Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Progress Report

Facebook has had a new feature-- either that or I never noticed it until recently-- in which it puts up a couple of posts from the same date a year or two ago. Today, one of the old posts was from two years ago; two years ago today, I started nursing school.

On Monday, my nursing license number was finally posted on the Illinois state website, meaning that it's officially official-- I'm a nurse.

A couple of funny things have happened in the last week. First, I was sent to a hospital in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. As I walked into the hospital, I looked at the pictures they always post of the big honchos at the hospital. I had a good chuckle as a I saw the picture and name of the chief of surgery at the hospital. It was Michael P., my high school nemesis.

Actually, he and I had run into one another in 1999 at our 20th high school reunion. It seemed like everybody at my high school had become either an architect or a physician (one high school friend, Fritz, had become an architect, then a physician, no joke.) I ran into Michael P., who was now a physician. He had, for reasons known only to him, deemed it his life's work in our freshman year of high school, to make my life miserable. At the reunion, he was polite and contrite. I imagine I'll run into him at some point. I'm glad we buried the hatchet more than a decade ago.

Running in to old enemies seemed to be a theme recently. In nursing school, I got on fine with almost everybody there. Okay, everybody but one person. "S." had some kind of chip on her shoulder about me. I never figured it out. But we just did not mix well. And of course, we always ended up in clinicals together, and were always stuck with one another, unwilling partners.

Yesterday, I was at St. J's, a hospital I love working at. As I was walking in, S. and I ran into one another. Turns out that she works there now, on the same floor that the dialysis "acutes" room I'll be working at when I'm at that hospital is. I had a good chuckle. We made our polite hellos, but I had to fight a smirk. Whatever her problem is, it's her problem, not mine. She's got to deal with me.

In any event, I'm digging the work. Dialysis is a whole bunch of problem solving. I'm a problem-solver by nature. It appeals to me a lot. I think that eventually I'll want to try other areas of nursing, but for now, this one is suiting me just fine.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Good Exhaustion Friday Random Ten

I've just finished my second week of training as a dialysis nurse. The dialysis machines, which looked impossibly complicated two weeks ago are beginning to make sense. I'm starting to understand the medical difficulties of dialysis (more on that another time) and the management difficulties.

I'm working the last few weeks of the waitering job I worked through school. I was supposed to work tonight. I was not looking forward to it; I'm exhausted from my nursing job this week. It would be merely tiring as it were, but the huge amount of stuff to learn is making it even more exhausting-- but a good exhausting. Fortunately for me-- unfortunately for my co-workers who don't have another full-time job like I do-- it was dead. Not a good sign in a restaurant that was packed to the rafters on Friday nights before the change in ownership. I was glad to turn around, run home and take care of things that I didn't have a chance to do this week-- like laundry, post to my blog and relax over a glass of red wine.

I did make time this week to do something fun-- a parent always makes time for what's important for their kids. There was a revival of the musical "Grease" in it's original incarnation-- it was originally about "greasers" in the late fifties in Chicago's Norwood Park neighborhood. This was a resurrection of the original down and dirty non-Hollywood-sanitized stage version that played at the Kingston Mines, which is normally a Blues club, in the early seventies. I knew my daughter, who loves theater (she's entering high school in a drama program in a couple of weeks) would love it; it was a once-in-a lifetime experience. She did.

1. Cruisin'- Smokey Robinson
2. Then Came You- The Spinners (with Dionne Warwick)
3. Up On The Roof- The Drifters
4. Living In Hard Times- Wendy Waldman
5. 3/4" Drill Bit- Killdozer
6. (Cross the) Heartland- Pat Metheny Group
7. The Message- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
8. Our Love Is Drifting- The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
9. Find Somebody- The Young Rascals
10. In the Flat Field- Bauhaus

