I was chatting to my sister Ellie on the phone. She told me how things were with her, how her husband John was still having problems at work, passed over for promotion in favour of a younger crowd, anxious he was being excluded from the inner management team, maybe they’d be better off emigrating somewhere, the US perhaps? But then, how would that affect the kids? And Ellie’s feeling pressurised at work. A big move would probably do her good. She’s taught for twenty years, but whether it’s because the bureaucracy’s increased, the children are more difficult, she’s less energetic, or all of the above – whatever the reason, something’s got to give.
‘I don’t know’ she says. ‘I should probably do something else. But what? I don’t actively hate my job. I can’t say I love it, either, though. Maybe I could retrain. Be a midwife.’
We mull over the pros and cons. I tell her I’m in the same boat. I want to change jobs, but it’s a tough environment out there. It’s expensive to fund a course independently, and then there are all the stresses jumping ship. You get into a routine. Time passes. It’s easier to stay put.
‘It’s not like I dread going to work’ I tell her. ‘There are plenty of things I like about the ambulance. But working nights is bad for your health, all the heavy lifting. And the constant exposure to social problems. It gets to you after a few years. I was thinking about training as a counsellor, but I don’t know.’
‘It’s definitely an age thing’ she says. ‘It suddenly struck me the other day that a lot of the people we used to look up to are dead now. Do you think that? It’s scary, isn’t it? I get scared. Everyone seems to be dying. Do you worry about it?’
‘Yeah. Now and again.’
‘I mean – what do you think? You must see a lot of it.’
‘I do. A fair bit. But I suppose I’ve got to the point where I differentiate the business of dying with the idea of being dead. Dying is just a physical process like anything else. Pain and suffering, being alone, they’re the things that scare me about dying. But being dead? I think about it now and again. If it makes me scared I try to use that feeling to spur me on to write a bit more, or live a little better. But I don’t know. I’ve no idea.’
We move on to the trickier subject of organising a big family get-together in a few weeks. The politics of who said what and who to, travel arrangements, dogs and trains, can we bring a pasta salad etc. We finalise the date and say goodbye.
* * *
The cohort area in A&E is filling up. It hasn’t reached overflow yet, but that can’t be far off. I’ve been working on the car. There were so many emergency calls outstanding, Control couldn’t spare a truck to transport my patient. Luckily her stroke symptoms had resolved, she was fairly steady on her pins, so I helped her into the front seat and drove her in myself.
There’s no cohort nurse allocated. Crews are having to wait with their patients and there are already long delays. The crew just ahead of me in the cohort area finished their shift ten minutes ago. I’ve still got over an hour left, so I take their patient and set them free. I make sure my patient is comfortable and has everything she needs, then I introduce myself to my new charge.
Mr Rogers seems a little road-worn, a battered old rolator stacked-up behind him on the back of the trolley, along with an assortment of carrier bags and a waterproof coat. In his black suit and collarless shirt, his shoes flapping a bit at the sole, I can imagine him as an itinerant preacher, looking at the chaos around him with his light grey eyes, about to jump to his feet and address the crowd.
‘I’d just checked into the B&B and was going for a walk when the chest pain came on. The spray didn’t help so I ended up calling the ambulance. I’m all right now, though. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’
I fetch him a cup of water and re-arrange his pillow.
‘You could have a nap,’ I tell him. ‘If you don’t, I will.’
I ask him if he’s visiting the area.
‘Moving,’ he says. ‘I had to leave the council flat I was in, so I’ve come down here to have a look.’
I don’t say anything, but it strikes me as odd – a man in his eighties, poor mobility, heart problems, hitting the road.
‘Sounds pretty tough,’ I say. ‘How are you managing?’
‘I do what I can’ he says. ‘What else is there?’
I do what I can isn't a bad epitaph to have Spence (as you're thinking about death)
Death and dying has never worried me.If something is beyond my control,why waste energy worrying.I know I'm going to go at some stage,will has been written,local University has been told they've got a new body to play with,cremation and all that it entails has been dealt with.
If death is one long,dreamless sleep then I'll be quite chuffed.
I wonder if your sister could find work related to teaching but outside the traditional system. Homeschooling has become increasingly popular in the US for many reasons; I could see a return to governess/tutor teaching making a comeback to the UK.
I'd like you to become a carer for a bunch of WWII characters and share with us the best stories, both tragic and comic. Anything to get you away from the drunks, drug abusers, and cruelty.
jack - I suppose my default position has always been that I'll return to my pre-birth state, which was also infinite and unknowable. The other thing to bear in mind is that death's a natural state - a simple fact it's easy to lose sight of. We've all got to die - it's the bit before you've got to worry about!
Good of you to donate to the university (you do realise it's a catering college...?)
tpals - That's a good idea. I'll mention it next time I see her. Homeschooling's pretty big here, too, esp. with parents wanting to 'top up' before important SATS &c.
You're right - I think I've served my time at the coal-face of social deprivation, drug abuse & so on. I've been saying it for a while, but prob. time for a change (what, though? hmm?)
* * *
Cheers for the comments! Hope you're both well!
I just wanted to say that you have the most interesting blog out of all of the medical blogs I have read.
Wow! That's really kind of you, Lindsay. Thanks so much for the comment - and for reading! :)
Angina? Know the feeling...still, you can live with it, if you know what I mean...
I know the GTN spray's effective, but have they ever thought about putting in a stent? Having angina must make life pretty difficult - although, like you say, you get used to most things.
Great to hear from you. Hope all's good with you.
Hi Spence...it's just the one blood vessel but alas it's too solidly blocked for stenting. There's a specialist over your way though who's been developing some revolutionary new treatment and they've passed my papers over to see if I might be a suitable case...you never know...
Otherwise it's all fine (apart from work which is now peeing me off a bit...like you...39 years this month and another 4 to go...frankly I can't wait!)...
Hope you and yours are keeping well
Work eh? The curse of the drinking classes. It's weird - I've just started looking around for another job, something that doesn't involve nights &c. So I've been filling out application forms - the first time in 10 years. Just when some of my friends are talking about hanging out for retirement. Damn! My timing was always a little off. Still - it's good to push yourself into new things.
Really good to hear from you, Dave. Best of luck with any upcoming treatment. The cardiac team here is pretty amazing.
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