Plastic continued

We all have our obsessions. For Beth Terry it’s minimizing the plasticization of our world (especially the oceans). Though I’m not quite as obsessed, I try to follow most of her 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life. I generally draw the line at alternatives that are vastly inferior to the plastic version, but I may want to try this alternative to commercial mouth rinse, just because it looks like so much fun to make.

The U.S. government is perpetuating the plastic waste problem by disallowing all but the smallest containers of liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. While the TSA doesn’t require that one’s toiletries be in plastic bottles, that’s pretty much what everyone uses. And the airlines aren’t helping the situation: by charging so much for checked bags (solids and stripes too), they encourage people to buy more and more tiny plastic containers.

Then there are so-called “eyeglasses.” The first pair I got that was made of plastic felt ridiculously insubstantial on my face. Now I’m used to them, and you’d be hard-pressed to find plastic-free lenses, though apparently glass is making a comeback as a “luxury” item.

It’s weird how stuff that’s good for you, or for the planet, tends to cost extra. Another example: Chinese restaurants that charge extra for brown rice. Maybe if I could be put on ice for 100 years I would reawaken in a less stupid world. But I’d be more likely to find that humans had destroyed their habitat and each other, leaving the earth in the capable hands of cockroaches.


How can we keep from crying?

What surprises me is that everyone in the world isn’t depressed. How can people keep hearing about global warming, garbage patches, pollution, and the evils of plastic, and not be depressed when they see whole aisles of disposable diapers at the store? Am I the only one who feels utterly hopeless when buying dental floss, wine, and anything else that is going to contribute to the burden of waste, which is to say almost anything? Am I the only one who thinks the only way I can truly make a difference is by not existing and therefore not consuming and therefore not producing tons of waste?

Although the waste is particularly egregious in the facility where I spent the last week, the outside world is only marginally less discouraging. Do most people ever think about where their paper and plastic drink cups will go after they discard them (in the trash or on my lawn)? Why don’t more people give up their cars and use public transit? I can answer that one: Because they would get really depressed if they stopped driving. In fact, my latest bout of depression has lasted off and on for about 10 years, which is to say for about as long as it’s been since I gave up my car. Coincidence?

So maybe there’s a quick fix for my depression, but only if the car I buy is all-electric. After I sell my house, I’ll give it some serious thought. I couldn’t shoulder the responsibility of owning both a house and a car simultaneously.


After a week in stir, I didn’t wait very long to get a beer, unless you count the time spent perusing the menus at the many overpriced airport eateries, looking in vain for something vegan. (True to their overly cautious nature, the nursing staff had ordered me a cab that deposited me in the terminal three hours before my flight, so I had plenty of time for perusal.) I eventually settled on the one place that served some local beers. Once seated, I learned that the menu of “seasonal specials” included a veggie burger—a Christmas miracle! I guess people who want to give a gift to the planet go to Bar Symon at Dulles on Xmas Day and have a vegan meal.

Meanwhile, at Moe’s Bar & Grill, airport employees are apparently getting their holiday meal. A buffet table is laid out with all the typical foods, which people pile into throwaway containers. Some then have their pictures taken in groups. Must be nice to have a job.

My father once got stranded at an airport (JFK probably) waiting for a flight (to Japan possibly). During the hours of waiting, I think he sent at least three postcards to our mother. So apparently this business of writing at airports is in my blood.

My plan is to get full of food and beer, and possibly a Xanax, and then sleep for the whole six hours of plane time. [EDIT: Plan did not work well. I slept for maybe 90 minutes and spent the rest of the time listening to Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book and avoiding the cute little girl next to me watching Shrek.]

Last night, after watching School of Rock and My Cousin Vinny, patient H and I went for a walk around the deserted campus. It would certainly be a fascinating place to hang out for several weeks, with interesting talks by cutting-edge researchers. Sort of like living in Berkeley except that all the talks would have a biomedical angle and there would be no wine served before or after.

If only I could find a research protocol that doesn’t require locking me up and taking my crochet hooks, nail clippers, razor, plastic bags, and cords. Sadly, my husband just mailed me some kosher cords a few days ago (a set of earbuds and a short phone charger). Someone will need to return the packages. Maybe this happens all the time, just as the nurse practitioner reassured me that “all the time” people get discharged without getting into a protocol.

