RETIREMENT - MY SECOND CAREER

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: DOWN-HOME
Upon retirement I looked forward to painting and writing, also enjoying our cabin in North Georgia. Health insurance premiums rising altered my long-sought plans and my wife and I faced decisions, primarily that I get an extra job for health insurance benefits. One job I applied didn't suit my character. The second applied job proved one of the best experiences in my life, this narrative detailing my pursuits and outcome quite unexpected many years ago while I worked as an artist for a notable insurance company.

Submitted: October 08, 2018

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Submitted: October 08, 2018

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RETIREMENT - MY SECOND CAREER

Account by Virgil Dube’ - Copyright 2018

Retirement has long been an aspiration on the horizon for a career person when he/she envisions hanging it up and pursuing whatever the heart desires daily. Working the grindstone one anticipates settling back from everyday obligation, to: sleep in, enjoy a hobby or nothing at all, grow tulips or roses in the front yard flower bed, travel the country or sightsee exotic places worldwide, gamble that retirement money in Vegas, sail the seas, cook barbecues and eat to ones contentment as the midriff spreads, enjoy the grandkids up close ... after a while at a safe distance, read a book or magazine snuggled in the backyard hammock with a glass of chilled lemonade or wine, or an endless number of laidback indulgences, many in truth two-star ranking. Or again, nothing at all, time spent on the living room sofa with a box of chocolates absorbed in nostalgic reminisces faded by time.

Aside from natural deterioration, tragedy, and horrific disease causing sadly suffering, the enemy of all-too-many able-bodied retirees is idleness, when the smokestack is no longer stoked with sufficient fuel to power the engine. Should that occur, the handwriting is on the wall.

Not me! I’m Super-Dube shoveling the coal at blistering speed. For me retirement was and still is a time to look forward to painting pictures more assertively over the ones I did in a cloud of fading dust as a career person on my spare time, to aid my wife in her business, also keep up two homes, one distant and a continuous endeavor.

The morning my brother Joe rode his motorcycle to our place of employment our last day of work in May 1996, me sitting on the saddle behind him, ended two careers that had made a mark within the company home office and impact far beyond on the outside. He and I were the latest updated employees released among hundreds as part of the company-acquisition by a company-guzzling corporate vampire, their high-thirties conquest, money the lifeline and bottom line sucked-up lives and dedicated careers, enacted by both the non-compassionate buyers and indifferent sellers. That afternoon I entered retirement with expectation but also into blind territory for which would play out much different than I could ever have expected. There was definitely no ‘read a book or magazine snuggled on the backyard hammock with a glass of chilled lemonade‘, in my immediate future.

EARLY CRAFT WOES AND ADJUSTMENT

Retired, I decided with expectation to combine reproductions of my art with my wife Sharon’s sewing items to sell in her craft booth at shows, she a passionate worker and businessperson. This worked a short period before hardnosed fact set in, and I realized my undertaking was wrong for me and change was in order.

Displaying art prints didn’t pan out, random sales hardly worth the effort. I quickly learned craft shows and art festivals differed drastically in clientele and prospective buyers, no matter the artisan’s expertise. I could have taken the art festival route, a highly convoluted commitment, but preferred to step back and be beside Sharon and help her coordinate her business. Selling art verses painting for pleasure as I had long aspired amounted to unwanted stress for me no entrepreneur, so I quickly settled into my retirement helping her and doing painting for fun in my spare time.

MOUNTING FINANCIAL DILEMMA PROMPTING DECISION 

Lacking full benefits from the company retirement plan for non-executives at age 54, health insurance primarily, Sharon and I were forced to purchase our own health insurance plan once I retired, or us suffer the consequences should tragedy strike. Our purchased plan acceptable a year, the annual rates began to increase substantially, proving the older you get the more insurance providers obligation to risk on their part spurning higher compensating premiums. Thus, she and I entertained alternative income with me working an extra job to receive viable health insurance joint-coverage from employers. 

Here we go ... back to the old grind, Virg!

