Friday, July 29, 2011

The workplace without tears

It's the end of my first week of my new job, and my days have achieved a pleasing rhythm.  I arrive at 08:00-- I  had to arrive at my nursing job at 06:45, to give myself time to review my patients for the day and get organized.  It makes me feel like a human again to be a part of the normal morning rush hour.  The later start means I have a wealth of bus options that will get me there by eight and I can sleep in and have plenty of time to potter around at home before leaving for work.

I arrive without fanfare, and simply go to my office and start working.  I don't really have an "office"--I'm not that important--but instead of a cubicle, I'm sharing an office with two other people---the three of us are the "Beacon" team.

I work for a major university medical center/teaching hospital, but as recently as February 2011, we were still hand writing much of our documentation in paper charts.  Then came EPIC, our electronic medical record system, with which we "went live" in March.  Naturally, when you implement a new system as vast and complicated as this one, there is need for much tweaking, as well as "building" components that staff need and I am one of the "builders," specifically for "Beacon" which is the subset of Epic used by the Cancer Center. I am not able to accomplish much right now because I'm not trained, but I will be taking two trips to the Epic headquarters near Madison, Wisconsin, for training.

But back to my day:  I can now take a proper lunch, even pop down to the UVA "Corner" for coffee or meals.  Yesterday I spent my lunch break in my new favorite cafe--the Corner Cup--reading my novel.  At my old job, "lunch" meant a quick 10-15 minutes, guiltily eating as fast as possible before your next post-op showed up.  There was rarely time to go all the way to the cafeteria, and it was never possible to leave the hospital grounds.  Sometimes there was barely time to get to a toilet.  I take a non-fat latte back to the office and work until 4:30.  I suppose I sound frivolous, but these small comforts are important.

I'm always free in the evenings now, I never need to turn down or be late to dinner parties because of working a twelve hour shift, and I get home from my new job feeling energetic--even after walking home two miles with temps in the high nineties.  I feel better able to be a proper mother to my children, because formerly, I was too exhausted--physically, mentally, and emotionally--to do much for them. I no longer dread going to work.  Sometimes I dreaded my old job so much, I would ask my kids to pray for me, to prevent something awful from happening during my upcoming shift.  If I had to choose one word to describe how I've been feeling over the past week, it would be "convalescent."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carry me back to old Virginny

Saturday, Brigid and I were scheduled to fly back to Charlottesville, while Jon and the other kids stay on in Buffalo for a few more days.  I'm usually a lucky traveler but I had a bad feeling about this trip, which went wrong from the moment I failed to check in online because of computer problems.  Still, we got a phone call three hours before departure, saying that our flight was on time.

From the United Airlines counter at BUF, extended a long disorganized line.  I found the self check-in kiosk, which was occupied by a woman, and after standing behind her for a minute, I left the line to try a different kiosk, only to discover that it was out of order.  Meanwhile, other people had taken my place behind the woman at the kiosk.  Which would have been fine, if the woman at the kiosk had had any idea what she was doing, but she didn't, and kept staring at the screen with a furrowed brow, and then looking over her shoulder in a hopeful way as if she expected a genii to appear and help her.  She repeated the brow furrow/hopeful look several times but--can you believe it?-- no genii appeared!  And here's the thing:  she had already printed her boarding passes.  I could see them in her hand.  What else did she need to do?

Meanwhile, I had unwittingly become a guide for other travelers who kept asking me what line they should stand in.  As if I knew!   The confused woman finally gave up and wandered off uncertainly, and the line moved faster after that. The notice board still listed our flight as being on time.

We found our gate and spent several minutes hunting for the "Coffee Beanery" where we were served indifferent lattes and a tasteless muffin.  A woman came up after us and ordered.  I'm sure you are all familiar with the way that coffee shops work--order at one counter, then step to the side and wait for your drink, which is handed to you a little further down.  So this woman orders her coffee and then plants herself right in front of the coffee delivery counter, despite the fact that there are four people ahead of her, waiting.  The two people ahead of Brigid and me got their coffees, and mine and Brigid's coffees were announced and this woman is all, "HEY!  WHERE'S MY COFFEE?"  Geez, lady, calm down.  It only takes a tiny bit of awareness to notice that YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY CUSTOMER.

So we sit down at our gate, and there's no plane waiting, and there's no plane, no plane, no plane, till I'm like, "Gee, we ought to be boarding by now," so I go over to the notice board and see that our flight is delayed, with no information as when we might expect it.  But another passenger, who's on the phone with someone outside the airport, tells me that our flight hasn't even left Chicago yet, and that it isn't expected here until after 1:00pm (we were supposed to depart at 10:30am).  This is tragic because it means we will miss our connecting flight in Washington, and because our dog sitters have been told we'd be home by 2:00pm and not to bother with the dogs in the afternoon.

