Saturday, 10 April 2010

How I earn my crust... (Part Two)

I was made redundant from my job in the agricultural trade in late 2007, and 18 months ago after ten months of looking for employment I got the one I’m in now, as projects administrator in the urology department of a hospital.  There have been a lot of adjustments to make, but the easy part has been the relationships with new working colleagues. 
The National Health Service is a friendly and welcoming place for people like me, and you’re immediately swept up in the atmosphere where the object of your working day – whether directly, or in my case indirectly, is to help sick people have a better quality of life.  I love the fact that when I go home at night, the lights and the sounds continue - life in the hospital carries on.
Bladders and prostate disease, incontinence and catheters are not a subject you ever want to think about, are they?  And yet we’re always being told we’re in an ageing population, and these issues will become more and more discussed in the future.  It’s got to happen – there will be too many of us needing help, and we’ll have to drop our embarrassment and self-consciousness about it and learn that incontinence (for example) is very common, is caused by different factors – such as overweight - and that there are different types of solutions; you don’t have to Google in private about it. 
The institute where I work is dedicated to educating people on urological subjects – courses for doctors and specialist nurses for example, and through healthworkers also to teach the sufferers how they can help themselves.  In addition they search for new devices which men and women can use effectively.   I do the day to day admin on these projects, a large part of which are on investigations into urological cancers.  
It’s also a teaching hospital so there are plenty of doctors of all levels around; meetings take place every week to discuss these issues, or multidisciplinary gatherings where clinicians of all fields discuss complex cases and how best to deal with them. 
Where 20 or 30 senior clinicians are gathered together it is inevitable that their bleeps will be going constantly, as concerned nurses from the wards seek further instructions on sick patients.  So out they march to find a phone, and into the first populated office – ours.  ‘Can I use your phone’ they say, lunging across your desk and helping themselves, without waiting for a reply. 
They are used to speaking authoritatively, and a high volume clearly helps this along, because for the next few minutes you’re subjected to one side of a detailed discussion on someone’s catheter, urination pattern or incontinence.  Put it this way, during this peroration I can’t even communicate with my colleague who sits across from me because he wouldn’t hear me.  Don’t get me wrong, these clinicians always speak of the patients with respect, they refer to them as “the lady” or “the gentleman”, it’s just the level of detail and decibel which I can’t cope with. 
There was one time when the too-much-information was so appalling that I stuck my index fingers in my ears and chanted “la la la la la”, hoping the worthy would take the hint, but he ignored me completely.  And we’re not talking about my being fussy over one person’s phonecall, this is one every 10 minutes or so.  All ages, all sexes, all ranks, from nurse to consultant.  Like hearing someone use their mobile on a train when you’re a captive audience, only with definitely too much information…
The consultant surgeons and professors (the senior ranks in hospitals in the UK) are, as bosses, a mixture.  I reckon these days we’re positioned in the middle of the technological evolution – on the one hand with the older senior men being computer semi-illiterate and needing everything done for them, and on the other the younger men coming up through the ranks who do quite a lot of their own admin and carry pen drives round their necks and Blackberrys in their pockets.  They also tend to be less status minded, which is a relief, although the old guard seem better at commanding respect from junior doctors and having no qualms about calling a spade a spade (such as telling a patient that they will not operate on them unless they give up smoking permanently, for example – and standing firm). 
The only other factor worth mentioning in my job is ludicrous: the parking.  There’s a new hospital being built in Bristol – on the same site and around the old one where I work….along with several thousand other people. 
I’m now ready to impart advice to construction companies wishing to perform a similar feat of engineering:
-     Prepare to dig up a section of hospital staff car park by cutting down anything growing without first having asked car drivers not to park underneath, thus providing hours of free entertainment for other parking drivers as they observe you (from a safe distance) gingerly trying to remove branches and chip them using a machine that sprays wood chippings in all directions;
-     Dig up the section of car park;
-     Install a temporary structure on it;
-     Create walkways around it for pedestrians, with fluorescent orange plastic barriers and ramps, and a forest of signs telling them to be careful, (to cover your ass);
-     Move non-clinical staff into the temporary structure;
-     Demolish where they were;
-     Use part of the land thus freed to install generators, massive oxygen cylinders and water heaters, and what’s left into a smaller car park for use by construction workermen’s large vans/small vans/staff cars.  If there aren’t enough spaces for said vehicles, just block the road;
-     Introduce the regular circulation of juggernauts on the perimeter road, the size, shape and dimensions of which would not look out of place in a horror film;
-     To cope with the disruption caused by these phases to various sections of the perimeter road at various times, put up one-way traffic lights at three way junctions which don’t reflect the actual flow of traffic, and change location every few days.  Sometimes for variety remove and replace with construction workmen bearing lollipop signs - red for stop, green for go, and ensure they look puzzled at all times and spin them round too far in each direction;
-     Get more “No Entry” and “Road Closed” signs painted up to keep staff on their toes; order a couple of thousand more fluorescent orange barriers;
-     Ensure all metal screens which stop employees from looking at what’s going on, have signs on every panel saying how you apologise for the disruption and thank them for their patience;
-     Dig up a lane; create walkways as above;
-     Lay mysterious large pipes all the way down it;
-     Put everything back the way you found it;
-     Dig up a corner again for pipes going in a different direction;
-     Put everything back the way you found it;
-     Dig up the lane again, crosswise this time, ditto;
-     During these lane procedures, allow a few days here and there to give the car drivers a false sense of security.  Then one morning, when they’re happily parked as usual, wham, dig everything up, making as much noise as possible, so that hospital staff substitute working for worrying whether they will be able to get their car out at the end of the day;
-     Dig up the first bit of lane again when you find that the work you did earlier stopped half the building from getting its electricity and the other half from making phonecalls;
-     Help yourself to another bit of the main car park and begin step 1 again.
We have had a year so far of disruption, with four more years to go.  Have you seen documentaries about animals in the Okavango Delta as a blazing summer progresses, when the river starts to dry up and all that’s left are small pools where the four footed animals, the crocodiles and the fish compete for food, water and oxygen?  And gradually they start to die off, the tails of the fish flapping more and more slowly, submerged in what is by the end of the summer just gooey mud?  Well, that’s what’s happening to the thousands of drivers who live further than a walking or cycling distance from the hospital. 
We’re being squeezed out, having to get into work earlier and earlier to ensure we can park – yesterday I had a chiropodist appointment and arrived at 9.15 instead of 8.40 a.m., and there were no spaces.  Feeling increasingly panicky I cruised around for ten minutes, and eventually I had a stroke of luck:  I found a traffic island… so I took my chances of being given a ticket (I was lucky) and of not harming my car while bouncing onto the high island in my tiny car (I wasn’t, I heard the scrape as I hit the kerb).  I daren’t have offsite medical appointments till the end of the day, when I won’t have to come back into work.
A bloke with a bad leg who works in the canteen was telling me the other day that the only way he can park at his end of the hospital is to arrive at 7.30 a.m. and sit in the car reading a newspaper for half an hour, just to bag his parking space...
So that's my working life folks - and forgive me for being so long-winded.  I tried to think how I could introduce pictures to make it visually more interesting, but short of talking photos of the permanent building site which is my workplace (yawn) I have nothing to show you.  So instead I'm (self-indulgently) putting a few extra in my Photo Finish section.
Would other bloggers like to describe how they earn their crust? 
If you've read this far, thank you!
Photo Finish
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive
Visit to Buenos Aires & north west Argentina, 1994

