Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wrapping up 2013: Reflections on my Journey around the World and back to Portland

I'm looking forward to the new year. If nothing else, for the switch to an even year. I've always disliked odd numbers for some reason. Even feels fresh and clear (and easily divisible).

Today I picked up my last check from Costco. I chatted with some of my old coworkers and looked around, thinking that it was a nice place for a while, but I won't miss the shopping carts. It wasn't the easiest decision to leave. For a year, I was never tired, not much stressed, but then also didn't have to think a whole lot either. It was a short term job for me, and it was time to move on.

I've been wondering if it was time to move on from my blog. I haven't had a lot to say lately, and it feels like I've completed my journey. Nearly seven years ago, I started writing this blog after I'd plodded away at life, following the recommended course of university-- work-- car-- house. I was only missing the husband and children. At the time my life was on repeat every day, and I was waking up with severe depression, even though I appeared to almost have it all. I'd felt the need to take an extreme step, to disrupt my life and try to wake up from the stupor I was in. For years, I had read books about my idea to move overseas and travel. Finally accomplishing that dream was pretty unbelievable. Even now, sometimes I wonder, "Did I really do that?"

When I left Portland, I had thought it was forever. I never wanted to return. I was tired of the hipsters and the perfect aesthetics, and all the coffee shops and whatnot. It was all so boring. I thought I was done with the Northwest, never to return. I wasn't in love anymore. So it was with some surprise that I ended up back here again, and back in my same job. I felt Portland deserved and needed to be reconsidered, and my former job as well. It was not without trepidation that I entered into these familiar surroundings. The anxieties of past ghosts. Wondering if I would repeat my misery.

But, one year has passed since I returned and I feel like I have made the right choice. And that the five years away was not for naught. It was an important, albeit non direct route, to the place that I am today. Which is contentment. I think this is partly due to the age that I am now, and partly to the life experiences of which I've partaken, and also due to the stability of Justin in my life.

It is not as if I don't still ask the questions. But then I realize, I have it pretty good. There is no perfect person or job or city. But where I am now (with Justin and Portland and Kaiser) is like an old shoe that fits day after day- calming and quiet and supportive. Life is good.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Making Gnomes

Carrie and I took a wool felting class. We all learned how to make gnomes out of a pile of wool and a felting needle. It was pretty amazing and fun. A good way to spend a Sunday morning. I think they look more like Santas though.

The Gnome Class Picture.
 Mine started to remind me of Willie Nelson.
 So I gave him a banjo.
 Here's the brothers. Willie and Mr. Gnome.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Starting a New Old Job: First Day Back.

When my alarm went off, I was deep in dreamland. Switching to a 7:30 start time after about almost two years of starting around 10:00 takes a bit of adjusting. But the sky was lighting up as I let Oatie out the deck door to do his morning business, so that seemed like a good thing.

While the tea was heating, I quickly dressed, brushed my hair, pulled on some cords, and added the handmade earrings from one of my friends who works for Kaiser. I was out the door shortly after waking and headed to Central Interstate, the office where I last worked full time when I was at Kaiser. I pulled my car into the parking garage, and once inside scurried up the stairs to the third floor and entered the ophthalmology hallway. I was early and it was pretty quiet inside. I didn't know exactly where I was going, so I wandered over to the optometry hall. 

"Dr. Schultz! What are you doing here? Are you back?" 

"Yep, I work here now!"

"Yay, we were hoping you would come back!" 

These sentiments were repeated over and over all day. There hadn't been a formal announcement that I was returning, which suited me just fine since I'm not one to enjoy the spotlight. So the news that I am back has been trickled along person to person. And no one knowing for sure until I showed up again yesterday. 

A bunch of different people hugged me. There were lots of smiles. I felt so welcome- it was about the best first day a person could ever have. So many people said they had hoped I'd come back. And that the chiefs were so excited I was returning. One of the ophthalmologists said she hoped I would work full time in their department. I felt loved and honored. 

Also strangely, they said they still have lab coats with my name on them in the closet. One of my coworkers said they were saving them for me, that they knew I was coming back. I meant to go back and see if it was true (had they been accidentally ordered after I left?) but I started talking with someone and forgot to look. I could have used them too- it was cold in the clinic.

The only complicated part of the day was the actual charting. I had to ask some questions and follow around one of the other doctors a little bit. It was still a bit clunky for me to chart, but I'm sure it will get better. Also I really enjoyed the medical aspect of my day- I did things and took care of patients that were at a higher level than I've seen in a long time. I really enjoyed using my brain again.

Tonight we had a dinner meeting with all the optometrists who work in ophthalmology and the ophthalmologists. This was a dinner of mostly new faces. We had discussions about patient care and ways to improve our services. 

A flurry of emotions has been swirling around my head the last few weeks. Mostly a lot of anxiety and anticipation surrounding my return. My first day back went better than I could have imagined, and I felt right off that I had made the right decision to return. I felt like I was at home. 

