Saturday, February 12, 2011

So, What the Hell Happened to Rick O' Shea?

     Well, a bunch of stuff happened around the Holidays that put me off my feed, writing-wise.
     I had been embroiled in an ever-increasing battle of wills at work regarding my willingness to follow the strict, black-and-white rules put forth by my supervisor.
     I had been building up a full-steam head of anger and resentment anyway regarding their lack of interest in my opinions.  I know that sounds rather less than humble - allow me to explain.

     (Warning: this is long. I've had a lot of these thoughts bottled up for a very long time, and have finally decided to use the venue of this blog to vent. Feel free to skim, skip or ignore as you wish.)

     I came to this job with nearly twenty years experience in the field, the last ten as a lab director. I was hired as a staff tech, but that was fine. They already had a lead tech who deserved the position, and after all the politics that led to me leaving my hospital job, I wasn't keen on getting back into all the supervisory activities anyway. Figured I'd just do my exams, and let someone else do the heavy lifting for a change.

     The problem came when I realized that this fellow tech was my Boss. And she took the job Very Seriously. No ego, bitchiness, power-tripping or anything like that. On the contrary, she was sweet, kind, generous and as good of a person as you could be.
     With absolutely no offense meant toward her faith and culture, I honestly feel that this person's background was a determining influence on our work environment. She was originally from central Pennsylvania, and was a devout Lutheran. Her work ethic was absolute, and was defined by two things: Duty, and Rules.
     Duty to her meant absolute, unquestioning obedience to any authority, as defined by the chain of command established within our little organization. And Duty also meant following any and all Rules established by those authorities.
     As lead tech, she was the authority in the lab. Her duty was to enforce the rules, regulations and protocols set forth by the power-mad, bitch-on-wheels lead tech who had been her boss until her recent retirement.
     The Protocols. Yes, the Protocols were holy writ, carved in stone, and inviolate. They even overrode the doctor's orders:

     "Just do the one leg."
     "Thanks, but I have to do both."
     "Protocol? But I don't have time for you to do a full exam, and I'm only concerned about his left leg."
     "Sorry, Doc. Take it up with (lead tech); my hands are tied."
     (Doctor): *blink, blink*

     So, coming from a successful lab shaped in some part by my own hand, I began analyzing the Holy Protocols and suggesting modifications and improvements.
     Oh, my goodness...

     To her credit, as a good hearted and very patient person, she did not cry, "Heretic!", although that was the expression in her eyes. She instead very patiently explained why we would not be implementing these changes, with the clear implication that, as her subordinate, it was not my place to question, much less modify any standing protocols.

     "But if we do it this way, it'll be both faster and give a better exam."
     "We can't do that."
     "Why not?"
     "Because we don't do it that way here."
     "I know (mental deep breath), I'm saying we need to do it differently."
     "Why not?"
     "Because that's not our protocol."
     Yep, anyone who knows me well and has worked with me in the last few years is now reading this and going, "Oh, shit..."

     The hair on the back of my neck raised, but I kept my peace.

     Keep in mind, at this time, the lab consisted of two techs: me and her. The idea of a two-tech lab being a heierarchy rather than a collaboration was both alien and offensive to me.

     When I ran my lab (with two techs), all decisions were made in an open format. I welcomed any input on any idea. Our medical diector was a great guy, and a regular Joe as well as a crack surgeon. Our policy meetings usually involved him wandering into the lab between surgeries, and the three of us talking about the situation.
     I figured that any decision that affected the lab should be discussed by everyone in the lab. That way we all know the deal, and have had at least the opportunity to provide input.
     Policies and protocols were understood to be fluid entities. The purpose of any business or scientific venture (and a medical lab is both) is to constantly improve, reinvent itself, and increase in efficiency and quality. Improvement requires change, of course, so change was not only embraced, but pursued: "How can we do this better/faster/cheaper?"

     That was then, this was now.

     I had wandered into an alien culture. One that embraced tradition rather than change, respect for authority that manifested as a silent fear (under the rule of the previous lab Queen, my current supervisor had been forbidden to speak directly to the doctors without permission), and the most inefficient, paper-swamped office I have ever seen.
     My last accomplishment at my old job was to render the lab paperless. Totally chartless. Our MD was a computer and tech geek like myself, so it was like getting to play with really cool hardware and software that also improved the efficiency of the lab tremendously.

     Back to the new job: when I found out that we were going to get digital machines, and eventually go to electronic medical records, I got excited. This was my area of expertise. They needed my help to do this right, and I was seriously pumped to help out, contribute, make a difference, and do something for my new "family".

      I had forgotten "my place".

     I appealed to the lead tech, who apparently viewed computers as a necessary evil intruding on the comfortable, established paper-based system.
     Apparently, the digital information from the exams would not go to the doctors for review and interpretation. None of the doctors had computers in their offices, and many of their staff were doing well to grasp the concept of email.
     No, the digital data was to be relayed to our workstations, where we would then copy it down onto our familiar paper worksheets. This meant that on a busy day, the doctor could not review a patient's exam until we had transcribed all of the velocity values, and provided written descriptions (!) of the images obtained onto a worksheet.

     So that he would not have to use a computer.

     During this transcription process, the doctor waits, the patient waits, and the next patient waits. And our schedule gets further behind.
     When I cautiously questioned the efficiency of this arrangement, I was told that we would simply have to do our exams faster to make up the loss of time.

     At this point I'm afraid I told her that this was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of in my life, that the solution to gross inefficiency was not "go faster", and that the expression was not "work harder, not smarter".
     I owed it to my patients and to my own sense of professional self-worth as an experienced vascular technologist to provide the best exam possible using the best technological and clinical tools at my disposal, and most especially my best clinical judgement, which had proven itself sound and reliable for many, many years. 
     Rigid protocols and archaic, inefficient methodologies could go to hell.

