Holidays in the Hospital

I had been in this neurologist’s office far too much the past year. Every few months, whenever I would have an episode, I would find myself right back in this spot. Wooden chair with a puffy seat cushion and a stiff back cushion. Leaning my right elbow on the mahogany arm, where my limp hand supported my quivering chin. Right next to my terrified and teary-eyed mother, often not sure whether she was crying for my sake or for her own. 

My sunken in eyes darted between corners of the room, to the various degrees that lined the back wall, wondering what any of them meant and how much money he had paid for them, to the glass cabinet where he kept some sculptures of the skull and nervous system, probably for decoration more than for reference, to the trio of engraved rocks on his desk, telling me to love, hope, and dream respectively. I could do none of those things in that office. 

The issues with my broken brain began a little over a year before, just as I was finishing my degree at community college. I had been working out, like I did every day for about three hours. I was in the prime of my self-destructive athleticism. I had just finished a set of back exercises when I got up to grab a drink of water. All of a sudden my right arm started lurching and shaking and writhing, and I couldn’t control it. It stuck out from my body like a switch on a wall that would never go back down. No one noticed at first, but after about 15 seconds the rest of my body started to tremor, and I collapsed onto the floor. I tried to yell for help, but the contractions of my body restricted my throat. It was the exact feeling in a nightmare when you’re trying to scream but you can’t make a sound. I learned later on that this wasn’t normal. Most people who experience a seizure have a feeling of unease or what doctors call “an aura” and then simply black out. I was lucky enough to be well aware of the torment my body was experiencing. 

The last thing I saw before I blacked out was someone call for help as they walked over to my body on the floor. The last thing I thought before I blacked out was, “I’m going to die.” I woke up about 15 minutes later in the back of an ambulance. I slowly opened my eyes and looked out the back of the ambulance doors into the orange sunset light. I groaned as I tried to sit up in the stretcher, but I couldn’t move. As I stirred, the paramedics looked at me and asked me the basic questions. 

“What’s your name?”


“What year is it?”


“Ok good.” 

After I groggily answered his questions he went back to fiddling with the IV that I just realized had been placed in both of my arms. The one in my left arm was thick, and I constantly felt its presence under my skin. Through the back doors of the ambulance I saw my mother run up to the doors. 

“Hey,” I said to her, as if nothing had happened. 

“Are you ok?” She asked.

I responded by weakly shrugging my shoulders and closing my eyes again. She turned to the paramedics.

“Where are you bringing him?”

“We’re gonna take him to Stony Brook.”

“Ok, I’ll follow you there. I’ll meet you at the hospital, Joe.”

I nodded my head slowly as she walked back to her car. Halfway to the hospital my awareness began to return. I looked at the paramedic sitting next to me and asked what happened. He said I had a seizure. 

A seizure? Doesn’t that only happen with strobe lights and some sort of stimuli? How could I have had a seizure. I thought to myself, “Well shit at least it wasn’t a heart attack.”

A year later, several neurologists later, several medications later, two more seizures later I was here at the office again, attempting to find out what was wrong with me, for what seemed like the millionth time. 

“So we’re still not really sure what’s causing the seizures,” my neurologist said, flooding me with deja-vu. “But because of your recent issues we think you should go into the hospital for some testing.” 

I looked up at him with a furrowed brow, feeling a mixture of desperation and frustration at the idea of being locked up in a hospital overnight again. I muttered a quick “fuck” under my breath. 

“What would the testing be?” I asked. 

“Well essentially, it would be like some of the brain scan tests you’ve had before but over a longer period of time. You’ll be strapped to electrodes for about seven days and they’ll monitor you during that period. Just so we definitely catch something, what we’ll do is pull you off of your medication while you’re in there and incite a seizure.”

My stomach dropped at not only the thought of having a seizure again, but purposely having one with the intent of being observed. I felt like I was going to be forced to be a lab rat in a clear cage, doctors hovering over me and scribbling down their findings while I writhed and suffered. 

“How am I going to go to the hospital for that long? I have school, and I can’t just give up the semester,” I asked, fighting back against my doctor’s proposal.

“Well don’t you have a break coming up?” My mother asked.

“Yea I do, the week after next. I guess I could go in for the break.”

“Then that’s what we’ll have to do,” my doctor interjected. 

I sighed heavily and said, “Well fuck, I don’t really have a choice do I?”

