Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm Scotty on the new Starship Enterprise

UW Hospital and Clinics
UW Hospital is assembled not unlike the pillars of the Giants Causeway, with an elevator bay in each pillar.  But to get to the J wing, well, you're going to need to take the H or the K elevators because while there is a J pillar, there is no J elevator.  I will get to the bottom of that madness eventually as it's fooled me more than once and now I'm just pissed, but it's my world for now.

In a nutshell, the job is great.  My reflections have everything to do with being a newbie.  Everybody is very nice and understanding because everybody remembers being new on a job and in the history of mankind nobody ever enjoyed it.  People help me on elevators, in corridors, in the clinics, in the cafeteria.  They couldn't be nicer really.  It's a thing in hospitals.  Ministering to lost souls. And it's a fact somewhere I'm sure that hospitals are built only to be quickly and constantly retrofitted for the rest of their existence for the explosion of people and services that follow.   I have never entered or exited work the same way twice and that is not by choice.  I'm surprised every day that I pop out of the complex facing a different direction.

Due to the rapid regeneration of brain tissue, I have twice passed out with tongue lolling and what I want to believe was gentle snoring well before 10 p.m. most evenings this week.  Chip and I are mere ships passing in the morning over the paper and a cup of coffee.  I even had an evening meeting this week. We're that family now.  The girls are bearing up well and really it's about time anyway that they learn where the spoons and forks are.

My walk has been crazy long until yesterday when I discovered a crucial hypotenuse along my long lonely journey.  Today I believe I actually looked like I knew where I was going.

Home sweet home

Friday, September 24, 2010

Screwing with my blog settings

In my attempts to make the text more readable, well, let's just say I got carried away and pushed a lot of buttons.  I quite like the calm color and the bigger font for our 48ish year old eyes.  But don't be a hater.  Feedback is welcome and if I don't get any I'll assume it's ok.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dithering yet

Blogging and a full time job…hmmm, how’s that gonna work?  Typically I've enjoyed sitting alone at home once everyone has left for the day, laptop in my lap, writing in peace to fiddle and tweak and finesse over a cup of coffee until I get a post just how I want it.  Writing’s been my knitting since knitting got boring.  And this speaks very much to my knitting when I say that you'd rather read my blog than wear my scarves.

My avatar with Don Draper. Where I wish I worked.
But there's no peace yet.  Home after 5 there’s already at least one kid home, hoards of pets in need of nourishment and release, phone messages to be answered, neighbors to greet, dinner to be made all before evening commitments commence.  I’ll get it all together eventually but not this week.  I’m chasing my Ann Taylored tail. 

Everything that is routine about a person going to work is a succession of hurdles for the new guy.  Opening my calendar on Outlook and finding my parking spot are thought provoking enough for now.  My commute's code is yet undecipherable…I’m either 15 minutes early or 30 minutes early.  Every literal step I take is with some hesitancy.  Am I going the right way?  Where am I going?  Who is behind the next door?  Typical newbie overload.

I unloaded from my car on my first day like I was about to move up the mountain from base camp. Three bags thrown akimbo over both shoulders as I teetered and tiptoed through an unpaved parking marsh called Lot 130 by the University and Lot Bangladesh by me, fumbling for my phone, my keys and my ID badge as I lunged and stumbled onto the parking shuttle to the withering glances of other riders.  Did they harken back to their first days on the job?  Hard to say since they had all been snoozing until a wild woman fell onto their bus.

Every day it gets a little easier.  I wear my sneakers now to cross the marsh to the shuttle and I’m down to two bags.  Today I was simply on time.  I’m finding more economical paths through the medical matrix to the office where I squat while someone's on vacation, still not even a chair to call my own.  And still packing my lunch and eating at my desk because there’s nothing worse than standing in the salad bar line without a friend.  

“Aw, Mom, you ate alone again today? In your car?  Not in the bathroom I hope?”
“Yes, Ally, I ate in the bathroom… in the stall, sobbing on the toilet.”