CHICKENING OUT - CLUCK - CLUCK

Two former husband and wife friends and company co-employees of mine having moved to Blue Ridge, Georgia five miles up the creek from our mountain cabin, worked for a chicken-processing plant in Ellijay. The facility was thirty minutes from our cabin, a closer commute for them. After they informed me about general chicken processing, I became intrigued, yet aware it would be drastically different from any of my prior experiences. Thus, I entertained working alongside them at the plant. Following personal deliberation, and suggesting the venture to Sharon, she warmed to the idea of me moving from our main home in Jacksonville to our cabin, despite our relationship distant for periods. We purchased a 1994 Ford F-150 pickup truck in an Arlington used car lot for me to commute from home to the job, plus to have a practical working vehicle at our mountain property.

Committed, and prepared otherwise, the day of anticipation and excitement arrived. I kissed Sharon temporary goodbye, then like Jack jumping onto the Bean Stalk, set out driving Georgia back roads in route to our cabin in Fannin County. 

Entering Alma after a couple hours, I stuck my head out the open truck window and yelled, “Alma, oh, Alma ... where are you ... where is sweet Alma?” 

Why that spontaneous shout; I was in a free-spirited and happy-go-lucky mood. After all, I was destined shortly to be a professional chicken processor.

About to exit the small town a full minute later, I spotted a Dairy Queen on the left. I pulled my truck into the parking lot, entered, and ordered a vanilla ice cream cone. The server handed me a whopper of a cone, my eyes delightfully big, mouth salivating. I paid her $1.05. Then I took a seat and enjoyed licking the massive ice cream piled on, eating the crunchy cone, relishing every delicious morsel, feeling good, confident, my expectation high at this point that my journey I was embarking to a new meaningful job was an adventure making substantial contribution to our income and nullifying mounting health insurance cost.

The remainder of the trip to Fannin County remains fuzzy to me today. Nearing our property on a gravel road in wooded surroundings late afternoon, I began to experience the first qualm about my suggestion and our decision for which I would work so distant from home, a tingle of uneasiness attempting to surface and possibly erupt on the scale of Krakatoa. I shucked off the rumbling unsettlement as normal heebie-jeebies and began to place clothes on hangers and in drawers, then prepare from Sharon’s written instruction my spaghetti supper. I went about my normal activities the following days whistling at times, whistling I hardly ever do, but also with periods of reoccurring butterflies, each one a trifle elevated. The laundry didn’t go as expected – too much soap or too little, my meals despite written instruction tasted bland and was far from appetizing; and, Sharon wasn’t nearby for comfort and do or lend me her household expertise, though she was only a phone call away for guidance. I would stumble repeatedly doing chores I normally do virtually blindfolded. Despite these blunders I remained committed, assurance struggling to hang on and guide me onward to my purpose, especially after buying a pickup truck for Pete’s sake!

As I proceeded through days of early preparedness, and fiddling around cabin and property, thinking about my upcoming job interview scheduled Tuesday morning the following week, I recalled my friends working in the chicken-processing plant telling me vividly their duties on processing lines, plus enlightening me of the nastiest job of all, the person taking live chickens from shipping crates to place them on the processing line conveyor, where they would lose their heads with a sharp whack, be de-feathered, gutted, then their naked bodies sectioned to be packaged in small bird or big bird worker stations, and packaged for shipment to meat markets clear to Timbuktu. The more I intensely pictured my friends’ descriptions, the more skeptical I felt about chicken processing. At this point my nerves were approaching hyper-mode, and I began increasingly to blunder doing things about our property and home. My focus diverted, my estrangement from Sharon began to take an emotional toll on me. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth to stick to my plan. I sucked-up to follow my conviction to endure and make a financial contribution.

