Thursday, December 31, 2009

Saying Goodbye to 2009

It's been quite a year for many people, and 2009 is now in it's waning hours. As the year ends, so many people seem poised on the brink of change and flux, ready for new adventures, letting go of the old and welcoming the new. It's a time for reflection, self-evaluation, congratulations, repentance, and embracing of change. I've always loved the New Year and the opportunity to start again.

For myself, it has been a year of momentous change, uprooting, letting go, and moving on. In 2009, I lost at least 15 or 20 pounds, continued to live with chronic pain and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), quit my job as a Public Health Nurse, sold our house, sold or gave away most of our possessions, bought a mobile home, and left our beloved Western Massachusetts for parts unknown. What a ride!

As 2010 begins, Mary and I find ourselves in Americus, Georgia, making our way down the East Coast of the US, ready to turn West and continue along the Gulf of Mexico in search of a new life, community, improved health, and an opportunity to "reboot" our lives as we enter our third decade of marriage.

In terms of my health, I am not sure where to turn next. My chronic pain continues unabated, and my hope is that living in a warmer, sunnier climate will ease the pain that challenges my body most every day (but at least not every moment!).

In terms of MCS, we must make a concerted effort to avoid exposures to fragrances and chemicals that make us sick, and this is one of our greatest challenges from day to day. Nasty and toxic chemicals are everywhere---in homes, businesses, and even as we walk down the street. Laundry detergent, perfumes, scented candles, emissions, cleaners---we are surrounded and under siege.

When it comes to work and career, my identity as a nurse remains strong, but my resolve to work as a nurse in the future is wavering. I will most likely seek employment as a nurse again, but will also continue to explore other options---such as health and wellness coaching---as I take time to contemplate what I have already dubbed "my occupational navel".

The world itself is also in flux. Some form of health care reform is on the table here in the US, even though it has been watered down to some shadowy semblance of what many of us would like to see. War continues unabated, and injustice and violence run rampant in many countries as the world economy sputters and burps.

Still, people of good will can be found everywhere one turns. Service, compassion, volunteerism, community, sustainability and peace are common, and more and more people are dedicating their lives and livelihoods to causes in which they believe. Suffering can be found anywhere one looks for it, but responses to that suffering can also be seen, and it is in the response to suffering that we see hope for the future. In the mainstream media, bad news can dominate and overwhelm, but the alternative (and mainstream) media can also offer hope, with reports of amazing work being done to assuage the disparities and injustices of the world.

So, I ask myself how I can assuage the suffering of others in this New Year, how I can give back and improve the world in which I live. At the same time, I ask how I can continue to heal myself and improve my own well-being, since I can only help others if I come from a healed and healthy place. Sure, there are wounded activists out there who try to save the world while ignoring their own needs, but I am a true believer in the notion that one can only help others if one is willing to help---and heal---one's self.

With the New Year comes new opportunities for growth, self-reflection, self-improvement, service, positive change, community, and all good things. My desire is for 2010 to be the dawn of a new life for myself and my wife, and also a year in which every person moves closer towards their greatest desires and their own optimal well-being. Every day is a new chance to start again, and my hope is that many people will achieve their dreams, live in peace, live healthier and more prosperous lives, and take time to work towards a better world. Yes, it's a troubled world, but it's the only one we have, so may 2010 bring us closer to the vision of a world in balance and at peace.

Happy New Year to all, and may all brings be free from suffering.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Inspiring Blogs for People with Chronic Illness

I am humbled and happy to report that Digital Doorway has been included in a list of 100 inspiring blogs for people affected by chronic illness. My gratitude to the generous people at MedicalFuture.

The Woes of Public Restrooms

Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), it can be an enormous challenge to be in a public place and simply need to use a bathroom. These days, public restrooms in the United States seem to have been permanently inoculated with so-called "air-fresheners" that make relieving one's self an adventure in being actively poisoned.

For me personally, my struggles with public restrooms are exacerbated by the fact that I have an underlying medical condition (enlarged prostate) that necessitates fairly frequent urination, and this, my friends, can lead to some exceedingly challenging scenarios.

Just the other day, I was in a Trader Joe's store here in Atlanta, where we're visiting for the holidays. Feeling the urge, I sauntered warily towards the men's room, hesitant to open that door but feeling that I had no real choice in the matter. Pushing the door open, I was hit with that disappointing, maddening and altogether overwhelmingly frustrating sensation that I had discovered---yet again---another public rest room that is simply verboten for my use. Sigh.

