Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Long Haul

Last night I had the pleasure of getting out with one of my oldest, closest friends. As we had a couple of beers and chatted, I was amused thinking that I had no idea 31 years ago, when we first became friends at the ages of 18 (him) and 20 (me), that we'd be a couple of middle aged guys, 49 and 51 now, talking about our kids, our wives, our careers and our retirement plans.

I thought about the handful of old friendships I have; most, like my friendship with him, are from the state college in central Illinois I got my bachelor's and master's degrees from in the mid eighties. There were times I lost touch for years at a time with some of those people, but eventually we reconnected, and as we head off into middle age and start getting ready for the last couple of acts of our lives, the friendships seem to be really strengthening.

I've told both of my kids that the friends they make in college will end up being the strongest one of their lives. I can tell that my son, in his freshman year of college, is beginning to understand this.

I remember that in my twenties, I dreaded getting older. I really thought that life would really suck as I get older, and that my youth would be the high point of my life. While I did have some great times then, I was totally wrong. I had no idea that I'd hit my fifties with gusto and joy in life. I had no idea that friendships I'd made when I was 22 or 23 would become so rich, or that I'd make a second wave of great friendships thanks to this blog (that's you Skyler's Dad and Bubs!) that would make life even richer. In my youthful naivete and stupidity, I thought that life really would be over after 30. I had no idea that it was only beginning then. In the long haul, my life's been rich and fascinating, and continues to be.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Next Step

Just before I became a nurse, the unit I work for got a new manager. He is not a nurse-- he's got an MBA.

That was our first warning.

Since it was my first nursing job, I was too busy learning the ropes to pay much attention to what was going on above. But it didn't take long. By the second or third monthly staff meeting, I began to realize that a series of increasingly disjointed, and sometimes nonsensical changes were being attempted-- harebrained schedules, attempts to use smartphones to dispatch us, etc.

When those things didn't work, it was, according to them, our fault-- that we were not trying hard enough to implement his genius ideas.

Over the months, I began to realize that I'd seen this story before: The Peter Principle.

In 1969, Laurence Peter published a book that purported (correctly, I believe) to explain a lot of organizational dysfunction. Basically, it said that people are promoted upward in organizations as long as the master each level. They rise until they hit a level they cannot master-- their "level of incompetence." Over time, position after position becomes filled with someone who cannot do the job. They cannot be promoted upward, and are rarely demoted. Organizations become filled at the top with people who cannot do the job, like a clogged filter.

I quickly realized that our manager had been promoted to his level of incompetence. And now here's the painful part:

His name is Peter.

In August, the Nursing Manger, the woman who hired me, saw the writing on the wall and left. The nursing manager position was taken over by a great guy, a nurse in my unit who did a lot of my training. He has struggled to do his job, but "Peter Principle," as I've nicknamed him, has thwarted him at every turn, taking away resources he needed to do the job. He is currently doing three jobs-- his, a former assistant who also quit, and coordinating day to day, which was formerly done in alternating weeks by two of the nurses in our unit.  The nursing manager, who has two young children, and was working 80-90 hour weeks (on salary), turned in his resignation.

Things are about to become very bad. I've been getting my resume ready, and have been encouraging a co-worker who is just as disgusted with recent events, to do so too.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my eye on our "Lumberg" until I can turn in my resignation as well.

"That'd be greeaaaatttt....."

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Year and a Day

My first real day as a nurse-- the first day I got paid to be a nurse-- was August 7, 2011. I had spent the previous 2 years plowing my way through nursing school, and the two years before that plugging away at the pre-requisites for nursing school, and all four of those years working full time and raising a couple of kids.

I had gotten a job more quickly than I could ever have hoped for-- basically, four hours. I had passed the NCLEX, the test that officially makes you a nurse, in July of 2011. A few days later, my wife and I talked-- she works in employment, so is really good at finding job postings. She found one quickly that, unlike most of the others, did not require previous job experience; they would, in fact, train.

I got online and applied for the job. Four hours later, I got a call, and set up the interview for the following Monday. On Wednesday, the woman who interviewed me called me and told me I had the job.

My first day of the classroom work for my new job, I sat behind a guy who was a few years younger than me. At first, he annoyed me-- he was a real "eager beaver." Over the next week or two, my guard lowered.

Then, one night, he and I were both sent to a hospital that was about 45 miles from Chicago. We were covering the hospital in emergencies, so they wanted us to know all the ins and outs of the place (as it turned out, they had a lot of emergencies-- we were sent there a lot, much to our chagrin).

That night, though, as we were leaving, talking about our day, we walked to the parking lot. I got in my car and saw him get in his. And then out of his car. He popped his hood, and I realized that there was a problem.

I went over and discovered that his car battery was dead. We talked to the hospital guard and discovered they had a jump starter for such an occasion. We tried, but the thing couldn't crank his car. I remembered that I had given my jumper cables to my wife and neglected to get myself new ones.

