Poem: Withdrawing


Startle me

awake

from this drowsy dreaming 

half life 

shuffle 

My feet been stumbling

along

head crazed 

with jacked up 

thoughts 

Time to climb down 

open up

and

lift off

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Monkey On Our Back 


There are times we all feel the monkey on our back. Maybe we put it there, flipping it up as we were too busy with life. It became more and more burdensome, weighing us down as we carried it around. Tried as we might, we couldn’t pry it off because it clung with a mighty grip and our back became the perfect ride.

There were days we knew it was there even though looking over our shoulder it was impossible to see. But we could feel it’s little fingers scratching at our skin making it crawl. It would make weird monkey noises close to our ear so only we could hear and we would think: I must be crazy.

For years it rode like this, perched on top of us, hitching this endless ride. Until one day we realize it’s a burden to drag along this nuisance, this unwanted tag along. We think maybe we can ditch it, throw it off somewhere and let it find its own way. 

Reaching around isn’t easy, and getting it to let go is no simple task. The monkey hangs on for dear life. But finally we can grab it by the tail and rip it off. It’s easy to fling it into the forest somewhere, hoping it will find a monkey family. 

And now, for the first time in a long time we can stand up. Our back feels light. We walk down the road now, unencumbered and free. But we are ever diligent for primate hitch hikers. 

The Good, The Bad…


These are my new work shoes. Standing all day can be tiring, so I treated myself. It was interesting going into a big retail store–one of those gigantic chain athletic stores to find something. Now that I work in retail again, I could scrutinize the employees from a point of view as a customer doing similar work. Of course, I often evaluate these situations being a student of human behavior, but today I came at it from a purely retail perspective.

I interacted closely with two employees and had two totally different experiences. This store has no-one specific helping in the shoe department–they just mostly expect customers to wander around by themselves and randomly check things out. And then, if you should perchance find something you like, you can try it on yourself…OR if you don’t–then you might be lucky and find someone to help you. Maybe…

While I was doing the first option a young male employee came over to me and asked if I needed help, so I explained to him that I was looking for a shoe to stand in all day. I tried to explain to him what I was looking for, but he was very eager to show me something he thought would be the right shoe. So I looked at it (because I didn’t want to let him down)  and immediately didn’t like it (it was white and not my style of sneaker), but at least he tried to be helpful and nice.

So I kept wandering, found finally found the sale section! There I came across some decent running shoes in my size that would work. But I also came across another pair of moccasins that I thought were pretty cool. Sadly, they didn’t have a price tag, and I feared this could mean a great hassle in the check out. I liked them enough though, and have very few shoes since moving (I gave tons away before I did) that I figured it worth trying to get a price.

I flagged the next employee down I could find…another young man. He seemed rather put out, but said he would see what he could find out. He came back rather quickly and said: how much do you want these shoes (well actually I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want them dude) because it’s going to take me a really long time to figure out a price, and honestly (uh oh…lying) the last time I looked at the price tag it said like $100. I said: $100?? Really?? He said: Yup. Hmmm…??  I said: Never mind then.

My guess is he was simply too lazy to do his job and get the real price, which I doubt was $100. So, they lost a sale. But I did find another cute pair of shoes on sale instead.

When I got to the check-out the first guy was there and he rang me out. He remembered me and we chatted. He tried to get me to fill out some points thing (which I didn’t, even if I did let him down) . And I over heard him talking with another customer how he had been in recovery and clean for a while. He was friendly and did his job well. Took it all very seriously. World of difference from the other dude.

I suspect this guy had hit rock bottom in his life so he knows the meaning of gratitude. He doesn’t mind doing what he’s suppose to do, or helping out some old chick looking for a pair of shoes for work. He probably would have looked up the price of the moccasins for me and they would have sold 3 pairs of shoes that day. Oh well…instead, I had a good customer experience with him and will fill out the survey and say he did a nice job…whereas they other fellow did not.