1. I somehow never heard this 1979 gem until the mid eighties when my friend Eddie played it at a party. I admit, I stole the record a few months later, but returned it to him as a wedding present a year later.
2. Might be a top ten song for me.
3. One of many, many incredibly good songs Carole King and Gerry Coffin wrote for many singers and groups.
4. Ms. Waldman's wrote a lot of songs for others, but this one, a favorite from the mid-eighties, is all hers.
5. Saw these guys live in a long-gone club, Crosscurrents, in 1986 with Scratch Acid and Big Black. We were hanging with our buddies Jeff Pezzoti, John Haggerty, and Pierre Kezcy (also known as Naked Raygun). I remember that the guitar player for Killdozer was wearing a Motorhead t-shirt. For pants.
6. I'm not a big jazz fan, but I love Pat Metheny's American Garage album.
7. I'm not a big rap fan, but I love this song.
8. Mike Bloomfield was busy in 1965, playing lead guitar on two iconic albums, Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's self-titled debut album
9. The Young Rascals taking a slightly psychedlic turn.
10. My friend Ron was already one of my best friends, but turning me on to Bauhaus was a bonus.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Return

Yesterday I had a "field day" at work; when I was in school, we called them "clinical days:" a day in the hospital rather than the classroom.

When I was in school, I was terrified of clinical days. It meant doing a bunch of new-- and terrifiying-- things. Giving shots, hooking up IV's, giving a med through a JG tube (a tube that goes directly into the patient's GI tract). All of them were new to me at one time. But I survived them all, and more, and here I am now, a Registered Nurse.

I had been told that SJ's would be one of the hospitals that my company is contracted to provide dialysis care for. SJ's was my favorite place to have clinicals at. For one, it was where I had two med-surg clinical rotations with Ms. Beaumard, my favorite clinical instructor. She rode us hard, but it was for a purpose: to make us better nurses. It was also where I liked working with the staff. No matter how busy they were, they were always able to answer our questions. They seemed to remember that they were once nursing students too. And on top of that, it was also a beautiful location-- see the picture at the top of the post. When they built the hospital in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood in the 1960's, it was probably because the land was dirt cheap; Lincoln Park was then a fairly rough neighborhood. Nearly fifty years later, it's almost laughable; the view the patients get in the lobby/sunrooms that are on each floor are views that Chicagoans now pay a premium for. The sunrooms overlook Lake Michigan, the now-tony Lincoln Park and Belmont Harbor, where the richest of the rich pay to dock their yachts.

I was told to get to the hospital at 8 am. I parked, and went to the desk in the downstairs lobby to get my employee parking pass. The lady at the desk, who remembered me-- and remembered that I always bought the candy bars that she was hawking for her daughter's school fundraiser-- gave me the free "courtesy pass," rather than the already heavily-discounted employee's pass. I was reminded of my reminder to my kids to always be nice to everybody-- you never know who will return that to you. She was delighted to see me returning as a full-fledged nurse, and I was delighted to be returning as a full-fledged nurse. She told me that my friend-- my friend Alina, who I'd shared rides with there when I was in clinicals-- was working there. I told her that I knew that, and hoped I'd run into her that day.

I went up to the 11th floor ("Mine goes to 11..."), where the Acute Care Dialysis Room was, and waited for my preceptor. It turned out that she'd overslept (very likely she'd worked an 11 or 12 hour day the day before) so I hung out while I waited for her. While hanging around the floor, I discovered something I'd heard about while I was in clinicals at the hospital, but had never seen before: the beautiful chapel. Later in the day, someone told me that when the hospital was sold to a major hospital chain, one of the quid pro quos was that the chapel would remain.

My preceptor finally arrived and we got to work. We had two patients. One had an "AV fistula" and the other had a catheter-- two different means of hooking up the dialysis machinery. My preceptor was great, answering the many questions I had, and let me do as much as I was comfortable with.

My first patient was on the 8th floor, which was the cardiac telemetry floor; I had done a clinical rotation with my friend Alina on that floor, and knew she now worked on that floor. When we ran into one another, we were both delighted. Every time I run into her lately, it has been followed with good news. I had run into her last month when I got of the el when coming home from the NCLEX test (and passed it), and then had run into her a coupe of weeks later on the way home from my interview with this company (I got the job). It was cool to be running into one another on the floor we'd worked on as students.

And do you think it was cool to be working on that floor, running into nurses I'd pumped for information as a student, being able to tell them I was back, but this time as a nurse? Oh hell yeah!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The King and I

I had a busy day-- another day of on-the-job training, with a triumphant return to a hospital I had clinical training at. Post to follow.

Today, though, I was reminded, on the television and radio, of the fact that it was the anniversary of the death (or disappearance) of Elvis Presley.