Tuesday morning, the day of reckoning, arrived. Grudgingly, I got out of bed, my anxiety suddenly soaring sky-high. I straightened the bedroom, got dressed, realizing I was actually on the threshold of being the executioner of hapless birds ignorant their destiny - human consumption. As I gulped-down a bowl of Cheerios, I rehashed the creature’s meager existence, they once fed and treated like royalty in controlled farm condition, gathered up, stuffed into cramped crates, then shipped on an open-air semi-trailer, taken from crates in their last breaths of stagnant air while clucking like crazy, and after crapping all over the first unfortunate factory processing handler dressed in special garb to withstand excessive excrement, the crappiest job in the plant, be secured forcibly on a conveyer to meet a grueling fate, later selected by customers from store coolers to be cooked, barbecued, then eaten, and digested by humans, mostly. Forcing down my bowl of breakfast cereal, and coffee, my enthusiasm this morning was diminished greatly, quite different from optimism when I departed home the prior week.

As I exited my truck in the processing plant visitor parking lot, I happened to stroll alongside a parked semi-tractor-trailer, loaded one atop the other of crates containing clucking chickens nearing their fateful end, the overpowering stench revolting and growing nauseous to me, as I hastened to make distance. Though the impulse to turn around, head for my truck and leave, mounted, I trudged onward, dedicated to my promise to Sharon, and the plant executive I had a scheduled interview, and my friends referring me for the job. Entering the nondescript lobby, I was directed through a door and instructed to the interviewer’s office by a facility person. Taking a deep breath to ward off mounting anxiety, I entered the plant proper. Strolling next to a lounge, where I noticed several Latino workers taking breaks, cigarette smoke hovering in cloud-cover above them eyeing me strangely my anxiety heightened. I cringed, forcing every fiber within me to respond positively as moments later I approached the office that I was directed. I knocked politely, and then entered upon command to be asked by a nice lady to take a seat in a chair before her paper-strewn desk. She and I shared introductory small talk a couple of minutes, my nervousness fallen somewhat. Then she proceeded to serious questions tossed me. Answering them, at one point I glanced up to my right, where on the wall above her desk hung a framed print of a beautiful landscape painting. I inadvertently mentioned I was a fine artist, a painter of traditional subjects, country and western included. She paused, settled back in her chair and inquired, listening as I briefed her on my prior career as an insurance company artist and my artistic capabilities and endeavors. Leaning forward, elbows on her desk, she asked pointedly with a straight face, “Virgil, why are you here applying for this job?” Surprised, I replied straightaway, “Ma’am, that is a good question.” Puzzled, she studied me momentarily, and then said I had the job, if I wanted to start the next day for familiarization. That would be Wednesday, a week since I arrived at our cabin. I was surprised the urgency, hoping I had until Monday the following week to have sufficient time to evaluate my predicament more thoroughly. In other words, a back door to flee through!

I left the plant in an emotional flux. I was greatly uneasy about my future, a grandiose retirement I had long dreamed of, instinct telling me to put on the brakes, especially that I’d be estranged from my wife and family on a job I might grow to dislike very quickly. However, the dedicated person I am, I was still committed to follow through no matter my mounting reservations, the question of health insurance fundamentally driving me.

I went about my activities the remainder of the day with emotional swings, ate another bland supper forcibly, and showered longer that normal - thinking this might be as clean as I get for a long-long time. Then, watching no TV, I went to bed earlier than usual. I wanted to say goodnight to Sharon, but she wasn’t beside me. I settled under the bedcovers and miraculously fell asleep. Around 1:30 a.m. my eyes popped open as if they were spring-loaded after a bomb exploded. Sweating profusely, my anxiety went through the roof. And, in a flash of intense self-awareness directed at personal survival, not to blunder my life on something that defied all logic and my reasoning, my decision was made; I was not going to lend a hand in slaying chickens in Ellijay, Georgia, nor anywhere else. I was perfectly content eating them, the preparation from farm to supper table best left to other dedicated people making a decent living. I was going home, to heck with this job I felt defied every particle of my personal being. The decision made, I settled into a second round of peaceful sleep. Awakening around 5:00 a.m., I called my friend, knowing he got up early to go to work. I had chickened out making a personal call later that morning to the plant interviewer. Instead, I asked him if he would inform the interviewer I wasn’t going to take the job, and explained to him that she probably would understand and not be offended or surprised.

