Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lean In

This weekend, my wife, my son and I went up to a reunion that my wife's family has every three years. At some point during the drive back, my son asked me about this blog, pointing out I hadn't written in it in a while.

Truth is that I had been planning for the last couple of weeks to resume posting. I missed it.

One of the big reasons I had slowed to a near stop in the writing was exhaustion. A career change, a move, getting a kid off to college, and then a couple of years of working as much overtime as I could stand-- I was fried most days, and still am. Still, I miss blogging more than I miss the rest.

So, anybody who reads this blog regularly knows, I changed careers. After getting laid off a teaching job that I just loved, I decided to go where the work was-- the healthcare profession. After flirting with the idea of becoming a pharmacist, a friend who was studying to be a nurse (and whom I took prereq classes with) pointed out that even if I went through with the plans to go to pharmacy school-- an unlikely event as it turned out, since there's only one in Chicago-- I'd be done with it around the time my younger child was done with college. The whole point was to be in a position to pay for the lion's share of my kids' college.

I was fortunate to get into the RN program of one of the Chicago City Colleges. Not only did it have a great reputation, it was relatively cheap.

Even so, the Recession started not long after I began the process. And then my wife was laid off her job the month I started nursing school.

She and I had a long discussion over a few glasses of wine one night about what we were going to do. We decided to tough it out and for me to stay in the program.

She worked a series of jobs, after a stint on unemployment, and I continued to work full time at a waitering job. I had to buck up, lean in, and know that I could sleep when I was done with nursing school.

I finished nursing school on my 50th birthday. My wife and kids threw a marvelous party. Most of my closest friends were there, including a surprise guest-- my old friend Viktor Zeitgeist, who flew in from Seattle on a redeye to be there. My mother came in for it as well.

I was fortunate to get a job ridiculously quickly. It was with the biggest dialysis company in the world. I knew next to nothing about dialysis; we'd talked about it probably all of ten minutes of nursing school.

I started training in early August of 2011. I bonded quickly with two guys in the class, Neal and Brent, who, like me, were middle-aged guys who were changing careers.

Brent had a kid in college, and I had one who was going to be there soon. I had a bunch of debts to take care of-- in order for me to finish nursing school, we'd done a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I had to take care of that.

In August of 2012, Brent, Neal and I sent one another texts caustically congratulating one another on our one-year anniversary with the company. We'd already grown a little weary of the job. It was a company in chaos. Still, the chaos resulted in a lot of overtime for Brent and I, so we dealt with it.

The next day I got a text from a co-worker about Brent; he was in the hospital. He'd collapsed-- a possible heart attack. I was a little incredulous. He was only 42.

I got ahold of his girlfriend's number. She told me he had collapsed at home. As it turned out, he'd had a brain aneurysm. At her request, Neal and I drove to the hospital to see Brent. We checked him for pupillary response-- we shone a light in his eyes to see if the pupils responded. None. He was intubated, breathing artificially, and his heart was beating, but he was dead.

We went to his funeral a couple of days later. His girlfriend and I have become close friends since then. Shared grief has a way of doing that. Neal eventually took a job at a hospital, but we've stayed in touch as well.

Nearly two years later, I'm still with that company. I've grown wearier of the job. Four managers in 3 years. Still lots of chaos, but still lots of overtime.

So now my son is half way done with college. My daughter will be a senior in high school this year. There will be a year where we have two kids in college. My daughter's birth father will apparently help some, but it's still going to be a strain.

But we've dealt with a lot tougher situations. As I look back at going to nursing school, and how it's worked out, I'm satisfied; the plan worked.

I look forward to the day I can move on to my next nursing job. Most of the people I treat should really not be alive. I'd like to be working with people who are going to recover. But for now, this is what's best for my family. I'll continue to lean in, and finish what I started. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Absence

The last few years, my posting in this blog has been sporadic. I plead fatigue.

Back in June of 2006, I had what was the worst week of my life. I had known that I was going to be laid off my job as a sixth grade teacher. It was my dream job; sixth grade in a mostly-Latino blue collar suburb of Chicago. The kids, their parents, my co-workers-- they were awesome. The Principal-- not so much. She took an Ahab-like hatred toward me that was inexplicable. Co-workers mused that I perhaps reminded her of an old boyfriend. As the final day of that job approached, I worried about the future. I knew that it was unlikely that I'd find a teaching job that I loved that much.

Then, it grew worse. I got a call from my parents. My father's doctor was pretty certain that my father had cancer. He was to undergo an operation that would determine this and if he had it (he did, as it turned out), do what could be done to take it out.

As I waited out the end of the job I loved, and my father going under the knife, I received news that was unbelievable. My friend Mark, a guy I've met when I was 22 years old, in college, had been found shot to death in front of his home.

To paraphrase Ken Kesey, who was speaking of the accidental death of his son in an auto accident, I felt like my cells were exploding.

A few days later, my father underwent surgery-- successful, as it turned out-- to remove the tumor in his gut. A few weeks later, an old teaching colleague, from when I was teaching on Chicago's tough West Side, called and asked if I'd teach at the school she was working at-- a program to get young adults who had dropped out of high school back into school and get them a diploma, allowing them to move on with life. I accepted.

This job, while tough, was incredibly therapeutic. It allowed me to work with young adults who were headed toward a bad end to get off that path.

While I worked this job, I considered my long-term future. As much as I loved teaching, I was finding the opportunities becoming more and more limited-- even before the 2008 economic cataclysm. I made the decision to go toward a field where jobs were increasing (even before the ACA)-- the health field. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014


This summer, I've been trying to winnow down some of my stuff. As hard as I try to reduce my belongings, they seem to breed when I'm not looking.