Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Path of Interesting Things

When I was little I prayed for an interesting life. To see interesting things, and to have unique experiences. I wanted to see how other people on this earth live their lives, what the sunset looks like from the other side of the earth, and what moves people. 
I wanted also to see what moves God. What takes his breath away? What things does he love? What would he like to show me in my tiny breath of existence on this small blue marble? 

Oh, my. Did he deliver. My journey has not always been easy nor beautiful, but it has always been interesting. (I also prayed for wisdom. Wisdom is fucking painful. I almost lost my life to that journey. Not that I am wise! Ha! But that I know how little I truly know. And how little power I have over anything at all. This is as close as I get to wise, and I will take it).

Some of the interesting things I have experienced started when I was tiny. Like watching frog life cycles at Secret Lake. Or finding a batch of kittens under my bed as a toddler. I watched a farm dog give birth to six tiny puppies, one by one. I saw my dad butcher deer. Hiked in the wilderness. Fell in love with bear cubs and mice nests and horses. My parents opened the door to a vast, wild outdoors that inspired my imagination and taught me so much about how God's mind works. It's vast. It's intricate. It's beautiful enough to take your breath away. 

When I was sixteen, I went to Thailand. We traveled to a far Northern corner of rural Thailand and stayed in a remote village. Where they killed the chickens for our dinner right in front of us, and where we swam in a red brown river and slept on grass mats under houses built on stilts. In the rice patties I saw my first fireflies. 

One day we traveled for hours to reach a Buddhist temple in the mountains, way up on the edge of a cliff. It was foggy but as we watched, the mist lifted and the most incredible quilt of green forest stretched out in front of us as deep and far as my eyes could see. It filled my soul. 

I've seen Tokyo. I've been to Taiwan, where floor to ceiling signs in every language admonish you that drug and arms trafficking is punishable by death as you walk from your flight towards customs. In Whalien, several hours outside of Taipei, I swam in hot springs carved out of sheer rock and slept in a hostel with moths flying around that were as big as my face. 

I saw the Taj Mahal and cried. It was so beautiful.
I sat next to Mother Teresa's grave in Kolkata. That trip was a pilgrimage of sorts, since I had wanted to meet this larger than life servant of Jesus but she died before I had the chance. So I went to see her work. 
In the early mornings on my way to mass, I would step over and around hundreds of men sleeping on the sidewalk. Most of them were rickshaw drivers or kiosk owners who had no homes nearby to sleep in. 
I don't know where they slept during monsoon season. 

When I worked for the ferry system I spent a summer on a tiny ferry and we saw orca whales nearly every day. If I stood on the car deck I was so close I could almost touch their dorsal fins. The saddle patch on each whale is unique and looks like a watercolour tattoo. It felt like witnessing some ancient, tribal ritual, floating alongside migrating whales. Their eyes are so intelligent, peering curiously at us in our floating steel boat. 

I've seen babies emerge from women's bodies, and muscles exposed by road rash and knife fights. I've been in the room as people took their last breath. And then still when their families grieved. 

I've flown over the Broughten Archipelago and over wind farms and remote ocean beaches. There is so much beauty to see in this world, and I've been struck lately with how fortunate I am to have seen a sizeable chunk of it personally. 

An interesting life indeed. 

(Kuyuquot, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, by medivac)

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Skinny On the Dispatch Job

I waited to tell this story.  Partly because we were busy moving and adjusting to life in isolation, and partly because I needed to ensure telling this story wouldn't hurt anyone.  Including myself.

Two Septembers ago, I started seriously looking for a job.  Living where we were living and surviving on one income (plus a tiny bit extra from me doing some online copywriting work and social media stuff for small businesses) was not working, the cost of living being rather high.  Brent was working his ass off doing crazy amounts of overtime and we were still chronically broke.  I actually considered the food bank a few times, that's how broke we were.  The only things that really stopped me were that I didn't know how you go about getting food from the food bank (do you fill out forms? Go through an approval process? Do they want to know your income level?), and it felt ridiculous to own a home and have a decent income and go take food that could go to people who don't even have the choice of either of the above.  But you can't eat your house.

