Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guess What? I Passed My Test...

It’s a classic Northwest day,rainy and chilly, just in time for the approach of the Memorial Day weekend. I passed my test yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny day-literally! Up on the teeter-totter I went. The view from up there in the land of relieved and proud was nice. For almost a day.

A little irritation set in later in the evening. I tried to chalk it up to the post-stress crash that was bound to happen. I have spent months gathering hundreds if not thousands of environmental health facts into every nook and cranny of my brain, shoving other things out the window when there was no more room. Of course the test does not consist of thousands of questions. Merely 250. There were so many clever facts that I did not get to share. Things that I worked so hard to remember…like the fact that leptospirosis is caused by rodent urine. I like to use ‘association’ to remember things.  I imagined a rodent had ‘leapt’ upon someone in the night and peed on the innocent victim’s pillow. It worked. And what about Brucellosis? A favorite of mine, otherwise known as Undulant fever, among other pseudonyms. Source is often contaminated milk. And so I pulled together a picture in my mind of a cow, complete with udders, named Bruce. Yep, I was particularly proud of that. But the test did not want to know about Bruce. Or rodent urine.  So now begins the process of purging some of these facts I won’t need, in order to make room for new information or the return of some discarded bits.

I awoke this morning after 6 hours of sleep with my leg muscles doing their best Jiffy Pop impersonation. I took a half a pill, which will only serve to make me tired in time for a staff meeting, lay there frustrated and in discomfort for a half hour and finally got up. Lucky readers, an extra post for you.
I woke up thinking about my dad. Missing my dad. Last night, as I was looking for some ‘baseball’ gear to wear to today’s themed staff meeting, I came across a Yankees T-shirt that we had given my dad the year he died. My stepmom kindly gave it back to me. It hangs in my closet, but I’ve never put it on. Some day, maybe. As I held it in my hand last night I thought, “14 years. It has been 14 years….I wish he could see me now. I wonder what he would think of my job. I wish I could tell him I passed my test.”

Sometimes I have those thoughts and they pass, life carries me off in a flurry of busyness. But I am having a little quiet time now I think. Just a little. And this morning my end of the teeter-totter is firmly planted on the ground and that’s okay. It’s just a different view for right now.
I got on Facebook when I woke up to try to distract myself. Instead I saw a post from a ‘friend’ commenting on a post of someone I don’t know.  This someone I don’t know…well their 54 year old mother from Terre Haute (my dad’s hometown) has died. Practically the exact age of my dad when he passed away. The weird part…she was born in the very town in the Pacific Northwest that I moved to when we left Indiana years ago, after my parents divorced. The very town I now work in.
I scrolled a bit further only to find another post about today being the anniversary of someone else losing a loved one to cancer.
Maybe that bothers me even more. About the questions that they didn’t ask on the test. Combined cancers are in the top 3 causes of death. We know that environmental exposures are the biggest cause of cancers. I work in the field of ‘environmental health’ and the test makes me an ‘expert’. Where are the cancer programs? Where are the statutes and regulations and rules and programs related to environmental cancer exposures. Other than a little shout out to radon and alpha particles, there was not a whole lot asked about cancer on my test.  But I have a whole lot to say. And maybe some day I’ll say it. For the moment I’m going to find my Yankees cap and head to work. Miss you dad. Guess what? I passed my test.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I am studying like a mad woman...there won't be much of a post this week. Tuesday is test day! In the meantime a few tidbits:

Someone from my bank called me a few weeks ago and introduced himself as my 'Relationship Banker'. So I made an appointment. Turns out he just wanted to talk about refinancing the house. I thought he could help me make wise relationship investments, decide which stocks to part with, perhaps consolidate some relationships...I don't know...I had so many options in my head.  Alas.

In today's studies I learned about a useful tool called a "scintillation detector". Oh how I wanted one! I could wander hallways, shopping malls and restaurants, waiting for the detector to alert me to a scintillating conversation. I envisioned a bright yellow light and the option to set it to 'vibrate', in case you wanted to eavesdrop instead of join in. But apparently it is only useful for identifying nuclides that emit beta radiation. And primarily a lab-based instrument to boot.  Again I say alas.

I know those of you in the world of environmental health are saying to yourselves right about now, “Oh B. Cereus Judy, enough with your attempts at wit.”  Sorry, RS delirium.