Nothing more tragic for a teenager than to picture her mom, or anyone for that matter, eating alone.  I don’t feel lonely at all eating my lunch at my desk.  There are hundreds of people around me for the first time in a while and I'm content to be quite anonymous for now.  Nobody even knows to look for me yet.  The discomfort and the uncertainty of being new are shortlived, this I do remember from each job I've had.  It just feels long.

My family took me out to live it up large at Sprechers for my first dinner as a working girl.  

I had a history teacher in high school, a quirky guy overly obsessed with Japan named Mr. Fisher who when we complained about being hot in the classroom told a story of suffering such unbelievable cold as a soldier in the military that he vowed never to complain about the heat again. I am Mr. Fisher.  No complaints.

The housewives in the neighborhood miss me, I think.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some friend I am

And so I've returned to the world of work outside the home.  That world where you have to respond to the time clock of others. The world where you wear an ID badge.  The world where you can't wear a modified version of your pajamas for the first six hours of your day.

Hospitals are perhaps the most complicated and entangled bureaucracies of all bureaucracies...but maybe I'm naive.  School districts and universities probably give hospitals a run for their money but I think accidental death always being a possible outcome at hospitals makes for slightly higher stakes than say, flunking.  As health care employees, we are charged with efficiently processing large amounts of very personal and private information while managing and serving a customer group that is mostly anxious, in pain and facing life and death decisions. It's a service industry with layers of standards, protocols, procedures, updates, changes, improvements, responses to government and regulating bodies that drop in without notice... and in the end, patient survival, healing and as a cherry on the pie, satisfaction lead the charge of every day.  Anybody who crunches numbers in health care can attest to the importance of customer satisfaction as an overall major maker or breaker of hospitals.  It isn't acceptable anymore to just be competent at care.  Cost overruns do not sit well with CEOs but neither do patient complaints. The result of trying to make sense of how all the jigsaw pieces fit together amounts to a very long and arduous employee orientation.

I really could benefit from some proper therapy

How does this all affect me initially?  Not well, I'll tell you.  While the school district was its own madness, it didn't feel nearly as badass as the hospital did to me this week.  Maybe I'm just a bit rusty being with my own kind again and I'm taking it all too seriously while at the same time grinding the gears of my mind that aren't as greased as they used to be.  I came home agitated and in such a fog the first day and promptly spanked two dear neighbors who dared to cross my path to be kind to me.  I didn't exactly yell, GET AWAY FROM ME but I pretty much communicated as much.  I was o-ver-loaded by rules and regs.

You brought me dinner without permission? I might have to kill you.
Now most normal people would greet a neighbor delivering a fully cooked Tex-Mex surprise dinner with a "Gee, what a fantastic place this is to live and I really value you as my friend."  But I'm not normal people...or am I?   I greeted her at the door instead with humorless surprise, wearing a look that probably said "great, one more g.d. thing"  Eyes like saucers at that point, I muttered a feeble thanks and took the bag ungraciously.  The nerve of her really, right?  How dare she take care of me without expressed permission?  She called the next day and all I could say after my apology was,

"Did I look murderous?  Because I felt like I could have killed anyone to satisfy my blood thirst at that moment in time.  Could you see it in my eyes?  Who knew that a 90 minute benefits presentation could put me so close to the edge."

She's a good friend, thankfully, and said she could see the blood vessels breaking in the whites of my eyes and ran out the door for her life, confirming my suspicion that I had the look of a postal worker whose route had been changed.  This is a problem you see, surprising thankless hyper-controlling people.  They can become rageful.

What'd I ever do to have a friend like her?
Thank God I build up a lot of goodwill with friends like her in-between freak outs, thereby allowing for some slippage occasionally.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A working stiff once more

The wind is gusting today near 50 mph, apropos of my own thoughts swirling around my head.

I'm rejoining the ranks of the working stiffs after 18 long months that felt like 18 years and that is big news for those who know me personally.  Even after four days, I wake up each morning forgetting I now have a job.  I will spare the details because it's a new position at the UW hospital and I myself don't really know what's involved yet beyond being in a support position in advanced nursing practice for the pediatric clinics and that the position is non-patient care (otherwise known as the "pumps and pearls" track).  Taking a step away from patient care is maybe a risky thing at this point in my career but Chip assures me after listening to me for the last three years that maybe giving kids and their parents a break from Nurse Ratched is a kind turn for mankind.  I do love kids.  really.  I do.  It's the parents that give me the agita.

