Did I Tell You The One Where Christmas Break Would Not End?

1476175_10202797128275919_1196886460_nTeachers everywhere were rejoicing. Of that I have no doubt. It started all extra-nice. (See above photo for evidence.)  It was snowy outside, warm and cozy inside, and the boys loved each other. I was having visions of piling up on the soda, toasty warm, watching our favorite movies, reading our favorite books. Cocoa would be in hand, complete with marshmallows. Zach in his footed pj’s, Evan in his flannel sleep pants, me in sweats.  The world shut out, and the ones I love shut in against the cold. There was no school for me, and only my 3 scheduled days of work per week. It was going to be great.

Then this happened:1480549_10202798469749455_592936327_nIt snowed. I love our street in the snow. The houses look so cute and cozy, the neighborhood becomes a Thomas Kinkade painting. We put up the Christmas tree together. This year, Zachy was really able to  participate, which was adorable. I kicked the OCD into low gear as he put the ornaments too close together, and somehow resisted the urge to tweak them ever-so-slightly the entire time that tree was up.

This year, I even managed to somehow get all of the Christmas presents for the boys wrapped before anyone knew what they were getting. This was about as successful a Christmas as I could’ve asked for, considering some of our previous misadventures. The whole next day, the boys broke  played with their new things. Then Evan remembered how fun toys can be when you are only 3, and Santa brings you things like racetracks for toy cars or little train sets. And it dawned on Zachy just how cool big-kid stuff can be.

Magic: Over. Bubble: Burst.

Next thing we knew, there were fights. “Mommy, Evan did________.”, squealed Zach. “Mom! Zach has my _______.”, whined Evan. And so it went all the way up through the end of their Christmas break. It seemed like the longest one in the history of winter breaks. I seriously thought I was going to die. To make matters worse, I was fresh out of school. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have that distraction. With me home more, John felt he deserved a break, and left most parenting matters to me. I’m certain the grey hairs on my head have multiplied as a result.

The eve of their first day back to school, I was working the ICU. It really is a good thing my patient was in a medically-induced coma and couldn’t hear me or tell on me. The tv in his room was turned to the news, where I saw the update where the boys’ first day back was called off due to weather.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’m sure my wail reverberated off of the walls of the ICU, into the adjacent waiting area and throughout the rest of the hospital. Nurses from outside the room rushed in to see what had happened, as I’m not generally an alarmist at work.

That day. That day I had been dreaming of, hoping for, wishing on….My hopes were crushed. My spirit broken.

The fighting a home got worse as cabin fever started in. Snow kept dumping on us. Just when it would start to clear up, more would come. And then it didn’t. The boys were finally going to go back to school. I was relieved, and by that time, I think they were as sick of us as we were of them causing chaos.

And then that “Polar Vortex” bullshit happened. Anyone remember the “I can’t put my arms down” scene in A Christmas Story? Well, we will never have a modern-day version of that. They cancelled school because it was too cold. For not one day, but days-yep, plural. When we were kids, our parents would just bundle us up. We waited a little closer to last minute to go to our bus stops. But our bus stops weren’t at our driveway, either. Generally, we had to walk. If it was dangerously cold–as in losing digits to frost bite despite gloves or mittens—my mom would crank the heat in the car to warm it up while I was getting ready and then drive me to the bus stop, where I would sit in the car until the bus was in sight. The lowest it got here was 2 degrees, and I am sure that I remember it getting a lot colder. As a matter of fact, I just googled that and discovered we had temps as low as -25 in 1985 in Cincinnati. But they closed school. There was no snow or ice on the ground, no slick roads, no frozen pipes at the school. It was just cold.

It seemed like winter break was never going to end. John and I were never going to have a single moment of peace. Armageddon was going to strike, Hell was freezing over, and we would have to home-school the children from now on. I was on the verge, man.

Finally, on January 10th, the boogers got on the bus and headed back. They were out of school for 29 days in total. I sincerely hope they tack the extra unplanned missed days onto the end of the school year. I am now on a mission to treasure every moment of silence until June, and promise to never take a peaceful moment for granted for as long as I live.

Finally,

Dear Interviewer

Dear Interviewer,

I don’t know your name or even very much about your business. I take my heating and air-conditioning for granted, though my husband has spent a couple of nights a week studying these systems so he could learn a trade, any trade, to make him employable. You’ll meet him tomorrow. You are one of the first to even give him a second glance, and that is my fault. He is a good man, a smart man. He has abilities and skills that are very different from mine. 