For a final little share- the photos are of my 89 year old grandmother and my mom on their road trip to Idaho. Documentation for last week’s “Thump” post. Look at that dust on the back of the car…hmm…don’t you wonder if they did a little spin? Caught some air on a country road? I wonder what was playing on the radio. I bet they had the windows down and the wind in their hair.  I want an orange car. I wish I could say that would be ‘vulnificus’!  But that’s not really a good thing. It would be pretty fun though!

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I have been trying to keep my eyes open lately in more ways than one. My efforts to stay in the moment and steer clear of my autopilot. My newfound sense of trauma exposure response and attempts to understand, and stop, some of the ways I deal with trauma. This includes ‘numbing out’, which completely blurs my vision. Sometimes I have just ‘seen enough’ and I want to look away. I have tried to look at myself and understand why I behave the way I do, think my thoughts, feel my feelings.
We miss so much when we get into the habit of closing our eyes. I know it is healthy to ‘check out’ once in awhile with a good book or a silly sitcom. Just be sure that you are doing so consciously. That you are not just frantically searching for something else to ‘see’ so that you don’t have to look at an unpleasant reality.

Last week, shortly after posting my blog, I received a text from a dear friend. It said, “Thump! (That was the sound of me jumping onto the other end of your teeter-totter) Love you!” It was a perfect message and it worked. That ‘thump’ lifted me a bit and caught me off guard just enough to make me open up my eyes.

I have a story for you: Imagine for a moment that you are driving down a road in the middle of Kansas and for two hours you have seen nothing but cows and smelled nothing but the ripe scent of CAFO’s. You may be tempted to stop looking around and keep your eyes firmly on the road in front of you. If you are the passenger it’s a good time to take a nap.
Now imagine that 30 minutes into the drive, a bright orange sports car came cruising up behind you. You look in the rearview mirror and are surprised to see that the car is driven by a woman who looks to be in her mid-60’s. As the tangerine car passes, you glance over and see an elderly wee, white-haired woman, easily into her ‘80’s, grinning at you from the passenger seat.  She gives a little wave and off they go. You might spend the next hour imagining what those women were up to, what is their ‘story’? You would scan each side road and rest stop, hoping for a glimpse of the colorful ladies. If it were me, I would probably keep a watchful eye on the rearview mirror. Why? Because I love the unexpected! I love a mystery, an incongruity, an interesting juxtaposition. And if it can happen once, it can happen again! It’s important to remember this about the lovely moments in life, not just the scary and frightening. “If it can happen once, it can happen again”.

You may be wondering why I chose such an odd metaphor to encourage you to keep your eyes open? Here’s the surprise…it is and it is not a metaphor. In honor of Mother’s Day, I am sharing my mother and my grandmother with you. They are not in Kansas, Dorothy…but they are, in fact, somewhere in the United States, in a bright orange sports car, cruising down an interstate. I only know this because my 68 year-old mother ‘texted’ me a photo of my grandma next to the car! It is fun and fantastic. Keep your eyes open this weekend and you just might see them!
Keep your eyes open and you never know what you might see. Close your eyes to sleep. The rest of the time, keep looking. Looking for...Thump!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Eyes Open or Closed on a Teeter-Totter?

Boston Marathon bombing. West Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Earthquake in China.
Did I say something a few weeks ago about chronic trauma exposure?  In today’s world of instant news, when every citizen has a camera in their back pocket and can post their pictures and videos on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at the touch of a button…in this world, we are all likely victims of chronic trauma exposure.  One need not work in the medical field, public health, public safety or social work. One need only open one’s eyes.

I have spent a bit of time delving into Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s book “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others”.  It starts out with a very big picture view of society. At first this annoyed me…just tell me what I can do! I resisted my urge to skip ahead. In light of this week’s national and global tragedies, I am glad I did.

