Joy… and the risks of “going native.”
The three days per week that I work over at the clinic I car-pool over with E, one of the RNs, who happens to live even more remotely than I do, ten miles south of my place. At the clinic they call us the Easterners, which always strikes my ear strangely as I grew up thinking of myself as a Westerner.
But it is technically true, we hail from an hour East of the clinic.
It’s great to have someone to share the ride with, both for company and for economy, given that our gas is now on the cusp of three-fifty a gallon.
When I started at the clinic I worked twenty-hours per week, two ten hour days. Then they added a third day. Then a fourth. Then I began to burnout. The hours, the travel, my age, my overall health. I went back to three days per week.
When E started, she also worked three days per week, but a different three. I did Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. She did Monday, Tuesday, Thursday.
About a month ago E told me she was thinking of switching to M-T-W too, as she hated driving over on her own. Her fear: she might go native.
I took my eyes off the road for a moment to take a long gaze at her. Huh? What do you mean, ‘go native?’
“Well,” said E, “I’m worried that with four days off in a row, I won’t want to come back to work on Monday.”
As I generally love my job I laughed. I’m not laughing now. I’ve got war paint on my cheeks, feathers in my hair, a camera in my hand and I’m not due back in my office at the clinic for another six days…..let me tell you the story:
It started over a week ago. Sunday before last, to be precise. I was at the lab (reminder for old readers/FYI for new readers: by economic necessity I am a renaissance man with two un-related careers). I got to feeling….funky. You know that kinda of achy, sweaty, oh shit I’m coming down with something feeling. So un-fair! All winter long at a clinic full of sick, coughing, sneezing, puking people and I don’t get so much as a runny nose; and now on the cusp of summer I get sick?!
Of course the timing couldn’t be worse, I had an epic week ahead of me. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday me and my crew where to go into the school system and do weight, height, blood pressure, and fingersticks on every kid from fourth-grade through 12th. About 500 kids altogether.
This was somewhat unprecedented and it is all my fault. Or the fault of my big mouth, anyway. We had a school-based clinic that ran afoul of a conservative school board. (Read: abstinence only crowd on one side; RN who gives condoms to kids who ask for them on the other. Religion and health care ethics collide. We got kicked out.) So we had some left over grant money. I wandered by the executive director’s office at the wrong time. She called out to me and asked, ‘how would you spend three-thousand bucks on diabetes in the school system.’ Without thinking I replied I’d fingerstick test every kid in the schools. Make it happen, I was told.
Turns out I was in uncharted waters.
What followed was a six month baptism in politics, which after many meetings, an impassioned pitch to the school board, letters to parents, etc…..finally came to be.
By the way, we were horrified to learn that 40% of our elementary kids had elevated BGLs. Yikes! My program has been re-focused towards school based early-intervention. We are going to start teaching real health-ed and nutrition from kindergarten upwards starting this summer.
I digress. So that was my Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I got progressively sicker each day, but kept afloat by the frantic pace of many, many fingersticks (and a little bit of hand-holding the needle phobic).
Then my “weekend.” On the docket: Thursday a wedding rehearsal two hours away. Friday: photo job for the Santa Fe Opera. Saturday: the wedding shoot. Sunday: post production of digital files. Got to get the Opera disks ready for Monday delivery. Plus, for the first time in weeks, lots of lab work. It was the most photo-heavy week of the year. I was sooooooooooooooo looking forwards to it. And I was sicker than a dog.
But these are not the kind of commitments you can back out on. And even surviving in an exoskeleton of Sudafed and Caffeine I had an absolute blast. It was the most photography I’d done in a compressed amount of time in years.
There I was, spinning around the dance floor with no partner. My right hand wrapped around the camera, the wrist strap holding it firmly to me like a glove. With lightning fast auto focus I shoot one-handed to keep my quarry at ease until the last second. With a 4 gig card onboard I can shoot a thousand images without “reloading.”
The heavy camera bag full of lenses and spare power packs on my shoulder is like an extension of my body. I don’t feel it. I don’t knock things off of tables with it. From so many years as my partner I am as aware of it as my own arms or feet.
I am in my element. This is who I was met to be. The observer. The watcher. The capturer of truth. The camera and I become one.
Photographing. Real photographing…action…people…capturing moments in time and preserving them. This is where I feel most alive. I’ve had cameras since I was five years old. At everything else I’ve even done I feel a bit like an imposter, like I don’t really belong. But with no formal training, no degree, I feel I belong behind the camera. I know I’m good at it. I must exude confidence, because those who watch me in action know I’m good without seeing my work or my long string of awards dating back to high school.
Even sick, it was a very good three days. Then Monday came. Time to go to the clinic.
I hadn’t quite gone native…yet. But the hard weekend and long hours took their toll. About the fifth time one of my co-workers said, “Hey, you look like shit, you should go home and go to bed,” I began to believe it.
My first patient of the day was a 94-year-old-man. His first meeting with me. I try not to breathe any of my germs on him and instantly feel guilty and selfish for coming to work at all. Ten minutes later my presence on the planet and in my office at the clinic is justified. As part of the routine first visit I inquire about his feet. His feet are fine, he tells me, but there is this little thing on his leg. He pulls up his pant leg to reveal a five-inch diameter bright red infection disc with a pussy ulcerated sore in the middle. “Should I worry about this?” Oh yeah. I dispatch him at once to the main clinic for aggressive treatment.
Then I give up and go home to bed. Well, to the couch. I doze and watch Walking with Cavemen on Discovery Channel. Then I snooze through assorted Star Trek Voyager episodes. I crawl into bed at 9 p.m. and sleep until two in the afternoon the next day. I stake out the rest of Tuesday on the couch again. By Wednesday I’m feeling human enough to curl up with my lap top and start editing the 2,000 + images we shot at the wedding.
I’m real happy with the work. Then the Italians email. Our sexy new sample albums will be here on Friday. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.
I wrap up the day pawing through a Travel Smith catalog. Love their stuff, but I’m not rich enough to shop there often. Their inventory fits my self image of the globe trotting adventure photographer. Truth be told however, Motel 6 is actually my idea of roughing it. Still, the clothes make the man, right?
When ParaPump reminds me the sensor has run its course, I’m caught off guard. I had totally forgotten I was diabetic. I mean, I was boulusing and everything, but it fell to the background. I did it automatically and didn’t give it a thought. I didn’t let it consume all my waking moments.
So I’ve still got the weekend full of fun photo stuff and Monday off. Will I go native? Will I be able to drag my sorry self back to work on Tuesday? Will I be happy to be back….. or?