I’m drinking close to 81 oz of liquid/day and I’m still peeing yellow. I wake up every morning parched. My hair is dry, my fingertips, toes and lips are dry. I’ve developed a patch of dry skin on my cheek. There is not enough lotion, chapstick or fluid in the world to keep me hydrated in the desert, apparently.
I’ve been in Tucson, AZ for a week now, where I’m doing my community health rotation (the last thing standing between me and my official transition into midwifery) at the El Rio Birth and Women’s Health Center. I’m staying with Kat and Juan and their furry friends, which has been pleasant and comfortable (I sometimes wonder how my sister and I manage to spend so much time apart, since we never seem to run out of things to say to one another. Juan points out that we spend an obscene amount of time on Google chat and so it’s like I’m always here anyway). Everyone has been quite concerned about whether or not I’m too hot and I keep reassuring them that the temperature is fine. It was getting up into the 90’s in Connecticut before I left, and I was living on the third floor with no AC, so I feel well-adapted to the heat. The difference has been the dryness, which after the hair-frizzing stickiness of Connecticut, I thought I was looking forward to. In Arizona (where literally NO ONE has a lawn, and the only green things I’ve seen are the ones I’m eating), there’s no way to escape the dryness. You can cool the house with AC, but AC dehumidifies the air in addition to cooling it. Arizonans have come up with a unique solution to this problem – something called a swamp cooler – which cools the air without dehumidifying it. However, swamp coolers seem to be few and far between. As I sit here now, I can feel my every inhalation wicking away some of the moisture on my tongue (my mouth is closed and I’ve already had 20 oz of water. I woke up an hour ago).
Growing up in California during the really bad drought years, I remember taking what I think my mom called military showers – you turn the water on only when you need to rinse and you do the rest with the water turned off. I find myself tempted to do that here. No one seems to be concerned about water, but I notice myself treating it as a precious and rare commodity. Usually I leave the water running when I wash the dishes – I know it’s wasteful, but I typically only have a dish or two and so it ends up being quicker and more convenient just to leave it on. Here, I turn the water off as I scrub my bowl and spoon, fearful of wasting even a drop of water. I don’t flush the toilet every time, as if doing so would somehow reduce the amount of water my sister’s house is allotted.
And I can’t figure out how to adjust my fluid intake. I’m drinking close to 20 oz more than what I’m used to drinking and sometimes I think if I have one more sip of water I’ll be sick (more than once I’ve wondered about “water poisoning” – you know, when idiot college students chug a gallon of water and then someone dies). But the near-constant thirst, the dry extremities and the higher than normal urine specific gravity tell me that I need more. My sister has been sympathetic and promises that it will probably be better next week. She’s also suggested that we purchase some things like watermelon and peaches, so that I can get some fluid through my food.
I have never lived this far away from water. I grew up on the Bay, and while Portland was an hour away from the ocean, the constant rain and the Willamette River more than made up for that distance. On Tanegashima, I could literally look in any direction and see the ocean and San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides. In Connecticut, I’m 6 miles away from the Long Island Sound. In my desert-induced delirium, I wonder if anyone in my position would have the same problems, or if it’s something specific to my constitution. I wonder if I require a certain amount of water in my life and that when it’s not present in the environment, I have to fulfill that need some other way. As I nurse my third Klean Kanteen of water before noon, I wonder if I can persuade my sister to keep a filled kiddie pool in her living room and if that would help.