I snapped. Finally I let go my stubbornness and arrogance because I got tired of this fixed income and a lack of pocket money. But mostly I did it because I need to work. No, not to stay afloat, but to feel fully alive.
I am going to summer school.
While living in California and working at a highly respected medical center as a patient care technician (EMT directed by providers and RNs, and so having far more latitude to ply the trade I learned on the street with a fire department over 30 years), my Maryland CNA license expired. Certified Nursing Assistant license. That thing one needs to work in nursing homes or on the medical-surgical floor, providing total bed care (emptying bedpans, keeping patients clean and comfortable, important work, but not what I had lived and loved). I admire CNAs a lot. They work cheap and do the dirtiest work. Their training has very little to do with emergency medical care, though. My life's work and second career has been in EMS, first on the street and later indoors, in the ER or acute care settings, where people walk or are carried in in various states of not-rightness, from the already-dead to the panicky well to the stone crazy. We rein in the crisis, calm the patient, start the technical work (IV insertion, blood draws for the lab, EKGs, insert Foley catheters, assist providers with sometimes bizarre and unattractive procedures like drawing fluid from the chest of a patient or inserting an arterial line while wrestling said patient into submission). We do these things, stabilize, resuscitate, win or lose, and either way we move them on to home, a room on the floor or down to the morgue.
Hi! I'm AJ and soon as I'm done with my coffee I'm going to hurt you -- but you won't mind (Georgetown, 2001)
We do not tend to them for days on end in their hospital beds. We intervene, sometimes radically. We are the hands and eyes of nurses and doctors. We are nursing staff but we are not nurses. I like it that way. We respond first, reassure first and often most effectively, prepare the patient for the dehumanizing things to come that will help them on their way to home or Heaven, and grab some coffee in between or stuff half a sandwich down our gullet, sit or stand against a wall, mourn a loss with family, slip on someone's blood then clean up that blood, run back and forth like basketball players, and when the buzzer sounds at the end of the game or the shift we often walk in circles in a halway or fall into a chair in the lounge and regain our breath and our sanity so we can drive back home and replay in our heads what we might have done differently. Sometimes we have to just sit with someone who doesn't know who he is and hasn't for months or years, and carry on some semblance of conversation, engage, look for clues to where the patient went, and when and why.
I did this for twelve years after the family business caved and before my legs turned to rubber for a while and I was not able to walk like a sober person, so left the game and did instead writing, advising and question-answering for an international medical advice web site.
In the state of Maryland one in this business must possess a valid CNA license. Mine expired in California, where there was no such rule. When I returned to the DC area, I went to work in a DC hospital's emergency room, where again, the CNA license was sensibly not required.
That was my position.
I wrote and worked on line from home with the medical web site for more than two years, and refused to spend an inordinate amount of money and any of my precious,unemployed time, going back to school to retake Essentials of Nursing in order to get back that CNA license. I shouldn't have to do that. Very little of that will ever apply to what I "do" and I did not have that money to throw away.
Needless to say, I have been shopping a very narrow job market for the past year: per diem diagnostic cardiology tech positions. There are not a gazillion of these. Oh sure, I tried to find per diem ER tech jobs in DC, too. Those are also not a dime a dozen. And why per diem? Because I was receiving Social Security Disability payments. I wasn't going to risk losing the known, if fixed income, and SSD beneficiaries are capped as to what they can earn. I needed to find something that would add no more than $12 k to my annual earnings, calculated by calendar month. The math alone, given 26 pay periods, was migraine-inducing.
So I kept fishing and finding nothing.
Then something magical happened. I reached full SS retirement age. I am no longer capped by either SSD or regular SS rules. I can earn as much as I please.
But that was only half the magic trick: the other half was the fact that at that magical age, at the local community college, the despised CNA course is state-funded, and so my tuition is waived.
There is actually more to this "senior" bullshit than getting a quarter knocked off my morning coffee, something I never think about anyway, because I never think about how many years I've been on the planet, at least not in the sense of how "old" I am. Senior? In high school, maybe! I do not look, feel nor think my chronological age. I don't get along real well with people born in the same era as I was. Old people crack me up, yes, but I am not one of them. Not just in my mind, either: They do not accept me as one of them. That's fine.
So this restless energy, the re-found land legs (idiopathic peripheral neuropathy runs in my family, and then it runs away and we take up our beds and walk again), and this need to be doing what it is I do has driven me to distraction, at least until now. The first three weeks of May will get me through the didactic portion of something I should be able to pass in my sleep (and that may well be the way I do it, given my propensity to stay up late), then the last week of June I do my 40 hours of clinicals, at a freakin' nursing home, then come back the following Monday, take the exam, pass it (in my sleep) and get my accursed CNA license back to go with my EMT, my EMS administration certificate, my critical incident stress management training, my critical care externship certification, etc., etc.
I am arrogant beyond belief, even my own belief. It will be good for me to be in classes with young people just starting out in the working world learning to do some of the most difficult and tedious and loving work there is. Some will go on to become RNs. Some will work perhaps the rest of their lives as CNAs. And I, the old, white haired white guy, will, I pray, get hired quickly by one of the local hospitals or acute care facilities, and return to doing what I love most and need most: to lay my hands on others, look them in the eyes and tell them first, foremost and always: "It's gonna be OK."
It is, too. It's going to be OK.