He lived about 30 miles south of me, and I lived about 45 miles south of the hospital; he was stranded 75 miles from home. His girlfriend, who lived with him, had a car, but it seemed silly to have her drive `150 miles round-trip. I told him to call her-- if she left their place when we left the hospital, we would meet at my home about the same time. He called her and the plan was in action.

On the way to my place, he and I got to talk at length for the first time. We had a lot in common-- both of us went back to school after other careers-- he worked printing presses, I was a teacher. Both of us had kids who were grown or nearly grown. Both of us loved baseball. We both had pretty well misspent youths. We also discovered we were opposites in a lot of ways-- He was a metalhead; I loved punk rock. He grew up in south suburbs of Chicago, I grew up mostly on the north side of Chicago. This led to that other great opposite-- he was a Chicago White Sox fan, I am a Chicago Cubs fan.

By the time we got to my home, and his girlfriend picked him up, we were friends.

My helping him out was not forgotten. We were pretty much inseparable after that-- if not in person, by text. My wife noticed that the number of texts I sent or received went from about 50 a month to about a 1000 a month. As he and I struggled through our job, the first nursing job for both of us, we texted asking questions, or sometimes just joking around. It became my lifeline. Sometimes it was a question about the dialysis machines we used, or about a particular patient. We had been rushed through and out of training, so there was tons more to learn. We came to really depend on one another.

Since I had a kid about to start college, and he had a kid in college, both of us loved to work overtime; we were, in fact, dubbed by our co-workers "The Overtime Kings."We discovered that despite looking very different, and being 9 years apart in age (he was 42, I was 51), people confused us for one another, in part because our names were similar-- starting with the same first two letters-- and they saw us both all the time.

As summer arrived, we began to realize that we were finally getting the hang of a rather difficult job. We started making plans to try to make it to a baseball game.

On August 7, he, Neal, another friend from our training class, and I sent one another vulgar text messages "congratulating" one another on our one year anniversary at the job. We had all become quite annoyed with the job, but kept good humor about it.

Later that night, I got a text from him; turned out he was heading to the hospital I was working at that night to check on some documentation on the dialysis machines in that hospital. After that, he was planning to go home, have some vodka and Red Bull (ick!) and then was going to interview to be head of our unit-- our boss had resigned recently. He texted me a picture of the pint of cheap vodka he had purchased at a convenience mart on the way over, and a while later popped his head into the room of the patient I was doing dialysis on. He came in, checked the documentation on the machine and stopped to chat for about ten minutes. We talked about the usual stuff-- our kids, our mates, baseball, laughing about the job. He was doubtful that they would offer him the manager job, and if they offered it, and he couldn't do it the right way, he wasn't going to take it.

The next day, I was at a hospital getting ready to set up a patient, when I got a text from another nurse in our unit who he and I were friends with. He asked if I'd heard something about my friend having a heart attack. I knew nothing.

I called his phone and left a message, expressing the hope that he was in a doctor's office dealing with some minor health scare. About ten minutes later I got a call from his girlfriend, who had seen his phone go off, and seen my name on the call. She knew he and I were tight. She told me that they thought he'd had a brain aneurysm. They didn't know how severe it was, but he was not conscious. That morning, her teenaged son had heard him fall in the bathroom, and had gone to check on him. He was not breathing. He ran to get their neighbor, who called 911 and then started CPR.

Two days later, he was on a ventilator in an ICU. She asked Neal, who had also been in our training class, and a good friend, and I to come visit him, and to assess him. We drove to the hospital and got to his bedside. He was intubated; he was not breathing on his own. He had not breathed on his own since the aneurysm.

It was weird for Neal and I to be friends and nurses to him at once. We checked for a pupillary response-- none. We talked to his nurse, who explained how they had confirmed that he had no more neural activity. In turn, we explained this to his girlfriend.

It was rough seeing my friend, who was so vibrant, funny and alive, like this.

We discussed what was ahead. Ultimately, his brother was going to make a decision regarding life support. At this point, they were maintaining it so that his organs could be harvested for transplant. There was no chance for a recovery.

A day later, life support was removed. They could not use his heart-- unbeknowest to me, he'd had a heart attack previously-- or his lungs; he was a smoker. But they took his pancreas, his corneas, some other tissue-- and his kidneys. Neal and I were later to remark on the irony, that two people were soon going to get off of dialysis thanks to the kindness of this guy, who made sure that he was an organ donor.

My wife warned me that I had a rough couple of months ahead of me; she knew that he and I were close, and on top of that, my son was about to go off to college. She was right. It was rough. I'd also lost my mother-in-law, whom I adored, and my friend Larry's mother, who was like a second mother to me, a few months before.

It was rough-- I'd come to depend on him at work for advice and just to liven up my day with the in-jokes and such. I'd come to depend on his friendship. I felt like I'd had a huge rug pulled from out under me. But as the weeks wore on, I came to realize that it was a big lesson in enjoying the time you have with people. Despite the fact that we worked like dogs, we still managed to get out and hang together when we could. And I realized that I was lucky to have met him-- it was only a year and a day, but sometimes a year and a day is all we get with someone.