Opioid crisis

I live in the land of plenty: plenty of food, people, money and general wealth. I live in a country where it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the things you don’t want to see or choose not to see. I also live in a country where, in a population of about 320 million, as of last year, we dished out about 236 million opioid prescriptions. That’s over 70 percent of the population of this freaking country. And that’s just prescription pain medication. What about the people who are taking and eventually overdose on over the counter pain killers?

That’s just the amount of pain killers and opioid prescriptions, though. What about the actual dosage levels in the over-the-counter medications we take? I honestly never thought much about until I went to Australia and had to get prescription medication for my pertussis two years ago, and I started looking at dosage information. I was told that dosages are much lower in other countries than in the U.S. And, I was reminded of this when I ran into a colleague at our conference in Vegas this week who is originally from the Midwest but now lives in Sydney, Australia, and she complained endlessly about how “weak” the over-the-counter and antibiotic prescription medications she had there were, how they “did nothing” for her, and how every time she comes back to the States, she literally packs a huge empty suitcase to fill up with stronger over-the-counter medications, antibiotics and prescription pain medications (her sister is a doctor, so she can easily write whatever prescription she wants), and liquor (liquor is really expensive in Australia). She experiences frequent pain, has difficulty sleeping more than an hour or two at at time, and relies on these American levels of pain medication to keep her going.

She’s discussing this with me and two of our American colleagues who have never been to Australia before. They know nothing about healthcare outside of the U.S. I’m not criticizing them by saying that, but it’s true; before Chris, I didn’t know much about healthcare outside the U.S., either, other than in China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam, only because I’ve either visited or had family there who told me about what it’s like in those places. So, they are shocked and think Australia must be a crazy place to see a doctor or get any Rx filled. I painted a very different story of what I’ve experienced my time getting treatment there, as well as in New Zealand. I also made a joke about why we now have a national opioid crisis and literally tens of thousands of people are dying because of their addiction to pain medications. She didn’t seem to find it funny or get how that was relevant to what she was talking about.

At the end of the day, we all have our own opinions about what healthcare should be and what makes sense. But the numbers don’t lie: the U.S. sucks when it comes to healthcare, both cost, treatment, and preventive care. There’s a reason we have an opioid crisis. There’s a reason infant and new mother mortality is so high here across industrialized nations. There’s a reason we have a shorter life span than our industrialized nation counterparts. And it’s not because we’re better. It’s because we’re fucking worse.

So yes, I do like my colleagues overall a lot more here than I have anywhere I’ve ever worked. But I don’t think all of them are smart or have perspective or even see how flawed ┬átheir arguments are. This one was down right neurotic and ignorant. You always think that traveling and especially living abroad would give you more perspective, but when you just take all your nationalism with you, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? If it’s so much better here, why doesn’t she just come back and live in the greatest country on earth with the greatest president on earth?

Singing our praises

It’s been endless customer breakfasts, lunches, random meet ups between sessions, and endless stimulation. There hasn’t been a dull moment in the last three days, and it feels like in every conversation, I am selling our company and product and what we do. And then, there are the moments that surprise me, when I am hearing my customers chat with other customers, and I hear them telling them why our product is important and how it’s helped them, and why it could help that person’s business. Why don’t we have these conferences all the time so that our customers can just network, share learnings, and do my job for me?

No one really wants to hear why we think we’re great. Customers want to hear from other customers about what value they’re deriving from using us. Networking is what these events are actually about. And so hearing people singing our praises (or even singing my praises, which is crazy to me) — it’s so humbling. There’s no other word to describe it.

Opticon 2017

Today was the official first day of our annual user conference. I worked as a greeter and usher this morning to help get participants seated and acquainted with the space. Somehow, we managed to get over 1,200 participants from literally all over the world. We even had a good handful of customers who flew in from Europe and Asia for this event. As I stood in the back of the keynote ballroom, I had a similar funny feeling as I did when we had our wedding and had our friends and family come from around the world. These people all came because they are either partners, sponsors, customers, or prospective customers, and they actually believe in our product and our vision. To see the excitement and hear how passionate customers were about experimentation actually got me excited, as well. It was this weird, proud moment to hear all the applause and cheer, to see all these people gathered in this one place to learn more about us and the value we’re trying to bring to them and their businesses.

I’ve never really felt proud or excited to be a part of any company before this one. Being here and feeling all this energy in one place really has me feeling like I am actually drinking the Kool-aid — not in a delusional, fantastical way, but in a way where I feel proud to be part of a company that’s actually doing great things that has a future.

