CT Scans with Teddy Bears

It’s so easy to whine about the modern world. Life can seem loud, bright, and way too plugged in sometimes but you know what will make you stop whining and sob with gratitude for modernity? Your child smashing his head open on a rock- that’s what.

That’s exactly what happened to my 8-year-old this weekend. My balls-to-the-walls, daredevil son got woozy watching me patch up the bloody knee he got from pogo-sticking and fainted, landing head first on a rock. That’s right – pogo sticks and skateboards are no problem but the sight of blood caused him to have an accident that aged me 10 years overnight.

I wasn’t thinking about the modern world or feeling grateful for electricity while we were waiting for the ambulance because I was busy holding him; stifling the urge to panic while he was bleeding from his head and his nose, asking to go to sleep. It wasn’t until we were at the children’s hospital and I was standing by him while he got a CT scan in a machine decorated with teddy bear stickers that I started to feel overwhelmed at how lucky we are.

In most of the world, emergency care doesn’t exist. Within 10 minutes of calling 911, we had 2 fire and rescue vehicles at our house along with 5 trained, very calm paramedics who quickly had my son secured on a stretcher and hooked up to machines that could monitor his vitals on the way to the hospital. This is incredible when you think about it. The paramedics, the equipment, the air-conditioned ambulance, even the paved roads are luxuries much of the world can’t imagine.

When we got to the children’s hospital (think about that for a moment – we have a huge, state-of-the-art medical facility just for children), we were hustled into a room where we were seen quickly by pediatric nurses and a pediatrician. Think about that too – we have nurses and doctors who are specially trained just to treat children. This is not how most of the world lives.

While we were waiting to be taken to radiology for the CT scan, a nurse came in and put something on the gash to completely numb it so that it wouldn’t hurt while the doctor cleaned and stitched the wound. How much of the world has access to the kind of care where you can be stitched up without even feeling it?

While we waited for the CT results, I looked around and took stock of how amazing it is that we live in a time and place where our children get medical care in facilities that most people in the world have never seen. These facilities are climate-controlled with automatic doors, computers, and security cameras. The diagnostic equipment, the lights, the vending machines, the televisions, even the thermometers and the blood pressure cuffs are powered by reliable electricity that we rarely give a second thought.

It was the CT scan machine with the teddy bears, one that must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least), sitting in a cool, dim room and making a soft blowing sound while it took pictures of my little boy’s head, that made my heart clench because I knew that I was lucky enough to live where my child had the best possible chance to be okay. By sheer luck of birth, I get to raise a family in a place where abundant energy is a given, where advanced technology is so commonplace that we feel free to decorate it, and where specialized medical care is a quick ambulance ride away.

The next time I’m feeling tempted to complain about the stress of modern life, that lights are too bright or that technology is taking over, I’ll remind myself what real stress is. Real stress is what most of the world’s mothers feel when their child is badly injured. Real stress is watching your child bleed and having no one to call, no place to go, no doctor to care for him, and no big machine with teddy bear stickers to tell you that he’s going to be okay.




Family Fun: An EcoModernist Liberal vs. Traditional Liberals

This is a slightly edited post from last Friday. I mostly just hated the old title. Thanks for reading. – Amy

My family has been strange about this blog. I’m not sure the more conservative side has even looked at it (they will not approve since we’re connected to the coal industry) and the liberal side seems agitated. My mother-in-law, who is a very anti-gmo, traditional environmentalist is supportive but stated firmly that I would NOT be changing her mind. She also mentioned something about “those people” but I’m not sure who she meant exactly. My cousins think that my pro-gmo position means I feed my kids Twinkies and Pop Tarts. Others were encouraging , except for being put off by the “Manifesto” thing. Karl Marx may have ruined that word forever.

My sister-in-law had a very strong, but honest, negative reaction to what I’m doing and warned me that I was naive, that I wasn’t saying anything new, and that I was possibly being used. She rattled off some documentaries that I should watch and suggested I may not be qualified to write about environmental issues. [Perhaps not but I’m passionately interested and WordPress is free.]

From the comments everyone has made, I realize they don’t understand what EcoModernism actually is and isn’t. [I’ve done a terrible job explaining, although some family members admitted that they haven’t actually looked at the blog so The Elevator Speech might help them understand.] My family thinks I’ve stumbled into something radical, possibly sinister, and worst of all, potentially right-wing.  My sister-in-law’s suggestion that I watch The Corporation made me realize that they may think I’m being used by nuclear energy corporate interests or the irrationally dreaded Monsanto to promote some weird techno-utopia.

I want to reassure my family that EcoModernism is far from radical. There is nothing radical about a doctrine that promotes a clean energy technology that could dramatically lower CO2 with the least amount of land use. Yes, there are a lot of fears and myths to unpack around nuclear energy, especially in the shadow of Fukushima. I’ve gotten a fair amount of grief over the years for my risk aversion so my family has to know I would never get behind a scenario that I thought would endanger my kids. [Full disclosure: I’m a bad environmentalist because I’d probably let the planet explode before I’d sacrifice my kids.]  I think we have to measure the risks of plodding along with our current system of burning fossil fuels which kills thousands (or more) a year verses the true risks presented by moving to zero-carbon nuclear energy. We also have to look realistically at renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Are they truly clean energy if they involve toxic manufacturing or if they threaten biodiversity by requiring huge chunks of land? They may be fantastic technologies  but can they provide enough energy for 11 billion people?

I want to explore all of this in the months ahead but there is nothing radical about nuclear energy (438 reactors are used for electricity around the world) or with looking at the whole picture when it comes to our energy sources. What clean energy source positively impacts the most people with the least amount environmental damage? We can’t keep dismissing nuclear because of fears that may be unfounded. We at least owe it to ourselves to understand the balance of risk. As far as corporate interests, please ask yourself, who benefits from scaring people away from nuclear energy?

The EcoModernist position on GMOs is also far from radical. What is radical is opposing a safe technology that can be used for humanitarian purposes as in the case of Golden Rice or bananas in Uganda. There is nothing sinister about saving a quarter of a million children who go blind or die from vitamin A deficiency every year. It is also not radical to modify rice to survive flood or possibly drought. In many parts of the world, one major rain event could mean the difference between eating and not eating. Using GMOs to increase crop yield is not radical. My sister-in-law pointed out the issue of populations who are forced to clear cut the rain forest to farm and then are forced to clear cut more when the soil is degraded. She very precisely made my point for me. Using technology to help those populations grow more food on less land is exactly the EcoModernist approach.

And no, this does not mean I’ve been brainwashed by Monsanto. All GMOs are not made by Monsanto and Monsanto is not just a GMO company. [The Monsanto issue is way too much to sort out in this already long post so I’ll save that for another day. Or just read this.]  Supporting a particular technology does not make me a radical or a corporate stooge. It also doesn’t make me anti-vegetable or pro-Pop Tart. Again, ask yourself, who exactly benefits from making people scared of GMOs? Maybe we can at least agree that there are corporate interests involved on both sides of the debate.

My family does not need to worry that I’ve gone off the ideological deep end. As a Humanist, I still share their liberal values. EcoModernism is not right-wing or left-wing but it has the audacity to suggest that environmentalism could be a joint venture between the two. I guess that part is the most radical idea of all.

[I worked on this post yesterday and then read Mark Lynas’ remarks this morning that he made at a conference in the UK. He is much more eloquent and explains EcoModernism without bringing sisters into the discussion.]