You Have Given Me Courage: drplasticpicker joins in with the AAP Committee on Climate Change and Health and Climate Health Now
January 21, 2020
The hours I have spent transversing the shore and the sandcliffs, mostly by myself, has centered my mind and reconnected me with the rhythms of the earth. I am by nature a more solitary and introverted person, which will surprise many who know me in real life. Social gatherings usually drain me, and I need to be by myself or with loved ones to feel normal again. It was the cacophany of the modern world and the spinning chaos of management that almost broke me. I have written about my bout with tension headaches that are now gone, thanks to the ocean plastic picking and the time outside. And now I am whole again, and every time I feel irritated or petty – I make sure to take a walk and pick up some plastic, and then I am drplasticpicker again and know where my path lies.
My focus is still the ocean and simply getting to the beach, and picking up little pieces of plastic. My focus is still trying to show my patients that nature can heal, and bring my work friends and little patients to join me. As of today, I have picked up 130 grocery bags full of trash and salvaged 558 items from the beach and redeployed back into the world to use. I found a pen yesterday near one of the storm drains, and after washing it – it still works great! It’s sanitized with bleach.
But the ocean waves and life have gently nudged me away from the shore for a bit, and I feel a calling to bring this persona drplasticpicker to help with the larger climate crisis. Knowing that we have about a decade to avert the worse of the climate crisis and seeing the state of the plastic pollution in the ocean, has given me some urgency to join up and to help and to bring my perspective and my enthusiasm to the table.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Climate Change and Health: A wonderful group within the AAP that has been working on climate issues, long before I wandered onto the beach near my house. They are working to create a national AAP network of climate advocates. I have had the honor of being in email communication with Dr. Lori Byron who is on the Executive Committee for COEH (Committee for Environmental Health), and had a long career with the Indian Health Service and past AAP Montana President. The national leadership just gave them the go-ahead to identify a “climate advocate” representative for each state or Chapter and Chapter 3: San Diego did not have one. Then through a work connection, my name came up because someone heard I was picking up plastic.
Lori has been wonderful and patient to hearing my meandering reply. I wrote her “I have felt a bit lost, trying to figure things out on the beach by myself – working with local litter picking/beach cleaning groups and within XXX and locally within our area. I am so happy to connect through the AAP. My office mates and I just went to the AAP New Orleans meeting and it was so wonderful, and I am reenergized to work under our professional group’s umbrella. We are definitely more effective together.” And then dear friends, I had to remember to check if I had paid my local Chapter dues and signed up to be part of the Environmental Health Section! Which I had not, and after trying to find my AAP login number and found the right part of the website – I paid up $160. It was well worth the money! I think I will need to be approved by the executive director of the local chapter. But either way, I’m more excited to just help either as part of a larger group or as the main “climate advocate” for the chapter. It is purely a volunteer position as most things that are worthwhile in advocacy are.
I even now have a bio sketched out by them already, so exciting! Obviously I have my real name there rather than Dr. Plastic Picker. Some details have been changed to retain my anonymity.
I am Dr. Plastic Picker from XXX San Diego and am Middle Manager of Pediatrics. I have worked primarily as one of the physician leads in our outpatient pediatric department, as well as head of Pediatric After Hours Clinic and the Middle Manager for all quality measures. My environmental advocacy is something that I have been doing outside of my normal professional duties, and am just now trying to incorporate it into my HMO leadership role and as my role as a community pediatrician. I am from San Diego originally and graduated from Bonita Vista High School’s International Baccalureate Program, and did all my training in Boston through the Crimson system and was Chief Resident and trained in Pediatric Endocrinology at Man’s Greatest Hospital and NIH. I practice outpatient general pediatrics.”
Climate Health Now Network: I have also been in contact with a wonderful pediatrician Dr. Amanda Millstein who is co-founder of Climate Health Now (climatehealthnow.org). She wrote me that “the aim of our group is to create a growing network of activated health professionals who are prepared to work at their local level to promote climate health policies. We are young but growing quickly. ” They need some San Diego representation and there is much excitement among some that I know. Initially I was hesitant and I wrote Dr. Millstein, “I would like to help out and am connected with younger pediatricians as well who also may love to be involved. Full disclosure is that I’m a Pediatric Middle Manager at Generic HMO and maintain a full practice along with all that management stuff and kids/family, and life overrunneth. Then I started this crazy blog @drplasticpicker where I pick up ocean plastic most mornings, and instagram account and then it’s been wonderful and crazy and I feel like I’m making an impact via that weird realm as well. But in the end I am as scared as everyone else and I know this is a crisis, so I want to explore what you guys are doing and help out – but still figure out what is the best way to put my efforts. My primary focus is the ocean and plastic pollution right now.”
Dr. Millstein and I emailed back and forth for a bit, and then sometimes the rain stops and the sun emerges – and you know your path.
I wrote when I agreed to jump on board to Dr. Millstein, “What is the idiom “jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire”? I was telling my husband that it is ironic that I began cleaning the beach as an outlet 6 months ago due to middle managment / work stress and tension headaches. The beach walks helped me with my stress and tension headaches and they are mostly gone. And now life is even busier but in a more wonderful and meaningful way. I really have felt the ocean and being on the beach cleaning the little bits of plastic has reconnected me with nature, and that same nature is now hurting. It’s funny how when I’m at the beach in the morning and I see the dead birds and lizards, and the seagulls swallowing plastic food containers (it’s all on my instagram feed) – there is really no question what the right thing to do.
So I am interested in helping out with Climate Health Now network. I can more importantly get other pediatricians who are itching for some activism and leadership. Thank you also for your work, especially with your clinical work and family responsibilities as well. It’s funny how it falls on a lot of mothers. This week is a bit crazy for me because I’m meeting with XXX, and have a bunch of work/quality meetings coming up. But if I know at least a week beforehand regarding any virtual meetings, I can try to open my schedule to attend. Thank you for reaching out! Excited to help out and I’ll stop by your website to read up on your group soon. Probably better to channel my energies to some advocacy as well.”
Agreeing to throw my hat in as Committee Chair on Climate Change and Health and maybe sole member from AAP Chapter 3, and being the inaugural member from San Diego of Climate Health Now Network all happened on Sunday night. That same day, I finished getting all our Girl Scroup Troop Cadette uniforms and delivered to my co-leaders house, got ready to be Cookie Troop Manager again, ordered and organized the Cajun Food themed party for the office that happened this Monday, commiserated by Mr. Plastic Picker as he is ill from a bad case of influenzae, added to my trash art, visited my mom, and finished the requisite charts and patient follow up calls. Yet no headaches. Amazing.
One little toddler I had been worried about and calling everyday is better now. Weirdly her respiratory panel came back with mycoplasma, so I’m glad I had added on azithromycin for extra coverage and she is getting better. Mycoplasma has been weird these last few years, causing really high fevers and pneumonias in little kids.
So I continue on this journey, and I am impressed how writing now 111 blog post has improved my prose so much! I really was self-satisfied and impressed with the emails I sent out on Sudnay night and I figured I’d get double credit and just write a blog about them. And for those that are following, you have given me courage to come out of my introverted shell and wander away from the beach for a bit. I will still be picking up plastic (not today because it’s weirdly raining in Southern Calfironia), but @drplasticpicker has now applied to be sole member and “climate advocate” for AAP Chapter 3 San Diego and inaugural San Diego member for Climate Action Now Network. Please let me know if you are a physician via instagram or facebook message or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to come along with me on this activism and be on the AAP San Diego’s Committee on Climate Change and Health and/or San Diego chapter ofr Climate Health Now!