Conference life

I landed in Las Vegas at around 10am this morning and took an Uber to the hotel where I’ll be staying, where our conference is also happening. After settling in at my room, I did some work and then scrambled to eat my $35 buffet lunch in the ten minutes I had before my volunteer shift started as a greeter. It wasn’t the most organized because I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to eat the provided lunch on the first day, so it was a bit hectic.

The funniest thing about being a greeter at a conference is that people generally don’t ask you what you think they will ask you. You think they will ask, where can I find this class or this session? Is this the right room for X session?

Well, what did they actually ask me? They asked questions like, do you really work at Optimizely (I was wearing my employee badge and my conference shirt!); can you help sneak me into this class, can you get me a free trial for X product? Where can I get water?

You learn something new every day.

Long week ahead

Tomorrow, I’m off to Vegas for our annual user conference. It’s the first time our conference has been in Las Vegas, so a lot of people are very excited. Given that I do not enjoy clubbing or staying out late to get trashed, Vegas has never really been my scene. But I have a feeling I’m going to be seeing a number of customers lose a lot of money at poker tables and colleagues get so drunk that they won’t remember what they said or did the night before.

We actually had a long training session last Friday on all the procedures for Opticon. One of the things that our head of human resources said that I’d actually never heard before was, you know how people always say, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Well, in our case, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas because we’re bringing our office to Vegas. For that three-day period, all of Vegas is our office, and so that is how we should behave.

It honestly sounded a bit parental, but I think we all know that we usually don’t have 4-6 drinks with customers in the office and ink deals that way. That’s done at restaurants and at conferences like these.

Vietnamese food with your hands

We have a bigger apartment now, which meant that it was supposed to be easier and more comfortable to host people over for meals. Well, we have space enough for a comfortable four-seater dining room table, and once there’s more than four people over, not all six can sit at the table in a way that makes sense. This proved to be a bit challenging today when we invited four of our friends over for an interactive Vietnamese summer rolling session, which included using your hands to make your own rice rolls. I felt like we were all elbowing each other as we dipped our rice paper into the water, grabbed different herbs and fixings, and added banh xeo to our plates.

I guess none of that really matters when the food is good because it seemed like no one else minded. Everyone busily made their rolls and stuffed food down their throats. One of our friends ate the most we’d probably ever seen her eat in a single sitting. Sometimes the things that annoy you are the things that no one else seems to notice at all.

Papaya salad

Papaya salad is one of those much loved, Southeast Asian dishes that everyone seems to embrace, but no one ever actually makes at home. Why is that? The first reason is that when most people see papayas at the average grocery store, they are the yellow/orange, sweet variety, so they’re not the green, unripe ones that are used in Thai or Vietnamese papaya salad. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult, especially after I picked up the papaya shaver that seemed so nifty and useful in Thailand.

Well, I tried it on a green papaya that was just over two pounds, and… it took forever. It was one of those tasks that too so long that halfway through, I asked myself whether all this effort was really worth it. And that wasn’t even the end of it. It needed to be salted, then all the excess water squeezed out twice, before being refrigerated and finally served tomorrow. It’s no wonder that in Vietnam as I learned from my cookbook, papaya salad is considered a “special occasion salad” that is NOT an everyday starter.

No one is ever going to look at that salad and realize how much effort was put into that. And then it hit me as I was squeezing the excess liquid out… does anyone ever really look at anything homemade and genuinely appreciate it and realize how much time and energy went into it if they don’t cook themselves?

No Wake

Tonight, we went to see the show No Wake at the E59E59 theater, which is now conveniently just a walk away from our apartment now. The show is about a divorced couple who is reunited when they learn that their daughter, who has been estranged from both of them, dies from suicide. They spend the play navigating their conflicting feelings about their daughter and each other.

I’ve wondered a lot about how my parents interacted with each other after Ed died and how it may or may not have changed. From what I can observe during my short visits home, they both seem shorter with each other, snap at each other more quickly, and are quicker to raise their voices at each other than when Ed was here. But what I also wonder, which I’m sure I’ve wondered about here, is whether they’ve actually discussed the many events that led to their son’s decided passing and what they could have done that contributed to it. Or is it all just denial, a matter-of-fact statement of “he’s gone, so now we have to move on”? Have they actually discussed it? Did they ever acknowledge to each other how sick their son was and how he needed help that they didn’t want to give him? Probably not given who they are. Would they benefit from it? I’m honestly not sure. If I could ever picture that conversation happening, it would be one of those conversations where no one ever truly says anything meaningful, and you are left feeling like you’ve just wasted a lot of time.