There's a ton of shame involved in being in your thirties and being shit broke.  It fucking sucks.

So, after struggling for awhile on a single income and getting nowhere, I said enough is enough and started looking for a job.  I'm a big girl with tons to offer, lots of years of work experience, and certainly no lack of work ethic, so I hit the pavement with my resume.

These days hitting the pavement is an introvert's dream because you apply for stuff with your computer and email address and never have to meet anyone until they're already interested in you. Coolio.

At first I figured I would get a job with Parks and Rec or something, something low stress, do my job and go home, minimal commute, and minimal chance of developing PTSD just from the daily ins and outs of my job (unlike my previous decade in emergency services). I applied for a bunch of jobs but pretty quickly got drawn into one in police dispatch... I just can't get away from being an adrenaline junkie and an emergency response addict. When I saw they were hiring in a nearby city, I jumped at it.  It seemed as though it was perhaps meant to be, because I kept passing their 87640976 steps to getting hired.  All those steps meant months and months of waiting and hoping and more and more financial stress.  I was torn: keep looking elsewhere?  Or hang in there for a job I was truly interested in?

Simultaneous to this process, we applied for Brent to be released from Surrey and relocated to any remote posting in the Yukon or BC. These are separate but you must be released before you can be relocated, and it can take years for either to happen.  So it was a long shot, but we shot.

At first I was hoping for a paycheque before Christmas. Then maybe before February. March? But it wasn't til the end of April that I was called in for the three week training session and, finally, a paycheque.

I had not tipped my hand as being a parent during the entire application process, as I know it can unfairly bias employers against you. I don't just know this as information; I know this from personal experience.

But once I was in training, I figured I was in.  I was hired.  What was I going to do; pretend I had no kids the entire time I was employed?  So on the first day during our introductions, I said I have four kids. Oops.  Thereafter, I kept getting ambiguous vibes from my trainer. She was funny and personable and we seemed to operate along a similar wavelength.  In another context we could definitely be friends. But she kept giving me this push-pull dynamic and squashing my enthusiasm or purposefully misinterpreting my statements as evidence I was unfit for this job. The reason became clear in my second week performance review when she leveled at me, point blank:

"I have serious reservations about your ability to learn this job with the amount of family responsibilities you have at home."

My jaw almost hit the floor. You cannot discriminate against an employee or potential employee in Canada based on whether or not they have children. You cannot assume anyone is unfit for a position based on their age, race, sex, sexual orientation, whether they are pregnant, breastfeeding, have children, are married, single, or born with six toes. It is illegal.

This girl, whom I like and respect, didn't tell me she has serious reservations about my skill set, job experience, or work ethic. She told me she has serious reservations about me doing this job while having four kids.

Would she have ever, EVER, EVER have had the same reservations about a man with four kids? Would it even have crossed her mind as an obstacle for a man to be a father and a dispatcher? I guarantee not.

I wish I had pointed out all of the above. But what power did I have? At any point during the training they could simply mark me as unsuccessful and that would be the end. If I kicked up a fuss they could just not schedule me to work, or only schedule me very few shifts so I flounder or go look for another job out of financial desperation. So I scrambled around trying to justify my presence in their midst, stammering about working hard and getting a chance to actually prove myself and try it out rather than memorize policies and navigate some rather tricky amounts of information in a poorly designed classroom setting, and got out of that meeting rather flustered. I went to the bathroom and cried. I knew I was done for. I knew I had been targeted for exit from the training program before it even began, that first day when I revealed that I had four kids. It explained the ambiguous attitude from my trainer. It explained the push-pull where one minute we were joking around and the next she was clearly showing me ways in which she believed I would be challenged too much.

Complicating this were two major factors. One, that I knew we were moving. We had gotten notice that Brent had been released from his previous position, and been granted a remote post. But the thing about Brent's job is that nothing is guaranteed until it's actually done. If it all fell through and we stayed put, I needed this fucking job. Two, that I wasn't a spectacularly talented call taker. I can multi task and I can navigate emergencies. I can navigate software and data entry. But (as my trainer accurately pointed out in my second performance review a week later) I don't have an 'instinct for policing.' I'm meticulous and focused, which is well suited to medicine. But for policing, you need a more global instinct-based-on-knowledge-of-policy approach. So I wasn't terrible for the job. But I wasn't born to do it, either.