You see, years ago, he recognized that I had some talents and abilities that were going to waste. He was in school at the time, and he went to talk to his dean about getting me into classes despite the fact that I was in default on a federal student loan after having dropped out of college when my mom died. And that I was being held back simply because I didn’t have enough money to resolve the issue. And that dean called me in and we came up with a plan to get me out of default, and I learned that I can still shine. I didn’t look back. And my generous, kind, loyal husband put his goals on the back burner so I could continue to shine. 

And then we moved when I found a good job far away, causing him to abandon those goals he had set for himself. And I made a decent living. But when expensive childcare became an issue, he listened to me when I said, “It would be so much easier on us, financially and physically, if you would just stay home with the kid.” And he did. He put away his old-fashioned ideals of the manly-man supporting his family, and he became about the car-riders’ line at the local elementary school, Cub Scouts, karate lessons, and any other thing that comes with having a young child. When people would have the knee-jerk action of turning to the dad first to ask what he did, he would say he was a stay-at-home dad. But even I could notice that his shoulders always slumped just a little when he said this.

And then we moved again, where I had an even better job and higher education opportunities. And he enrolled in a school for this or that, taking a class at a time. I think he just needed something for himself. Anything. But still he kept that role of homemaker so I could do well, better, best. First, it was so I could pursue my dream of going to medical school, then there was another baby. His days were no longer only filled with carpools and extracurriculars, but again with diapers, keeping me in clean breast pump parts, teething. Still, he kept on.

Then it was, “John, I think I want to go to business school instead.” And his reply, that he would support me in whatever I wanted to do. And there was a BBA. When I decided I wanted an MBA, he was there cheering me on. He told me I could do it, that I was awesome. He stayed with the kids, washing my scrubs in preparation for my weekend shifts at the hospital while I sat in accounting/ finance/ marketing/ whatever classes. And he picked me up. On test days, he’d always have a motivational song on cue for when I would get into the car.

And all of this time, it was one class at a time for him. Scheduled around my work and class schedule, of course, because he always put me first. And then he was finished, but somehow even that was dwarfed by my completion of grad school one week later. And he never complained.

So tomorrow, you will meet him. He really wants this job, and I want him to have it. You are going to see his resume and application and ask about the 7-year gap in employment. Like most others, you will probably ask why a man didn’t work to support his family. It seems that, despite how progressive we think we have become as a society, we are still very much old-fashioned. And John, well, he just isn’t good at singing his own praises. This is what I would want him to tell you:

He worked. He worked harder than he ever has in his life. He honed time-management skills. He learned cleaning. He learned to keep others happy, multitasking. He perfected the art of motivational speaking, of problem-solving, of making sacrifices for the improvement of the team. And he was successful in all of those roles. After all, with him backing me, I did everything I set out to do.

So, Interviewer, tomorrow, I hope for a couple of things. I ask that you look at him as the man he is: the man who was brave enough to serve his country, put in his 40 at a job he hated in order to pay the bills, and the man selfless enough to give up what he wanted for his wife and kid(s). I ask that you not be like all of the others and you give this loyal, hard-working, awesome man a chance instead of simply seeing a long period of unemployment.

If you could see him like I do, you would know that you would not be sorry.

Sincerely,

John’s Wife

Grocery Woes

8019650_f520Hang with me here, because I swear I have a point. Off the top of my head, breakfast items I purchased for the house include the following:

  • 2 packages of whole-wheat English muffins
  • 1 pound of turkey bacon
  • 12 yogurts
  • 2 boxes of Pop-Tarts (don’t judge me!)
  • Multiple types of fruit–berries, oranges, clementines, apples, grapes
  • 3—yes, 3–boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios (they had a bundle pack that was discounted)
  • 1 Bag of Bagels–I buy the minis because they are more like a normal serving size, so I am estimating 12 were in the bag.
  • 18 eggs
  • 4 boxes of Nutrigrain-type cereal bars
  • a container of oatmeal
  • 1 box of Grape Nuts

I ate, I think, 2 English muffins, maybe a couple of pieces of fruit. I went to work for 3 nights and got off on the following Monday, and all of it–everything on the above list–was gone. What else didn’t survive the weekend? 3 boxes of granola bars, 2 boxes of low-calorie snacks I bought for myself, 2 boxes of snack crackers, an 18-pack of Jell-O, 2 gallons of chocolate milk, a whole pound of turkey breast. In one weekend. And that is just the quick items.