 

 

Being On My Game


A weird thing happened to me on Friday on the ambulance. I’ve been an emergency worker for almost 20 years and can say that only one other time have I been hurt by a patient.

We were called to meet the police for a patient. Anything that involves the police is usually never good and this certainly was the case for this call. The patient was face down in a driveway surrounded by way too many police officers.

On closer inspection and after hearing the story, we came to find out he had been assaulted with a baseball bat and was extremely drunk. Over the years I’ve dealt with many intoxicated patients and they are usually happy or angry. This guy was the latter. Pissed off and very aggressive.

This should have been my first clue we should have brought PD with us. My partner was quick enough to realize that I shouldn’t be in the back alone with this guy, but luckily extra people were showing up because it was change of shift. Unfortunately, the wrong person ended up in the back with me.

It’s our job, no matter what, to try to keep a situation under control and to try to remain professional and under control ourselves. Sometimes this can be extremely difficult given the harsh conditions we are expected to perform under and the unpredictable patients. This was one of the cases.

The partner I ended up with in the back that night has also been under his own stress and personally does not have a high tolerance for abusive patients. So this was a volatile situation waiting to happen. I suppose I should have realized it.

From the get go the patient was mouthy and rude, swearing and pushing all the buttons he could with both of us. It becomes very hard to feel the compassion and sensitivity to help a person when they are calling you every name in the book! But try we must and realize that it’s maybe the alcohol, personal pain or some other reason that makes the person act the way they do. It’s never our job to judge. But still….it’s not easy!

So the situation became more ramped up and the patient kept demanding us to move him, and the more we explained what we were trying to do, the more angry he got. My partner ended up moving him (because he got angry and upset himself) a bit rougher than he would have normally.

The patient immediately knew what was going on, and that’s when he just flipped out. His swearing escalated and his anger soared. He ripped off the collar we had put around his neck to protect his spine and flung it. It hit me square in the face! I was stunned and it hurt.

But now all bets were off. I knew this guy meant business and while my partner wasn’t right, we were potentially in danger in this little box. So I rapidly drew up some medications to calm the guy down and some pain medications too (which I planned anyway). It was explained they were to help him and he willingly received them.  And everything finally became in control.

Police were waiting when we arrived. The patient apologized to me (although he was still angry at my partner), but I explained to him what he had done to me was uncalled for because I had done nothing but try to help him. And I told the police he assaulted me.

After the call, I did talk to my partner and explain that I felt what he had done was unprofessional. He hadn’t realized what he had done or how upset he had become. We are all only human after all. He felt this guy kept screaming that he was choking and wasn’t listening, so he ‘rapidly’ moved him.

It was a good lesson to us both to be more diligent. We should have brought the police from the beginning. My instincts had kicked in long before he hit me that I should give him something to calm him down. Sometimes verbal reasoning is futile as in this case. Substances blur all reason.

I have no idea what this guy is like normally. Honestly, I have no desire TO know. But we were lucky this time. I could have been hurt much worse. But it scared me. And I know who to be in the back with now in the case of a dangerous patient. We have to trust our partners with our lives in my business. And we always have to be on our game. Because we never know: we can save a life, or lose ours.

So How Do You Like Me Now?


As many of my readers know, I’ve been a paramedic for over 13 years. I’ve had my ups and downs with my career. Some days I couldn’t be more proud to say I’m a medic and totally love going to my job. But more and more it has become a grind. Many feel it’s a burn out job due to the high stress of the ‘blood and guts’, but they are very wrong about that being the reason.

It has recently hit the local news that a nearby Fire Station had one of their ‘premiere’ paramedics caught diverting narcotics for his own use. This actually isn’t very hard to do and sadly, in our business, happens more than it should. This particular medic was the lead guy, so had even more control than most, so got away with it for a long time.

Since EMS (emergency medical services) in my state is such a small community, many of us knew what was going on long before he got arrested and it showed up on the news. I worked at that fire station years ago, and in fact, was their first paramedic. I parted ways with them because they didn’t feel I complied with their rules well enough when I wouldn’t remove a tiny nose ring that I had worn previously for five years. This was after a long list of harassing things they had done to chase me away because I wasn’t a ‘yes’ person.

