Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Scribblings #22 - First, Worst and Dream Jobs

First Job:

Starways flyer delivery girl, 1985, 12 years old.

Yup, you know those annoying circulars that practically no one reads and everyone throws away (that is, if they don't get blown away or rained on first)? That junk mail that drives some of us batty? That's what I delivered. I earned 1/4 of a penny for each flyer I delivered. I had to deliver to 4 houses to make 1 cent. Can you imagine? I hated that job. It took me about 2 hours to deliver all 250 papers and earn 62 cents. The smell and feel of the newspaper made me nauseous, and I felt like such a geek.

The only reason I took the job was to try to keep up with my twin sister who had a REAL paper route. She delivered the Toronto Star. She earned roughly 13 cents per paper, a full 420% more than I did. What's more, she had the help of my step-dad who drove her around the neighbourhood with the Saturday papers in the trunk.

Soon enough I realized that I was losing the earning competition, and that my time was worth more than 31 cents per hour. My solution? When the second delivery day came around, I left the papers in the green garbage bag they were delivered to me in. I walked over to the back of our local plaza, where the store owners left their garbage, and added my bag to the collection.

At the time, I thought this was quite clever; I was saving my time and preventing my neighbour's frustration at having to deal with junk mail. In the meantime, I went and got myself a job walking a little girl to and from school. The human interaction was nice and it made me feel needed.

This sweet deal lasted only for about a month, at which time I had a fight with my sister, and she spilled the beans. During a particularly nasty girl fight, she told my mom what I was up to. I can still remember standing at the side door as Kim yelled out to my mom "Jennifer is throwing out her flyers instead of delivering them".

So ended my broken contract with Starways Carrier, Inc. My mom had me pay back the money I had been padding my bank account with. I think she was more humiliated by her daughter's fraudulent behaviour than I myself was.

Funny, that. Thinking about it now, It seemed that by throwing away those flyers was like being on some sort of a strike. It's my earliest memory of standing up for my rights and making a point. Mind you, I might have just quit the job altogether, but a 12 year old is not cognitively sophisticated enough to make that call.

Worst Job:

Speech-Language Pathologist, Riverdale Hospital, Toronto, Inpatient Neuro Rehab and Progressive Neurological Unit
1998, aged 25.

My first professional job was also my worst job. An overzealous, type A perfectionist, I was particularly vulnerable to neglecting self care. I worked a 12-15 hour day 5 days a week to try to be everything to everyone. First to arrive, last to leave.

My job was to provide communication and swallowing services to 2 groups of patients. I was to spend 70% of my time with folks who were recovering from acute strokes and traumatic brain injuries. The other 30% of my time was devoted to those with all kinds of progressive neurological disorders: Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's Disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

I couldn't maintain the 70/30 split for the guilt it caused. There was more to do on the progressive neuro unit than the 30% of my time allowed. My 40 hour work week ballooned into 60-70 hours and I still couldn't do enough. I was being paid big money to deal with lives, and I felt particularly responsible for things beyond my control. While the people with the acute injuries had spontaneous recovery on their sides and were making slow and steady improvements, the ones with the progressive neuro disorders were declining. Often daily.

This is why this was the worst job. Grad school didn't prepare me to deal with deterioration. I was under the illusion that my job was to "fix" people. Of course I thought this - my training followed the medical model. Rationalizing that this was unrealistic meant challenging my sense of self and my human limitations. Worse, justifying my lack of super-powers to desperate family members was soul wrenching.

And the swallowing. My god. Talk about culpability.

Picture this: A cognitively disordered Tamil-speaking daughter force-feeding her mother who is in the late stages of Huntington's disease. This poor mom is so neurologically impaired that she is UNABLE to swallow. It's not even that the swallow is delayed or that there is some tongue or jaw weakness messing around with her swallow function. Nope. Much more serious. SHE IS UNABLE TO SWALLOW. Period. But the daughter, innocently wanting to nurture her mom, continues pushing food into her mom's mouth. Eventually, mom's mouth fills with food and then it starts to pour into her trachea, down her airway, into her lungs. Recipe for death due to choking or aspiration pneumonia.

I didn't sign up for this. All I ever wanted to do was help people to communicate better. My head and neck anatomy training landed me in this role as a "swallowing specialist".

Back to the woman with Huntington's Disease. I have no way to communicate the danger to the mom or daughter. I don a hospital gown and gloves, and watch as the daughter feeds her mom. I move in to try to feel for laryngeal elevation. In the meantime, mom sputters up the pureed veggies that are trickling into her lungs, and I get a nice facial spray of the food she's unable to eat. Oops, forgot to wear that mask.

Fast forward 2 days. Mom is dead, and I am bawling in the hallway. Her death really had nothing to do with me, but I bore the responsibility nonetheless.

That seals the deal. I quit after only 4 months.

Dream Job:

Nia Instructor, 2006, age 33.

Movement, music and magic.
The Joy of Movement.
Form and Freedom.
Yin and Yang.
East meets West.
The pleasure principle.
This is Nia.
Dance, martial arts and healing arts.
"With Purpose" in Swahili.
Neuromuscular Integrative Action. Nia.

I discovered Nia through a boss about 7 years ago, at the age of 27. At first I didn't understand it. Because it involved taking off my shoes to exercise. And it didn't involve barking commands or repetitive, jarring exercises. The instructor encouraged us to feel good in our bodies, and there was none of this "no pain, no gain" kind of talk. I guess I found it foreign to actually be in my body and to feel pleasure while exercising.

It took about 6 years to decondition my belief that "harder is better", "more pain = more progress", "physical punishment and pain" and "faster, further, harder is better". It took awhile.

From Dragon Boat Coaches who encouraged us to "Paddle til you puke" and Boot Camp Instructors who said "Doesn't it feel good to work out so hard that you lose your hearing?!", I had a lot to unlearn. It took a lot of effort to change the automatic self-talk tapes in my head that told me to "work it harder".

But now I have Nia. I teach 6-8 classes per week and live so fully in my body now. I sweat, I dance, I have fun!

Dream job. Taking care.


Am control

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That is one hell of a dream job. The worst job still sounds like one that did a lot of good for people, but I can see how it would weigh heavily on your soul.