***OTHER AMAZING NEWS: My coworker Amber from Germany, who is currently working as an optometrist in Missoula, MT was offered the job for Kaiser in Salem (an hour south of Portland), and so we will once again be coworkers! I am so incredibly happy for her and for me… and for Kaiser. What a great Christmas present.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Killing the Consumer Spirit in our Winter Wonderland

On Thursday, Justin asked someone in the coffee shop if we ever get snow in Portland. They said no. So of course Friday morning I awoke to head off to work at Kaiser and looked out the window to see large fluffy flakes and a white ground. Snow in Portland means accidents galore- all the retro rear-wheel drive Volvos and BMWs with hipsters behind the wheel spinning out and sliding around. The overconfident AWD Suburus and SUVs are no better, flying up to stop signs as if it were dry pavement. I take the side roads and drive slow, hoping to avoid skittering hunks of metal. Luckily I made it to work and back without incident.

This morning, a frigid twenty-eight degrees and fortunately no fresh snow, I pulled out of the garage and headed off to work for one of my final days at Costco. Frigid is relative and this would be balmy in the midwest but here we're accustomed to above freezing temperatures except for the 33 days of the year that are supposed to drop below freezing. I'd guess we're ahead this year on the cold weather. 

I pulled into the Costco lot toward my regular spot and noticed it was caked in snow and ice. I imagined a Portlander pulling into the icy spot and ramming my car. I decided to select another that was dry. I may seem extra paranoid but I've seen a lot of idiots here in the winter. It's best to assume nothing, take extra precautions and stay home, if possible, anytime they mention snow. 

Unable to keep the cold outside, inside Costco the staff was decked out in scarves and parkas. I scurried back to my little white box in the back. TVs and radios blasted outside among the plethora of cart-pushing shoppers. I walked around for samples during a break and wondered who actually bought the home foot bath and massagers and all the other obvious Christmas gifts. 

We've mostly sworn off presents in our family. I'd rather get a card than gifts and I just feel like all the presents smear the meaning of Christmas. I keep remembering the interview my sister Molly posted with my grandma Hazel where she said they got oranges for Christmas and the special Christmas I had in Germany with my landlords where they had only one gift under the tree. Christmas was about family and conversation, not consumerism. I still keep wondering how we lost our way.

My time at Costco has been a blessing- peaceful, drama-free, and lovely staff. I'm going to miss the laid-back nature of the place, but I won't miss the constant stimulation of the carts, TVs, stereos, and people milling about. Fighting through the hoards of carts to get to the restroom. I don't mind Costco as far as a big-box store goes, but I probably won't be back there shopping after I leave. The overstimulation and hyper-consumerism of American stores is enough to keep me away as much as possible. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kaiser Computer training, Day 1

This afternoon I spent five hours working on the computer and discussing the changes in our patient care load and schedule with our chief of optometry, Jeff, who I graduated from optometry school with and who I told to work for Kaiser, and the doc who does our schedules, (who started at Kaiser after me as well). We went through a lot of things, and I felt my head was swimming. I remember some, but most of it is completely new. Jeff seemed to think I would be flying ahead of him over the next few weeks. I hope he is right, but I doubt it.

It's strange to walk into an old workplace, surrounded by a lot of familiar faces and a few new. I wandered in and had to watch for signs for the optometry department, even though I had worked there many times in the past. It's hard to believe it's been twelve years since the last time I started with Kaiser.  Every time I enter a building I sort of wonder what I am doing there. I feel like I'm sneaking in the back door, and I am- it would be very hard to get in without my history there. Portland is overloaded with overeducated folks, all waiting for any job just so they can stay in the area.

I've heard various sentiments from Kaiser people. Mostly people are really excited I'm returning, which feels good. There's been several people who are "sorry" for me that I am returning since they don't like their jobs. Which is totally fine. But I'm trying to just let that crap slide off my back. I don't want to be felt bad for, since I'm the one who's chosen to return to Kaiser. I left for six years, wandered around the world and decided to come back. I brought my Charlie with me, who's sitting here at home on the couch at this moment having a quiet, peaceful life after our dinner together. I can't complain about not having enough.

What surprises me is that everyone seems to think that I just had six years of a walk in the park. Which is true and not. When I say I lived in New Zealand, everyone thinks "Heaven" and when I say Germany, they think something like "Happy Beer Land" and really they are just places. True, I did walk through a park every day to go work in New Zealand but that hardly made up for being on the other side of the Earth from my family or making such a small income that 50% of my paycheck went to rent. Germany was really special and I miss it but I don't want to go back right now. They were learning experiences. I guess everyone always thinks the grass is greener on the other side. I've seen the other side. The grass is the same color.

