From the ALS Underground: The Last (Plastic) Straw

From the ALS Underground: The Last (Plastic) Straw

Dagmar Living Well

Have you heard the news? They’re banning plastic straws. Oh, darn! Just when I thought I had my ALS symptoms all figured out, perfect solutions in place, and solid daily routines to follow, a new curveball comes my way. The fact is I need straws!

Not just any old straws mind you, but long, wide-barreled, plastic straws. As I described in a previous column, I have a two-part system that enables me to drink beverages without choking. Using a straw keeps my chin down, which helps to close off my airway. Then a thickening powder is added to my drink that helps guide the liquid past my slow-reacting throat muscles. So, it ends up in my stomach like it’s supposed to, and not in my lungs. Straws are so important to me that I keep several on hand at home and even tuck one in my purse to use when I’m eating at a restaurant.

But now I read that the straw wars have begun, and there’s a growing worldwide movement to ban plastic straws completely.

What? Why? When?

California has imposed a ban on plastic straws in restaurants unless customers ask for one. Seattle has done the same, and other major cities are expected to follow. Many countries in Europe have similar plans ready to take effect by 2020. Even the Queen of England has banned plastic straws from the royal grounds. Will offenders be banished to the tower?

Maybe I should take steps to protect my own stash of straws. You know, just in case I’m caught smuggling contraband into local restaurants. Perhaps I should use a marking pen to print “MEDICAL ASSISTIVE DEVICE” in tiny letters down the side of each straw.

OK, OK, take a breath, Dagmar.

Let’s look at the alternatives

After a quick search online, I learned that this forthcoming plastic straw scarcity has spawned a new industry of alternatives. Before there were paper straws (invented in the late 1800s), people used straws made from plants with natural tube shapes, such as bamboo and ryegrass, to sip beverages. Current solutions are returning to these early options and exploring other possibilities such as straws made from sugar, pasta, and plant compounds.

These may be just fine for folks who take five or 10 minutes to polish off their lattes. But because ALS slows everything down, the time to drink my morning coffee extends to about 30 minutes. That’s a lot of soaking time to demand of a pasta straw or even a paper one. Mushy straws are no fun for anyone.

As far as sturdier straws go, reusable stainless steel, silicone, and glass options (yikes!) can be purchased online. There’s even a folding straw — complete with a cleaning brush and a tiny carrying case.

But for my needs, diameter matters: A wider straw is better at handling the milkshake-like thickness that I prefer. Those scrawny straws and cocktail stirrers provided in many restaurants just don’t cut it.

To avoid the embarrassment of making strange sucking sounds while using a scrawny straw in public, I find my “perfect straw” is available in places where milkshakes are popular. In my town, that happens to be In-N-Out Burger and Culver’s Restaurant. Of course, I’m a responsible collector. I purchase my tasty milkshake and save the straw that comes with it. The way I figure it, my habit of saving and reusing old straws should win me some points among the environmentalists out there.

They don’t go away

Then there’s the ethical question of how to dispose of my old used straws. I’ve learned that it takes nearly 500 years for one plastic straw to break down in the compost heap. That means I’m throwing them out way too soon, and if I throw them away, they don’t go away, lingering in the landfill or drifting out to sea. Even incineration creates lasting air pollution. So, I guess I’ll just go on hoarding, er, collecting plastic straws and see what the future brings.

Someday you might find yourself in need of a plastic straw or two. And after making contact with a secret source, you arrange a clandestine meetup behind the local Lotaburger. You arrive at the appointed hour and wait. Suddenly, from out of the shadows a figure slowly approaches. But beware! Especially if that dark figure happens to be pushing a rollator — because that shadowy figure could very well be me!

“Hey, ya wanna buy a straw?”

Moral of the story

Life throws curveballs at us all of the time. But if we use a little humor, keep a positive attitude, and rely on our adaptability, we can live well while living with ALS.

***

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.

12 comments

  1. Pamela says:

    Hi,just sharing what i have. I have 2 cups about 10 oz each with a straw already attached don’t know if they are thick enough but worth looking into. I don’t know where to get them but a little research you’ll probably find them i got mine in rehab. You Probably already know about these cups but there might be someone out in the ALS world that doesn’t good luck on finding what you need 🙂 (P)

  2. Rita says:

    Hi Dagmar!
    About a month ago when we, in California, were having quite a few fires my asthma was a bit compromised, but luckily I had the opportunity to go to Half Moon Bay. While eating at a restaurant there they supplied us with a paper straw!
    I was excited Lol for a minute! I’m not sure if it was because of my asthma, but my mouth felt extra dry trying to get my water up the straw. It lasted through 2 glasses and the structure seemed fine, but the straw seemed extra thick, and I definitely used some muscles Lol I hadn’t realized how a change in material could affect my abilities due to my asthma, I was actually tired afterwards.
    Thanks for the information, I’m definitely much more aware of the change that’s coming.

  3. Patricia says:

    Hi Dagmar, I agree that most of what we do or use have consequences one way or another. I feel very guilty and fret about disposing of straws, I decided to cut them in tiny pieces which doesn’t make their breakdown shorter but at least in my mind they won’t get into little turtles nostrils. There is no good answer actually. I think the solution is for some bright mind to invent a way to recycle the plastic straws instead of banning them.
    In the meantime I have seen cups for children that have a big thick straw attached to the cap and made of the same material, so it is one piece, this makes it easy for kids to handle on their own. This could be a good idea for you to at least give it a try.

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      That’s funny Patricia… I too thought about cutting them up in one inch pieces to string them into a necklace. Maybe start a new fad (LOL) Thanks for the tip about the cups.

  4. Thomas Stroud says:

    Go for the Bubble Tea places. They have great straws and even have an angle cut on one end. Use then hoard. I have to tell my house cleaners they are never allowed to throw away straws.

  5. Bountiful says:

    Love your upbeat personality & humor, Dagmar. You add light to an otherwise somewhat dark disease. I’m a holistic RN withALS who has always believed every problem has a solution. Due to the constant changes in our bodies with ALS this is a tough nut to crack. I don’t believe I’ve even scratched the surface of this one. However in regard to straws there are glass straws and stainless steel straws available on Amazon.com. That might be sufficient for anything similar to a smoothie with its 10 mm opening.

    On amazon…..Glass Straws Clear 9″ x 10 mm Drinking Straws Reusable Straws Healthy, Reusable, Eco Friendly, BPA Free, 4 Pack With Cleaning Brush
    This item Glass Straws Clear 9″ x 10 mm Drinking Straws Reusable Straws Healthy, Reusable, Eco Friendly, BPA Free, 4 Pack With Cleaning Brush

    Good luck & keep your wonderful sense of humor engaged!!!

    • Dagmar Munn says:

      Thank you Bountiful – – the great tips just keep rolling in! It’s always heartening to me to know the experiences I share are of help to others. Stay strong, stay positive!

  6. Cheyne G says:

    Stainless Steel Drinking Straws, Alink Extra Wide Long Reusable Fat Boba Metal Smoothie Straws Jumbo, 12 mm X 9 in Set of 4 with Cleaning Brush

    there are wide reusable metal straws on Amazon for super. They are excellent and you can wash and reuse and throw in your bag. great with thick milkshakes and smoothies.

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