This particular department moved on to medics they deemed bigger and better. To them that meant slicker, smarter, fancier talking. The guy that was arrested was just the guy they were looking for to put in place a program to bring them lots of new money with a non-emergent transfer program. What they didn’t see at the time was that it also positioned him in the perfect place to support his habit.

But sadly in this business in these small towns, they look no farther than either the all mighty dollar or the big city talk. They look no further than surface. But sometimes karma gets them in the end! And so it did with this department.

When I was there, I put in countless hours on calls that weren’t only paramedic calls because no-one else would go. I had close to 600 calls under my belt. While I always do the skills I need to do, my style has always been more about being kind. Holding a hand if I need to, or talking to someone, hugging someone or giving a kiss! I have even given someone money for taking a taxi home from the hospital. But somehow many places I’ve worked never could see these as positive attributes because they aren’t financially measurable. It would take a special manager to see their worth! And most ‘Chiefs’ aren’t much for real managers.

It is so tempting to march into that ambulance service now and say: that’s right dudes, I work with a nose ring, and I wouldn’t kiss your butts all the time! Those things are true for sure! But I never stole narcotics or smeared your name in the news and I’ve always been kind to my patients. So how do you like me now?

World AIDS Day


World AIDS day holds special meaning to me. It does because of my daughter and her HIV status. My journey with her has been long, interesting and has deepened me as a person. I’ve met so many courageous men, women and children–many of them living with the disease, and many of them helping those who do. I feel lucky to have walked this path.

My first real up close encounter with HIV was back in the late 70’s. I was living in an apartment within a huge old house in Connecticut. Still a college student, I was living off campus with the man who would be my first husband. There were three apartments in this house. The apartment downstairs was occupied by a female grad student in forestry and upstairs by a gay man who worked for the phone company.

We were all friends…like family really. Sharing meals, stories and life together. I was the youngest of all of them, so looked up to them. The guy upstairs would always relate stories of going to ‘the baths’ in Hartford where he would meet other men. None of us thought much of this at the time–not even him I imagine. AIDS wasn’t anything we really thought much about.

He ended up moving out to San Francisco–Connecticut didn’t provide a good lifestyle for him. We were happy for him and hoped he found happiness. He gave me a rocking chair and a sweater before he left. I lost touch with him and the gal that lived downstairs. But when the epidemic hit, I was always fearful of what became of him. He had been so vulnerable visiting those baths every weekend. I never did hear. But I have moved the rocking chair with me all these years…..

We were told when we adopted my daughter at 2 years old that she wouldn’t live past 9 or so. This was the life expectancy back then. She’s going to be 22 on December 4th. It was very hard at first. Even being educated, we were nervous bringing HIV into the home back then. I will admit it! She was two and I had a three-year old! But we learned quickly and it was fine.

It wasn’t easy for her as a little child: dragging around an IV pole, IV sticks all the time, blood work, constant doctors appointments, medicines. But she was a miracle kid with her viral load always undetectable! They just couldn’t figure it out. I always figured it was because she never paid any attention to it–never worried about it. Even now, her counts are still very good. Luck? Good genes? She doesn’t live in the greatest of environments now, or eat very well, but at least she had a good start.

I’ve been so fortunate to have met some amazing people along the way. The kids in clinic are so amazing. They have such spirit. They have been dealt a card and playing it like winners. And there was one Mom that became my friend. Her life was so rough. As a parent not only did she have to deal with the disease herself and the addiction that put her there, but also the guilt of passing it to her child! But she had the strength of 10 of me. She taught me a lot about addiction–something I needed later in my life when someone close to me was going through it. She said once to me, “There’s only one thing you need to change in your life when you’re addicted and that’s everything.” No truer words were said. I believe this woman is no longer alive.