My doctor looked at me with pitying eyes and said, “No, I’m afraid not”

Two weeks later, after my mid term exams and right on time for Thanksgiving break, I was admitted to St. Charles hospital. I had never been to this hospital before except to visit family members. It was a Christian hospital, as expected from the name, and in almost every room there hung a deeply unsettling crucifix. 

After my initial paperwork had been filled out, they wheeled me to my room — they rarely let patients walk themselves around the hospital, an immense annoyance that made me feel even more broken than I was —an off-white box on the fourth floor with a wonderful view of the parking lot. 

The most disturbing part of that room was the bed. It was the same standard issue hospital bed of which there was a pair in every room. It had light beige guard rails embedded with dark blue buttons for adjusting the back and height, and a remote tethered to the right rail with a bright red button to call the nurse. Tidily-made and sanitized thoroughly, it perfectly matched the one next to it. It seemed that I didn’t have a roommate for the time being, so the window bed was mine for the taking. 

About ten minutes after I got myself settled there a technician came to hook me up to the EEG machine. They rolled in what looked like a mobile supercomputer, with tendrils and wires that overflowed from the chassis of the machine like roots from a tree. The technician came in, a stocky man of about 30 with a thick black beard, and started to place a gel to eighteen different spots on my head equidistant from each other. 

He placed a pad attached to a wire on each dab of adhesive, until I was fully covered. I was like a robotic Medusa with electric snakes growing out of my brain. He wrapped it up with a cloth shower cap and medical tape, and told me that all I had to do was sit here and let the machine do its thing for the next seven days. 

Seven days attached to this monstrosity. Seven days in the hospital. Seven days in the room. Seven days of no showering. Seven days of beeping heart monitors down the hall. Seven days stuck. 

My parents had left a little before dark the day I was admitted. I spent the rest of the night lamenting my situation and slowly beginning to parse through the books my parents had brought for me from home. They included a book of selected Emily Dickinson Poems, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and a teen book that I had asked for only because it was new. I had no real intentions of reading it. I went to sleep that night after barely touching the inedible dinner the hospital had given me. 

I woke up at about 3:00 in the morning disturbed by the sounds of groaning. I slowly opened my eyes to see nurses wheeling in a wheezing and moaning elderly man. They delicately shimmied him from the stretcher onto the bed next to mine. I hadn’t moved from where I had fallen asleep but one of the nurses made eye contact with me and closed the curtain that separated the two beds. Listening to the nurses adjust and then readjust the man’s position I sat in a fetal position on that bed, staring at the faded pink and blue curtain that now hung between us. Eventually the nurses got him settled in bed, and the sounds of the poor man’s groaning and wheezing had brought me back to sleep. 

The next morning I woke up early, having had a restless night of mediocre sleep. I was sitting in the bed at about 9:30, flipping through the few channels that came with the hospital’s free program. A middle aged woman glided into the room, glanced at my unconscious neighbor, and walked over to the foot of my bed. 

“Hello child,” she said. “Would you like me to pray for you?” 

I stared at her with a certain amount of incredulity and confusion. Was this a thing that happened at hospitals? Then I glanced at the huge crucifix that hung on the wall and realized where I was. Catholic hospitals are unique in that they like to pepper in their own versions of spiritual healing while administering the biological and physical healing. Despite my renouncement of the Catholic Church at the age of 12, I felt bad for this woman. She had a sincerity in her eyes and truly believed that by repeating her words next to my bed while I sat there in a state of near psychosis, she would enhance my “healing” process. 

“Knock yourself out,” I responded. 

She walked over to the left side of my bed and knelt down on the floor so that her praying hands met the edge of the mattress. She recited the lord’s prayer slowly and with emotion as I stared at the painfully blank wall across from me. When she finished she got up and said “God bless you, dear.” 

I nodded at her as she walked out of the room, glancing once more at the unconscious man on the other side of the curtain. This would happen every morning at precisely 9:30 while I was there. 

The next three days blended into each other, confined to my bed, only having enough slack on my wired dreadlocks to reach the bathroom, I had exhausted the paltry selection of terrible movies available on the hospital TV. I read the book of poetry and the teen book I had with me. The teen book turned out to be terrible, and that was the last time I read that author. 

It was during this period that the doctors had begun cutting down on my medication, hoping to incite a seizure while I was attached to the EEG machine. My anxiety had kept me from getting regular sleep for over a year now, but it was truly at a new extreme now. It’s scary enough going to sleep worrying that you may wake up only to have a seizure, but when it becomes an expectation, a completely different kind of anxiety takes over. 

