Health

Caitlyn, waxing, MRSA, and me

Body Wax

Body Wax

Jon Stewart’s by now famous show segment on “being a woman in America” had me thinking about being a woman in America—and, in particular, about being a sometimes denuded one.

After watching his clip regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s 22-page Vanity Fair spread, I began reflecting on the barbaric act of waxing one’s pubic hair and found myself typing “waxing why?” into the Google search bar.

Not surprisingly, the first nine results returned to me included links to 1) skin care centers that would happily wax my parts for up to $80 a pop; 2) an article about “what guys really think of a woman with a Brazilian wax” (hint: “When I’m going down there, I don’t want no hair,” says one); and 3) a piece on whether waxing is better than shaving. (“With the hair removal market estimated to [have been] worth $2.1 billion in the US in 2011,” guess which way the author of the latter was leaning?)

I was happy to see, though, that the tenth search result contained a link to an article in which Dr. Emily Gibson, family physician and head of a UK student health center, calls “for an end to the ‘war on pubic hair'” and claims “it is increasing the risk of infection and of sexually transmitted diseases amongst young people.”

We have been cowed by an Internet porn industry “[that] gave a generation of men a lot of exposure to ladies who are completely bare down there,” and women have ignored their own health in the dim hope their husbands, partners, and one-night stands would wish to ravish them upon seeing their baby-like bare belows.

I, for one, have put myself at great risk the times I have had a Brazilian wax—coming away each time with increasingly alarming infections. The last time I did it I went for a “Hollywood wax” and several days later was diagnosed with MRSA, a bacterial infection that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics and that can be fatal if left untreated or if unsuccessfully treated.

Although one could die from a MRSA infection, and although it took several courses of antibiotic to rid myself of what was a very frightening infection, I cannot say with certainty that I will never again wax that fragile region. So strong, it seems, is the magnetic pull of conformity—especially where sex and loneliness are involved—that I could once more find myself powerless in the face of it.

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It’s a matter of chemistry

Reel TalkI’ve been to three of the four Reel Talk events hosted so far by ReCreative Spaces, a dynamic organization dedicated to building community by offering “short-term, arts-oriented programming in unused, under-used, and unlikely spaces” throughout the DC Metro Area.

Each time I’ve come away with the sense that something very important had taken place for all who attended, something to do with building a better world a handful of people at a time.

The series offers participants a unique opportunity to watch a feature-length film on a topic of social importance—such as the impact of global warming on the planet or the effects of poverty on children—and then to engage in thoughtful, free-ranging conversation about it with the goal of articulating some concrete steps they might take to bring about positive change in their communities. At the heart of each event is a delicious meal prepared lovingly by a local chef—a meal that helps those attending forge new or deeper friendships with the others.

Something very special happened at last week’s Reel Talk, though, that made it stand out for me, something to do with a subtle chemistry at work. First, there was the dynamic Emily Arden—co-founder with John Kagia of ReCreative Spaces—and her capacity to make magic wherever she goes. Next, there was the exquisite, and exquisitely simple, meal prepared by Chef Tim Meadows of Nurish Food & Drink, which is located in the Anacostia Arts Center and which is where the event was held. Then, there was the movie itself, A Place at the Table, which offers an unflinching look at hunger in the US and sheds light on the fact that one in four children doesn’t know where his or her next meal will come from. Last, there was just the right mix of thoughtful, creative, articulate, socially conscious people with the heart and will to foster change.

Of course, the irony wasn’t lost on any of us that we were eating such a special, nutritious meal while children not far from where we sat were going without supper. But, this fact seemed to bring us closer to one another and to open up the possibility that we might find a way to reach out and to help the hungry children in our very own neighborhoods.

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Punch Cell-y

Punch Buggy

“I know,” I said to my daughter. “Let’s play a game like ‘Punch Buggy’ — only with cell phones.” We were driving back from a very enjoyable night out together, and it occurred to me that we could nightcap our fun with a variation on a car game we had played when she was a child.

Remember playing it when you were on a long drive and bored out of your wits? You’d call out “punch buggy” whenever you spied a Volkswagen Beetle on the road, shout out its color, and punch the arm of the one next to you — even if that someone happened to be a toddler? In those days, it would have been difficult to find one unbruised arm in your circle.

Fast forward a quarter century for an update to the game: Each time you see someone walking across the street or on the sidewalk without a cell phone in hand, scream out “Punch Cell-y” and slug the person next to you two times in the most tender part of the upper limb. If that person is visibly carrying, but not staring down at, a phone, you can thwack a car buddy once and feel pleased that yours was a partial win.

One thing we decided, though, was that spotting cell phoneless people in a group wouldn’t count; presumably these pedestrians would be engaged with each other — at least when they weren’t looking both ways before entering a cross walk. I haven’t decided if calling out the phone color should entitle one to an extra punch.