There are more than a few things bothering me about the past few weeks, but I want to focus on the response of our society. Or rather the responses that don’t sit well with me at a deep level, that seemed at best, inappropriate and at worst, dangerous and alarming.
For instance, why were people flooding into the streets to witness the final shootout between the police and the 19-year old gunman? Do they want to get shot? Do they want to see someone get shot? Why were people celebrating in the streets and chanting “U.S.A…U.S.A.” after he was taken into custody? We did not know the motives. We knew very little. Are accomplices still out there? Did the attackers leave bombs planted elsewhere? Were they mentally ill? So on one hand I might be calling it a ‘premature’ celebration, but actually it felt like an ‘inappropriate’ celebration.
Were people celebrating and chanting in the streets when the Colorado movie theater gunman was arrested? When the Sandy Hook Elementary gunman was killed?  What is it about the fact that someone is of a different nationality that gives cause for celebration?
3 people killed. 130 injured, most with missing limbs. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to celebrate here. Why is it always ‘us’ against ‘them’? Can we even be clear who ‘they’ are?

I wrote the paragraphs above two weeks ago and I am just getting back to them.  Last Thursday at 3:30 I approached a crowded and busy intersection in the city where I work. Traffic was already bumper to bumper before I could see why it was so slow. A Rite Aid on the corner. Five police cruisers and two unmarked police SUVs. As I came to a stop I looked in horror at a young man, early 20s, mixed race, standing in the parking lot with no less than  three of the officers pointing weapons at him and the others ready. I said quietly, “Oh dear god, get down.”  He looked either confused, high, or like he was thinking about running. It was genuinely hard for me to interpret his expression. The sun was in his face which may have been making him squint. What horrified me even more were the people streaming OUT of the Rite Aid and stepping OUT of their cars…cell phones in hand…to catch the moment on video. I rolled up my window and looked away. I desperately wished I were in the right-hand lane so that I could have driven through the Jiffy Lube and away from that mess.

After the longest 10 seconds, the young man lay down and put his hands behind his back. I honked at the woman in front of me to get back in her car so we could move, thank you. As I drove on to my visit my thoughts went in this direction. What is wrong with our society? Why does every tragedy have to be a public spectacle? Maybe we need a book about trauma voyeurism?  I might need to see if anyone is writing about that. This is the reason I changed my home page to cute animal pictures, don’t watch the news and don’t get the paper. I get enough negative information peripherally and I can look up news articles if I decide I need to. This is a sign of Trauma Exposure Response, ‘Inability to Listen, Avoidance’.

After my visit, as I drove back to the office, I had other thoughts. The young man in the parking lot was brown. The only officers I remembered were white, but I can’t be sure.  There have been some pretty public cases of police misconduct lately, maybe I should give the voyeurs the benefit of the doubt…maybe some of them wanted to capture the facts in case the officers did something wrong? Maybe they wanted to capture the facts in case the officers did everything right and they were accused of wrongdoing later? I cannot know the intent behind their actions. I cannot judge that. Perhaps they were bearing witness to those that they could not help, could not bring into their lifeboat. I did not want to bear witness.
I do know that I still believe that those with children needed to shield their children. Stray bullets happen. People resisting arrest get shot. Is that what you want your child to see, to have that vision imprinted in their mind? Or have they seen so much of it on TV and movies that they are numb? Because ‘Numbing Out’ is one of the 16 signs of Trauma Exposure Response.

As is ‘Hypervigilance’, which appears to be something I am well practiced at.  ‘Inability to Embrace Complexity’ explains so much of the response to the Boston Bombing. And perhaps to the utter lack of public response to the fertilizer plant explosion. Where were the protesters when it was learned that the plant was storing thousands of times the amount of ammonia products than it should have been? Where was the connection that if terrorists want to really mess us up, we need only have another idiot fertilizer manufacturer? Where was the compassion for the half dozen brave first responders who rushed to the fire at the plant and were killed in the explosion? No…every headline and photo is of the Boston bombing suspects.

It still is, two weeks later. And now I don’t see even smaller headlines about the fertilizer plant or the earthquake in China. Understanding people and society as they manifest signs of Trauma Exposure Response can be helpful in explaining the public response. Understanding how I manifest these things is critical to staying present in society and in my life. If I cannot be present for trauma, I may not be present for the healing, for the good.
Isn’t life such a balancing act? I doubt many of us manage it well all the time. We teeter and totter between the two ends of hope and despair, happiness and hate. Some do better at staying in the middle. This was not a post to make you laugh I’m afraid. I’m sitting further down on one side of the teeter-totter this week. I will rely on friends and family and our beautiful spring to add some weight to the other end.