It was Thursday and I had been in the hospital for about five days. It was Thanksgiving. The nurse’s station had been decorated with paper orange leaves and turkeys, but other than the scattered decorations, nothing much had changed in the hospital —not that I was able to leave my room anyway. 

My parents had called earlier that morning to let me know that they would not be able to come and visit me that day. They apparently had begun renovating the living room of the house while I was in the hospital and were far too busy to make it there. It was for the best, because I felt in my sorry state it was best to keep me isolated. I reassured my mother that it was ok, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t mean much to me anyway. It never had meant much to me. I didn’t have much extended family, and the last six or seven Thanksgivings have been spent alone with only my parents, occasionally inviting over one of our neighbors whom we knew had no family of his own. 

That year, I began to think about it somewhat differently. I thought back to my early childhood, when my extended family had still been on speaking terms, or in the cases of some of them, still alive. I remembered my grandfather always sitting at the head of the table, myself in the seat next to him. I remembered cutting his turkey for him and serving him spoonfuls of applesauce. I remembered sitting on the couch after dinner and seeing his eyelids grow heavy as he sat in the puffy recliner he spent much of his time in. 

Sitting alone in that hospital bed, accompanied only by the noises of passersby —my sickly roommate had been taken out the day before— I had an increased fondness for those past days. 

As it grew dark, the nurse brought in my beautiful Thanksgiving dinner of dry and slightly crusty slivers of turkey, a scoop of mashed potatoes, and a small package of apple sauce. She placed the tray down on the bedside table and looked at me the way you look at a dog with a missing leg.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said, with a forced smile and heavily bagged eyes. 

I took off the lid of the tray and looked at the depressing meal that was likely being served to hundreds of patients in the hospital at this very moment. They seemed to have forgotten my request for a vegetarian dinner, but I felt guilty bothering the nurses who were inevitably busy at the moment. I ate the chalky potatoes and the package of applesauce and covered the tray back up, before I lied back in bed and continued staring outside the window, watching cars pull in and out of the parking lot, wondering how many of the tiny people were here to visit mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts or uncles. I wondered how many of them wouldn’t make it to see Christmas. 

At 10 pm that night a nurse came around to administer my nightly medication. I had been taking my medication at home in the window of 8:30 and 9:30, so I always had the worry that my nurse had forgotten about me in my sterile prison cell. But, as she always did, she came around with a little paper cup with my medication and a little plastic cup filled with water. Following the nurse into the room was a heavyset, middle aged woman with light brown hair. She carried several fashion magazines and a Danielle Steel book under her arm. 

I said hello to the two women as they walked into the room, and the heavyset woman responded with a warm smile and hello. The nurse handed me the cups and I saw that my seizure medication had been missing from my pills. I shot the nurse a confused glance. 

“We’re cutting off your medication entirely tonight so we can try and instigate a seizure,” she responded to the look on my face. “She’s going to watch you tonight so that if you have a seizure and can’t hit the call button she can do it for you.” 

I looked to my right, and the heavyset woman smiled at me as she settled down in the chair across the room. The thought of being in this hospital had been unsettling enough, but they have graduated from keeping me tethered to machines to being watched in my sleep. 

I nodded in agreement, my mounting anxiety keeping me from responding with words. The nurse left the room as the woman who would be watching me settled in. I never bothered to learn her name. I don’t even think I spoke to her at all while she was there. I was too terrified of my own sleep to utter a word. 

That night, I awoke abruptly at some unknown hour, writhing and contorting just as I had in the gym over a year before. I tried to reach for the call button but I had no control over my limbs. I stared at the woman sitting across from me who had nearly drifted off into sleep as she rose up from the chair to get the nurse. The last thing I saw was her walking out of the room. I faded out in that hospital bed alone, just after my Thanksgiving dinner. 

A colleague of my neurologist who was in charge of my tests had come to see me the next day. My parents had come that morning to speak with him and find out the status of this dragged out and excruciating process. The doctor looked no older than 25, and had the facial structure of an infant. He had curly orange hair and green eyes, and was stick-thin and tall. 

“Well, I looked at your results,” he began. My mother and I both looked at him with desperation. 

“Unfortunately, they showed nothing unusual.” 