So it goes like this: I get paid, I determine a grocery budget, and I go to the grocery store. There isn’t a lot to go around anymore because my boss has cut down on our ability to work overtime, so I have to stretch what I do have. I clip coupons, I price match, I shop sales. I usually do pretty well, coming home from the store with the back of our SUV filled with grocery bags. On the last trip right before Christmas break, I spent $350 because I knew the kids would be home all day everyday. It would be more than enough for anyone.

Except for this family.

I never dreamed I would say this, but I cannot afford to feed this family anymore. More specifically, I cannot afford to fee Evan. The kid eats something and immediately goes back for more. All day long, this is how it goes. So my trips to the grocery store are decimated and when I come home from work after a 3-day stretch, there is nothing left and we spend the rest of the week running to and from the store, buying miscellaneous items because there is nothing left in the house. Which is decidedly unfriendly to the environment and to my wallet, as gas is fricken expensive. I have even had to let some bills slide to buy more food because they ran us out and we cannot starve for the rest of the week..

I should add that this does not just happen when I am gone. Last night for dinner, for example, John made chops, veggies, baked potatoes. When he made the potatoes, he made a whole bunch of them because they were smallish. I split one with Zach. John had one. Evan cried and carried on until he ate the rest of them. If we order a pizza, he eats more than all of us combined. One night, I made a pan of baked ziti–lowfat, of course, for John–and we all got a spoonful while Evan ate the rest of the pan.  He’s starving, he says. He cries.

We have tried everything. We’ve explained how obesity runs in our family, as well as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. We’ve had discussions about genetics and how John’s dad had to have open-heart in his 40′s and John had all of those blocked arteries this past summer in his 30′s, so Evan is pretty much doomed if he doesn’t amend his eating habits. I can’t make too much of an issue of it because I don’t want to make such an unhealthy connection with food, as this can also lead to problems.

What do I do? And the reason I am asking? Well, after the “polar vortex” that we have had that expanded the kids’ winter break, I am broke. We literally have no money. I have fed this child until our wallets, pockets, bank accounts are completely empty. And there is no food left. I have resources and I can get groceries, but the point is that nobody else will get to eat them. And even when we are diligent, when we watch the food supplies all day, being careful about what Evan consumes, our efforts go to waste when he sneaks into the kitchen after all have gone to bed and hoard entire boxes of stuff into his room. In the morning when he wakes, we have found empty boxes of snack crackers, granola bars, anything that he can easily take and snack on all night.

Do we have to sleep in shifts? Put the food under lock and key? Start buying by the meal instead of stocking the kitchen? And then when he cannot get what he wants, we deal with one of his meltdowns where he turns over furniture, gets violent with his brother, breaks our things intentionally.

I am at my wit’s end. I do not know what to do or how to do it.

And I’m hungry.

Lucky 13

The rest of the world was preparing for Christmas. I woke on the sofa in our living room after a night spent binge-watching Netflix the night before. On one side of the sofa was the twinkling of the lights of our Christmas tree, and on the other side was John, also asleep on the loveseat for the same reason as I was.

John.

Our thirteenth anniversary.

And I just stared at him for a while without his knowledge. I never took note of how his hair has started to thin at his hairline just a bit. I could see that the way his eyes have started to crinkle in the periphery when he smiles completely go away when he sleeps. He has Evan’s and Zach’s dark lashes, that curling, dark fringe women buy high-end mascara to achieve.

I found myself doing what I always do at any milestone: reflecting back. What our thirteenth year of marriage has brought us. It was just a few short months ago that I stood there with all of my medical knowledge flooding my brain while the cardiologist told us what he had found. When he said those words to me: “He really should have open-heart surgery, but my colleagues and I just do not think he would have survived long enough to get the blood thinners out of his system first.” He used my husband’s name and “survive” in the same sentence. And more than anything, I was afraid of that combination. For the first time in our marriage, John became a mere mortal like the rest of us and the idea that there will come a time when one of us will die entered my mind. That’s been hard to deal with from that day and beyond.