     I was released from employment by that organization on January 21st, 2011.

     I had really mixed feelings about being fired. I had been working under a "something's got to give" emotional state for a while now, and this effectively took the teakettle off the fire.
     So there was tremendous relief mixed with the understandable anxiety of realizing that I was currently unemployed in the worst job market in several decades.
     I have filed for unemployment, which I will probably not get due to the circumstances of my departure.
     I have been pounding the pavement, by computer, telephone and on foot, looking for work.
     I have applied for employment in every computer, outdoor, hardware and bookstore in town, and certainly every gun store.
     I have applications in as a beverage chemist, an assistant manager at a wild animal safari park, and at Walmart.

     You may notice that healthcare positions are glaringly absent from that list.

     Whatever I get, the circumstances of my wife's health (and to some extent mine), require that the job has insurance benefits.
     I could make do working part-time at a pawn shop gun counter, and paying out-of-pocket premiums for myself, but private health insurance won't cover my wife.

     Part of the profound depression that I have been sliding in and out of in the last few weeks is related to that.
     No job that I have is mine alone. I am the sole provider for our family, and have an obligation and responsibility to give care, support, comfort and security to this dear woman that I am married to.
     During all that happened leading up to my termination, I never lost sight of my responsibility to her, and had in fact already started putting out feelers and resumes so that I might leave on my own terms, and make a transition to a new, secure work environment.
     For her part, she was sympathetic, supportive, and encouraged me to get out of that crazy place and find somewhere that I could be happy.

     Instead, I got my knickers in a bunch and got fired.

     So, I haven't felt much like blogging lately.

     I still read most of my regulars, but can't seem to summon up a comment. The news washes over me without much effect. I'm not reading much. TV is mostly a vast, passive mental sinkhole. No friends. No shooting. I spend the day job hunting and working on our financial and insurance situation. At night I stay up too late and watch what I've DVR'ed during the day. I've quit exercising, and I'm overeating, especially late at night. I'm trying not to drink too much.

     OK, enough wallowing and moping. Enough venting.
     I'm writing again here because my mind is clearing. Last night lying in bed I realized that I felt something approaching... satifaction. I had put in a long, hard purposeful week of job hunting, and was excited by some of my potential prospects. I had applied for COBRA coverage, which will keep us in health insurance for another year and a half, if necessary. We have money in the bank.

     After my pavement-pounding yesterday, I stopped by my local tobacco emporium and bought a new corncob pipe to replace the one I broke last year, and some fresh black cavendish. Then I went to the beer store, got a job application (!), and bought a sixpack of good IPA.
     Last night I went out to the garage shop, smoked my new pipe, enjoyed a beer or two, and disassembled a S&W Model 37 that I think I want to make my new carry gun. I'll clean it up, smooth out the innards, and I think try my hand at hammer bobbing.

     I realized last night and this morning that I'm coming back. Not to how I was, but to a better, happier me. With freedom, potential, and minus that stupid job. I'll work hard, take care of my wife, and something will come along.

     To anyone who has made it through this whole outpouring of whatever, thank you for your patience. The more the dam has been holding back, the bigger the flood when it bursts.

     And for those of you who had the kindness to keep checking in on me, even after I had become the blog equivalent of those embarrassing neighbors that leave their Christmas lights up all year: Thank You.

Lighter, more interesting, and much shorter content will follow.

God Bless you all,



  1. Rick, I made it through the whole post, and my head is still above the flood waters. I feel you pain brother. I have a similar situation with The Queen. I jealously guard my job and benefits so that I can take care of The Queen.

  2. I feel for you. Mrs. TOTWTYTR is going through many of the same things after being laid off last summer. Fortunately, I have a job with good benefits and plenty of job security, so the impact for us is mostly financial. The impact to her is mostly emotional. I've told her several times that except for the money, she is better off without that job. I don't know that she believes me, but it's true.

    I hope you'll find work soon. In the meantime it seems that you are finding your emotional bearings again. That's good news for you and for your wife.

    Best of luck with the job hunt.

  3. Thanks, guys.
    The fact that you, or anyone, is still checking in on me after all this time is heartening.

    I really appreciate the support, and hope that all remains well with you, Shepherd K, and that your dearly beloved finds work very soon, TOTWTYTR.

    By the way, TOTWTYTR, that blog title of yours is getting to be a little to real for comfort these days!

    Off now to have a beer and play with that Model 37...

    Thanks again, friends,

  4. Glad to see you back, Rick.

    I understand where you're coming from, friend. I have gone through something very similar in the past year or so. I had a job that too good to quit, but hoped for it to end so I could do something else or at least do the same work somewhere different. I took a job in a new town back in August doing the same work that is 10 times better than where I was.

    My wife is an ultrasonographer working in your field as well, and she gets frustrated with much of the same crap that you have mentioned. She would like to find work in the town I'm now working in so we can move, but as you mentioned, the job market is tight right now.

    Hang in there friend, things always work out when you least expect it to.

  5. Hey Blue Steel, thanks for stopping by and for the words of encouragement.

    I briefly considered relocating to expand my job prospects, but honestly, the wife is just not up to a move.

    I wish you and your wife all the best. Ultrasound can be a very cool and very rewarding profession, under the right employment circumstances. I hope she's happy and is respected for what she does.


  6. Welcome back, Rick. Change isn't always fun or easy, but it is necessary. I wish you the best on your search.

  7. Welcome back Rick,

    I got laid off over 4 years ago, the unknown of looking for a job does take its toll. I was fortunate and got another job 6 months after getting laid off. I still remember the feeling of job hunting and getting close several times before finally getting hired.
    Keep doing what you are doing.


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