I called Sharon first thing after a delicious bowl of corn flakes for breakfast, my taste buds suddenly revitalized. She was surprised, not frustrated, and actually happy with my decision.

I remained at our cabin a short while, doing all the things I normally do, but with more level-headedness, functionality, and spring in my step. My cooking improved and meals tasted better, and I slept like a lamb to the tune of cricket-serenade outside my bedroom window.

ESCORTING HOSPITAL PATIENTS

The health insurance dilemma still confronted Sharon and me after I arrived at home in Jacksonville, until our daughter Kimberly, a nurse, mentioned this job at the hospital she worked, escorting patients at Baptist Medical Center downtown campus. 

After I applied at the hospital, I got a call from the Transportation Department manager. During the interview, the manager mentioned his mother worked at the insurance company where I worked almost thirty-six years, and that she had recommended me ... a plus for me getting the job. The interview winding down, the assist manager sitting next to him asked me, “What single word best describes you, Virgil?” I answered in a ricochet, “Diligent.“ He cracked a smile, thus I was hired February 18, 2002. Sharon and I agreed I would work for the hospital five years, tops, and I did.

The transporter uniform, the large number of very young people, men and women escorting patients was quite intimidating for me initially. The smells, strict procedural environment whereby I encountered sickness, injury, and the dying and actual death, oftentimes putrid conditions, embarrassing situations for patients in lose gowns, contrasted acutely from my career as an artist in an upbeat business environment I relished three and a half decades. 

Discouraged after three weeks, I approached the manager and said frankly, “Wayne, I don’t know if I can continue doing this.” A disappointed look crossed Wayne’s face, and he replied, “Virgil, why don’t you give it more time, then make your decision.”

I did as Wayne suggested. Soon taken under the wings of my trainer Roomey, a energetic and smart South-Pacific man over sixty, an incredible mentor for me, I learned much as the weeks and months passed that covered, basically: (1) courtesy within the hospital facility a necessity no matter the situation, (2) that a transport is termed a ‘call’ and vehicle is a ‘mode’, (3) every technical aspect of the actual transport to become familiar, and execute properly (4) care and storage of equipment (5) signing in and out transport call details on ledger sheets, (6) preparing transport mode with clean sheets and later disposing of them into soiled linen hampers, (7) operating the portable radio each transporter mandatory carries, (8) proper transport protocol and functionality throughout a patient call, (9) handling patients safely from bed to transport mode, assisting them in urgent spontaneous need - including, smooth bed to stretcher transfer and vice verse, (10) connecting and disconnecting patient oxygen from wall to portable tank and vice versa, (11) familiarization of hospital wards, their functionality and locations, (12) procedural area location and patient procedure preparation there, (13) nurse stations protocol for transporters - including chart-handling, use of sanitation dispensers in and out of patient rooms a hygiene necessity, (14) Labor & Delivery, Adult and Pediatric ER, OR Holding, Gastro-Intestinal, and ICU procedure calls requiring special patient handling, oftentimes with Respiratory Therapist and heart monitors attached during transport, (15) discharging patients safely but expediently, (16) understanding of hospital functioning in general, (17) finally, attending department appraisal meetings monthly a requirement. 

Yes, Roomey my trainer was a great asset to me. He made the difference in me staying employed as a patient escort and fulfilling my goals as Sharon and I aspired after my retirement. Before I knew him Roomey worked briefly in the hospitals’ accounting office, where he was productive as an accountant. He wanted to be active and work directly with people, so he transferred to the Transportation Department as a transport trainer. Roomey was one of the best-liked employees in the hospital, everyone knowing and respecting him for his expertise, neatness, punctual work ethic, actions and values, which in truth, rubbed off on me. A year or so before I retired, Roomey returned to the Philippine Islands where he owned an apartment building he rented out, a man of means and principal. Sadly, I said goodbye to him one of the most motivating persons I’ve ever met or associated with.