“She was sick,” they kept saying during the play. But they acknowledged how useless those words are after a while because how are you supposed to respond to that? What do words like that actually mean?

To me, they mean, someone had a problem, no one in his life who could feasibly help wanted to help over a span of decades, and now he’s fucking gone and the tears his parents may cry are just a bunch of crap. It’s a sorry excuse for all the times they could have helped and simply chose not to, or even worse… to ignore and look the other way, or exacerbate the situation by calling him names and criticizing him relentlessly. All that is conveniently forgotten once he’s jumped off a bridge and is gone now.

Well, I haven’t forgotten.

Goal reached this year

Fundraising four years in a row for the same cause certainly has diminishing value for most people, whether it’s for people who choose to continue donating, or for the person who is actually doing the fundraising. The first year, it’s new. Everyone’s excited that you are raising money to increase awareness and help others in need. All your friends (at least, the ones worth keeping) cheer you on and donate, if even a small sum, to show that they’re supportive of your efforts. Then, the second year comes. You’re asking the same group of people to donate… again. And then you meet new people, whether it’s new colleagues, friends, or acquaintances, and you ask them to donate. Then the third year comes, and the fourth year, and so on. Can you count on people to continue supporting your cause even though the fundraising just keeps going? It’s not like you’re raising the money for yourself, right? It’s going to the foundation to help others, not into your actual wallet. It’s tiring, but I want to keep going. I hope people don’t think I am ungrateful asking every year to donate; I get that not everyone has tons of money lying around. But I have to keep doing this.. partly for selfish reasons because I feel like it’s the only way I can keep Ed alive… for me.

I’ve been increasing my goal by $1,000 each year since I started, so this year, it was $4,000. I felt it was a big stretch for many reasons: it’s four years for the same cause. The story has evolved as life evolves, but it’s still the same cause and the same reasons. I’ve started a new job this year in a remote office, which means that if I’m not sitting in the headquarters being a physical reminder about my fundraising drive, I thought no one would feel compelled to donate or care about my story or reasons for fundraising.

I guess I was really wrong there. So many of my colleagues donated, and in very large sums, as soon as I sent out my outreach email back in August. And today, I posted on my company’s #team Slack channel, which almost everyone in the company across the world checks, and within hours, I exceeded my goal. I had multiple donations of $100, and one from our cofounder of $250. Colleagues I still haven’t even met yet donated generously and sent encouraging messages. It was really humbling.

One of my colleagues who donated who I still haven’t met messaged me and said how much my story touched her. She said she literally cried when she read my message on my fundraising page. “Before I read your page, I never really thought about the significance of sibling relationships,” she said. She said she never thought about suicide on a personal level much or the Golden Gate Bridge in that light until she read the details on my page.

That’s the thing about tragedy. Sometimes, when you share your story, it gets other people to think about the things they take for granted and don’t think much about and really force them to confront their fears and stop avoiding all the things that are painful but necessary to understand. I’m happy to be someone that others can go to when they’re in need. I just wish more people would be open about all the things that aren’t so pretty in life.


Chocolate pudding

When I was living in my apartment in Elmhurst, I cooked a lot just for myself. Oftentimes my roommate would also eat food I’d make, but most of the time, I thought about what recipes I wanted to test, and if she happened to like it, then she could eat it. And because she liked to cook, too, I’d occasionally eat her food. But I could never get over the egg waste that happened.

What egg waste? Well, If I am making something that uses only egg yolks, you’re damn well sure that I’m also going to find a use for those egg whites. I paid for those eggs, the whites and the yolks, so I am going to use both parts in some way possible if they need to be separated. Wasting them always looked so painful to me. I remember when my roommate was being very health conscious, and she would omit a yolk or two from her omelets and literally throw them into the garbage. I would literally wince. I couldn’t help it. Then, I’d tell her not to waste them and to save them in a glass with plastic wrap so I could find a use for them (that never happened even once, sadly).

What do you do with egg whites? You could make a meringue or in most of my cases, add it to another egg scramble or omelet or just fry it up on its own. But yolks tend to take a bit more thought. You can just scramble a yolk and eat it because it’s probably going to turn out dry from lack of moisture. The easiest ways to use it up, depending on how many you have, would be to make puddings, custards, or (mmmm) ice cream. This time, with two egg yolks, I decided to make chocolate pudding – exactly four servings of it. And I used my 66% Valrhona dark chocolate. And, it ended up quite rich and decadent. No waste in this apartment.