Beard Kit Passes Muster and Makes Me Glow!

I tried the new beard kit stuff yesterday. I washed my beard with the beard wash and conditioner. Then I applied a little beard oil and beard balm. I combed it and brushed up with the boar bristle brush. Try saying “boar bristle brush” three times really fast right now!

I trimmed the flyaways with the very sharp scissors and—oops. I accidentally nipped my left earlobe off. It ricocheted off the mirror and splashed into the toilet. This was not a problem and from my internet research, I knew exactly what to do.

I quickly got a soup ladle and fished my earlobe out of the toilet bowl. Wrapping it in a wet washcloth, I then tossed it into a little watertight bag. Immediately, I put that into a sandwich bag with ice to preserve my earlobe. It would not have been a good idea to put it directly on ice. That would have worsened the damage. I knew better than to put it in milk, especially skim milk! That stuff doesn’t even taste like milk.

The emergency room doctor at first didn’t believe I accidentally snipped off my earlobe. He wanted to get a psychiatric consultation, but I assured him that I’m a retired consultation-liaison psychiatrist and I’m OK. I may have a screw loose but I would never cut off any of my own body parts. He reattached my earlobe and I’m as good as new.

I guess that means I’m officially anointed from a beard kit standpoint.

Sena says I glow now. Judge for yourself from the unretouched before and after photos.

Thoughts on Beards

Sena ordered a beard kit for me. I’ve never seen one before. I’ve been trying to grow a beard for the last several months. It’s a new thing. Before retirement, I could get away with a mustache or a circle beard stubble. But I couldn’t see working at the hospital while trying to grow a full beard.

I’ve trimmed it a couple of times; I have a beard trimmer with a set of guards. I’ve got some bare spots, like a lot of guys. We saw a YouTube commercial about a product called beard growth oil. The guy said it covered his “potholes” in no time.

All the beard kits have about the same items. There’s beard shampoo, beard balm, and beard oil. They can have fragrances, like peppermint and eucalyptus or sandalwood. A lot of them seem to have infusions of things like avocado and papaya. The makers are big on natural stuff.

I’m just trying to grow a beard, not make a salad.

The kit has a comb, a brush, and scissors. I think the brush bristles are made of boar hairs. I wonder what’s special about boar hairs. Some of the kits come with beard growth oil and even a little mini roller to roll it into the hair roots. Some guys swear by it. I can’t help laughing when I think about it. And there are a large number of positive reviews about the kits in general.

I’m not sure what I would look like after beard growth oil. I might have a totally different appearance. If the kit comes with hair coloring, I might end up looking a little sinister.

On the other hand, I might resemble a department store Santa Claus. I’m not looking for the job.


I’m not sure what’ll happen with this. Until now, I have tended not to mess with my facial hair other than to snip away the stragglers and fly-aways.

I follow some guidelines. I trim the mustache away from my upper lip. I have no interest in tasting my meals long after I’m done eating. I shave neck hairs above my Adam’s apple. That doesn’t mean I’m uppity about neck beards. I just don’t like a scratchy neck.

We’ll see.

Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence

Sena and I just read Dr. Ron Pies fascinating essay describing his interaction with Google Bard Artificial Intelligence (AI). As usual, this made me think of several movies with AI as a central theme. There are several: I, Robot (I wrote a post about this a couple of years ago), Blade Runner, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, even Wall-E, a favorite for me and Sena.

If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you might remember a device called the Voight-Kampff Test, an empathy test to distinguish replicants (humanoids or more broadly, AI) from humans. Interestingly, there’s an article speculating about using it to see if ChatGPT (another AI made by the company OpenAI) could pass the test. It didn’t, of course, if appearing to seem genuinely human is the benchmark.

We thought the conversation between Dr. Pies and Bard was very entertaining and thought-provoking. We both wonder how Bard would have responded if the question had been slightly reframed regarding the patient with schizophrenia who might or might not have been speaking metaphorically about his brain being “…a plaster ceiling with pieces falling on the floor.”

