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?

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?

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.

Conference prep

This week has already started as quite chaotic, as my company is currently prepping for its big conference of the year in Las Vegas, which is happening next week. I am going to be there to help facilitate the event and also to meet with customers, both old and new in my book of business. Not everyone on my team is going, and the team members who aren’t going are expressing jealousy of the ones who are going.

I’m sure the event will be a lot of fun over three days, but at the same time, I don’t think I’d be that disappointed to not go. At these events, networking is everything, and so is “building relationships.” I am really an introvert at the end of the day; I like my quiet time to reflect and be by myself, and I have a really hard time being “always on” at events like this. I am literally planning dinners and drink events with customers that begin at 9:30pm in the evening. And I usually like to sleep between 10:30-11:30, so I cannot even imagine how tired I am going to be next week once the week is over.

Caffeine will be a good friend of mine next week.

Groceries expenses

I was having a chat with my colleague the other day, who told me that she and her boyfriend, who she lives with, have been trying desperately to find ways to save money in this expensive city. They’re both working on paying back loans from their undergraduate studies, and on top of that, her boyfriend is paying off his law school loans. So when they were evaluating their expenses one day, they were both shocked to find that on average in the last several months, they’ve been spending about $800-900 on groceries per month! That’s over $200 per week! What could they possibly be buying — fois gras and rib-eye steaks every week?!

I told Chris this in disbelief. Granted, I haven’t ever carefully scrutinized our grocery expenses, but that just sounded like too much to me. On average based on memory, we’d spend about $50-60 on groceries per week, and oftentimes, that would include re-stocking up on stables that last a long time, whether that’s olive oil, dried beans, or spices. Chris said it was around $70 per week on average based on Mint data (that’s $280/month). We also would eat out a couple meals during the weekends, but most New Yorkers do that and more, anyway. Oftentimes, my biggest grocery expenses are in January-February of every year because I’m restocking staples, as my rule is that I have to empty out and use “staple” items like spices, rice, beans, canned goods, by the end of the calendar year.

So now she’s trying to save money by having her boyfriend expense both of their dinners every night on his current client by staying at the office until at least 8pm every night (that’s the rule at his firm). I wonder how much they are spending on groceries now. Eeek.

The reality of children in our apartment

Our apartment is like a children’s death trap. No, let me reword that. A child would not die running around this apartment. I would probably die from the horror of seeing any little blob running around this apartment and breaking literally everything, from the glass coffee table to the glass legs of my dining room table to even my small but growing collection of European Christmas houses that we have displayed in our living area.

It kind of felt that way today when we invited four friends over, two of whom are a couple with a 1.5 year old son. He was generally very sweet and well behaved, but there was of course the occasional moment when I was watching him and literally holding my breath at what was going to happen next. He’s my child, so I can’t just grab him and hold him down like I may have wanted to. He smashed a squishy football into the plate of frosted pumpkin cinnamon rolls. He slammed his mom’s mobile phone onto the top of our glass coffee table (thankfully, it wasn’t hard enough that any damage was done), and we had to keep him far, far away from the Christmas houses (they are made of ceramic, and I’d probably strangle him if he did anything to them). I was at the most peaceful state when he had passed out from exhaustion. That was a good moment.

I knew this when we got this apartment and the furniture that came with it, but this apartment is not child-proofed. In fact, it’s a terrible place for little children running around. There’s glass furniture everywhere, sharp corners, delicate display pieces from my little houses to our wine decanters. I shared this story with colleague, who said to me that yes, while you do have to child-proof your house once you have kids… you kind of have to child-proof your child and make sure they understand what’s off limits and what’s wrong.

That is so terrifying.

Too Heavy for your Pocket

Tonight, we went to see the off-Broadway show Too Heavy for your Pocket, which is set in Nashville during the early 1960s, when racial segregation was the norm, and when whites went to the white bathrooms and the “coloreds” went to the coloreds’ bathrooms. The main character gets a scholarship to attend college, a big deal for him and their family, but he decides to risk it by joining the Freedom Riders’ movement to stand up for black people’s rights. That also means he risks leaving his wife a widow, and a single mom given that she’s actually pregnant with his child (but he doesn’t know this because she’s too angry with him to tell him).

There’s the micro element of how Bowsie’s standing up for black people’s civil rights affects his two friends and wife, and thus his family. But there’s also the macro element of how what he’s doing is contributing to a better life for his future children and future generations of black Americans who simply want to have a seat on a bus and not think about certain sections being for whites vs. blacks. There’s the desire to live in a world where he doesn’t have to have a designated water fountain just for people who have the same colored skin as him. And there’s the desire to just be, and to be equal to everyone else. Maybe he might die, but he’d die for his future generations of black men and women, and for his child who may end up growing up in a world, never knowing what it was like to sit in the back of the bus with other “colored” people.

The feeling I had watching this show was similar to how I felt when Chris and I visited Little Rock Central High School last October with my local friend there. Imagining being one of a handful of people who looked like me, attempting to attend my first day of school full of white people who didn’t want me there would be absolutely terrifying. My friend and I both joked that day that the two of us would be too scared to do what the Little Rock Nine did in the late 1950s. We’re not fearless or radical at all; we have lots of fear. We’d be scared of pain, scared of being spat on and given death threats. And in Bowsie’s case, we’d be scared of dying and never seeing the people we love ever again.

That’s why every time I hear stories of the Freedom Riders or anyone who has protested or risked their lives for civil rights, I always feel a little bit more and more awe and respect for these people. They were thinking about the future lives of others, not even their own lives or the lives of people they knew in their lifetime, and how those lives could be better. They’re far bigger than I could probably ever be.

It’s working

I woke up this morning, and for the first time in four weeks, I did not wake up coughing. I actually felt better. My throat wasn’t filled with mucus. And my voice actually sounds better than it did yesterday. And as the day progressed, I felt less need to constantly drink liquid to keep my throat moist, and I coughed far less. It looks like the simple over-the-counter treatment regimen is already working for me.

Now, I’m wondering why I didn’t just see my regular doctor sooner to get this referral. This is when it’s bad to avoid seeing the doctor and to just think you will get better naturally on your own. Because how was I supposed to know that my stomach acid was eating away at my throat, and that something as simple as Tums and antacids would be the cure?