Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Can I Ask You a Personal Question?

It seemed like a pretty innocent request at the time – it was asked by someone I have worked with for almost 10 years, someone I trust and feel close to in the sense that we have worked together intimately in a demanding and stressful environment.

Do you have hearing loss?

I immediately thought WTF! and my heart sank – I looked down and said Why do you ask? She answered Because everyone (I’m paraphrasing here) has noticed but they’re afraid to say anything to you about it

I have known I’ve suffered some hearing damage for a long time, but it’s an insidious thing. Here’s why: Because our brains are capable of “filling in the holes” of our perceptions of the world we live in, it will quite literally do just that. Indeed, if you have ever studied how our brains interpret what our eyes “see,” you will understand what I mean. Our minds construct a visual representation of our world that is only pertinent to each of us – neurological perception is a highly individualized and variable thing. This is true for all of our senses.

Hearing is no different. Imagine you have spent your whole life listening intently to sound because you are a musician – within a relatively short amount of time (say, 10 years or less), you will have built up a very detailed database of “sound perception,” that is, your brain will have built a catalog of how things should optimally sound based on your preferences.

Now imagine that slowly, over decades perhaps, you begin to lose your hearing acuity. Your brain will happily slowly “fill in the gaps” to compensate for any deficiencies, making it seem as though nothing is wrong. But eventually, reality will bring the whole illusion crashing down.

In my case, it was this simple question.

So yeah, I’m a bit bewildered and struggling with what to do next. It’s a real mindfuck.

Lucky to be Falling Apart

Entropy is fully under way, systems failing left and right. Can’t stop time, or the damage it inflicts. Once you realize this, it just becomes a question of “How do I choose to frame this?” Because that’s the one thing we always have – shit happens in life and it’s up to us how we choose to deal with it.

So I’m saying that I’m lucky to be alive – that’s my spin and I’m sticking to it.

Life’s Inevitable Sadness

One of the first things they teach you in nursing school is to understand that you are not them – in other words, don’t personalize the disease you treat. If you start to see yourself or your loved ones in the faces of your patients and their families you are fucked – all you will see is sadness and loss. The barriers that allow you to administer compassionate and professional care will have fallen, both preventing you from doing so and opening yourself up to more tragedy than anyone can be expected to bear.

And yet, if you are naturally empathetic, it doesn’t take much for this to happen. The death of a loved one, finding yourself unexpectedly diagnosed with a life altering/ending disease, or the terminal illness of a friend can bring these barriers crashing down, leaving your psyche open like a festering wound. You begin to see yourself or your loved ones in your patients faces, and it is devastating.

Meditation is my drug of choice to restore perspective, but it isn’t a panacea. The ER is a place where bad things happen to good people – strokes, cardiac arrests, heart attacks, cancer diagnosis, the death of children, physical trauma that will leave the afflicted permanently disabled, suicides, rape, untreated mental illness, end-stage addiction, physical abuse – it’s a long list that could go on and on…

Make no mistake – I love my job and 98% of the time I’m impervious to this kind of thinking. But boy, the other 2% can be rough – really, really rough.

The Ship is Sinking

All hands on board! Wait a minute – where is everybody? We may still be able to save it – the outcome is not a given – but without enough people we don’t have a chance…

This is not a feeling you want to have.

Here’s how providing services in a society works: Over decades and centuries, institutions form to fill a need for the greater good, giving birth to professions that will serve the population. Over time, the requirements to enter these professions continues to rise, and the body of knowledge necessary to administer these services becomes ever larger and more sophisticated. Eventually, things begin to improve for everyone involved – both the population in aggregate as well as the professionals that serve them.

But maintaining this level of growth and service requires care, and most importantly, the necessary allotment of resources. At it’s most basic level, having enough properly trained humans to do the job is required for the whole system to work. Someday, AI will take over a lot of these jobs, but even in farthest reaches of the future, as long as there are still humans around, they will need other humans to take care of them when they break down. Let’s use this as a simple metaphor for health care.

If you are a trained professional entrusted to administer healthcare as part of a team (nothing is done in isolation), you need a minimum number of other professionals to safely do the job. After all, the public is expecting you to be there for them when they need your services.

So what do you do when there suddenly isn’t enough of you around to administer the care? You can quickly arrive at a point where you are overwhelmed – not overwhelmed as in “this job’s too hard,” no, overwhelmed as in “this is starting to become dangerous – there’s too many people in need and not enough of us to take care of them.”

It’s not a good feeling – things start to become desperate – you don’t want to quit, but you keep waiting for help that doesn’t seem to come. The system seems to be breaking down, and you know if this goes on eventually there will be casualties.