And the day they told us that some weird symptoms Evan was having were signs of a brain tumor. We each dealt with it in our own way—he with blind optimism and me with incessant tears— but we did it together. We seamlessly kicked into action as a team to get Evan the imaging studies, the appointments with specialists, and anything else we needed. And when Evan wasn’t looking, we held onto each other and we got through it to the news that Evan was fine.

He finished school this year. He belittles that in the face of what I accomplished this year. But it is what he wanted and he did it on his terms. He has spent years taking a class here or there, in the background while I was in the foreground doing something of my own. And he has started and stopped his classes with no complaints and no questions asked, based on what I was doing or had planned. Whenever it just wasn’t in the cards for both of us to be in school at the same time, he was always the one to drop out or put his on hold. He never would let me make that sacrifice.

And my MBA. Oh, John, my MBA. His MBA. The man has tirelessly chauffeured me around from this class and that class, this meeting and that meeting. he has rubbed my back when I studied and my shoulders were holding just too much tension. He has awakened from a dead sleep to run to the nearest 24-hour store when the printer ran out of ink for that big paper that was due in the morning. My favorite was, while I was pulling an all-nighter in preparation for my huge finance final at the end and my financial calculator died, he returned with both the replacement and a box of my favorite chocolates. And wasn’t it him, all of those years ago, who made that now-famous (in this family, anyway) statement to his dean? “My wife is too smart. What can I do to help her get back into school?” He saw in me what my mom once saw, what I had stopped seeing in myself. What I had given up on.

Those were some of the big things. In between, there were a million little things. And our marriage isn’t perfect. He pisses me off at times, breaks my heart at others. And at the end of each year, in the mashup of Christmas, our anniversary, New Years, and my birthday, I always wish for us to have an easier year next year. This year was no different. But the fact remains that we have been together long enough that our lives have become this intricately-woven tapestry, and you simply can no longer tell where his thread ends and mine begins. He understands me, and I understand him. We belong together. We will get through the bad, the trying, and will celebrate the good together. I cannot live without him.

Here’s to another year. And all it brings us.

Lament of the Non-Nurse

12916468-doctor-wearing-latex-glove-giving-thumbs-down-sign

Healthcare is all about nursing. I understand this. With 77% of non-physician roles in U.S. healthcare being those of the nursing variety, I can understand. They are the backbone of our hospitals. I am not a nurse. I had the option years ago, and I decided that, with poop being my Kryptonite and all, it would not be a wise career choice for me. I opted, instead, to help people breathe for a living. Thus I became the respiratory therapist. That choice has come back to haunt me in several ways.

The first of these started when I wanted somewhere to go from here. Nurses have so many avenues they can take to do this: become an instructor, a case manager, management at their facility, become an NP. What can the respiratory therapist do? Well, aside from becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist from the entry-level Certified Respiratory Therapist, which I did the month after I graduated from respiratory school, there is nothing. Bachelors programs in respiratory are just starting to emerge, but a BS in respiratory gets us no more job perks, no more pay. You just get to say you have it. The majority of my bachelors-having coworkers got theirs in “health sciences”. Whatever that means. So instead, I opted to finish my BS in business administration with the added concentration of healthcare management. But then what? If there are only a handful of BS programs, there certainly are no masters programs. But my BS is in business anyway, so the MBA was a no-brainer.

So here I am. I am one of the more educated in my department, even in the hospital. My MBA is complete. I did well. I did it. So now what? Now I find a job.

I thought this part would be easy. Well, not really easy, but not this difficult, either. Let’s discuss my situation: I have spent the past eight years of my life working in the toughest in my field–adult critical care, and eventually NICU. To the layperson, let me explain further: I am a member of a critical care team who responds the emergencies in the hospital. We are called in when you or your loved one is at their sickest. We bring our skills, experience, and knowledge to you, make recommendations to the physician based on all of the above. We communicate with other members of the team, with family members, with patients. We assess and decide, then act. Repeat as often as necessary to the point that it is second nature to us.

So what does this tell you about me? Well, it tells you I can effectively communicate with anyone. I have non-English-speaking patients, when I am most certainly unilingual. I have deaf patients, blind patients, patients who are intubated and cannot talk, trached and cannot talk. My job is to find out what is going on with them rapidly enough to act. I have become, over the years, a master lip-reader. But that’s not all. The people with whom I interact each and every day have been anyone from a PhD-holding professor who was ill, down to a man whose education was limited to elementary school before he was put to work out in his family’s fields. On our professional team, we have everyone from housekeepers and registration clerks, who may only have a high school education, all the way up to senior management and physicians with advanced degrees. I. Can. Effectively. Communicate. With . Anyone.