I still believe I would have made a positive addition to that team. I think they made a mistake and wrote me off the first day based on incorrect assumptions about my ability to balance work and family, about how much my co parent shoulders the work of raising our kids, about what kind of childcare and community support networks I had in place, and about my personal energy level as a human being. Possibly also some assumptions about what mothers "should" do or not do once they have kids. But they weren't entirely wrong in noticing that I wasn't the most talented person in the room for this particular job.

The second week included a bank of practical tests. I will never know if I performed so poorly on those tests because I was set up to fail, or because the clear lack of support for my continuing threw me off, or if I really was just that bad. But I was brought into the boss' office the next day and given the option to continue slogging through the training (with heavy discouragement towards that choice), or exiting. The choice was left to me, and my 'family responsibilities' were not mentioned. I have a hunch that the boss likely hit the floor when she heard what was said to me in that first performance review and that my trainer was taken to task for exposing the department to a human rights violation. That boss was not born yesterday. She knows.

I asked for a casual position in switchboard instead and was given one. I think I worked six days total in May, June, and July. Including three days of training. It was a charity move on their part. One with not much charity in it, apparently.

I don't regret applying for the position or going through the process of training and failing, as painful as it was. Although my trainer was WAY out of line for being prejudiced against me for having a family, she was eerily accurate in her ability to assess my skill set and strengths. But everything she was telling me re-enforced that I am well suited to being a paramedic. I like algorithms. I like methodology. I like approaching complex problems by breaking them down and attacking them with focus and tenacity and scientific accuracy. Time pressure? Chaotic scene? Emotional bystanders? BONUS!
You can't apply algorithms to people's behaviour the same way you can their physiology. There's no Airway, Breathing, Circulation Primary Survey-Secondary Survey for crime. But there sure the fuck is for emergency medicine.

My brain had always told me that I wasn't well suited to emergency medicine. That I just passed training because I was a good academic and could pass with my book knowledge but that I didn't have an 'instinct' or talent for it. I felt like a fraud for most of my nine years as a paramedic. It didn't help that I saw my peers shoot past me while I had baby after baby and they built their careers and applied for full time positions without a second thought for the demand on their bodies or the extra commute that would steal away hours away from their babies. It didn't help that I worked part time hours while they all worked 100+ hours a week so they got proficient at the short cuts and efficiencies that I just couldn't get as quick as them at because I didn't do them as often. It didn't help that no one ever gives you feedback in the current system unless they hate you, so all I heard was silence or harrassment. It didn't help that my anxiety disorder re enforced my feelings of being a fraud.

My brain had always told me these things about me being poorly suited to paramedic work, but my brain was wrong. The experience of failing at police dispatch center training showed me exactly how wrong my brain was. It gave me new confidence, which I had never had in the decade I worked as a paramedic, that I was a good paramedic. It re-ignited my passion for medicine. And it gave me the energy and confidence to reapply once we moved here and I realized the ambulance service in our town was hiring.

I'm no fraud. I kick ass at the ABCs. I love physiology. My brain loves to store random facts about weird, little known deviations from normal body reactions and functioning that result in disease process. I can perform algorithms in my sleep and never get bored. I come alive when people get sick and injured. I am meticulous. The entire world disappears beyond the scene I'm in when I'm at work. I will never stop learning and adjusting what I do, but I will also never stop doing Airway, Breathing, and Circulation checks.

I'm not a perfect paramedic. I've made epic mistakes. I can get too focused and forget about the peripheral details of a scene like traffic control or calling for extra help. I have trouble taking leadership over people who I know have more extensive experience than me. When weird or unexpected things happen it can take me a minute (or seven) to wrap my mind around a change in plans. But largely, I'm good at what I do and I've re entered the ambulance service with an enthusiasm and passion I thought I'd lost.

I found a wooden sign on our travels this summer, and it sums this story up nicely;

wrong turns are as important as
right turns

more important
sometimes


Exactly that.