HIV kept my daughter from going to a daycare where we had just moved. We didn’t want to make a fuss because we knew how these small towns worked. She ended up getting bussed somewhere great. Years later the same place (with new directors) offered a spot to my youngest daughter because they knew the story. Good karma. The elementary school started Universal Precautions because of my daughter too. We were vocal and open about her status to help educate people. Sometimes this helped, sometimes it hurt.

All in all, it has been an amazing experience. My daughter is an amazing spirit. It has been an incredibly rough road for her. She is mentally challenged too, so this makes it twice as hard. But she holds her head high and is proud of who she is and embraces all of herself. Sometimes I’ve had to tell her to be not quite as vocal! Now happily these kids from the 80’s are living long and healthy lives! It’s a manageable disease in this country, like diabetes.

A dear friend is in Africa with the Peace Corps doing AIDS work. It’s the other parts of the world that suffer still. We have come so far, but they have yet so far to go. Awareness is still not there. I am thankful to have been given the opportunity for this journey and when the call came to take a little HIV positive toddler in my home, that I said yes. I only pray the work continues in all parts of the world, and every woman, man and child gets the opportunity to live a healthy life.

Poem: Ancestry


Blood shot eyes

And beer soaked breath

He drinks the profit

He drinks the profit

With vomit stained shirt

And words that cut

He drinks the profit

He drinks the profit

She begs for quiet

And the smell she fears

She stays for profit

She stays for profit

Her shirt too low

The hands she fears

She stays for profit

She stays for profit

His father a drunk

Her uncle that raped

They knew no prophet

They knew no prophet

 

Endorphins


I’m am addict and fully out with it. My license plate is ENDORFN. I never thought I would have a vanity plate, but in my later years I’ve embraced my demons and made peace with them enough to share them with the world. Some find the plate funny. Maybe I use it as a reminder of my darker moments. I’m a recovering athlete and my endorphin addiction is somewhat in remission.

It all started about 35 years ago when I was 21 and in the last of my hazy days of college. I was living in a house with my first husband, a house that had 3 apartments. In another apartment lived a friend, a woman a bit older and, I thought wiser. One day I saw her strap on a pair of ‘running’ shoes and go out for a jog. When she got back, she was flushed with the glow of rush of a decent workout. She said I should try it sometime with her! But I was over my ‘good’ weight at that time, lazy and intimidated by this gal. And yet…intrigued. I ended up getting some shoes myself and going out on my own eventually and could barely make it down the road without cramps and feeling like I was going to collapse. But by three weeks I was running three miles and hooked. That was the start of my addiction.

I should really clarify here though. If a drug addict starts with smoking pot and moves to heroin, the simple act of running wasn’t all that bad. My true main-lining phase began when I discovered racing. Competition! Complete with tachycardia, paranoia, hyperthermia, nausea, tachnypnea. And I was good at it, racing that is. The more I ran and trained, the better I got. And the better I got, the more I wanted to race and win. It was a very vicious cycle. This cycle began with my second husband, also and avid athlete. I had moved on from just running to triathlons at this point. So often I would train twice a day. My friends were mostly athletes. My husband and I founded a running club. Every weekend we raced. All social events revolved around racing. It was obsessive. The endorphins were running rampant in my veins and I was deep into my addictive phase.

I was training so much and so hard, I would often get injured. And then would come the crash. The withdrawal. And it was real! The bad mood. The feelings of guilt. The wanting, the needing of my fix. I couldn’t eat or sleep. My weight would fluctuate. And I just couldn’t wait till I could hit the pavement again, or the pool. Sometimes I would continue to workout on stress fractures! Pushing myself through this pain, knowing it was so bad for me. Workout junkie. I would hang around the track on my crutches. Like a crack addict with no money hanging around the crack house hoping for hit.  And the minute I’d feel a little better, I’d be right back at it.