On August 16, 1977, I was working a shift at my very first job, as a stock clerk at a Walgreen's, when a woman woman walked in and said that she'd heard that the King was dead. Since the tabloids (readily available near the check-outs at the Walgreen's) had nearly daily stories about the death-- or alien abduction-- of Mr. Presley, at first I dismissed the story. Soon, more customers came into the store with the same story. Alvina, our bookkeeper, turned the radio in her little office in the corner of the store to the news station and we gathered and listened. The King was, indeed, dead.

I have always been and will always be an unabashed Elvis Presley fan. His fusion of gospel, country, blues and of course good old rock and roll is irresistible. His magnetism, his kindness, the stories about him-- he'll always be a favorite. And of course, the infamous road trip some friends and I took to Graceland in the Spring of 1985 will always remain one of the highlights of my life. A couple of years ago, I reconnected with my friend Alan, who was the driver on the road trip. Recently, I mentioned that trip to him, and he commented that it was one of the favorite memories of his life. Mine as well.

There is one other memory of that date, in 1997, exactly twenty years after we lost Elvis. August 16, 1997 was supposed to be the date of my first wedding.

In the Spring of 1997, I was preparing to do my student teaching. I'd had to apply for it two years earlier. I was dating someone seriously, and embroiled in an ugly custody fight for my son, who was then four. I had asked the woman I was dating to marry me. I was crazy about her. My friends, I later discovered, were not so much. Maybe they saw things I didn't. She and I had planned to marry on August 16, 1997, specifically because it was the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death. With the custody fight and my preparations for student-teaching, we decided to move the wedding date up to April 19th. Had we known that it was the anniversary of the Branch Davidian fire and the Oklahoma City bombing, we might have reconsidered. It turned out that April 19 was a day of disasters.

As my custody fight got more heated and ugly, my wife decided that she didn't want to be a stepmom any more, and that she didn't want to be married any more. She asked for a divorce on July 4th, 1997. This led, of course, to one of my most infamous stories, and a life-long standing joke, "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye put out... and then it's REALLY funny..."

But the irony was that it was on August 16, 1997, the day we had originally chosen for our wedding day, that I moved out.

I was to begin student-teaching, the last step to becoming a teacher, in a few short weeks. I had little time and even less money. And that's when people stepped up to the plate.

First was my lifelong friend Viktor Zeitgeist, my partner-in-crime in the July 4th story. He Fed-Ex'd me a check to cover the deposit for an apartment so that my son and I were not homeless. And then there was Mike.

Mike was my friend Tas' boyfriend. I had met Tas when I was working at a racetrack one summer. She was half British and half Pakistani, but had grown up in a suburb of Chicago. She's full of the proverbial "piss and vinegar," and is one of my favorite people in the world. Her boyfriend at the time (she's now married to a Chicago cop) was Mike, a Korean immigrant who defied easy categorization. He was a tech geek, stoner and the best rock guitarist this side of Hendrix. And he was the sole volunteer to help me move that day.

The only place I was able to rent a truck that day, at the last minute, only had trucks with manual transmissions. This was no problem. I learned to drive with a stick shift.

Mike and I loaded up the truck at the apartment I'd shared with my wife. As we finished, I noticed storm clouds brewing in the distance. As we raced to my new place, I looked in the side mirrors of the truck and they seemed to be following me. I parked the truck, and Mike and I furiously unloaded my stuff into the bottom of the covered back porch of the building. Just as we got the last boxes in, an epic deluge poured forth. I hugged and thanked Mike, who had to run off to a band practice.

Looking back to that day-- and the incredibly difficult days that were to follow-- I see that the storm clouds were foreshadowing. But that day, between Viktor and Mike, I had enough to get me through the travails of that day. Today, as I was driving home from my day of work, "Suspicious Minds," a song we played repeatedly on that infamous road trip, and a song that's been a favorite since I was a kid, came on. For a moment I thought about the long trip of this life. I remember back in 2003 when I turned 42, the age Mr. Presley had died. I'd always thought I'd die young. I passed his age, then made it to 50 this year. I feel like everything from here out is bonus. I feel like I've lived long enough to discover what I most love and am really good at, being a parent. I've lived long enough to find a career I really like and will allow me to provide for my family well.