Last night the D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus visited the Clinical Center to sing to the patients and staff on every unit. Afterwards they were given cider and cookies (or “Saturn cookies” as my father once heard it spoken by a Tennessee-bred coworker). Today I wrote to the Freedom from Religion Foundation to complain about this egregious promotion of religion, plus the fact that the entire unit was festooned with Christmas trappings, including a large tree. I will also be writing to the NIHCC Patient Representative to voice my displeasure with several things about my stay, most of all the scheduling snafu that had them bring me to the center more than six weeks before there would be any protocol I could join. I wonder if airing my complaints will get me blacklisted as a potential patient.


With 24 hours left in my sentence, I naturally begin to wonder if I shouldn’t stay. It’s not as if I have a happy, fulfilling life to return to. Yes, I have some obligations, but I could easily shirk my duties if I thought it would do me a lick of good to remain hospitalized.

The trouble is that I don’t see myself as someone with a treatable illness but rather as someone with an obnoxious personality and failed life. There is no cure for being a certifiable loser. I feel bad for taking up space (thought admittedly there’s plenty to spare this week) in this facility where kind, suffering souls come to recover their well-deserved sense of well-being.

So I will return to my half-life, feeling half-dead, and continue to wonder what I could possibly do to redeem myself. I had thought the answer was to donate my body to science, for use both before and after death. So far the pre-death part isn’t working all that well, but I’ll keep looking. Today I read in the Washington Post (yes, an actual physicial paper in the patient library, where there was no meter ticking for each article I read) that the NIAAA is conducting research into women and alcohol. Maybe that’s an area I could pursue, though I imagine that I exceed the upper age limit, as with about 90 percent of clinical trials.

The folks who interviewed me here sure made me feel like I had an alcohol problem, because I generally consume about one drink per day. Going without it for a week hasn’t been an issue for me, but I imagine I’ll get back into my drink-a-day rut once I’m home.

I suspect that the real answer to feeling better about myself, and everything else, is to stop dwelling on myself and to dwell instead on everything else. That is, to dwell in the land of impersonal things: science, computers, music, literature, plants, animals, and other people who are just as messed up as I am but manage not to bore the pants off the Internet with their constant whinging.



Today I mustered my assertiveness and insisted on leaving in two days. So the social worker rushed to identify my community providers, and the travel office booked me a United flight that must have cost the hospital an arm and a leg.

The staff claims that I’m welcome to return any time. It remains to be seen if I will ever feel sick enough to be hospitalized for experimental treatment. I imagine that most of the patients in this building do feel that sick; those with mood disorders appreciate the caring attention they receive, and some probably do need to be protected from their own self- or other-destructive impulses. So far that’s not me. Not yet.

Meanwhile I try to be sociable with patient H and the plethora of staff. Today I helped make pizza with H and the occupational therapist, who leads these cooking projects every week. A backslid vegan, I’ve eaten more cheese in the last week than in the last year. I’ve also watched more TV than in the last decade, including much Jeopardy!, an episode of The Outer Limitsand enough of The Andy Griffith Show that I could probably write a doctoral dissertation on Opie’s relationship with Barney.

Today I learned that there are deer on the campus, so I went out hunting and caught a few brunching by a creek. Most had been tagged, but I saw at least one that seemed untracked. Pictured below is deer 78, a doe if my understanding of antleredness is correct.


I also tried to visit the National Library of Medicine, but it, like much else on campus, had closed early for the loooong holiday weekend. Damn holidays.

An exhibit of gingerbread houses on the first floor represents hundreds of hours of work on the part of NIH employees, not to mention all the foodstuffs-turned-art-materials. Damn holidays.

The only thing scheduled for tomorrow is a charitable visit by the DC Gay Men’s Chorus. I feel like I should be here for it, because the audience will otherwise be shamefully minuscule. Before that event I may go into DC for the first and last time, but I doubt that I’ll feel that ambitious.

Today I made a second hat. (My return baggage just keeps getting bulkier.) In the time it took me tonight to crochet 2/3 of a hat, H was able to make about four, complete with pompons, on the circular loom. His are sturdier, thicker, and more attractive than mine. I told him that he should start selling them through the gift shop or an Etsy store. They’d be a great fund-raiser for the center, much more useful and durable than gingerbread houses.

