’m popping back and forth as one of the recurring characters.” The young parent nodded smiling. I’m not sure if my patients keep on coming back for my Crimson University level of medical care or my jokes. I think they come because my team (especially Nurse L) treat them like family. But I have thought that at times, my patient families did not mind the humour. I figure it was like a bonus. They came in for a clinical opinion, and if they left with a good feeling and a good experience that went beyond the barebones history, exam, and prescription – why not? These days, I’ll actually trying to change the world through each patient interaction by painting for my patients how some of our chronic health problems (obesity, hypertension, asthma) are related to climate change. Since I have to explain to some families why I became Dr. Plastic Picker which is mired in grief and pain, I often am shedding tears with families more than laughing these days. It’s actually really important I have realized to share this origin story when it’s appropriate, because I have to reintroduce myself and my new way of practicing to patients I have had for over a decade. Sometimes the humor and my happiness in life prevented me from seeing the children’s grief. Sometimes probably my humour was very self-centered, and more about me and my story. I was with a patient I have known since she was little, and I am not sure why I did not know – but her father died years ago while she was under my care. I know much of it is because her family is prviate and did not volunteer this information. But I asked her about her life, and truly listened – and a teenager who has been having migraines and dizziness told me her dad died many years ago. I looked at her and asked, “was I your doctor back then?” And she looked at me and nodded. I sat there and I cried because what in the world was I doing that I didn’t know that her father had died?
It’s a big responsibility being a pediatrician. It’s not easy. A lot of people think it’s giving out stickers and dancing around like Dr. McStuffin. I did kind of feel like Dr. McStuffin yesterday when I found this flattened fluffy frog on one of my litter-picking walks. Here he is after a hot wash in the laundry machine and dried. I opted against the dryer sheet as we have wool dryer balls now.
He is so soft and a beautiful shade of green. I sat down at my trash art station that is filled with cleaned and sanitized bits of beach plastic that I’ve found. I had a cleaned but damanged black mask that had one of those expiratory valves that we don’t recommend for clinic. These masks protect the wearer but not the others in the room if the wearer happens to have COVID. I knew I wanted to give my damaged frog an eye. So I mostly used the mask to form his eye, and made him a cape as well He is stuffed with a blue intact ribbed tank top that my mother-in-law had tossed into the Goodwill pile. I just left the entire tank top intact and it filled him out perfectly. As he came to life, I needed to sew the back closed – but I realized he needed a bit more room. I’m really good with the glue gun these days, and the funny thing about plastic is that plastic sticks to plastic really well when you put hot plastic in betweeen it (which is what a hot glue gun does). So I was taking apart a different trash art piece that had not gone as expected, and saved an old Girl Scout Fun Patch from our Encampment years ago. I just glued the Girl Scout Patch to close in the stuffing, and it gave my frog friend a bit more room inside for his now full form instead of just sewing him closed. I cut two of the those plastic membership cards that proliferate our lives, and decorated the back of the frog. I includes the frog from the National Park Pass featured a few years ago and reads “America The Beautiful” and also filled in the back with the pretty Ice Cream Logo from a Cold Stone Creamery card. I even added a little yellow belt for my now Cyborg Frog.
Indeed, I made an entire playset for Cyborg Frog. I had a cleaned Panera Mac and Cheese container, and I lined it with plastic leaves made from an old dodge ball. When I cut the dodge ball apart, it revealed this intense beautiful green color. I played around with the rubbery plastic dodge ball, trying to use all parts of the beautiful green. I ended up making Cyborg Frog a lilly pad.
Cyborg frog even has a ball that comes with him. You can sit there with him and try to flip the ball into the lilly pad or just have him rest inside the lilly pad.
I really love this Cyborg Frog. When I sit down to make stuff, I really don’t have an agenda. It is just whatever nature brought me yesterday during my litter-pick. I had been watching Star Trek Discovery and there is a character that is augmented with an artificial eye. I think that’s probably somewhat what I was thinking about.
I’m not sure why but I was thinking about one of my teenage patients. We are connected more now, and I apologized to her. I apologized to her that I wasn’t there for her when her dad died, and I couldn’t get myself out of my own head to ask. I told her that all her headaches and all the things that she is going through, have something to do with that grief that loss of her parent. I ordered some tests and gave her concrete suggestions about sleep, iron rich foods and meditation. We agreed to talk again. She has a lot to work out with her mother. But I said to her, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry that your dad died.” And I’m still crying now even two weeks later.
Dammit. I was going to write about my funny Cyborg Frog. It’s really hard being a pediatrician. I have a good number of kids that I’ve taken care of since birth or early childhood who have lost a parent. I remember those moments when they were babies, even if parents don’t think I do. I remeber those fleeting moments of how your dad held you when he came with your mom to my office. I remember arguing with him and laughing with him regarding Malcom X and why a black guy from Detroit should trust an Asian doctor regarding vaccines. I remember how tall and strong your dad was when he refused the flu shot and then later died, the primary bread winner of his family. When you asked me over the teen video appointment, “You remember Dr. X why Thanksgiving and Christmas is hard for us right? My dad died?” Yes, I remember. I remember your mom’s beautiful face when she brought you in for asthma and we argued about the HPV vaccine and how I wasn’t sure if the inhaled corticosteroid was causing some of your weight gain, despite the reassurance of some studies. When I look at your aunt now that brings you in, I see your mom’s beautiful skin starkly in front of me. And for little Ashely who died of cancer, I see you every time I see your father around our clinic building at work. I think of you every time I joke around with him that he should stop smoking.
I see it all now. I tried to have this teflon barrier around my heart, and about a year and half ago it split wide open. It’s helped me be a better doctor to all those kids who have lost your mom or dad. I need to remember that because when something like that happens, it’s one of the hardest things a kid can go through. It’s really unfair when your mom or dad dies. You may still have your uncle, your mom’s sister, your grandparents but it’s not the same.
That’s not much I can do. I can be there for you now, and chat with you more often. One teenager told me, “You really care? You really remember her?” Of course I do I told him. His mother I remember very well. When his aunt told me about her unexpected death, I felt like I had just seen them eventhough it was over 6 months ago. That moment I lost it, and had to go sit in Dr. Dear Friend’s office to collect myself before going to the next patient room.
I’m so sorry for pouring this out to you dear reader. In the end this blog is my form of self-therapy where when I sit in front of the computer in the early mornings and think I’m going to write some kind of nonsense. But this morning in the quiet and looking at my happy Cyborg Frog, those thoughts that are in the back of my mind came into clear focus. It helps to cry. It helps to write it out. A poem, A picture, A photograph. Trash art. These emotions, we have to work through them. We have to clean them, and reorder them into something beautiful and useful.
So Cyborg Frog is done. He is loved. He can go on to do great things. I was going to keep him for myself, but I know there is a family that asked for a trash art piece and I will give it to this little boy who has autism. Cyborg Frog helped Dr. Plastic Picker unexpectedly work through some emotions. His green happy form will be gifted to a child, a testament that everyone deserves a second chance at happiness and to be loved. Especially my patients. Hugs to you all. Your pediatrician really cares about you.