In the course of the move, I've had a chance to re-organize my stuff. I've found things that got buried with old bills and other miscellania. One of the things I came across was the paper copy of a thing I started maybe 8 or 9 years ago. I've alluded to it before in this blog. It was inspired by a story I'd read in the New York Times about a woman who had been killed in the World Trade Center in 2001. Her parents, who were farmers, brought the stuff from her apartment home, they'd looked at the contents of her laptop and discovered a "bucket" list. I was fascinated-- and inspired-- by this. I've been looking over the list and starting to take some concrete steps to fulfill the wishes on it.

So remembering Mr. Presley this day, I think about the enjoyment his music has given me over the years, and will for life. I consider the fact that my genetics and dietary and exercise choices I've made over my lifetime have given me more years than he got, despite the fact that there were some hard miles in my case. I don't even dream that I'll ever sing "Kentucky Rain" remotely as wonderfully as he covered the Eddie Rabbit/Dick Heard composition. But I'll sing it nearly every time I pick up a guitar. I'll always dance a little when I hear "Burnin' Love" or "That's All Right Mama." He packed a lot into those short 42 years. His art and life give me joy and inspiration every day. He reminds me with both his life and death that you've got to dream like you'll live forever and live like you might die tomorrow. Thanks, Elvis.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The "One Week In" Friday Random Ten

Finished my first week as a nurse. It's all training right now, but yesterday, I was in a hospital, in scrubs, helping another nurse with dialysis. Today I got to hook up a dialysis machine, but it was just in the training offices. It'll be a bit before I will hook a person to one.

I have to admit that I was thinking a little about money. Things were so bad the last two months at my restaurant job, it was a relief knowing that there'll be a good paycheck soon. I don't feel bad about it at all. I worked hard to get here, and realize that dialysis nursing will be hard work.

Normally I would have picked my son up on the way home from work, but he's going with his mother to check out a college in Buffalo, New York. Hard to believe he'll be 18 in a just under seven months. Hard to believe I'll have two kids high school. Lots of transitions.

1. Lucky Man- Emerson, Lake and Palmer
2. Driving With Your Eyes Closed- Don Henley
3. Green Tamborine- The Lemon Pipers
4. Imagine a Man- The Who
5. Stubborn Kind of Fellow- Marvin Gaye
6. Theme From Valley of the Dolls- Dionne Warwick
7. Why Can't We Live Together?- Timmy Thomas
8. I Will Survive- Gloria Gaynor
9. Hashish- The Hair Soundtrack
10. The Ballad of Spider John- Jimmy Buffett

1. A subtle anti-war song.
2. From "Building the Perfect Beast," one of my favorite albums of the eighties.
3. I know, it's just bubble gum, but I like it.
4. "The Who By Numbers" was not only one of my favorite Who records, but had a great cover.
5. I never, ever get tired of hearing Marvin Gaye's music.
6. I love me some Dionne Warwick
7. Great little one-hit wonder
8. This song got lost in the disco shuffle, but I came to love it over the years.
9. Finally bought the original Hair soundtrack on CD a while back. It still stands up great.
10. Written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who only had one album. This bittersweet, heartbreaking song is one of my favorites, especially as done by Mr. Buffett. It's so good, in fact, that I can almost forgive Ramsey for also writing "Muskrat Love." Almost.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Dream We Dreamed...

For this is all a dream we dreamed one afternoon so long ago.... -- "Box of Rain," The Grateful Dead

Saturday morning, I got a message from my friend Cyd that she'd found out that she passed the NCLEX, the test that officially made her a nurse. That meant the the Three Musketeers-- Karen, Cyd and I, who frequently studied together, had all passed it. It made the fact that I started as a nurse today even sweeter. Karen is the second from the left in the top row of the picture and Cyd is seated far left.

Looking back to that picture, it's hard to believe it was only two years ago. I remember walking into that hospital for clinicals. It was, ironically, the hospital I was taken to after my motorcycle accident in 1988, when I was a younger guy. Three of the people in the picture dropped out the first year, but returned to repeat it-- successfully-- this past year. My friend Bisrat, seated just below me, far right, dropped out this past year in the first semester of the second year, but is returning to finish up this year. He dropped by my home one day last week so I could return his Ob-Gyn book, which he'd lent me, and so I could lend him some books that had helped me succeed in the program. We talked about how difficult the third semester, the semester he dropped out in, was-- it was the only semester I got a "C" and not a "B" in-- and I realized it helped him to know not to drop out if things were a little rough.