H is a young man of many talents who, despite being in a phase of withdrawal from all medications, is friendly, funny, and articulate. Although he has said that he cries every night, it’s hard to believe that he suffers from crippling anxiety, depression, and various neurological disorders. A dedicated research partner, who clearly feels comfortable in this environment, he has been a great resource for all things related to the unit, the campus, and the metropolitan area. He gets along well with all the nurses, including the strange and off-putting one with whom I’ve had a couple of brief squabbles. (He told me tonight that she’s thought to have Asperger’s. Since I too come across as strange and off-putting, I should have more empathy for her, except that we Aspies don’t really do empathy.)

For the last three days the hot water has ranged from absent to barely there. Once or twice a day someone goes up and down the hall turning on all the showers, under instructions to “clear the lines.” Apparently there was some construction mishap on campus that no one seems to know how to fix reliably. In the meantime we’re supposed to be drinking only bottled water, but of course I refuse to do that, preferring to get lead poisoning rather than contribute further to environmental degradation.


It’s going to be a very quiet weekend on 7NE-S, with one of the two other patients away. I will try not to get too depressed about the fact that I’m locked up on a psych ward for Xmas. It’s my own damn fault, and I did it for research purposes (both mine and theirs), so I really can’t complain.

I suppose it’s no worse than spending Xmas eve and morn alone in a Swedish hotel, as I did in 1971. In fact, it’s arguably better, as I will have all my meals provided and a few people to be social with in a language I can speak. And I have devices for communication and entertainment that we could only have dreamed of back then, even if I must watch them being recharged through the glass of a locked door.

But it’s frustrating that I must spend the weekend here at all, because I am allegedly being discharged next week. Again, that’s a matter of choice. They say that if I hung around for at least another four weeks they could get me into a study, which would begin with a 2-week period of taking no drugs (even though I already am virtually drug-free). I don’t think I want to spend another 6 weeks here before actually participating in research.

In fact, I would love to leave tomorrow, but they won’t let me go until they’ve identified people to provide the care I need “in the community.” A social worker is working on that. I talked to her today and learned that she will basically use the same techniques I’ve used to identify the many providers I’ve tried (I listed all of them for her so that she doesn’t waste time contacting them). I’m happy to leave the identifying in her hands, but I’d be happier if they’d just let me go.

It really doesn’t seem right that after I volunteered my body and brain for research, they can now hold me hostage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell them that it’s my way and the highway. I have a suspicion that they’re hoping I’ll decide not to stay, because I’ve been a troublemaker, and that meanwhile they will make my life as miserable as possible, to punish me. Perhaps I’m sicker than any of us thought.


This being The Holidays, the “patient census” is very low, so there are few scheduled activities. During normal times, the recreation therapy department organizes lots of outings and special events, in addition to regular offerings like yoga, relaxation, bingo, creative arts, and therapy dogs. I was disappointed but not surprised that there are no therapy cats, given the notorious feline indifference to human wishes, but the RT told me that there’s another reason: Cats can be carriers of HIV-1. At least I think that’s what she said. So far I’ve seen no evidence for that, but battery life is too damn short for me to look very hard.

Everyone—patients and nurses—has kept busy making hats on circular looms. Today I finally got some yarn of my own from the RT department, but I’m opting to crochet my hat. The trouble is that I have to turn in my hooks at the end of each day. I haven’t figured out how one could do much harm with a size H hook, but I guess people in mental anguish are pretty resourceful.

The nurses here weren’t aware that blood pressure readings can be inaccurate if taken soon after eating. (“Avoid food, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol for 30 minutes before taking a measurement.”) Naturally I have made a pest of myself by refusing to be measured right after a meal. I’ve also had a couple of misunderstandings with one of the evening nurses, but the two long-term tenants tell me that it’s her, not me. I actually think it’s both of us.

Even with the low census, the unit is fully staffed. During the day shift there’s one nurse per patient; in the evenings we each get 2/3 of a nurse. There are also many auxiliary professionals (psychologists, social workers, etc.) and support staff. Someday perhaps I’ll try to estimate how much the taxpayers are shelling out to keep me here. Thank goodness Trump will soon be eliminating this “terrible” agency.

NIHCC Day 2.5

When I returned from my MRI yesterday, the two other inmates were playing Scrabble with the recreation therapist. I joined the game, and we decided that next time we might play a version where you can use only abbreviations or acronyms. The RT told us that, according to a former patient, NIH means “not in a hurry.”