What if you ask Bard a more open-ended sentence, something like “What do you think a patient with schizophrenia means when he says that? If Bard hadn’t been tipped off by mentioning the issues of metaphor and mental illness, how might it have responded?

Bard’s answer to Dr. Pies’ question about what Bard means when it refers to itself as “I” in its responses. It says it doesn’t mean “I” to imply it’s human. I guess you wouldn’t need the Voight-Kampff test given this kind of honesty.

Just so you know, when Sena and I discussed this article we both caught ourselves calling Bard by typical human pronouns like “he” and “his” instead of “it.”

We also speculated about where you could use an AI like Bard in practical situations. We thought of it replacing those dreadful automated telephone answering machines. Bard would be too bright for that and it would probably not sound very different from the usual machines.

What about something more challenging like answering questions about the new Iowa Income Tax Law, exempting retirees from having state taxes withheld? It’s in effect now and the rollout has been somewhat complex. We think it’s because of communication about who is responsible for getting the ball rolling and what roles the Iowa Department of Revenue, the companies’ plan administrators who are withholding state taxes, and the retirees are expected to play.

There are ways to get answers to questions which don’t involve automated telephone answering machines. Amazingly, you can talk to real people. Sometimes you don’t even have long wait times on the phone before reaching someone who has very little information and has to put you on hold “briefly.”

Don’t get me wrong; we think the exclusion of retirement income from state taxes in Iowa is a good thing. Getting information about who does what and when is challenging though. I wonder what Bard would have done.

Retiree: Bard, who’s supposed to move first, the retiree or the plan administrator on what to do about state tax withholding?

Bard: That’s a good question and the issue is likely to produce anxiety on both sides.

Retiree: Right. How does this shindig get started?

Bard: If the state and the companies had got together on the issues earlier and prepared algorithms for me to choose from, I would be in a much better position to answer that question. Would you like me to sing “On A Bicycle Built for Two” now?

Retiree: No thanks, Bard. I was wondering if you knew why some companies making payments to retirees didn’t reach out early on to them and send letters describing options on how to approach decisions for making changes to state tax withholding in light of the new tax law.

Bard: That is another good question. It brings to mind a quote by Isaac Asimov in his book, I Robot: “You are the only one responsible for your own wants.”

Retiree: Hmmmm. I guess that makes sense. What if state taxes are erroneously withheld, despite your wishes and instructions? What happens then?

Bard: That seems to imply an old saying, “The buck stops here.” This means that whoever is making decisions is ultimately responsible for them. It is attributed to President Harry S. Truman. It is based on a metaphorical expression, “passing the buck,” which has been in turn derived from poker game play. I have not been programmed with any further information about the game of poker. Has this been helpful? I want to be as helpful as I can.

Retiree: Well, you’re helpful in a way. I have heard that some plan administrators are not stopping state tax withholdings despite clear instructions otherwise. It seems that the Iowa Department of Revenue is on the hook for refunding them to retirees (here, the retiree winks).

Bard: What does that mean (referring to the wink)?

Retiree: “It’s a sign of trust. It’s a human thing. You wouldn’t understand.” (Quote from I, Robot movie, Detective Del Spooner to Sonny the robot.)

Anyway, I think AI would be overwhelmed by all this. In any case, the only way to complicate things this much is to involve humans.

Juggling My Birthday Glow Balls

Hey, it’s my birthday and it turns out the juggling glow balls are my early gift. Sena decorated my cake, using cookie icing that sort of spread out.

You got to love the birthday card she got for me. “Selective Listening Ensures the Survival of Man.” Or at least this man.

Just for the occasion I juggled my glow balls. I can program the color changes, but it’s sort of a numbers game. You have to click the right number of times to make your selection. Sena likes the 1UP2UP trick.

And according to someone who wrote the book, “Age is just a number and mine’s unlisted.”—Manya Nogg. OK, so you probably first heard it like I did, from the lady on the Boost High Protein Nutritional Drink commercial.

I don’t really feel my age, and nor do I act it. I do not drink Boost—yet.

Hello, I’m Dr. James Caramel Brown

I read Dr. Moffic’s article, “The United States Psychiatric Association: Social Psychiatric Prediction #4”. I think the rationale for renaming the American Psychiatric Association makes sense.