The idea of switching from Costco back to Kaiser was so I'd be able to work at a higher level and I'd have more stability and also more to do (and avoid fill in work). Currently I'm mostly rushing through refractions and health checks and contacts and then sending people off, hoping something magical happens with them and they go and get the care they need. There's no follow ups on patients I refer for the most part and  my knowledge is limited by what I have read about. I have prescribed almost no medications for the last six years compared to what I had done at Kaiser. I've been more like an old school optometrist, doing what they did long ago before we become more medically capable.

What this all means is that I am a little scared. I'm hoping that I'm not in over my head and I'm hoping that I will not disappoint them. And I'm hoping I'm still a quick learner and my brain can wrap around the facts and the situation fast enough to come back without appearing to be a has-been. Of course nerves are normal with new jobs, even if they are old ones. I'm also really excited that everyone is excited to have me back and that they rehired me.

Also, today when I was learning some of the computerized charting stuff, we were searching for my name in the staff directory list under "Schultz" and I glimpsed my sister in the list: "Schultz, Carrie, RN"- It was kind of a special treat to see her name there and be reminded that we were working at the same place-- something that happened once long ago at a truck stop in Minot when we were 20 and 17 (and everyone thought she was older- I was so annoyed!) Funny that we ended up at the same place again seventeen years later.

So I have family here and my Charlie here at my side- this will be an interesting next few weeks and years. It's good to be on this ride.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Coming Full Circle & Giving Thanks for a New Old Job

Coming home has been as much of an experience as it was to leave in the first place.

After lollygagging in bed for a while under the covers next to my Charlie, reading the news and my email, I hopped up and grabbed a quick, hot shower with my aqua blue sweater hanging over the shower curtain (free steam iron), thinking about the day to come. I dried my hair and even pulled out the makeup. It was picture day.

I headed towards downtown to the big Kaiser building, and rang the girl who I was meeting there so she could come down and get me. Our first stop was security, where a woman about fifty-five had me sit down and take a photo. Hanging next to her desk was "Australia, New Zealand, Fiji-- 30 days!" I asked who was going. She said she was and for six weeks! I said, "Good for you!" I told her I used to live there. She was very nice and efficient and we were on our way to sign a few more docs, take a copy of my passport and then pick up a my old ID number and enter new passwords.

The guy setting my my computer and charting access kept asking me if I remembered things. A lot of the screens actually looked pretty foreign to me except when I signed into Epic for the first time. That looked familiar for sure. I'm excited and scared to be returning to my old job. I'm sure it will be the same and different, just like coming back here.

There's been a lot of emotions surrounding my return to Portland. I spent a significant portion of my life in the Northwest. Returning here was no small move. It was something I'd been afraid of doing for a long time. The fear that the old sadness I felt last time I was here would return. The loneliness. Being stuck in one place without options. Depression like a sinking ship in the morning when I awoke. Was it the city or was it me? If I came back would I be in the same place wanting to get out? Yet I'd been looking for Portland everywhere I went. It seemed like I had to return.

After about a month of adjusting to the massive move I'd made and rupturing of our relationship, the rest of the year has felt remarkably calm, even as we navigated through the questions that would come. What would Justin think of Oregon? How would we feel when we were together? What would happen?

With my family history, I sort of think that things are always going to go wrong, but it's gone better than I expected. I feel the signs are pointing us to here and staying. I had a really calm year of income with Costco and enough fill in work to help financially. After a lot of soul-searching and speaking with other Kaiser employees (current and past), I decided to investigate the possibility of returning. I know they do not always take people back, and I knew they'd be afraid that I might decide I want to take off again and move around the world. My feeling is that's not going to happen- I'm older and I had my five years of vagabonding and I'm pretty happy with a normal day-to-day routine. I'm aware that working two days is not enough- I have more time off than I need, and fill-in work is fairly stressful. I've also really missed the professional atmosphere of Kaiser and the level of patient care. Mostly I've missed the experience of learning more and more with each passing day through feedback and interactions with other providers and complicated patients.

Through the last few years, I've mulled around the idea of underemployment, switching careers, living off the land, and various other off-the-beaten-path ideas. I've come to feel that working enough to enjoy my free time, and having money available in my bank account without constant spreadsheet and tax analysis by me would be different sort of freedom and one that I'd like to pursue again. I also feel fortunate to just have a job, and to have a career in which I've been able to find work at any time that I needed it, even while taking breaks between jobs to travel and visit family. I know that no career is perfect and I've often lamented the shortcomings of this field, but overall it has served me well.

With Justin at my side, I have an anchor and calmness that makes each day a nice day to have lived. We, of course, will have our rough waters in the future, but we're working together day by day to inch forward. We're both very excited that I'm returning to Kaiser. Today I got my ID badge- I have two days of training at the end of the week and then will start patient care next Monday- two days of ophthalmology and two days of optometry. I'm hopeful and happy at the next chapter we're starting. We think this will allow us to have a little more freedom and peace at the end of the day.