While I have no problem with peeing outdoors (which, in fact, is altogether preferable on so many levels), there are numerous situations in which doing so could lead to embarrassment, dirty looks, and---worst of all---a permanent label as a sex offender. Bearing in mind that many states do indeed prosecute public urination as a sexual offense, I frequently find myself at a loss as to what to do in order to heed nature's (increasingly urgent) call.

You may then be led to ask, "Why not just use the stinky bathroom anyway, Keith? What could possibly happen to you?"

And I would reply, "Well, first of all, the clothes that I'm wearing can very quickly become saturated with the toxic smell of the substance in question. Although I do not develop respiratory symptoms like my wife does, I will find myself incredibly irritable, often with confusion, dulled mental faculties, and a difficulty finding words when speaking. A secondary and unfortunate sequela of my exposure to such a substance is that my wife will then react to the aura of chemical toxicity surrounding me, and she will then begin to have bronchospams, headaches, and a host of other symptoms which would have been otherwise preventable had I not entered that rest room in the first place."

As you can see, the fallout from a simple visit to a men's room can have far-reaching health consequences for both myself and my wife, and now that we are traveling, it is even more crucial for us to continue to use the toilet in our chemically safe mobile home when we can. Still, we often find ourselves in situations where we are far from our mobile haven, in need of a rest room, and unable to do what so many other people take for granted on a daily basis.

A "rest room" should truly embody the literal meaning of its name---a place for rest, to relieve one's self and emerge refreshed and ready for the next chapter of one's day. For those of us who are canaries in the coal mine of the toxic world around us, they are far from a restful place of repose. From the scented sprayers on the wall to the deodorizers in men's urinals, public rest rooms are dangerous, exasperating, poisonous places to be avoided at all costs. When a safe rest room is found, it is cause for celebration and relief (both mental and physical). But when one needs to go and there's nowhere to do so, it is a maddening moment of living in a toxic world.


This post has also been featured on The Canary Report.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A new film has come to my attention, one which I plan to purchase and watch with great interest, and if I am as impressed as I expect to be, will then begin to distribute and promote it to my friends, family and readers.

"Chemerical" is a film by independent filmmaker Andrew Nisker that chronicles and exposes the toxic chemicals, cleaners and personal care products that pollute our homes and bodies, greatly endangering our health and poisoning our environment.

Indoor air pollution, Environmental Illness (EI), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and a host of other 21st-century problems are leading many people to take stock of what products they use to clean their houses, clean their bodies, and "freshen" the very air they breathe.

If you think about it, we actually live in a veritable "chemical soup" in which we constantly stew, putting ourselves, our children, our pets and our loved ones at risk of ill health and countless avoidable ailments.

My wife Mary and I have been living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity for a number of years now, most likely caused by mold in the attic of our house (of which we were blissfully ignorant until we tried to sell the house earlier this year). Living with MCS is no picnic, and we are now adversely affected by perfumes, scented candles, air fresheners, laundry products, common household cleaners, and a multitude of products used by most everyone. Visiting friends and family puts our health at risk and causes us a constellation of symptoms that range from being inconvenient to debilitating in nature, and every exposure can actually make our condition worse over time. (Just like with other types of allergies, the "rain-barrel effect" is operable here, wherein the body's ability to cope with environmental stressors lessens as the "rain barrel" begins to overflow with toxins.)

There are a number of websites dedicated to people with MCS and EI, and we highly recommend The Canary Report and Living in a Chemical Soup as two excellent places to begin. There are links to resources and websites that will educate you and stimulate your thought process vis-a-vis this information that is truly crucial for personal and environmental health.

I highly recommend that you spend time acquainting yourself with these issues, and take a hard look at the products that are potentially affecting the health of you and your family, even if you are consciously unaware of their affect. Your chronic headaches or your child's chronic asthma may well be linked to the very products with which you bathe and clean. Isn't it worth knowing, or are you too scared to know?

We are ordering a copy of "Chemerical" today and will share it with friends and family once we have personally screened the film. Whether you watch the film or not, the chemicals that are part and parcel of the products that we use to clean our homes, "freshen" our air and clean our bodies---among other products---simply must be examined if we truly want to live a healthy lifestyle. My wife and I are determined to educate others as we educate ourselves, and we wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year, perhaps one in which unnecessary chemicals play a lesser and lesser part as we all awaken to their inherent danger to our very health and well-being.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Thoughts

On this day that's so important to so many, I pause to give thanks for family, friends, my health, my wife, my son and his new wife, our elderly but healthy dog, and the opportunity that I currently have to take a break from working in order to reevaluate and reboot my life.