There's not even a chair with my name on it yet let alone an office as this is a new nursing position, so beyond my urinalysis drug test this afternoon (no poppyseed bagels this weekend...but what about the metabolites of the contact high from the Jimmy Buffet concert in July?) and a mountain of paperwork to complete, I'm still a little bit hazy about my own position.  More on this as I embark on the journey.  All I know for sure is, honey, Chip gave me a clothing allowance.

WIAA sports prohibited running so the girls were delighted to gossip and walk
The Labor Day weekend was spent like most Labor Day weekends of the past with one exception.  A benefit called Suzy's Walk to assist and honor children with cancer and their families, something we all wish didn't need to exist.  Suzy Favor Hamilton, formerly Suzy Favor the Olympic runner, hosted the event and really could not have been nicer.  As we registered, she greeted our family warming with a smiley "Thanks for coming!" to which Ally gave the international teen facial expression "Who's the wacko?" She was pleasantly surprised to learn that the smiley lady in the tiara was in fact, the host of the walk.  She's a good doobie, that Suzy, and we were happy to throw a little coin her way.

We walked for the parents of three families in our world whose kids have walked through the fire of leukemia treatment over the past five years and Ally and her friends walked for their softball buddy. Madi.

We played golf on Sunday to avoid a block party.  There, I admit it.  I can't live under the weight of my lies any longer.  I didn't want to make a covered dish and I didn't want to face the old bitch who hates my cats.  There.  I said it.  Don't judge.

We played 18 holes with a cart, my new favorite golf accessory.  We played with one other guy who had intimate knowledge of the course and helped Chip, aka Skip, unlock many secrets of this course that Chip/Skip had yet to discover.  Meanwhile I hacked away like Elmer Fudd off the tee with my now much despised old fashioned tiny- headed woods but putted very well, even draining a 25-foot putt for par on a par 5 hole.  What an incredibly stupid stupid game.

And so Labor Day for me this year meant the end of a labor free era.  I'm happy for the time off that I've had on this job search but very ready to get back to the frantic pace and balance of work and family paired together.  Lately I had felt myself slipping down that slope of helicopter parenting....and I was weakening by the day.  No more waiting at the kitchen counter for the children to come home.  No more me, wine in hand, and the dog looking at each other at 6pm wondering where everyone is.  No more Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew or Dr. Oprah.
Organization, procedure, routine....the NEW REGIME.
Oh, who am I kidding?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Democracy makes me weepy

While Madison starts school again and at-risk kids are finally back in a safe environment for the next nine months, organizations that care for these same children 24/7/365 (something schools wish they could promise but can't really provide) are fighting for their lives.  I'm a daytime person and I prefer to hunker down at home at night with a brandy and a cigar, but on Monday I got the distinct feeling that I am missing out on some vital nightlife going on in my community.  I saw just how many people are beginning their most important work at 5pm after the regular work day is done and civic duties begin, those who compassionately care for and advocate for the most severely affected people in our country especially in this economy; the poor, the ill, the very old and the very young.

I sit on the board of our local community center and this week as part of my duties I attended a five hour funding meeting of the Community Services Committee, a commission appointed by the mayor of Madison to dole out 4 million dollars in discretionary monies...mysterious to me beyond that.  City funds have been slashed for 2010/11, creating an ominous B-list of organizations and/or their services on the chopping block.  I was instructed in advance to wear my nametag and look bigger than I am, like trying to scare off a bear.  The more people representing the organization, the better represented we were in the minds of those people two feet away who might take away as much as $11,000 of our center's budget.  That's somebody's job at the center.  The committee's task is ridiculously hard and the organizations, even as they begged and pleaded for their money to be restored, acknowledged the difficult task on behalf of the committee and their unenviable position.  Somebody will eventually go home unhappy and there's no organization more deserving than another.  A Sophie's choice at this point in the game.  Each organization is part of a web that stretches across the city to catch the vulnerable at multiple points in the life cycle and is only as strong as the ones around it.  Problem is, everybody's on Jello legs.