There were aspects of the escort job that required acute focus, rarely hazardous with proper safety measures followed, yet challenging. I stuck to my managers suggestion and plowed onward, and under Roomey in due time, became one of the hospital’s competent escorts, so much so when Roomey wasn’t around or on vacation I was asked by supervision to train new escorts.

At intervals I like all escorts was asked to escort a dead body to the basement morgue, the corpse pre-wrapped in a black zipped plastic bag. Two escorts always delivered the deceased on a special stretcher with the stiff body secured in a portable stainless steel pan. Entering the morgue cold-storage room was challenging, the smell offensively intense. The second escort accompanying me gripped along with me the long pan containing the corpse and transferred it to a solidly built steel stretcher already inside the cooler room. One day a tech allowed me inside the adjacent morgue to observe large jars of pickled body parts and baby corpses on shelves obviously never claimed. I never re-entered the morgue.

During my patient calls by stretcher, wheelchair, bed, or walking a person, I had opportunity to talk with the patient, listening to his/her history, ailment, gripes and compliments, philosophical viewpoint, or about most anything during the brief period we were together. Some of these shared conversations impacted me, humbling me as to other people’s problems, misfortunes, and fears that at times was quite enlightening to me a mere layman capable at age sixty of walking many miles daily pushing sometimes weighty people on heavy beds distances in a hospital complex. I estimated some of these burdens to be upward from a hundred-or-so pounds to at least fifteen hundred pound waterbeds. One patient I pushed on a large wheelchair from triage to the ER, excess flesh  hanging over the armrests, required extra people aiding to pull his extra bulk up to exit the triage exam room door, the man weighing six-hundred pounds, the wheels screeching the entire transport to the awaiting ER personnel. These experiences always put things in perspective for me to make the best of life when I’m abled, and with opportunity not to squander it away needlessly.

I escorted ER patients eighteen months, my transfer request approved to move to the Emergency Department, where I attained special patient handling status. I became educated quickly on ER functions, seeing first-hand people entering the hospital verses transporting them after admission. I enjoyed ER Triage duty, meeting and transporting total stranger in medical need. I did my job well, and professionally, but after a while and seeing my five-year term at the hospital nearing and on the horizon, wanted to return to the hospital wards to transport patients more actively throughout the facility until I reached my target date to retire, that occurring May 6, 2007, 5 years and 2.5 months of service ... mission accomplished.

HUMBLED BY A RESPONSIBLE MEANINGFUL JOB

Hospitals offer and render objective service to the public. However, medical institutions often experience in-built maladies. Mistakes are made, sometimes disastrously, fundamentally because caregivers working extensive shifts experience patient overload. They are human to wear down and not be perfect. Fatigue fostering impatience is mostly the underlying culprit. These things I witnessed, but understandably, and with sympathy in environments often chaotic, where competent and dedicated people function often heroically, yet frequently ridiculed, and on the threshold of career ruination by an overlook or unavoidable disastrous mistake.

I too experienced ups and downs escorting patients, even though I worked a part-time shift. However, the job is probably the single most influential activity in my life. It taught me much about people and myself, especially to conduct myself orderly with others in dire situation and on a basic person-to-person and human level. Because of my hospital experience I consider caregivers overall the most compassionate people on the planet, they hands-on in comforting and healing the sick and injured, and empathetic for the misfortunate at death’s door, caregiving elevated to my most venerated profession. For this mindset and my further maturity, I’m thankful I had opportunity and worked the patient escort job five enlightened years.