Now for my work. It may involve looking at lab values that seem to others to have nothing to do with the lungs, but actually do. Watching vitals. Seeing how the patient breathes. Assessing vital signs. Looking at patient history to see what clues I can find. Listening to family members who may not speak the same lingo I speak. Look at x-rays, watch for clues. And I look at all of this, and since the physician is not there, I have to decide when we need to be concerned, when to call for more help, what I can do to help. So in a split-second, I have to take in this information from multiple sources–complex information at that, compare it to the knowledge stored in my brain, and formulate a plan on how best to proceed.

And under stress. The patient is either having trouble breathing, or even has stopped breathing, when I have to do all of this. Maybe their heart has stopped. Maybe their oxygen saturation is low. Regardless, I don’t often have the luxury of being able to take my time. I need to make a decision and act now, now, now. And while nurses have anywhere from 2 to 6 patients to care for, when I go into work, I have the respiratory histories of at least a few floors’ worth of patients in the back of my mind or in notes in the margins of my printed work assignment. If you figure the average respiratory rate is 10-20 breaths per minute, and there are usually 30 patients per unit, that it 36,000 breaths for which I am responsible in one hour of work on just one floor of the hospital. And I May have three or four floors. That’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress.

And I have done this for years of my life.

And then I got an MBA. So I understand finance and strategy, management and business law, marketing and accounting. I have been educated thoroughly in all of the above from a nationally-ranked program at a well-respected university. Add that to the ability to communicate with anyone, the ability to work under stress, the ability to extract complex information from multiple sources to formulate a plan….Nothing should stop me, right?

Wrong.

Because I am looking through these jobs, and seeing that many of the leadership opportunities are asking for someone with a nursing background. Why? No idea. We respiratory therapists go everywhere. A nurse may be hired to work in one specific unit. I can go anywhere in a single night, giving me intimate knowledge of the work flow of every patient care area of the facility, from behavioral health up to the ICUs. And I know healthcare. And I know business. At first, I noticed this trend, and I was a little discouraged, but I figured that I would find the right role  But today, I came across a posting for a pulmonary unit. They need a director. Perfect. Except, as I scrolled down reading the job posting, toward the end, it listed a RN as one of the qualifications. They want someone with my clinical experience, an MBA….and a RN.

It is what we all deal with everyday–we non-nursing patient care staff. We are skilled, we are experienced, we are valuable to patient outcomes, but this is the hand we are dealt, and frankly, it sucks. Part of me wants to just go to nursing school for a couple of years so I can say I did. But I shouldn’t have to do this. I have worked hard. I have done well, completing all three degrees with academic honors. I have the experience under my belt. This is just ridiculous.

Nursing is the backbone of healthcare, but I have yet to see a backbone accomplish anything without limbs, without muscle to hold it upright, support it and ensure it can move and flex in the ways needed. And it’s high time that the rest of the body gets some respect.

The To-Do List

This is what I have to do this week, so you can understand my level of insanity:

For my health law and ethics elective:

  • A 12-page paper–I chose to do mine on the lack of OSHA regs in healthcare.
  • A matching presentation on the above to be presented to my classmates

For my social media marketing elective:

  • Plan a social media marketing for a local business with whom I have partnered, including an execution plan and integration with existing promotions and events
  • Read two books
  • Write a blog post and watch 2 2-hour videos
  • Present above plan to my class

For my finance class:

  • Get through another 100 pages of text
  • Get through a study guide and over 100 practice problems
  • A case study to be completed in a group
  • Get ready for what is sure to be the most difficult final exam ever.

For my capstone:

  • One more round of decisions for my fake company I have been running all semester (which has a 120% growth  in profits, thankyouverymuch!)
  • An online exam
  • 2 10-page papers
  • A review of the above operations of the fake company
  • Another simulation of a shorter duration
  • The ETS exam required of all MBAs from AACSB-accredited programs in the country

That’s this week. And I work two nights in the middle somewhere.

Now you get it, right? Because nobody in my life right now seems to understand what I am talking about when I try to explain my current stress level.