I hope you never get put in this situation. I’m going to do everything possible to try and save my particular ship, but there’s a storm brewing…

Always Learning

I was fortunate enough to have a teacher, mentor and friend whose personal manifesto was this:

Always learning – always teaching.

He personified these values and drilled them into those he taught. His edict was to expect that you would teach others what he taught you, and that with each iteration the knowledge would become deeper and more refined.

His relentless desire to continue learning was an inspiration and his obsession with teaching provided a real world example of how giving can move humanity forward.

Always learning – always teaching.

Some people leave an indelible, lasting impression – your life is richer having known them.

Panpsychism

At its simplest this could be defined as the belief that everything has some degree of consciousness.

Sound crazy? Well, let’s say that consciousness could be loosely defined as an awareness of ones existence in the world. As humans, because we are complex creatures capable of abstract thought, our degree of consciousness seems both self evident and multi-layered. But that’s just how we experience it…

Depending on the complexity of the organism (or even molecule, perhaps even on an atomic level), the degree or type of consciousness may be much simpler, but still there.

A plant, for example, is certainly aware of its world. It seeks the things it needs, and grows away from danger. Animals, for the most part, may not be self aware like humans, but they are certainly aware of their existence – and the ones with higher intelligence may very well be capable of some degree of abstract thinking. There is no question that animals who live in social groups form bonds, which in itself implies some degree of consciousness.

I realize that this kind of thinking relies heavily on how one defines the terms, and I am certainly no expert. It’s just an area I am interested in and would like to explore further. Panpsychism is a different way to look at and think about the world. I have no idea whether its true, or even if I believe it might be.

But it seems to be a valid thought worthy of serious contemplation.

That Pretty Much Sums It Up

Don’t worry about yesterday because it’s used. It’s either good or it leaves you feeling bad. And don’t waste time or energy worrying about tomorrow.

“I could have a stroke and be dead. That’s why they call it the present. It’s a present.”

– Dick Dale

Mind Your Own Business

There’s a fine line in the workplace, especially if your workplace is an ER in a large inner city hospital. You work together with your colleagues closely, year after year, and then suddenly someone is gone. You have no idea what happened, but now you are genuinely concerned for the welfare of this person, thinking WTF happened? The thing is, it’s unfortunately not your place to delve too deeply. Privacy must be respected – but this creates its own level of stress.

It doesn’t seem right to work side by side in a very chaotic and unstable environment, always watching each other’s backs, depending on each other for help, and then when someone is suddenly no longer there be expected to somehow just pretend like nothing happened, as if this person never existed. You want to know if you can help, if this person is ok, if there is something you can do.

But there’s nothing you can do, except just move on. It’s fucked up and somehow doesn’t seem right. You feel helpless to reach out and offer something – anything. You wish you could say “I really liked working with you,” or “If you need anything just call.”

But instead they just disappear, and life goes on. I try to honor them in my mind and hope that they’re ok, but that doesn’t seem right either.

It’s weird. And not in a good way.

Entheogenic Revolution (Part 1)

Were you aware of the current clinical research and therapeutic application of psychedelic drugs? Neither was I, at least not until I read Michael Pollan‘s unbelievably engaging and appropriately mind-blowing book “How to Change Your Mind.” I found his writing so exciting I actually slowed down to make it last longer!

I will be thinking about and processing this material for a quite a while – it was that provocative and deep. For example, I had no idea that psychedelic therapy has been used successfully to treat end-of-life existential crisis in metastatic cancer patients. Apparently a single session of high dose psilocybin, in a controlled environment (set and setting are key), combined with therapy both pre & post administration, has been shown to have significant effects mitigating the psychological trauma of impending death.

In other words, it provided comfort and an understanding of ones place in the universe in a way that helped the individual process and accept their own death. As an atheist and cancer survivor, this leaves me dumbfounded and very, very excited. What are we to make of this?

I guess I’m late to the party because a quick search brought up this article from 2012: “How Psychedelic Drugs can help Patients Face Death.”

I’ve got a thousand questions...

Useful or Useless?

It all depends on how you define your terms – in other words, what were you trying to do? ‘Cuz here’s the thing: at the time you may have had a specific goal that you ultimately failed to achieve – but in retrospect, with the wisdom of hindsight and reframing, you gained something else.

In that sense, very few endeavors turn out to be complete failures, and if you think they are, you’re probably not looking at them hard enough. I’m not talking about letting yourself off the hook or trying to find a silver lining in a disaster – sometimes the outcome is simply an opportunity to learn what you are not capable of.

But that’s rarely the case. Being fatalistic can cause one to jump to the conclusion that a project or goal was a failure if it doesn’t turn out the way we originally wanted – and then it is a small leap to come to the conclusion that since you failed, you’re a failure. See where this is going?