I was stunned. I had been in this godforsaken room for over six days and they had forced me into a seizure and they had no new information for me. How was that possible? I let out an agonized and angry “FUCK.” 

“How can that be?” my mother asked him with frustration. 

“Well, I’ll admit it is a bit rare, but it does happen. Usually, the issue in these scenarios is that it’s a frontal lobe seizure, and the electrodes we attach can’t detect the activity through the thicker parts of the skull.”

My parents and I sighed heavily, utterly disappointed. 

“Well now what?” I asked. 

“Well we can keep you in for more testing and try again, or…”

“No fucking way. I’m not staying here another night. No offense to you doctor, but we tried, and it didn’t work. I’ve been attached to this machine for a week now. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be rid of it.”

He looked at me with shock at first, not expecting my outburst of frustration, then with pity and sadness. 

“Ok then, that’s what we’ll do,” he said. “It’s still clear though that your old medication didn’t work properly, so I’m prescribing you something new. Hopefully, this one works for you.” 

“Thank you, doctor,” I responded. 

The doctor left with an uncomfortable nod to my family and a “feel better.” About 20 minutes later the same bearded technician that had attached me to the machine detached me from it. It felt as if I was a molting snake, replacing a tarnished and unfitting skin for a new one.

My parents drove me home on that particularly cold November day, and I stared out the window in silence the whole way home. As I watched dead leaves skitter along the pavement, I began to cry silent tears, because this whole week had been for nothing. 

A New Age of Competition

(This was an article I wrote for a magazine writing class during my undergrad)

Davin wakes up every morning between the hours of 10 am and noon. He goes to his kitchen to make coffee and goes back into his cluttered bedroom to his desk. While wiping the sleep from his eyes, he boots up his computer and begins checking emails and social media feeds, responding to messages from fans and emails from sponsors and professional organizations. Davin then posts on Twitter that he’ll be starting a stream soon, usually around 1 or 2 pm. He boots up H1Z1 and his work day begins.

  He will be at the desk for the next 10 to 15 hours. This is the life of an Esports athlete. 

Davin has made his livelihood through the burgeoning scene of competitive gaming and streaming. He streams his matches through the live video service, Twitch, a platform centered around video game-related content. On Twitch, players commentate their gameplay live for an audience that is tuning in from around the world. The platform has grown exponentially in recent years, with content creators making millions showcasing their skills and charisma. Twitch creators get paid based on the number of people that subscribe to their channel, as well as through donations made by their fans through the website. Davin makes his living in a combination of money from Twitch and his earnings from tournaments. 

There are quite a few games in the esports scene at the moment, but Davin’s game of choice is H1Z1. It is a “battle royale” shooter, a fairly new genre that pits a group of approximately 100 players against each other in a giant arena. When the game starts they must gather supplies and weapons to take out other players and be the last one standing. It’s a bit like a video game version of the Hunger Games. 

“H1Z1 was the game I thrived on most. It just clicked with me, I can’t really explain why,” Davin said.

The “battle royale” genre has become immensely popular with two titles controlling the genre— Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. The latter has been making headlines for its meteoric rise to fame. In December of 2017 the average number of concurrent viewers was 40,000 and as of May 2018 that number has increased to 150,000, according to One Fortnite streamer that goes by the handle of “Ninja” was recently featured on NBC for his reported income of 500 thousand dollars per month from Twitch. Another well-known celebrity in the world of gaming goes by the name “Dr. Disrespect,” a bit of a living caricature of himself. At the yearly convention for Twitch streamers and fans, he lived up to his own bombastic persona. 

“Dr. Disrespect showed up in a Lamborghini, because obviously he would,” Davin  recalled.

On Davin’s streams he stays fairly quiet, letting his top-tier gameplay speak for itself. Most of the screen on his broadcast is dedicated to the game, with the bottom left corner showing a view of his face. Like most streamers he also keeps a playlist of music going, usually of some new hip-hop music. The rapper Post Malone is on fairly heavy rotation during his stream. Periodically during his games he’ll respond to the messages from his viewers and interact with them in real time. He says that this has always been his favorite part of streaming, talking with the viewers. 

H1Z1 is one of the earlier attempts at the battle royale genre, being released in early 2016. It was around this time that Davin started spending most of his time practicing the game. During the 10 to 15 hours of his day while streaming his content he is tirelessly practicing. He’ll take notes on strategies and keep track of his kill-count and his wins and losses. After playing he reviews the footage of his past games to analyze what worked and what didn’t, refining his strategy for future games.