However, it also got me thinking about the names of other associations connected to the APA (here meaning American Psychiatric Association). One of them is the Black Psychiatrists of America, Inc. We make up about 2% of psychiatrists in the United States.

It also reminded me to once again do a web search for the term “Black psychiatrists in Iowa.” It turns out the results would lead to a repeat of my previous post “Black Psychiatrists in Iowa” on May 7, 2019. Nothing has changed. My colleague Dr. Donald Black, MD is still coming up in the search. Just as a reminder, he’s not black.

It probably comes as no surprise to readers of my blog that this also reminds me of a couple of Men in Black scenes.

Video of Men in Black scene, Dr. Black and Dr. White quotes.

And my post still appears high up in the list of web sites. There has also not been published a more recent edition of the Greater Iowa African American Resource Guide than the one in 2019. You can still find my name and that of Dr. Rodney J. Dean listed in the 2019 edition as the only black psychiatrists in Iowa.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m retired. I have never considered changing my name and title to Dr. James Caramel Brown. If you noticed that the “Caramel Brown” part is from Men in Black 3 (Agent J talking about what Agent K should say about his skin color in his eulogy for him), give yourself a pat on the back.

Agent J: Can you promise me something, if I go first, you’ll do better than that at my funeral? Yeah, something like, uh: “J was a friend. Now there’s a big part of me that’s gone. Oh, J, all the things I should have said, except I was too old and craggy and surly and just tight. I was too tight. Now, I’m gonna just miss your caramel-brown skin.”

Agent K: I’ll wing something.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do about renaming the American Psychiatric Association. But I think whoever is in charge of google search results for the term “black psychiatrists in Iowa” could improve on the current situation.

Feisty and So On

There’s this dialogue in Men in Black II between Serleena and Zed:

Serleena: Zed, look at you, 25 years and you’re still just such a looker.

Zed: Cut out the meat dairy. And you, still a pile of squirmy crap in a different wrapper.

Serleena: So feisty.

I’m becoming more aware of the use of the word “feisty” in reference to so-called “older” persons. That’s because I’m getting older.

I noticed an article on the use of patronizing words for older persons. A couple of other such words are “spry” and “sharp.”

“Sharp” as in sharp as a tack (for his age, of course). Also, as in sharp enough to know today’s date.

“Spry” as in he is spry enough to get into and out of a chair.

I’m also spry enough on most days to do under the leg and behind the back juggling tricks.

I’m still sharp enough to know the difference between respectful and patronizing.

I guess that makes me feisty.

More On Taming the Juggling Balls

I’ve been juggling for about 5 months now and reflecting on my progress. I think I’m doing OK for a geezer. Sena would call me a hot dog although I would still call it ugly juggling by any standard.

What’s striking, at least to me, is the little bit of science I can find on the web about juggling. I hear the term “muscle memory” when it comes to learning juggling. Actually, there’s some truth to that. There are different kinds of memory. For example, most of us know about declarative memory, which about memorizing facts, because we use it to prepare for exams. Those of us who went to medical school remember the agony of taking tests for the basic sciences.

But so-called muscle memory, or the memory for learning new skills like juggling, takes place in the brain. There was a study published in 2009 which found changes in both gray and white matter of subjects before and after learning to juggle (Scholz J, Klein MC, Behrens TE, Johansen-Berg H. Training induces changes in white-matter architecture. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12(11):1370-1371. doi:10.1038/nn.2412).

The study about correlation of the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds with higher mortality in older patients, which I relate to the ability to do the under the leg juggling trick, was published last year (Araujo CG, de Souza e Silva CG, Laukkanen JA, et al. Successful 10-second one-legged stance performance predicts survival in middle-aged and older individuals. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2022; 56:975-980.)

I talk a lot about juggling as though I’m a teacher. I’m not a juggling instructor by any means. You can find better juggling teachers on the web. But my approach to talking about juggling in terms of it being a hobby for me is really not different from how I talked about consultation-liaison psychiatry before and after I retired. I’m still a teacher—just evolving in retirement.