Long story short, we got booked onto a later flight from Dulles to C'ville, after standing in a long line which terminated in a United Airlines employee with a face like a woodchuck.  This could have turned into a rant about poor customer service at airports, but everyone was helpful. One guy did get impatient with a passenger, but I could hardly blame him since she appeared to be making unreasonable demands and continued to paw at him from her wheelchair long after her turn was over. We found out that the source of the delay was flash floods in Chicago.

The flight from Buffalo to Washington was uneventful, except for a sick-making landing in which we hurtled toward the ground at a reckless speed, hovered over the runway for ages before finally touching down, and then racing down the runway as if we were experiencing a brake failure.  I thought it was just my anxiety telling me that the plane seemed out of control until I heard the guy in front of me say, "Gee, he seems to be having trouble stopping the plane."  Now you are expecting me to tell you that we crashed into something, but we didn't and slowed down eventually and taxied decorously past enormous jets, all hooked up to their gates like piglets nursing on a sow.

Our new flight wasn't scheduled to leave for three and a half hours but at least Dulles has a Five Guys, and we were starving, having thrown our muffin away in Buffalo.  Dulles has more amusements than Buffalo and far superior food.  We wandered through the gleaming "B" concourse, window shopping, and I admired all the jets from different countries.  It's one of my geeky hobbies to gawk at the airplane graphics for different airlines.  Saudi Arabia Air's planes are particularly dashing.

Bored with shopping, we headed back to the far end of "A" concourse where our gate was.  You've probably noticed that major airports always fly their small regional flights from Siberian terminals far removed from the glamorous area from where the international flights take off.  As we proceeded to the nether regions of "A" concourse, the ceiling got lower, the air conditioning less cool, the general atmosphere decidedly dank, the passengers not as well-dressed. The airline employees have accents and their uniforms are not as smart as those who work upstairs.  No more shining walls of glass with beautifully painted jets suckling at the mother port.  Instead, you squint through small windows at various ugly duckling aircraft.  It's the Island of Misfit Toys down there.

We sat at gate A5, which is where a United Airlines employee told us to go, and commenced waiting.  And waiting.  It is a law of the universe that if you are flying home to Charlottesville, you will see someone you know or recognize.  I didn't see anyone I knew at our gate, but I figured we were just early.   We watched people arriving from the even-more nether regions of gates A1-4.  Many of them were sprinting.  One man was bellowing for a missing six year old.  Finally, it was almost time for us to board, and I became increasingly concerned about the lack of familiar-looking people at our gate.  No one near us looked like they were from Charlottesville.  I checked the notice board and discovered that we had been waiting at the wrong gate for two hours.  The flight to C'ville left from gate A1--A1 F to be exact--in the most Siberian section of the airport, where the ceiling was even lower than it was at gate A5, the air even more dank and poorly cooled.  There were no seats available, but at least these people looked right, and almost immediately I spotted one of the ushers from our church.  It appeared that every flight leaving from this part of the airport was delayed.

A young family came sprinting up to the next gate, gasping for breath and asking if the flight to Albany had boarded yet.  It hadn't because it was delayed, and it was funny to watch the play of expressions on their faces as their emotions changed from relief at not having missed their flight to annoyance at having run for nothing to anger at having not been informed of their flight's status, to laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation.  The rest of the Albany people greeted this family with joy and I heard someone ask if anyone was interested in a game of poker.  Fun people, those Albany folks.

Meanwhile, my group was told that while our plane was here, we were not allowed on it yet, because it was too hot inside the cabin.  It was now nearly 6:00pm and we had been sitting around at airports since 08:30.  I could not focus on my book--An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch--I could not do anything but inwardly moan about how uncomfortable I was.

At last we were allowed to board and walked across the baking tarmac to our teeny tiny prop plane.  Hot is a subjective term and I thought that when we were told our plane was hot, they meant moderately uncomfortable, but it turns out that when they said "hot" they meant it.  It's so unoriginal to draw comparisons to Hell, but if Dante had been on that plane he would have realized there is a tenth circle he didn't know about.  The cabin door was shut and it was like, "bake for twenty minutes until done."  The flight attendant told us it had been 115 degrees in some other place she'd been to that day, and--because this was a plane full of Charlottesville people--someone had to speak up and say that it had been 55 degrees yesterday in London, and someone else volunteered that it had been 61 degrees in Stuttgart.

It's only a twenty minute flight from Washington to Charlottesville, but those were possibly the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of my life, with the exception of childbirth.  I wasn't even sweating because I had had nothing to drink all day but two cups of coffee, hours earlier.  The flight attendant did serve water--it was hot and tasted like it had been dipped up from the bottom of a rusty oil drum--but I drank it greedily.

Charlottesville at last!  Unfortunately, the Stuttgart and London people were sitting at the front of the plane and had made friends with each other.  One of them was also a pilot and nothing would suit them but informing our pilot of this immediately.  They even flew the same type of plane!  Our pilot was all, "Hey that's cool," and then there was an interminable exchange of remarks while the rest of us roasted and had secret thoughts about storming the door.  Finally, we were allowed off the plane--it was an icy 86 degrees outside.  After that, there was just a $40 cab ride, and we were home.