The four images above were taken on the road to Cachi, Salta.  The foothills of the Andes are in the background

Two above:  descending, on the road to Tucumán

A house in La Boca, Buenos Aires
This blog makes me homesick sometimes.


Sandy Lee said...

Such an interesting job! You'd probably get twice the work done if you didn't have the loud interruptions.

Too funny about the parking and so true. Last year during a winter bus strike here, people were arriving at 6 am to get a parking spot at my building. But the construction just shows this economic stimulus in action. And isn't it nice that Brits don't have to pay for most healthcare (we have the same "free" care in Canada). It is something to be proud about as we age and not have to worry about having a job in order to qualify for healthcare.

Working in a hospital opens our minds to what can happen to us when we see the diseases that people have. I'm one who wants to avoid it as much as possible (like diabetes and stroke like my dad).

I was really hoping you would say you were now a photographer as I think you have a real skill with photographs. Maybe a hobby?

Tina said...

I read the whole thing and enjoyed it. although our uninsured do not get health-care we do dig up hospital, university and city streets without rhyme, reason or seeming plans :)...


evision said...

Sandy Lee said...

Hi Caroline-for some reason I couldn't sleep last night and finally got up around 5 am. I decided it was a good chance to read a bit more of your blog and found the Chubby Chop post.

Wow! You had previously mentioned that our stories are similar and Wow, it is so true. The memories of the various weights and your feelings were so vivid-I can't believe we fell for that crap of trying to be skinny when we actually were.

A few weeks ago, I started looking at some old photos and realized I wasn't as fat as I thought I was and was planning to start some posts like you did. Gives me something to think about. I would love to keep in touch by e-mail if you don't think it intrusive. My e-mail is on my profile (

I realize this is my second comment (and long one) but for some reason I was meant to wake up early today. Wow. You really are an inspiration and I am so glad I found your blog.

Nola said...

Your job is very interesting! The interruptions from the bombastic surgeons would be a pain though:( I can understand why you would feel photos make me want to live there! I appreciate your lovely comment on my blog...and yes, I am over it! I have a Patty update for you:)

Lonicera said...

Thank you all - Sandy, hope you've received my e-mail by now - I'm honoured that you were reading my blog at (gulp) 5 a.m...
It's true we take our free healthcare for granted, and every time it's mentioned in news about the US (particularly at the moment) it makes me shiver to think what life would be like if the poorer and older you are the less care you would get. I used to fantasise about working for an image library and therefore travelling to beautiful places and photographing for a living, but reckoned it would be lonely, and I'm a homebody at heart.
Thanks Tina - we've just learned that the motorway junction where I live is getting a £3million (!!) facelift to allow an extra lane on each of the approach roads, that the work will begin in November and that it will take 12 months! It's absolutely crazy.
Nola - thanks, shall go right over and see what Patty's up to...

Bunny said...

hahahaha! Sounds like you're lovin it, lovin it, lovin it!!

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