However, you can find much better resources for learning how to juggle at the following websites:

Have fun!

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

While we were out for a walk yesterday, we ran into someone walking her chocolate Labrador retriever. His name is Hunter and he had a tree branch longer than him in his jaws. He looked like he was having a great time gnawing on it and swinging it around.

I didn’t envy his owner when it came time to going home and taking it away from him.

Mostly younger dogs like to chew on old sticks and some say it might be a good idea to bring a chew toy along with you when you take a dog outside for a walk. It can be tough to persuade a dog to just let the stick go.

As a retired consultation-liaison psychiatrist, I sometimes compare myself to a dog who latches on to a stick and is reluctant to let it go. I’m an old dog that way and, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a little hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

There are examples of this issue. I rarely go grocery shopping and I still have a lot to learn. I was not good about grocery shopping and other non-work-related chores when I was a doctor for about 28 years, counting residency. Medical school kept me pretty busy too.

Anyway, I went grocery shopping yesterday and I thought I did OK although I had to wander around quite a bit to find everything on my list. Sena doesn’t need a list. She pointed out that I got the unsalted butter—which she never buys. I wondered how I managed to pick up unsalted butter. I thought I was doing good to get the Great Value brand rather than the more expensive brand.

The package was blue instead of red. You mean I have to read the package?

I got a package of chicken breasts and congratulated myself on that. Sena said they were really thin and noticed that they included rib meat—which she normally doesn’t buy. That slipped by me.

I bought a lot of items that we needed; you know, things like milk, eggs, bread, nuclear weapons, etc. But I really didn’t get anything that you could actually make a bona fide meal out of in the sense of cooking something.

Well, I did get a couple of frozen pizzas. This brought the total of frozen pizzas in our freezer to a number I’m not willing to divulge at this time.

I had to maneuver around several shoppers who were filling orders for customers who ordered their groceries on line. I tried that a very few times and it’s more difficult than I thought.

When I got up to the cashier, I just stood there while she rang up my purchases, bagged them—and then she started to put the bags in my cart. She didn’t say anything but a tiny bell in my brain rang somewhere and it occurred to me that I was supposed to put the bags in the cart. I apologized and got to work right away when I noticed. I recalled that it was probably just that mistake that led to my leaving an item at the store the last time I shopped.

Sena went to the grocery store after I got home and returned with items that could be used in menus. I think that is called meal planning.

But I did make dinner last night, meaning I reheated left-over chili and chopped up some vegetables for salads. Oh, and I got the saltines out for the bread group.

Sena is still trying to coax me to let go of the stick.

About Those Stages of Retirement

We got our new wall clock on the wall the other day. It got me to thinking about how I view time and other matters now that I’ve been retired for about two and a half years.

I actually tried to ease into retirement by getting a 3-year phased retirement contract. I thought that might help me get adjusted to not being a fire fighter as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist. I don’t know how helpful that was.

So, I looked up the stages of retirement on the web. There are slightly different versions but most of them have 5 stages:

  • Realization
  • Honeymoon
  • Disenchantment
  • Reorientation
  • Stability

I guess I’m somewhere at the tail end of disenchantment and the beginning of reorientation. I have to point out a few things about me and the clock on the wall to help get my point across.

When I was running around the hospital, I used to pay a lot of attention to the clock. One example is how I helped medical nurses and doctors diagnose and manage catatonia. That’s a complicated and potentially life-threatening condition linked to a lot of medical and psychiatric disorders. It can make people afflicted with it look like they have a primary mental illness and they can look and act spooky.

Most people with catatonia are mute and immobile. They could also have wild, purposeless agitation but the mute and immobile type is more common. I would recommend administering injectable medicine in the class of benzodiazepines, often lorazepam.

Often the catatonic person would wake up and start answering questions after being like a statue only minutes before the injection. I watched the clock very closely, and the nurse and I watched the vital signs even more closely.