I liken the dread of the past few days leading up to the first day of school, for my own kids anyway, as being the equivalent of kneeling before the chopping block with your neck exposed below the guillotine blade while the guy who cuts the rope stands idly by talking to his buddy.  Cut the rope already. The blade dropped painlessly in most instances today as joyful and excited kids all over the city returned to school.  However, the blade is still dangling over the futures of several community organizations all over Madison as the Monday meeting went on so long with the public comments that another meeting had to be scheduled for tonight to actually decide on the cuts.

To give you a taste of it because it really was a unique experience despite my nagging backache still, imagine a large board room at a public utility with a central table and chairs all around the perimeter and just a few rows of chairs at the back, bursting at the seams with crying babies, kids, executive directors in suits, parents and nervous staff members.  Empty chairs sat at the head of the table where each organization's representatives sat one after another making very personal cases for restoring the funds to their organizations.  The room was filled with the absolutely beautiful kids of this city that I know as a school nurse may come from the most at-risk families in the most at-risk neighborhoods...the families and communities of first generation immigrants, non-native English speakers, Latinos, African-Americans, Hmong, single-parent households, tenants, victims of trauma and injustice, the mentally ill, the uneducated and the disabled.  There were no punches pulled.  African-American parents and organizers talked honestly about African-American boys being at grave risk and disadvantage without access to strong male role models, educational support and over-archingly, hope.  Therapists and social workers talked passionately about the effects of trauma and mental illness on families without intervention.  Without the programs and organizations that make families and kids of color and/or poverty a priority...Boys and Girls Clubs, Urban League, Rainbow Project, Community Centers, Centro Hispano, job training programs, women's advocacy groups....we all suffer and we all pay.  First person accounts over and over of being "saved" by these programs.  Impassioned pleas using words like sanctuary.

Tea Party mentality is a luxury for only the fair skinned who encounter few barriers to equality, education and jobs. The operating budgets of the organizations represented at the meeting are tethered shoestrings and even that is more than some working taxpayers seem willing to pay citing big government as the problem.  Whatever, right?  However true, refusing to hike taxes in the end trickles down only to hurt those at the bottom as everyone above still takes their full cuts.  I'm not making that up.  That's human nature.  Most of us have been the last person to get a bag of candy or a joint being passed around a group.  Last gets the crappiest candy or the slimiest roach depending on what's your pleasure.  Kids and families will fall without their community organizations, that is a fact.  Saddled up, mounted, rode hard and dismounted my soap box in just one paragraph.

I was so impressed with the poise of the kids who courageously spoke to the grown-ups in charge.  A group of Hmong parents and children stepped to the fore, one of the children playing an indigenous musical instrument for the room as evidence of the work of their cultural center.  A committee member asked a child of this cultural organization his opinion about whether holding onto such strong minority identification is not divisive within a community and delays immersion into American culture.  An adult's explanation later said quite the opposite happens, that by identifying with one's heritage and culture and learning to love oneself the individual can immerse more fully into American life.  But the child more succinctly and practically stated, "Well, no because these programs go on during the school year and we do our homework there." Duh.  Bravo, dude.

It is, in the end, still Madison Eutopian society and as one would expect, the committee was kind, encouraging and literally applauding of parents and children for their eloquence and bravery in speaking to the large forum.  All the while, the committee adjusted the agenda to accommodate parents with kids both in the room and at home so they could get the little ones or themselves home.  I'm proud of my city's genuine care and concern for its families but in the end that care and concern doesn't translate into dollars approved by its citizenry for schools and non-profits.  I pay enough in taxes is always the rally cry from the white folks.  Really?  Do you?  I pay willingly and I would pay more if needed.  A mere $80,000 adjustment in the city budget might fix everything--doesn't seem like much in a city budget and one community center director tells the commission to go the city council and find the money and restore everyone's budgets.  Easier said than done?  I don't know the answer.

The mayor and the city council go to meetings like this all the time, hence their beleagured expressions.  My back pain so far has been a daily reminder of the anguish some people in my city face today.  A good kind of pain that maintains character and compassion for others.