Competitive video game playing requires a different skill set than most professionals, but it takes just as much effort and time to perfect. Lightning fast reflexes and complex decision making are two of the key factors that come into play when separating a casual player from a professional. For shooter games, services such as 3D Aim Trainer have popped up to provide players with a way to test and improve their reaction time and aiming skills. These services provide millisecond-accurate data on how fast their player is aiming. Often before a tournament, players will spend several hours practicing with these tools to warm up before they play. It’s not all that different from a football player running drills or an olympic runner stretching before a race. 

Another tool in the Esports players toolkit is usually found in the gear of mountain climbers— hand warmers. If you watch a live stream of a tournament, you’ll probably see players using hand warmers before the game. The purpose of this is two-fold: they keep the hands warm to improve circulation as well as keep your hands dry. In high adrenaline situations it is common for someone’s hands to become cold and sweaty. When players are in a situation where thousands or even millions of dollars are on the line. Any improvement in their play, no matter how seemingly minute, can be the difference between winning and losing.  

Behind the faces of the players, the lights and spectacle of stages and the glory of competition lies the business side of this rising industry. The companies that work most closely with the players are player agencies, of which there are many. These organizations help organize their teams and get them into higher profile, larger prize pool tournaments, provide them with travel and hotel arrangements, design and provide their jerseys for events, and manage sponsorships. They range from multi-million dollar organizations such as Optic Gaming to smaller tight-knit groups such as Sway Gaming. 

Sway is based out of New York and was started in 2008 by Anthony Pellone and Anthony Morris. They go by the handles of “Kuoda” and “Hostility” respectively. In Pellone’s day job he works for an environmental science lab while Morris holds a job in state government. They work on Sway in their spare time and most of the money invested in the business has been their own. Despite Sway not being their primary source of income, Pellone and Morris run their organization like a machine, while never forgetting that the players make it all possible.

“The hierarchy of Sway is set up in a sort of governmental aspect. We’re the two people deciding on things at the end of the day, but we make sure everybody gets a voice. Everybody gets asked about sponsors, everybody gets consulted,” Morris says. 

They started the organization in 2011 after going to local tournaments and seeing the growing interest in competitive gaming as a lifestyle and as a profession. Both moderately competitive players at the time, they also wanted to foster a community for like-minded people to share their passion for this niche culture. 

It would take until 2013 for Sway to get involved in supporting players for tournaments. In that time they began slowing growing their business and their brand, as any small business does. In the world of Esports expansion consists of finding better and more talented players to become part of your organization. They look for these players like most other talent scouts, attending tournaments and Esports related conventions to scope out players and subsequently follow their progress online through their streams. If they find a player or team that they think has promise, they’ll approach them about being part of their organization.

When Davin went to his first major Esports tournament in Dallas in 2015, his performance was noticed by Esports recruiters. He was soon after signed onto Circa Esports as a professional H1Z1 player. He spent about a year and a half with Circa until the Esports organization disbanded in early 2018. After that he was picked up by Mortem Esports, who still represents him. 

Much of the financial backing for these groups comes from the sponsors. If you’ve ever seen a basketball game where all the players are wearing Nike sneakers or seen Gatorade logo covered coolers on the benches of a football game, then you’re probably familiar with the concept. Brands will pay people to use their products or put their logos somewhere on their clothing. While brands like Nike or Gatorade are big players in sports, Esports has brands such as Dell, Intel, Red Bull and even Coca-Cola sponsoring them. 

Smaller organizations such as Sway have smaller companies sponsor their players. They’ve been sponsored by Gamer Gloves, a company that makes gloves intended to help players with sweaty hands keep a grip on the game; Squid Grips, a company that makes rubber grips for controllers and Scuff Gaming, who make customized controllers for players. A company called GFuel makes energy drinks marketed specifically to Esports players and fans. There are a myriad of different companies that want a piece of the action.


The expansion of competitive gaming in America has been a long time coming. The world of Esports has its origins and its largest following in South Korea. Gaming as a whole has a more prevalent place in Korean culture than it does in America. Online gaming is a standard part of life for most Korean children and has been so since the early to mid 1990s. Companies like electronics giant Samsung were some of the first to get major companies like Nintendo and Sega to bring their game consoles into the Korean market from Japan. 

