Thursday, October 16, 2008

My job, my life, and everything in between.

Ten years ago I'd have said that "nurse" and "teacher" were the two absolute last career choice I would ever, EVER make. I stand by the teacher bit. But some of you are wondering what's up with this medical-field melancholy I've been passive-aggresively expressing all over the place lately. The short answer: I don't like my job. The long answer? Well...go get the popcorn.

I worked at a medical clinic - family practice - for just shy of 6 years. Ten great doctors and tens of thousands of patients. In 2001, after I'd broken my ankle while training for the RCMP (I'd already passed all of the intellectual and psych tests with flying colours), my then-doctor offered me a job in his office while I sorted out what the hell I was going to do now. Not that the RCMP should have ever really been a realistic dream; my legs would have destroyed themselves, or me, sooner rather than later. But I hoped I could pass the physical and then go civilian, because my first love throughout my life has always been forensic psychology and sociology.

I'd started a pretty good entry earlier, but then I got on the phone (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) and didn't realize Vista wanted to reboot without saving my I'll START OVER AGAIN. I'll try to get to the point faster this time. But brace yourself for complete honesty. It's exactly what I more or less promised you would never see in this blog. All I can say - to some of you, at lest - is, "You asked; I'm answering."

Anyway, that job, for which I was woefully inexperienced and ridiculously unprepared (take, for example, the circumcision in which I assisted only 10 months into it), lasted from February 2001 to January 2007. I loved a lot of what I did there. Stressful? Sure. But I got to do stuff often enough - stuff that didn't involve filing or calling in prescriptions - that I managed to learn a lot, and I got a great deal of satisfaction out of the things I could do to make the patients' and the doctors' lives easier. Somewhere in there I even switched over to taking anatomy and physiology classes in college, and while I sucked at science in high school, I (with the help of a few of my doctor colleagues) started pulling off 80s and 90s on my exams. It shocked me to realize that there was something I was good at that I also wanted to do. I even remember the very day that cemented my desire to be a nurse - it was a Sunday morning, and something especially horrifying and stressful had happened with a patient, but once I'd managed to get the patient, myself, AND the doctor through the crisis, I remember calling my Mom and saying, "This is what I was meant to do."

So why did I leave that job? God knows I've asked myself that a lot, especially lately. But the truth is that my physical health was wearing down to nothing, and it was taking my mental health with it. Add to that a few key ingredients that made my work environment impossible to endure any longer - no matter how much I adored nearly all of my coworkers, my bosses, and the patients - and I knew I had to go.

What I didn't realize, though, was just how bad my health was. So when the job I walked right into upon leaving the Clinic did some major damage to my already lousy ankles, I started to worry. I found another job quickly, but then got so sick with every virus that came through the door that I had to bail after only a few weeks. This happened over and over again - me pushing myself into new jobs, new places, and then having my body and mind fail on me - before we figured out what was wrong with me. The summer of 2007 was hell, but I did get better once we knew what to treat. And I thought, once I was physically stronger, that it would be a cakewalk getting back into the workforce.


Two or three more jobs came and went, each one seemingly too much for me in one way or another: bodily, mentally, or situationally. My Mom got sick in January 2008 and our entire world stopped; I didn't want to be away from her, and poverty would just have to do. But in March, I found what I honestly thought was the perfect job. The one that would get me closer to being able to afford to go back to school for my RPN. The one that had these great doctors who were so much fun to work with, and an office staff full of amazing women who I immediately knew would be my friends forevermore, and an opportunity to learn more, to get back into the game, to do something meaningful, however small.

That job turned into hell. On every level. I was treated like garbage by my "manager" (as was everyone else, though some got it worse than others), I was betrayed by at least one of those "great" doctors, and on top of it all, I was sexually assaulted one night by an employee who shared the building. The salt in the wound was being summarily fired for a completely nonsensical reason, only one week before my 3 month probation period was up. Presumably because I just seemed like too much trouble. I'd only just begun to process the assault when I lost the job altogether, and that did something to me - to my dignity - that I cannot put into words. I was broken.

That was May.

In September I started the job I'm in now. And it's okay. The doctor couldn't be nicer. My office mate is wonderful and capable and patient with me while I learn. The money's not horrible. The hours are all right.

