The sky is a bowl of grey and I'll spend the remainder of the day in sweats at home. But Monday is labor day, so I was thinking about the work I've done in my life. I babysat as a teen, and woke early on school days to bring donuts or bagels to sell before school started. My first job was as a waitress at Hot Shoppes in Silver Spring Maryland, followed by a decade of restaurant work, bar-tending, and most hilariously, working as a topless dancer. Such jobs I could get anywhere and did, from Washington DC to Miami, Florida.
I had a student job in Miami as a lab assistant, among my chores were making culture broths, feeding a tank of gar fish, and cleaning the cadavers after anatomy class. My first full time job in health care was as a dental receptionist at the public health department in Tallahassee Florida, where I was sexually harassed by the dentist. Off and on, I worked as a nurse's aide, and then I spent the longest spell of my work life (1975-1988) at the Feminist Women's Health Center in Tallahassee, a feminist run clinic that provided woman's health care (abortion, birth control, prenatal care). Those years were marred by threats from the medical community and violence by antiabortion crazies, who picketed our clinic, bullied our patients, threatened our staff, and killed two of the doctors we worked with. What we could afford to pay ourselves was abysmal. During those years I became and EMT and later an RN.
During graduate school, I worked as an emergency room nurse in NYC, a fascinating job, at the apex of the HIV epidemic. After becoming a nurse practitioner, I worked for 6 years taking care of people with HIV at a clinic in the South Bronx.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had an emotional collapse and couldn't work for 6 months in 1998, during which time I started blogging, writing poetry, and wrote a novel. I returned to work by doing freelance medical writing for another 8 years, which paid well, but eventually felt too compromising, as most of the work came from big Pharma. Those were years of practice at being a hermit, which I'm still quite good at.
Eventually I missed clinical work, and, having moved to Pennsylvania, took a job for a couple of years as a hospice nurse in Philadelphia, and later worked for a couple of years in a palliative care program in the Lehigh Valley. I studied to become a chaplain, but never quite got there. The training and study of human spirituality was enormously valuable to me. In 2008, I moved to Seattle to take a palliative care position at Harborview Medical Center, which somehow didn't work out for me, and another palliative care job with a Catholic hospital in Tacoma resulted in a clash when I was asked to stop volunteering for Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit agency which supports people in Washington State who choose to use the death with dignity law. Asked to choose, I wasn't really willing to stop volunteering with a group I have such admiration for.
I was able to find work with Planned Parenthood which kept me afloat for several years until I took the job I have now in Sequim Washington, taking care of chronic pain patients. It's difficult working with patients who have chronic pain, who struggle with disability and poverty, and have all of the issues that go along with using narcotics. But I like the clinic, love the folks I work with, and find satisfaction in helping people with difficult lives. This will be my last job! At this point I expect to work another few years and then retire.
These days my real work is poetry. But I've always appreciated the decision I made to become a nurse, it's given me work that matters, the mobility and change I crave, and the ability to leave jobs that didn't work out and feel confident of finding work somewhere else. With a general sense of work security, I've never been afraid to speak my mind about issues at work that I feel are wrong or wrong-headed, and so I have clashed with administrators many times, left jobs I couldn't tolerate or been asked to leave. I've also worked with some of the most amazing people around- health care providers of all stripes.
It's interesting to run a work-life review. This little survey doesn't tell you who I am, but gives a sense of how I've spent my years. As an aside, all these years I've had paid work, I've also always volunteered somewhere. You might want to try a work review too and see what you discover about yourself. If you have work, be grateful. If you don't, spend what time you have in creative endeavors, and good luck in finding something soon!