My demise came slowly, but it was fairly devastating. Little by little my running gait began to change. With this, my training began to fail, and then my racing. With my racing failing, it seemed like my world came crashing around me. I began to see all sorts of doctors and therapists, podiatrists, chiropractors, massage therapists! You name it. No-one could figure out what was going on with me. Slowly my first place finishes faded to barely being able to run three miles without struggling. It was devastating. Working out defined me. Like any addict, my addiction had been my life. I had created my whole life around when to do to my next workout,, what it would be, who I would do it with, what race I would run. And now I was lost. A friend of mine, who was also drug addict once told me in reference to getting clean: there’s only one thing you have to change and that’s everything. No truer words were said.

So for the next years and years I struggled to produce endorphins as best I could, but not running as much was so hard for me. My second marriage collapsed and with it that whole life which revolved around athletics.  It wasn’t until one day (many, many years later), by chance I had this weird episode that turned out to be a seizure. I discovered that I had a mild seizure disorder. I was put on a seizure medication, but by some miracle, it cured the crazy running gait problem I had been having all those years! It took about a month of being on the medication, but I was saved/cured/healed. And now I had a choice to make. I had been given back a gift. Something I had been wanting back for years. I kept saying to myself: I will never race again, if only I could run.

Because working out can be a good thing if done in moderation. People always say to me, “Wow, you are in such good shape!” I look younger than my years.  Using the endorphins to keep one’s arteries clean is a beautiful thing. Mine are so clean, my resting pulse is 45 and scared the RN’s when I was re-cooping from my appendectomy. Ah, but there was there other side, and here I was at the crossroads: could I come back to the world of endorphins again and not get lost?

The first year back I did compete a little. I did a few triathlons. And they were awful. The old dragons reared their ugly heads. At the starting line I felt all the old feelings again. It was like I had that needle ready to stick in my arm. I didn’t do too well either. Finished just fine, but no medals. But I was thrilled just to be running again with my body fully cooperating. And the more I was able to run, the more I realized some things. Working out had become my suboxone, my methadone. It wasn’t really the working out that was the bad thing. It wasn’t really the endorphins. It was the competition! That was the needle that took the endorphins and made them too potent for me. It was the hook. If I could just do it just enough, just for me, without that part, I would be fine. Another aha moment had come to me.

People invite me to join their running groups all the time. But I know that’s like asking an alcoholic to come on into a bar and hoping they will just order an O’douls. You get around a group of runners, and they will be racing. So I don’t join. They wonder why I don’t with all the working out I still do. Why don’t I join, or race. I’m a recovering athlete and I know it. I still need my fix, but it’s measured and on my terms. I’m fully aware of it and out with it too. I’m thankful my addication is legal and that it didn’t have long range detrimental effects on me. But it’s an addiction like any other. I still buy athletic clothing to support my habit. And if I meet up with another avid runner/triathlete, we can talk for hours. It still defines me.

The endorphins have carried me through my last 35 years. Through three marriages and divorces. The birth of my two daughters and my one adopted daughter. I ran with my two birth daughters in the baby jogger. It’s seen me through careers and friends, through lovers and pets and moves to many states. When I’ve been so depressed that I thought I couldn’t get out of bed I have thought, “I know if I do my workout today, I will be OK.” And I did and I was. I barely ever miss a day, because that’s the addiction. Because I think all my thoughts when I’m running or swimming. So many miles have passed under my feet. They say we only have so many breaths to breathe, well then maybe I will use mine up quicker. I’ve transitioned now to mostly swimming because it’s easier on these older bones-and I love it too. It’s a different world and I can still hammer hard and not get hurt. It’s a social sport, where I see all my swim buddies every day, but I’m a solitary swimmer. And it should carry well into my senior years.

For I hope to have the endorphins bring me into old age. My running will turn into walking, but I will walk as long as I can. I want to be outside, seeing seasons change, thinking my thoughts and moving down the road of life as long as I can. Who knew that back 35 years ago what started out as a challenge would turn out to be something that defines who I am. Having lost it for so many years, and then given it back keeps it in perspective. So I will run, bike, swim my way into the future and feel the high as long as my body lets me.