On a personal level, this has been a year of great change, upheaval, letting go, and moving on. I plan to make 2010 a fantastic year of growth, improved health and unparalleled happiness, and I wish everyone the same as this year comes to a close and a new one begins.

May all beings be free from suffering, and may we all continue on the path of global and personal healing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Merry Christmas Change of Shift

Here's a link to the newest edition of Change of Shift, the nurse blog carnival that's a gift that keeps on giving every month of the year. I haven't contributed for months, and I plan to change that in 2010. Thanks to Kim and everyone at CoS who contributes so consistently! Happy Holidays to all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Digital Doorway On List of Top 50 Nursing Blogs

I am pleased to report that Digital Doorway has been included on the Nursense list of the top 50 nursing blogs on the internet.

My humble thanks for this wonderful honor, and Happy Holidays to the folks at Nursense.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of Nursing and Soulful Employment

At this point in mid-life, as my wife and I take a break from working and travel the country, I am giving a great deal of thought to my career, or what I think my career should be. Nursing is certainly the career track upon which I have been treading since 1996, and it is indeed a viable, flexible and (sometimes) attractive way to earn a living. While I have never worked in a hospital (which some nurses deem an irresponsible act of professional suicide), I have enjoyed many positions in the outpatient world, namely hospice, community health centers, home care, case management, and public health.

After almost fourteen years as a nurse, I am questioning what the next chapter will look like. Will I work with Latinos in New Mexico, Native Americans in Arizona, the rural poor, the affluent and sickly? Or will I find a way to make a living as a health and wellness coach, eschewing the world of nursing altogether? I have great desire to be an entrepreneur, but the world of self-employment is not always what it's cracked up to be. However, with my wife as my business manager, I may stand a chance at significant success!

This time of travel and self-reflection is helping me to disengage mentally from the world of work and employment, allowing me a golden opportunity to dig deeply and decide how I want to spend my time and earn a living. There are so many roads from which to choose, and nursing is, as a matter of course, one of the easiest paths to trod.

Of course, when push comes to shove and money needs to be made, a job as a nurse will certainly pay the bills, but only time will tell if there is indeed a nursing job out there that can truly feed my soul, for that is what I have decided work should really do.

Nursing can be a soulful occupation, and if I can work as a nurse and be fulfilled in that endeavor, then I'll be ready to sign on the dotted line. Til then, I will continue to examine my occupational navel and unravel the riddle of figuring out just what will make my vocation more than simply a means to a financial end.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Days Fly By

Well, the days just fly by as my wife and I continue our journey around the country in search of intentional community and adventure. Some of you may be reading our blog, Mary and Keith's Excellent Adventure, and learning about the communities and people that we have been getting to know. If you haven't seen it yet, please pay a visit and look through the archived posts. There are many photos and stories that may pique your interest.

For me personally, this is a time of exploration on many levels. Since I am not working as a nurse---or in any capacity, really---my identity has shifted from that of a nurse to that of a traveler. With work being off the radar at this current juncture, we focus our daily energies on the logistics of RV travel, our health, our relationships with others whom we meet along the way, and creating opportunities to visit intentional communities that interest us as potential places to live or as examples of sustainable living that we wish to learn more about.

Intentional communities can be many things: eco-villages, cohousing communities, income-sharing communes, cooperative households, land trusts. We are visiting many different types of communities, learning about the different models, and hearing people's complaints, praises, concerns and advice about life in community. It is a grand experiment that has been going on for decades, and we are keen to determine if we would indeed like to spend the next several decades of our marriage living in some form of intentional community. The jury is still out, but the journey has only just begun.

Meanwhile, we care for our health, plot our next move, meet fascinating people, and enjoy seeing America from the vantage point of our home on wheels.

I recognize that Digital Doorway has been relatively quiet for the last several months as this journey has gotten underway. Since I am not working as a nurse at this time, I am still trying to ascertain the best use for this blog during this transitional period of my life. Nursing has understandably taken a back seat in my life at this current time, and the healthcare debate in Washington simply cannot hold my attention. So, I sit and ruminate on how my career and writing life will continue to flourish and grow, and I invite you to check back in from time to time to see how that process is going.

My blessings to all during this holiday season, and may the ending of the calendar year bring joy, glad tidings, family, good health, and all good things to you and yours.