One thing that makes me very depressed here is the amount of waste. Not only does lots of food get thrown away, but much of it is served in disposable plastic. “We recycle our cans, bottles, and fryer oil,” proudly announces the Nutrition Department. A newsletter article from 8 years ago promises the ND will “go green,” with its manager “committed to taking small steps one at a time to find what’s right for the CC.” So much for good intentions. One thing that would help both the environment and the patients would be an online menu with searchable text and checkboxes instead of the broadsheets distributed each day for marking with pen.

It isn’t just the dietary department that’s wasting resources. The toilets are all set to flush automatically after any use (luckily mine sometimes forgets), the nurses distribute pills in plastic cups with paper-cup chasers, and there are tons of paper used to complete surveys, inform patients of their rights, etc. Giant paper lawn-and-leaf bags  in the rooms and bathrooms are, I think, changed daily no matter how little trash is in them. I’ve set up an experimental protocol to test this hypothesis. [Result (of writing a discreet X on the side of each bag): Yes, they’re changed every day, but only if there’s at least one iota of trash in them.]

If I drop out of the program, it will be mainly because violating my principles so many times a day is not good for my health.


After a 3-hour SCID (probably the Clinical Trials version, but I’m not privy to such details), I think I’ve acquired some new diagnoses: insect phobia, panic disorder, and perhaps a touch of OCD. Probably more. As with most elements of a study protocol, this interview was not supposed to provide any benefit to me, so there’s no reason for them to share with me any of the findings.

Of course they’ll tell me of any finding that would exclude me from the available studies. Perhaps this morning’s blood work or this afternoon’s MRI will reveal an unacceptable illness or deformity. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Today I was allowed to go for my first unaccompanied walk in the building. I visited the “farmers market,” which, at this time of year anyway is more of a bakers-and-crafters market; ogled some gift-shop tchotchkes; and checked out two library books. Tomorrow promises to be slightly warmer, so I may venture out to the rest of the campus. Thursday will be warmer still, so I plan to walk to town, even though I’m likely to encounter even more Xmas hoopla than in this allegedly secular institution.

One of the most disturbing things I’ve discovered here is that the soap dispensed in the bathrooms contains triclosan. I’ve mentioned it to three nurses, only one of whom seemed concerned, and none of whom were aware that triclosan is a harmful substance that’s been banned by the very government that pays their salaries. The ban applies only to “consumer” products, not products used in health care settings. But aren’t patients in hospitals essentially consumers? I really don’t understand this double standard (and life is too damn short to look it up).

Nurse N was kind enough to bring me two bars of innocuous soap, but that won’t do much to save us all from drug-resistant bacteria or endocrine disruption. The main thing I accomplished with my complaint was to cement my reputation as a crank. If I keep this up, they’ll surely let me go.


Nurse N: Can I bring you anything?

Me: My autonomy.

This after two other nurses had ransacked my luggage, confiscating everything considered to be potentially life-threatening, e.g., plastic bags, device chargers, crochet hooks, and, the inventory says, my “twizzor.” Also my umbilical cord, i.e., headphones, which they won’t be giving back as long as I’m here I can apparently use when I go “off the unit,” i.e., around the Clinical Center or into town. Yay! Earbuds have been ruled nonlethal, so I might invest in a cheap pair.

I just need to keep reminding myself that these measures are in place to keep everyone safe from themselves and each other. It’s nothing personal. Nurse N says the first 24 hours are the hardest. Apparently after that you happily relinquish your autonomy.

One area where I would love to have less autonomy is in figuring out what I’m going to eat. Every day we have to put together three meals for the next day, from an extensive menu. First I tried the vegan menu, but it’s very sad and uninspired, so I’ll be trying to pick mostly vegan items from the main menu, with the occasional guilt-inducing pancake or chocolate chip cookie. I will also try to order mostly finger food, because we mood-disordered folk aren’t allowed to have stainless flatware. Instead we get flimsy throw-away plastic, not ideal for eating, say, a lettuce-and-tomato-topped veggie patty (for some reason it was served sans bread).

On the plus side, the two other patients/subjects I’ve met seem nice. Both have been here for months; one is a repeat customer, practically a professional study subject. I also had a chat with our designated chaplain, a cantor who leads a Wednesday sing-along in the activity room for us and the schizophrenics next door. There’s an out-of-tune piano in that room, and the library has guitars to lend. So this could be a great place for a musician who needs a rest cure (and isn’t too picky about piano pitch).