After a thirty-five-year career as a commercial artist in a laid-back company environment, and retired, I was put into a position of responsibility not previously expected. Right off, I was surprised at the constant flux within the hospital as I worked to supplement my income to aid us paying mounting health care costs, the hospital taking up that benefit to us during my time there. During my tenure as a patient escort, I often carried around a mixed bag of emotions, which ultimately inspired me one year after hired to write a medical/crime novel, Undercover Artist. This diversionary pursuit was inspired and a result of close observation and opportunity, me realizing the abundant reference resources available me daily. Hence, during my duties that contrasted from my former art-career environment so entertaining and self-absorbing, I wrote diligently four years, the work therapeutic for me. Many times after an unusual patient call worth recording, I rushed to the equipment room where in seclusion I jotted down on a note pad my experience mostly modified to insert later into the novel manuscript on my home computer. After five years, I retired, having rewritten the manuscript several times, and doing numerous edits thereafter. 

Looking back with better understanding its inner workings, pro and con, I admire and applaud the hospital for its incredible service to ailing humanity, which mirrors my main character’s experience after time spent on his patient transport job in a big-city hospital investigating a local crime syndicate. The novel ‘Undercover Artist’ completed is available as an e-book on Kindle Book Store under Virgil Dube, and also free on Booksie.com/VirgilDube/DOWN-HOME house.

The acclaimed hospital I worked part-time being a tremendous source of reference for me to write this fictional story, was possible traveling across its corridors in a one million square foot complex working regular transport, then added on, eighteen-months escorting ER patients.

Throughout my tenure, I befriended many skilled physicians and caregivers dedicated to aiding the afflicted, ailing, or dying patient. Respecting qualified and earnest caregivers, I became aware through association on patient calls most possessed inherent compassion in caring for their patients.An advocate for science throughout my life, I witnessed medical science function for the betterment of patients with trained personnel skillfully rendering aid in every aspect of wherever I escorted my patients, wards or procedure locations. On the other hand, calls I most liked to rekindle my energy were occasional discharges, usually in wheelchairs when I had opportunity to converse with people, this aspect of my job quite revealing and rewarding educationally. Over the five-year period I worked in the hospital, I’ve estimated - based on shift time, and daily call number - between 6,000 and 7,000 patient calls accomplished without a severe hitch or patient dying on me.

Greeting friend or stranger with a smile, courteous gesture, or render help with a problem, exemplifies what caregivers in the hospital I worked should be in any high-tech medical and scientific environment. When I imagine pioneer doctors in bygone times traveling distances in a horse-drawn buggy or Model-T to treat patients in dire need, whether day or night, calm or storm, I think of conscientious caregivers that I daily contacted while running my transports. These techs, aids, nurses, practitioners, and doctors would appropriately fit alongside the pioneering spirit of two particular old-time country doctors, both medical giants of another bygone era. Doctor Eldridge and Doctor Dowling were tough and dedicated medical practitioners servicing portions of the Florida panhandle. On top of usual medical duties, both delivered thousands of babies in West Florida during their many years of practice - including Doctor Eldridge delivering my brother Joe and me, both of us born in Altha, Florida, a small panhandle town.

IN RETROSPECT

My retirement was not one expected prior to riding with my brother Joe on his motorcycle from our former place of employment in 1996 to home. The challenges I confronted and dwelt with after that day in May, plus the education and character building I would further receive, would heighten my natural humility for other people for which I originally received as example from my dear mother. Very much personal, I’m so thankful having worked in a medical environment that was something meaningful for Sharon and my sacrifices.

Since the escort job I’ve put my efforts into painting passionately my pictures numbering around seventy already prepared for final painting, and to write my short stories and novels for non-commercial posting on a reader’s website available free to anyone on earth. Alternatively, I aid my wife Sharon’s craft-working endeavor, her retirement as dedicated as mine to us a whole, she a skilled seamstress and energetic crafter since the mid 1980’s.

I’ve no regrets my involvement into a second career after my initial retirement, for it had viable purpose and proven productive consequence. Actually, I’m proud of my effort and experiences that has penetrated my life as a retiree, of sorts, so glad I walked away from the chicken processing plant in 1997, though after my escort job I must respect it as a necessity and honorable source of income for its hardworking employees supplying us meat on our tables.

THE END


© Copyright 2018 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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