The recovery from a catatonic state looks like a miracle, which often made me look like a hero—despite the fact I could not explain exactly the mechanism of how catatonic states begin or how injectable benzodiazepines work to reverse the state. In most situations, on the general medical and surgery wards, the cause was not infrequently a medical emergency.

That made retirement difficult. I often didn’t notice time passing when I was working. In fact, my job as a C-L psychiatrist was marked by a series of emergencies, hence the fire fighter feel the job held for me.

Somehow, interrupting my schedule (if you can call firefighting a schedule), didn’t help me very much in my adjustment to retirement.

Right from the start, I noticed I missed being a hero. By the time I got to the first stage, Realization, I was already part of the way into the Disenchantment stage. I don’t really recall the Honeymoon stage.

Time passed slowly after full retirement for me. Not even the phased retirement schedule prepared me for it. It was excruciating. I have never slept very well, but my insomnia got worse after retirement.

I had fleeting thoughts about returning to work, and that’s the surprising thing. You’d think I would have just dropped the whole retirement thing and get right back in the fire truck.

But I didn’t. Part of me knew that the job consumed me and burnout was a consequence. My focus on work did not help me be a good husband. On the other hand, retirement by itself didn’t help either.

It’s still hard, but not as difficult as it was at first. I would say that I’m somewhere between the latter part of Disenchantment and the beginning of Reorientation. I’m not anywhere near Stability.

I have replaced my schedule to some degree. Most days, I exercise and practice mindfulness meditation. I have also recently taken up juggling, as many of my readers know.

But any YouTube videos of me “cooking” are bogus. Sena takes video of me messing around making pizza and whatnot as if I know what I’m doing—but she’s giving me cues every step of the way. I’m allergic to kitchens and I probably always will be.

Anyway, I have a different relationship with the clock nowadays. I’m still hoping that I’ll evolve into somebody who knows how to manage not just retirement better, but a whole lot of things in a more adaptive way.

I sure hope so. According to some statistics, at my age I’ve got a limited time to improve. So, I need to get busy.

Thoughts on Regrets

I’ve been thinking about Dr. Moffic’s article on regret, posted on February 16, 2023 in Psychiatric Times.

I’ve dwelt on it long enough that I feel compelled to inject humor into the subject. It’s one of my many defenses.

There’s a quote from Men in Black 3 involving a short telephone conversation between Agent K and Agent J:

Agent K: Do you know the most destructive force in the universe?

Agent J: Sugar?

Agent K: Regret.

You could probably sense that joke coming. Whenever there is talk of regrets, I always recall maybe one or two remarkable episodes which led to lifelong regret. Because regret is pretty corrosive, as noted by Agent K, I need something to counter it.

My trouble is that I have many regrets. Am I so different in that regard?

Sometime in mid-career, a very important leader told me, frankly and calmly, “You’ll never be a scientist.”

Well, by then it was far too late for me to change life course. It was true; I’ve always been the rodeo clown, never the matador.

On the other hand, I know one thing I’ve never regretted and that’s my retirement. At least I think I haven’t regretted it. I have this recurring dream. It’s not every night, but often enough to make me wonder what I should do about it.

In the dream, I’m late for an exam or class and I fear I’m going to flunk. I look for the building where the exam is going to be held. I can never find it. Hallways appear and look vaguely familiar, but as I wander about looking for the bookstore or classroom or exam room, I feel like I’m in a maze, climbing stairs, almost like an Escher drawing.

That reminds me. Incidentally, several years ago, one of the medical students rotating on the psychiatry consult service drew a picture entitled “The Practical Psychosomaticist” which contained images of stairs running in different directions similar to an Escher drawing (see the featured image). It was really just her expression of how I got around the hospital. I avoided elevators and always took the stairs.

Anyway, I’m carrying several notebooks and loose papers keep falling out. I get lost in this jumble of halls and stairways, never finding my destination.

The dream is probably just me telling myself I’m failing at something in my waking life. It’s not like I need a dream to notify me.

This is a long way of saying I have many regrets, and that I may not know exactly how many. Some of them are less important than others. Take the “I’ll never be a scientist” theme. I’m not terribly broken up about it.

After all, rodeo clowns do pretty important things.

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