But...I feel as though I am so, so much farther from where I really want to be than I've ever been before. I don't make enough money to set it aside for school. I don't do anything that affects people's lives at all. I...file. And at least once a day that famous quote from the movie Heathers goes through my mind: "I'm using my grand IQ to figure out which gloss to wear or how to hit three keggers before curfew." In my 6 years at that first Clinic, I learned a lot about medicine and people and life and death, but I learned even more about myself. And now? Now I fax referrals. That's what I do. Moreover, I fear, that's what I am.

That is not enough for me.

I was meant for more than this. I have to be. I see others' successes and am so proud of them, while still feeling like I missed that train, and they're all waving to me as it pulls away. I don't know if there's another one coming.

I know I'm lucky to have a job at all, let alone one where I'm treated kindly and am not doing anything too heinous to my body. I do know that. But I've grown so tired of feeling lucky. I want to be HAPPY. I want to stretch the limits of my potential and see if maybe, just maybe, I'm even smarter than I thought I was. I want to do something that matters, to the people I help and to myself. I don't want to spend five hours taking phone messages. I want to be elbow-deep in something gory and terrifying and possibly life-changing.

(And no, writing for a living is not that. Not for me. It is for some, and rightfully so,'s not my dream. I do love all of you who praise me so often about my writing - biased though you may be -'s not what I truly want. It's not all.)

What stands in my way is money. And the waitlisting going on at every school that offers the nursing program I want. And, I grudgingly admit, my guts (and lack thereof). This past two years has shaken my self-confidence hard. I'm amazed I have any left at all. I have failed over and over again, which, to a born perfectionist, is like dying tiny deaths with each near miss. Each of the experiences I've had since leaving the Clinic has chipped a little more away from Me, from Who and What I Am, and I fear that, if the money were to fall in my lap tomorrow, I wouldn't be strong enough anymore to even chase my dream, let alone catch it.

My recent trip to the UK, as I have said to some of my friends, affected me deeply. Because it made me see that I can watch some of the dreams I've had since I was nine years old come true. It showed me how big my world is, and how small a part of it I've been cowering in all this time. But it also devastated me in the strangest way, because it gave me the chance to look at my life from the outside - really and truly, for once - and I hated what I saw. And right now, at least, there is nothing I can do to change any of it.

So, in 6 hours, I will get up once again, put my scrubs on, and I will go to a job that I know full well is not what I thought I had/have to offer - and there's nothing at all wrong with that, if it's a means to an isn't. It pays the bills now (and, actually, not even that, since I haven't gotten a single paycheque since I started last month; that'll change soon enough, mind), but I stand to learn nothing, and it's not contributing to a tuition-shaped nest egg in the least. I come home from a day at work and I just want to cry, because I think of all the hours I just spent making nary a bit of difference to anyone, anywhere. Including (or especially?) me.

But, for now, these are the cards I've been dealt. They are the product of some bad decisions on my part, as well as some limitations over which I have no control, and just good old fashioned fate. I wish I could see a light at the end of a tunnel. Any tunnel. But I feel like I've euchered myself somehow, and everyone else has gotten up and left the table. I have no idea when the next game will begin, or what the stakes will be, or if I'm just stuck sitting here, staring at the four 9s and one 10 in front of me.

I'm thinking those of you who asked are probably sorry you did now.


Rachel said...

I am most certainly not sorry that I asked and I've definitely had similar thoughts. I have lost several jobs due to illness and have worked shit jobs that were beneath me and my intelligence level.

I wish I had some panacea for you (and for myself) but I haven't found it yet - but if your phone is behaving you are more than welcome to call me :)


casey said...

I wasn't one who asked in a literal sense, but I'm glad to read all this... it's getting to be harder and harder for me to keep up with *anyone* on LJ, and I knew work wasn't quite... right... but didn't know the story. Yes, I should have asked. Anyway.

I know how you feel. A little, at least, I really do. My job is ridiculous, way too much work for what I can reasonably physically handle, I get treated like crap (considering the amount of dedication I have to the job) - and I don't make enough at it to really accomplish anything, either. But the culinary field? Is totally what I'm meant to do. I don't know. It's not much comfort, but I try to remind myself every day that THIS place isn't forever.