With the increases in computing technology and, just as importantly, internet speeds, online gaming became a staple of Korean culture. As internet prevalence grew, love for gaming intensified and inevitably players began to compete. Gaming for many South Koreans takes place in a PC bang (which literally translates to “PC room”), a type of gaming center where people can come in and play as long as they want for an hourly fee. Usually the fee runs between 1000 and 1500 won, which is approximately $0.90 to $1.35 per hour. These PC bangs have become a place for young adult gamers to congregate and spend time together doing something they all enjoy. Many PC bangs are open 24 hours a day and sell food, drinks or anything else one might need during a several hour gaming binge. 

In the early 2000s professional gaming began to be taken seriously in Korea. Players  became celebrities and fans would travel from all over the country to see them play. In 2005 the first stadium entirely dedicated to Esports was erected in South Korea. South Korea is where the world championships of some of the most popular games such as League of Legends and Starcraft are held. A South Korean League of Legends team called the “Samsung Galaxy” won the League World Championship in 2017, winning $1,540,000 in prize money.

With the resounding success that Esports have had in South Korea, the trend has begun to spread west. Many European nations such as the UK and France began expanding their Esports facilities and franchises and in the last two to three years America has started catching up. In March it was announced that Arlington, Texas will be building a 100,000 square foot Esports stadium in their city, far and away the nation’s largest competitive gaming venue. The stadium is being built just a mile away from AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys.

Organizations like those that worked with Davin are now numerous and commonplace and those that grow and become international in the Esports world go on to become massive businesses. Team Liquid, an American Esports organization, has partnered with Alienware computers to build a 8,000 square foot training facility for their players. 

One shining example of the rise of Esports in the United States is the Overwatch League. Overwatch is a team based shooter that was released in the spring of 2016. It’s an online game centered around intense competition, making it perfect for the Esports scene. The developers of the game, Blizzard Entertainment, knew this and founded the Overwatch League to drive the popularity of Overwatch. 

The Overwatch League functions in a similar way to the NFL or the NBA. There are twelve teams divided into Pacific and Atlantic divisions and named after cities, mostly American, such as the Los Angeles Valiant, the New York Excelsior or the Shanghai Dragons. The teams are owned by both massive Esports organizations as well as private owners. Cloud 9 owns the team London Spitfire and Optic Gaming owns the Houston Outlaws. 

There has even been an intersection with the traditional sports world. New York Excelsior is owned by Jeff Wilpon, the COO of the New York Mets, Philadelphia Fusion is owned by Comcast Spectacor, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Gladiators are owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment which own the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Nuggets. 

The Overwatch League is also one of the only American Esports events that runs on a consistent schedule. There are several matches every week, airing on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They take place in an arena in Los Angeles and are broadcast via Twitch to an audience of millions. The broadcasts contain commentary from a panel of shoutcasters who in some ways have become as popular as the players themselves and include advertising from massive brands such as HP and Intel.

When watching an Overwatch League game you will see the same rabid fandom you can see at any tailgate party. Fans come dressed in their favorite players’ jerseys, they make signs, they try to get on camera when they see it passing through the crowd. In many ways it feels like a new age in sports. It provides an outlet for fans’ unwavering dedication to people who are the best of the best at what they love. 

“The Overwatch League has sort of become a glass ceiling right now for what Esports has become, but someone will make it even bigger some day. It’s really exciting to be a part of this,” Anthony Pellone said.  

Players like Davin and so many others practice tirelessly, dedicating their lives to becoming top tier players in the hopes of achieving the glory that comes with winning on a world stage with millions watching. Organizations like Sway, led by two devoted fans trying to build a community, can grow and blossom into a massive empire, giving those players a chance to live out their dream. 

The American Esports scene may still have some catching up to do with South Korea or Europe, but the grassroots passion that exists within those fighting to push their passions further will show how massive Esports can get. So next time you see someone grinding away on Twitch for 10 or 12 hours, the next time you see them might be on a world stage.

A Recycling Crisis Leads to New Innovations

(This is an article I wrote as part of a solutions journalism class during my undergrad)

On the Stony Brook University campus is a building called The Boathouse. It’s a concrete garage that holds the Marine Science program’s boat, vans and supplies. It looks no different from other campus buildings, but it might hold an answer to the recycling and waste crisis. The building is made mostly from trash.

