For some people, their lives turn out as they want. For some people, their lives follow a path they expect. I am not sure what percentage of people exist in that place. I feel like it is not many. Maybe in the ancient days your father was a farmer, you wanted to be a farmer, and you ended up as a farmer. Maybe back then there was more steadiness and less expectation, and thus less disappointment. At least in some times and places. We won’t discuss those sold into slavery or slaughtered by some ravaging horde of invaders. No question they didn’t get what they wanted.
Slaughtering hordes and slavery aside, I am not saying it is a bad thing that so many lives do not turn out as people want or expect. Not all wants and expectations are good. It is not hard for me to see the truth in the idea that far more often than not it is a better thing for our lives to not go as we want or expect. But living in that place is more unsettling than if life goes as I plan. It is more confusing, more mysterious.
Some turns in life are more unexpected and mysterious than others. I never expected to be a caregiver, never dreamed of it. However, this turn that my life took–while not planned or expected–is not mysterious when seen in reflection. I can see how my temperament, qualities, and values could naturally bring me into that role. So while I did not expect this turn in life, on reflection it does not confound me.
In all of life the unexpected happens, sometimes in profound ways and at other times in insignificant ways. Becoming a caregiver at the age of 24 was the first large unexpected turn, when my life first felt like it had gone off the rails in a major way. When I took that path my life went into completely uncharted territory. I was so far out from what I had expected, wanted, or planned that I had no plans going forward. Since then, life has only gone further into the brush of the unexpected and unexplainable.
My brief and only slightly illustrious career as a writer and speaker was also not anticipated in the manner it came. It had been a lifelong dream of mine to be a writer, but not the kind of writing I ended up pursuing, nor the manner in which I pursued it. My dream had been to be a successful fiction writer who was able to sit up in his office and avoid the world and complications of life while quietly churning out novel after novel which some major publishing company peddled to the world with great success. The vision most assuredly wasn’t being a writer about caregiving, along with traveling and public speaking.
Three of my biggest terrors growing up were traveling, crowds, and speaking in public. So it is one of the greatest jokes in my life that my biggest dream ended up merged with three of my nightmares. Part of the mystery here is that by the time I reached this place in life the terror had faded and the fear was mostly gone. The stuttering boy became a public speaker and it felt rather natural in the moment, if unexplainable.
After that season had ended, I found that its coming and going was part of the mystery.
Then there is my current career in the medical field–which is probably the most reasonable and understandable part of my life in the view of an outsider, and yet is the most confounding to me. I have never, ever, wanted to be a nurse. People talk about having a “calling,” but this might be better called a “dragging” where I was dragged kicking and screaming down this path. I have written previously about how my father’s job was a misery to him. Well, everything I knew or imagined about the medical field told me it was a good way to end up in exactly the miserable kind of job my father had. So often nursing is a grueling and high stress work environment. Every time I took a step down this nursing path it felt a bit like embracing that kind of doomed future.
Which, over the course of the years, is what has brought me to where I am now. This place which in one telling is a nightmare, and in another a dream. How to explain it? How am I here?
As best I am aware, where I work now is one of only two facilities like it in the entire state. It is a secure facility. That sounds a bit bland. What I mean is, security has to let you through the sally port. That sounds a bit technical. Do you know how in movies and shows where someone is going to a jail and they are “buzzed” in? It is one of those classic tropes that you don’t forget once you have witnessed it, even if only in entertainment. The character is let through the first door only to find himself in a smaller room with a second door that has a light by it. A “buzzzz” sounds with an ominous echo, and the second door is unlocked so the hero can venture into the dangerous world beyond.
Except, now that is literally my work day every week. I didn’t see that coming.
No, I don’t work in a jail. That would be too normal. It is someplace else.
Before I could come work at this job I had to go through a training course on self-defense and how to appropriately perform “take-downs” as it is euphemistically called. We were trained in a six-staff take down. Or maybe it was five. Because, you know, the person being taken down can sometimes be big, and wild.
Before I enter the sally port each day I am given my on-site keys. With the special set of keys is a fob, the button of which I am to press if anything goes terribly wrong. Help should come running if I press the button. It is my own personal panic button. Everyone on site has one. Everyone entering the facility is scanned by a metal detector. We cannot take anything metal into the site, and nothing glass, on the chance they might get turned into weapons by those on the inside. Also, no personal phones. Working on site entitles me to a hazard pay bonus on my paycheck for the risk of the job.
On average once or twice each day the overhead intercom crackles to life with the terse message: “Attention all staff! Attention all staff!” and then security calls out the location where some staff member has pressed their panic button. It is the call for the elite staff from all over the facility to run to the place of danger and intervene. From my office in the administrative building I can look out the window and see the people running across the courtyard. And they do run. I’ve heard the stories about staff hit with tables and choked out. If you press the panic button you want the staff running when they come to rescue you.
I manage the medical office so my contact with all this turmoil is limited, in the most immediate sense. I am the office LPN. The RNs are the ones who take the medical bag and go to the site of an emergency. If someone needs an injection to calm the situation, the RNs will give that. My job is to schedule medical appointments and help with the onsite clinics, yearly physicals, EKGs. Things like that. So I am not in the midst of the day-to-day scuffle. But I do see the people running in the courtyard, and when I am walking the halls of the administration building taking supplies to the medical clinic or dropping off garbage I do hear the calls for help over the intercom. And I hear the stories swirling around the office as the RNs come and go.
Not long ago the work week started with a staff member coming to the nursing office with a bite on her arm. The teeth had gone through her sweater and left deeply emblazoned purple bite marks on her forearm. That was Monday.
Tuesday I heard about a staff member who was punched in the face.
Wednesday I was in the office when one of the RNs took a call from a staff therapist who was inquiring about an individual who had a lot of falls logged on his record. “Oh, he doesn’t have a falling problem,” the RN said. “He just likes to stand naked in his room and rush out at staff when they walk past. He runs out so fast that he falls down.”
Thursday I heard about an individual who had inserted a piece of his shoe rubber up his penis. Yeah, I never thought I would write that phrase.
Such was one week in my life. And so it goes, in ebbs and flows.
I share this to give a sense of my perspective. If I had been told this picture of a job I would have looked on it in horror. This is not the place I would ever work, I would have told you. And, here I am. How did I arrive here? I could recount every individual step of the way, and yet I can’t explain it.
It is true I could not tolerate any other role in the facility where I work other than the position I currently have. I live and walk on a knife edge between the job that I hold doing a great good in my life, and the many jobs around me which would be a horror for me. How did I come here?
This is the mystery of life. I don’t fully understand where I’ve come from–and completely comprehending how I came to where I am is beyond me. I have no idea where I am going. This all reminds me that life is best lived in the humility of receiving the unexplainable and being grateful for the mystery that is. I live in the present trying to let go of what I thought I needed and accepting what it turns out I really did need. I live each day not knowing what this reality is working in my life. As counter intuitive as that so often feels to me, I believe this is a good place to live.