Monday, July 18, 2011

You may ask yourself

Today is my last day as an acute care nurse.  I will be doing one shift  a month, to keep my skills up, but that hardly counts.  According to the job transfer letter I got from HR, my new job title is "systems analyst/programmer."  It's a bit surprising to find myself employed as a computer programmer.  I'm having a "how did I get here" moment.

The time is not right for the thoughts and feelings about nursing post.  The thoughts and feelings are still too raw and I had a horrible experience of almost getting hit in the head with a used maxi pad, which it may or may not be a HIPAA violation to tell you about.  But you are all invited to share my experiences in the exciting new field of nursing informatics!  At least I will not be in danger from flying maxi pads.

Meanwhile, we are preparing to send Brigid off to college.  She had the good fortune to be accepted at every school she applied to and after much agonizing she chose VCU.  I was a little disappointed, yet also relieved, since VCU is cheaper and closer than any of her other schools.  Still, I can't help regretting that she rejected the Art Institute of Chicago, and a chance to live in NYC by going to Pratt.  Even Savannah, where she could have gone to Savannah College of Art, is more glamorous than Richmond. Anyway, VCU is the best public art school in the country and ranked 4th overall, so we can't complain. I have never dealt with a large public university before, but so far it is going OK.  Well, it is a bit of a bore that they routinely accept more students than they have dorms for.  We experienced some consternation after getting a cold email from the housing office, saying that Brigid was waitlisted for a dorm room, that housing was not guaranteed, and that we might want to look into off-campus housing.

It has always been my experience that first year students are required to live on campus, unless they are living with their parents.  There are no such nurturing rules at VCU, where they're like: "Wait, you mean we're supposed to HOUSE these kids too?"   Part of the problem is the stupid, arsing Virginia public university computer system whose programs will not run on my mac, preventing us from applying for a dorm room in a timely manner.  I tried using the computers at the public library, but their security system would lot allow the VCU dorm application to run.  Finally someone at VCU entered Brigid's housing application for us over the phone, but by then we were past the deadline for a guaranteed space in the dorms.

We learned of Brigid's potential homelessness on July 14th and on the 17th had put down a security deposit on a historic row house located a stone's throw from the Art Foundation building, which she will share with three other girls.  The house, it turns out, is cheaper than a dorm, and since there's a grocery store nearby, we can get away with purchasing the cheapest meal plan, or even no meal plan at all.  Plus, we are spared the hell of move in day, when thousands of parents and students descend on downtown Richmond and clog the roads with their cars, and push mini refrigerators around on trolleys.

That accomplished, we leave tomorrow for Buffalo, to see Ian and other relatives.  Since I am working twelve hours--11:00-23:30 (oy)--Jon must do the packing unsupervised which I know from past experience, has led to travel mayhem. I've assigned the girls to watch over him:  NO spray cheese for the car trip, he can NOT pack his special chair, try to DISCOURAGE the prayer rug, PLEASE do the laundry, make sure SOMEONE mows the lawn.  We're not getting a proper vacation this summer.  Any amusing plans I make are immediately ruined by TWO KIDS IN COLLEGE.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Zen of Julia Child

The French Chef, starring Julia Child was one of those shows that was always on the periphery of my cultural knowledge, but that I'd never really watched myself, until the other day when I was instantly enchanted.

Everything about the show is delightful:  the humble cardboard cylinder of supermarket salt--no prissy lectures about how the only acceptable salt is hand-made from sea water by nuns in Brittany--her stove--she cooks on the same crappy electric coils that our mothers used.  How else do I love Julia Child?  Let me count the ways.

  • The way, at the beginning of each show, she says, "I'm Julia Child" in a way that makes you think of a girl introducing herself to others in the common room of her boarding school. 
  • The careless way she waves her knives around.  Sometimes you are certain she will slice off her own thumb, but she never does.
  • The daft badge she wears on her blouse that, in the early episodes, shifts from one side of her blouse to the other until, sometime in the early '70s, she finally committed to the left breast.
  • Her homemade sound effects:  she says, "errk" whenever she struggles with a recalcitrant sausage stuffer and "tock" every time she presses the garlic.
  • Her fruity voice, which attains ear-splitting decibels, particularly when she introduces the food topic of the day.
  • Her tendency to mishaps.  It's always a little exciting when Julia is about to unmold something or flip something.
  • The great lengths to which WGBH Boston went to avoid product placement.  Julia's cardboard cylinder of salt is covered with a roll of construction paper labeled SALT, like a kindergarten project, until, in the later episodes, they figured out it was classier to put the salt in a crock.  The wine bottles have homemade labels, so we can't see what vineyard they came from, and even Julia's pyrex measuring cup has a piece of gray paper taped over the label.
The food is beside the point.  It's good food, but pretty basic.  Americans were unsophisticated cooks in the 1960's.  The true joy in watching Julia Child is in realizing that maybe the world isn't such an awful place after all.