The boathouse has been an experiment for Larry Swanson, a marine sciences professor at Stony Brook, and a few of his colleagues at the university’s Waste Reduction and Management Institute. It was constructed in 1990 using the innovative technique of combining municipal waste ash with concrete for use as an engineering aggregate. The building material is made up of 75 percent waste ash and 25 percent concrete.

Environmental programs and efforts have existed for decades but have taken on a new importance in the last several months as the United States has fallen into a recycling crisis. Early in 2018, the world’s largest customer for recyclables, China, has abruptly cut off imports on other nations’ garbage.

“People are sort of scratching their heads about what to do, but we’re all trying new things,” said Swanson.


On Long Island, in recent decades, most recyclables have been collected by sanitation companies working under contracts with towns. The cans, bottles, plastics and newspapers are taken to town recycling centers, where they are separated by machines and employees based on what kind of materials they are, then the plastics are compacted into bales.

For decades, China has bought most of those bales from U.S. recyclers, a trade which amounted to 10.8 million tons of material and $5.6 billion in 2017, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc.

In May 2018, China stopped buying almost all recyclables from the United States as part of its expanded environmental protection legislation, part of an attempt to curb the environmental damage done by the skyrocketing industrial growth in the nation. With China having industrialized at an unprecedented rate over the last several decades, the country is now beginning to face their own problems with waste, as well as their position as one of the worst polluting countries. It also comes after a 2015 study conducted by research group Berkeley Earth that estimated the rampant pollution contributed to 1.6 million deaths per year in China. Since then, the market for recyclable materials has been nearly non-existent.

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Recycling centers across the country have been at capacity or over capacity now that their main customer is no longer buying from them. Some centers have gotten special permissions from their town or state to bring a portion of those recyclables to landfills so that the centers could keep taking their citizens materials. This has presented another problem as landfills begin to reach their maximum capacities. Use of sustainable building aggregates like those used in The Boathouse could help to to alleviate the issue of landfill space while also buying time to find a new solution for recyclables.
Swanson and his group brought their research to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2017, hoping to get a Beneficial Use Determination, which would allow the technology to be used across the state, but the DEC rejected their attempts despite more than 25 years of environmental test data that scientists supplied.

The DEC’s reasoning for this decision has been concern over whether the public would approve of using repurposed trash in their buildings, Swanson said.

The DEC declined to comment.

Over the past 28 years, the Stony Brook scientists have tested the chemical stability of the boathouse itself and water runoff from the building to make sure no toxic substances were released. The material has proved to be completely safe and chemically stable.

When concrete is poured for a structure, it begins a process called hydration, in which the water and cement begin to form calcium silicate hydrate molecules. This is the glue that holds the material together and creates the durable material we refer to as concrete. As the material absorbs moisture and slowly dries, it strengthens. This process continues over years, and when complete, the material has doubled in hardness and strength. The boathouse has doubled in strength in almost exactly the same fashion as traditional concrete, Swanson said.

Swanson said that regardless of these findings and tests he conducted, the DEC has not changed its stance on the use of municipal ash in concrete, nor has the technique been adopted on large-scale construction projects.

While the DEC struggles over the public perception of these new technologies, the Town of Brookhaven Recycling Center on Long Island in Yaphank, New York has had an exceptionally difficult time dealing with buildup of material since the Chinese banned plastic imports. More than half of the gigantic facility is filled with piles of plastic and paper over 10 feet high. Industrial loaders and forklifts shuffle the waste from place to place in an attempt to provide workers adequate room to sort recyclables.

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A worker looks over his shoulder at the daunting piles of plastic

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The conveyor belts where employees pick through the garbage and recyclables

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Piles of garbage like this are scattered around the Town of Brookhaven recycling center

Employees at the facility often are stationed along extensive conveyor belts that stretch most of length of the building, picking out the non-recyclable material that could not be properly separated by the massive machinery. After this, the recyclables are brought to industrial baling machines where it is compacted into large blocks. Before the China ban took place, it would be sent out to be shipped to China. Now, the blocks just sit and wait.

“This building was clean about a month ago,” a Town of Brookhaven official said during a visit with Stony Brook students in Sep. 2018.

The non-recyclable waste is loaded onto trucks that take it to a nearby incinerator where it is burned and turned to ash. Then, it is loaded back onto the trucks and brought back to the landfill, where it is added to the mountain of dense ash.

While the boathouse presents one solution to the recycling crisis, one of Swanson’s colleagues has been working on another approach.