Today, I spent a day hearing about policy, OSHA, insurance, etc. It wasn't exciting, but I was excited nonetheless. I'd worked hard to get there. I ran into a school friend, Monika, who had worked as a tech for the same company, and was now going to be a nurse like I was. I asked her about her license; she told me that I should get an official notice that I'd passed the NCLEX along with an application for the license. I hadn't received it yet, I told her.

When I got home, it had arrived in the mail; it had taken the post office two weeks to forward it to my new home. I filled it out, including the "change-of-address" part, wrote out the fifty dollar check and walked it to the mailbox.

This is going to be a month of transitions. I've taken my first baby steps to being a nurse. About the same time I finish my training for my new job, I'll be working my last days at the restaurant I've worked at for 11 years. It's very bittersweet. At 50 years of age, I'm ready to not be a waiter any more. But there are many, many good memories there. There are couples who I remember coming in there on dates. Now they're married and bring their kids in. I remember when Joe and Don, who have been together since 1978, came in for their anniversary, and told me the sweet story of how they met. I'll miss Jim and Marybeth, who gave me a card when I graduated. I'll miss Steve and Margaret, and their son Richard; I remember when Richard first arrived-- they brought him into the restaurant. Now Richard is a fine young man. And there are my co-workers. I remember nights hanging out, probably a little too long, talking, drinking. That'll soon be done.

I remember when I got into nursing school-- I got the letter in April of 2009. We sat the kids down and told them what the deal was. I was going to be very, very busy for the next two years. But at the end of that was going to be a degree that would assure a job for me, and a lot more financial security for the family. I remember back to when I made the decision to leave teaching and enter the health care field. It was a huge leap of faith-- faith that I could pull it off financially (and that was no mean feat-- financial resources appeared out of nowhere to help that). Faith that I could handle the material. And faith in myself. That was, maybe, besides the financial security this will provide my family, the biggest deal. I did stuff that terrified me, stuff that I never believed I'd be able to do. I realize that I had been suffering a crisis in confidence back when I decided to change careers. In seeing this dream I dreamed so long ago come true, I feel really damned good.

Friday, August 05, 2011

End of the Rainbow Friday Random Ten

I got up this morning, checked my bank account and realized that when my rent check clears, there will be a little over 12 bucks in it. I dropped my daughter off at her Girls Rock camp and put some of what I made last night in the bank.

The changeover in ownership at the restaurant I work at has been a complete clusterfuck. We've lost about 75% of our regulars without anybody new to replace them. The money has been pitable. My friends Karol and Lauren have quit. My friend Aaron is turning in his notice soon. And I've turned mine in... because I got the first nursing job I applied for!

I had really gone on the interview just to get the experience. I didn't think they'd offer a job-- or offer a job with pay about 20% higher than I expected, plus great benefits. When the lady I interviewed with told me the pay, I jumped at it. Worse case scenario, I don't like it, I tough it out for a year, and I can put a year of being a dialysis nurse on my resume. I'll be providing acute care dialysis in a handful of hospitals near my home. I start training (paid training) on Monday.

So we have another few weeks of financial stress, yes. My training is 9 to 5, Monday through Friday for the next two months. Therefore, I'm going to work weekend for the next few weeks, through the end of August, to have some cash flow and to say goodbye to the many lovely regulars we have at the restaurant. And then it's off to the next phase of my working life.

1. Jeepster- T. Rex
2. I'd Like To Teach the World- The New Seekers
3. Takin' It To The Streets- The Doobie Brothers
4. I Go To Rio- Pablo Cruise
5. It's My Party- Leslie Gore
6. Don't Fence Me In- Willie Nelson and Leon Russell
7. That's Amore- Dean Martin
8. Let's Hang On- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
9. My Eyes Adored You- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
10. The Waiting- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

1. "I need TV/But I got T. Rex..."- All The Young Dudes, Mott the Hoople
2. This became popular for being in a Coke commercial
3. Saw the Doobie Brothers at Chicagofest in 1982-- their supposed "Goodbye" tour
4. Also saw these guys at Chicagofest.
5. Ms. Gore has grown on me in recent years
6. Cole Porter never sounded better.
7. Dino's another artist who's grown on me in recent years.
8. I'm hoping that "Jersey Boys," the musical about these guys returns to Chicago, now that I'll actually be able to buy tickets.
9. Sappy, but I like it
10. Saw Tom Petty live in 1990. Hoping to see him at least one more time.