These are what psychologists would refer to as cognitive distortions. They are not conclusions based on rational thinking, rather, they are replaying scripts in your mind that have become comfortable (although painful) over the years.

Try to see things as they are, and constantly ask yourself “What can I learn from this?”

Things are (almost) never as bad as you think.

Metaphor for Psychological Crisis

I recently came across this idea and I can’t stop thinking about it, probably because it rings so true. I’ll paraphrase:

Depression is the egos pathological preoccupation with the past and anxiety is its pathological preoccupation with the future.

Ego is used here to delineate ones sense of self. It’s important to understand that consciousness is separate from our ego – the ego of course would like us to believe it’s everything, but this is a lie. It’s critical to recognize that our sense of self is a very important tool in helping us navigate the world, but it can also be self-limiting.

Question: When we die our ego of course dies too – but if our consciousness is separate from our ego, does it also die? And if not, where does it go? Is this even the right question?

What is Important?

It’s a rhetorical question, I know – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it. And, of course, the answers will be different for everyone – which is as it should be. But off the top of my head, in no particular order, here we go…

Being sensitive to the needs of others is important. The strong and intelligent should always use their power to help those less fortunate, or at least it would seem that way to me.

Using one’s mind to make things (a.k.a. being creative) is also important to me, although I don’t really know why. It’s not like anything I’ve ever made has improved humanity, indeed, sometimes I think it’s a selfish act, yet I still feel compelled to do it. Oh well – this post isn’t about understanding oneself.

Contributing something to one’s community is important – in other words, provide something of value to other people. That’s a box I can check off since I’m an ER nurse. Helping, or at least attempting to help, critically ill or just sick or injured people is something I am fortunate enough to get paid for. Win win.

Learning and continuing to grow is important, or at least it is to me. If we’re not growing we’re regressing, which means we’re not fulfilling our potential as human beings.

And finally, loving and being loved. Probably the most important of all. You’ve really got work at this one, or at least I do.

But I’m trying.

Heartbroken

Found out a colleague and mentor suffered a catastrophic health event today.

Be well my friend, I’m sending my thoughts and positive energy your way.

It Stains the Sands Red

Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a novel take on the Zombie genre left, along comes a film like this.

As I’ve noted before, the zombie apocalypse provides the perfect flexible scaffolding upon which to build whatever kind of story you want to tell. George Romero, the master and creator of the genre used this framework to create films that examined the cultural zeitgeist of his times. They were nightmarish reflections of society showing us what we, in a panicked state of fear, are capable of. It wasn’t pretty.

This movie tells an entirely different story – the cast is essentially one woman being pursued by a single male zombie through the Nevada desert. It is a female coming of age story, and the dynamic between the zombie and the woman morphs in surprisingly emotional ways. Kudos to both actors for turning in complex and layered performances.

Brittany Allen is powerfully authentic as a broken young woman discovering her maternal instincts and personal strength as the story progresses, and Juan Reidinger imbues the zombie with a humanity that reminded me of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster or Billy Connelly as “Fido,” in another essential zombie film. It’s no small feat to imbue a zombie with pathos, but this actor pulls off quite a magic trick.

Beautifully directed by Colin Minihan, the film is stunningly gorgeous to watch.

Masterpiece? No, not exactly. Just a beautifully made original film, shot on location with incredible cinematography, capturing fully realized performances of an original script. Most importantly, it draws you in, engaging you fully with an unpredictable story.

Works for me!

Teaching (Part 1)

It is one of the great joys and privileges of my job to be given the opportunity to teach nurses new to the emergency department. To feel as though you had some small influence on helping to provide them with a strong foundation upon which to build their practice is priceless.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is an added bonus for the teacher – the act of passing knowledge on forces one to remain close to the ideals that might be lost over the years in the trenches of actually providing health care. It mandates a certain re-examination of ones approach and a review of current best evidence based practice with regards to any given procedure.

But most of all it’s just fun. Hard – yes, sobering – definitely, but at the end of the day, if you did it right, it’s just gratifying as hell.

Zero Fucks

This is what I’ve got right now, thank you very much – which is to say, nada, zilch, i.e. nothing.

It’s too late after a busy day in the ER, and I am totally spent.

See you tomorrow…

Interesting Paradox

The more creative you are, the more bad ideas you’ll have – simply because you’re generating more output. Compounding this phenomenon is the fact that the one generating this body of work is often least able to discern its usefulness or value. In other words, they can’t really tell what’s great from what’s not.

The apparent takeaway here is if you want to create a masterpiece or at least something very useful, be prepared to make a lot of less than great stuff on the way there.