Another Stony Brook professor, Frank Roethel, has been working on another project that should help the Town of Brookhaven Landfill with its own overcrowding issues. Roethel’s research is mostly in the area of beneficial use of waste. He is seeking approval by the DEC and funding to mine into the landfill to remove some of the usable metals from all the ash.

The process would use a combination of mining technology and sediment sorting technology to separate particles of metal from the ash based on size. According to Roethel’s research, the particles that the machine would collect would be too small to have any significant contamination.

It is easy to mistake the Brookhaven landfill for a mountain at first glance, until you see the blackened color of the ash. Dump trucks are constantly driving up and down hills in the trash to add to the piles. Some sections of the landfill have actually been covered in soil to give the appearance of a natural formation, as well as to seal the compacted trash from outside air and pests.

By Roethel’s estimates, the project should be able to cut down approximately 10 percent of the volume of the landfill and produce $200,000 worth of metal. He was granted a Research, Development and Demonstration Permit by the state on Aug. 10 and hopes to begin the project in the coming months.

Based on the current rate of waste being added to the Brookhaven landfill, it will reach its maximum capacity by 2032, but there have been proposals to close down the landfill sooner due to the rising costs and complaints from people living nearby. It costs about $6 million per year to haul ash to and from the landfill, but it would only cost $3 million to close the landfill over the next two- to three-year period.

Roethel said he hopes that, should the project go well, his team will be granted a “beneficial use determination” from New York State, which would allow the process of mining metals from garbage ash to be used statewide. His largest concern for the project has been funding. The money that would be made from the metals being mined would largely pay for the project, but to begin Roethel needs investments from private companies.

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Just a sliver of the ash mountains at the Brookhaven landfill

“We’re moving in the right direction, but the financial cost is not always viable,” Roethel said.

While Swanson and his colleagues at Stony Brook are working to get their technologies utilized, innovations in waste reduction have not been confined to New York.

On Sept. 5, the Mayor of Baltimore City announced a new program entitled the Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy. Its goals are to reduce commercial food waste in the city by 50 percent, eliminate all food waste from higher education institutions, and divert 90 percent of food and organic waste generated by city officials, all by 2040.

This program is part of a larger accountability system set up by the State of Maryland to encourage waste source reduction programs. The counties that enact these types of programs receive “credits” that count toward their waste diversion goal of 40 percent. The system provides a way of quantifying the amorphous goal of reducing waste and encourages counties to be more proactive in providing environmentally friendly programs.

“If you encourage source reduction efficiently, the amount of waste reduces every year,” Caj Didigu of the Maryland Recycling department said.

The severity of this crisis has made efforts like the source reduction credit system in Maryland all the more important.

The EPA has been putting forth increased efforts in reducing waste in recent years, with case studies in several hospitals across the U.S. Only about 15 percent of a hospital’s waste consists of infectious materials that require incineration. The other 85 percent comprises paper, plastic, food or other recyclable materials. These case studies have been largely conducted by Terry Grogan, chief of the Municipal Waste Reduction Branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In one study, the EPA instituted guidelines to reduce the amount of overall waste produced by the hospital, donate unneeded materials to community groups and nonprofit organizations and institute a comprehensive recycling plan. The Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, increased the amount of solid waste diverted from the waste stream from 10 to 32 percent. After seven years the hospital even saved an average of $100,000 per year in disposal costs.

The effort to reduce waste can bring significant economic benefits even at a small scale. A Pizzeria Uno in New York saved over $1,000 per year simply from replacing cocktail napkins with reusable coasters. The book retailer Barnes & Noble has begun to reuse the boxes it uses to ship product to stores, saving on the cost of cardboard while cutting down on waste.

As recently as Oct. 18, New York City passed a ban on single-use plastic-foam cups. Attempts to ban these cups began in 2013 but have faced repeated challenges by the Dart Container company, makers of Styrofoam. In June 2017, Justice Margaret Chan turned away Dart’s challenge and upheld the ban. The legal battle was fought with help from nonprofit groups such as the National Resources Defense Counsel.

New York City now joins over 200 cities across the U.S. that have banned single-use foam cups.

The mounting pressure of the current recycling crisis is pushing states, counties and companies to put forth new solutions and create innovative solutions that could have a lasting impact on the future of the environment as well as the economy.

“To deal with the issue, we all have to be more inventive,” Caj Didigu said.