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Fastest

little boy on bike with training wheels

Lately, I have been spending a good amount of time rounding the dirt track located up the street from where I live. It can be a lively place—especially on the weekends—as runners with cell phones, dogs, power walkers with cell phones, football players, football fans, malingerers, soccer players, soccer fans, cigar smokers, pee wee teams, mothers, tennis players, body builders, opera singers, and others converge.

This morning, I found myself walking behind a small, helmeted boy, four years old at most, who was riding a red bicycle with lopsided training wheels. His distracted father, at first walking slowly alongside his son, soon began to jog out in front, at which point the boy turned around to look at me. As he did so, the bike began to veer off the track and onto the uncut grass that bordered it.

“Oops! Oops!” I couldn’t help but call out.

Upon hearing this, the young father stopped, turned around, and trotted back to his child. As I caught up, I could hear the man say, “And, you were so fast.”

“Why?” the boy wanted to know.

How cute, I thought, as only a smug adult would think. Then, I began to ponder the question more deeply and was struck not by its seeming innocence but by its seeming genius. I came to understand that it wasn’t one of those “but why daddy/why mommy” questions every exasperated parent of a toddler receives. Rather, I think this child genuinely, and without any self-consciousness, wished to understand something about what it actually means—and why it even matters—to be fast.

Why?” the father replied, apparently as disarmed by the question as I was. “Well, because you want to be fast.” And, in this one, nearly innocuous, moment, which could have been no more portentous than the one that came before or after it, the father told his son what kind of man he was expected to become.

Later, I saw the boy careening around a corner. “Look, Daddy!” he screamed. “Look how fast I am!”

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Ambien: poison in a pill

ambien

I have used Ambien twice in my life: Some 15 years ago, I took it one night after a protracted bout of insomnia, and my daughter found me sitting on the floor in the living room clacking away on my computer. Apparently, I got up to do this after going to bed, and I had no memory of it the next day. About eight years ago I tried taking the drug one more time, and I have a vague memory of sitting in the dark and carrying on a conversation with an inanimate object.

I was very frightened by the hallucination, and I vowed I would never take Ambien again. Some years later, it became public knowledge that getting out of bed when not fully awake and doing an activity without remembering it is a not uncommon side effect of the drug. Hallucinating, it seems, is another.

Feeling agitated, aggressive, or suicidal are also potential side effects of taking zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien, and over the past several years a good deal has been written about the link between the drug and some of its more frightening side effects, which include delusions and violent behavior; yet, it is the most popular sleep medication prescribed today, and its use has increased 220 percent over the past five years.

In the hours after last week’s tragic shooting at Fort Hood, the media stories included mention of the fact that Ivan Lopez, who killed three soldiers and wounded sixteen other people before taking his own life, had been prescribed Ambien, among other drugs. It appears he was suffering from a sleep disorder as well as from anxiety and depression, though there is no obvious connection between these disorders and his military experiences since he had not been exposed to direct combat during his four-month tour in Iraq.

Although I am not saying that Ambien made Lopez do what he did, I am saying that it cannot be discounted as a factor that might have contributed to his descent into madness.

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Two years!

Two years ago today, I wrote my first Ruminationville piece, “Underthinking is Overrated.” Typically not one to stick out difficult commitments for the long term—except, of course, the commitment of motherhood—I am amazed that I have managed to keep something going here. I can only attribute it to the quiet support of those who have been following me over these many months. Each time I sit down to write, I think of you…and of never wanting to disappoint. Here’s to another year, or two, or four!

On the ethics of vaccine challenge studies

malaria vaccine

The National Institutes of Health ran an ad in today’s express calling for volunteers to participate in a malaria research study that could run for as long as a year:

This study tests if an experimental vaccine is safe and can prevent infection following exposure to the malaria parasite. If the vaccine does not prevent infection and volunteers develop malaria symptoms, they will receive immediate treatment which is curative.

Having witnessed the brutal effects of the disease in my father, who, after serving in New Guinea during World War II, returned to the States infected and without benefit of a “curative,” I am of two minds about a study like this. Certainly I would have wanted him to be spared the suffering he endured with each redoubled bout, and certainly I would want us to find a vaccine for a disease that currently has in its grip an estimated 219 million people worldwide.

Yet, I cannot help but question the ethics of conducting a research study in which healthy people are infected with a deadly disease in order to test the efficacy of a new vaccine designed to prevent the sickness (though, yes, thanks to volunteers in such studies, I have not contracted smallpox or other dreaded illnesses). Honestly, I can’t even get past an image of myself waiting in a steely room for an Anopheles mosquito to come whining around me in search of a blood meal.

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