Monday, January 24, 2011

Jobs -- A personal history.

     All of the talk recently is about jobs -- that is the lack of them, and the political pressures to produce more jobs to turn our economy around. Unfortunately a lot of people have probably recently received the infamous "pink" slip lately. Social Science research has shown that "'Tis Worse to Give Than to Receive." Emplyers have a 100 percent increased risk of heart attack in the week after firing an employee. I am not sure if that applies when 10 or 20% of a workforce is let go. Still it has to hurt the administrators somewhat because it means there is no money coming in and no economic growth, if for no other reson. And yet 20% of Americans would like to fire their boss. Only 20%, sounds very low, doesn't it?
      Now that I am in retirement, I began thinking about my past jobs over the years. I read somewhere that the average American holds 9 different jobs by the time he/she is 32 years old. This of course reflects all those summer jobs as a teenager and college student. I began to review my past jobs. I decided to list my previous jobs just to demonstrate to myself and perhaps future descendents how a life can evolve through work. Read on about my work history and its implications. Hit Read More.  
      My first job was lawn mowing for my mom and dad and for my grandmother at her farm. That is how I earned my very first cash. I recall counting those few dollars and hoarding them away. I did help teach at Summer Bible School but that was unpaid volunteer work.  Many young girls at that time earned money by babysitting. But I only recall one such job. I was hired to keep the three children of the local high school math teacher and basketball coach. I was to show up at 9 in the morning and keep the children all day until about 5 pm when I was due at practice for a high school play. I had to feed the kids lunch and get a dinner ready for them before I left and would be replaced by a grade school girl in a pass off of responsibility. There were two boys probably about 6 and 8 years old and then there was a toddler in diapers. Well shortly after I fed the kids their lunch, the two boys asked if they could go outside and play. It seems too strange but in those days this was common; kids would disappear into the backyards of neighbors  and roamed the neighborhood with other children, playing kickball and softball. Well as I cared for the toddler I realized that I had lost track of the two boys; they were not in their home's yard nor in immediate neighbor's yards. Even then as the responsible party, I felt some discomfort with this. So I packed up the baby into the stroller and took off worriedly looking. It took me quite a while to find them about 2 blocks over playing baseball. I suggested they come home but they balked and I didn't know how to exert any power to get them to come home. So I nervously took the baby home and put him down for a nap and every now and then snuck down the street a little to see if the boys were still down there. When it came time for my mother to pick me up and take me to play practice I noticed the toddler climbing the stairs with poop dripping out of her diaper. Well, I couldn't run away and leave that cleanup to the grade school student so I began working to clean up the mess. My mother even stepped in to help me so that it would get done a little quicker. As a result I arrived about 30 minutes late to play practice. When the drama teacher who was also a very strict social studies teacher found out I was late because I was babysitting for the basketball coach, he had a fit and I knew he was going to make trouble for me and for the coach. I don't think I ever babysat again after that. It was not a job for me.
     Summers later in high school and into my college years as well, I worked as a carhop at a local drive-in. The drive-in opened at 4:30 every day and stayed open until all the cars were gone and none were entering the parking lot, usually somewhere around 11 PM. My only night off was Monday night when the drive in was closed. I remember feeling sorry for myself because I missed the late afternoon and evening and its cooling activities -- a time of day that I convinced myself was my favorite. I think it only became my favorite when I started working at the drive-in. It was kind of an interesting job -- you got to see all the local people, and you got to serve some kids you knew from high school. That could be fun or it could be miserable depending on the kids. The owner's son also worked inside as the soda jerk ( and he was one -- a jerk, I mean). I had kind of a crush on him so I tried to be real cool when dealing with him. Of course, like any food job, your pay was mostly tips, though I did get a small hourly payment.
     My town had the county fair every August, and for a few summers I worked doing some bookkeeping, and writing checks for services for the county fair during its run. Those were short jobs, only about 3 weeks long. But it was fun working with responsible adults as a new experience. Of course, the work was basicly just clerical but I didn't know any better so I felt very important. I was working in the office there in the main building of the fair. Wow! Bigshot!
     One summer during college as I began to think about going to medical school, I decided I should take a job as a nurse's aid at a nursing home. I felt I should do some sort of medical work and get my hands dirty, so to speak to see if I could take that kind of work and to make sure I wouldn't be too squeamish. I found a nurse's aid job in Rockford with just those characteristics. I did fine with the caretaking and the bathing of patients and the cleaning up of their incontinence. What I had the most trouble with was dealing with the behavior of the other nurse's aides. Many of them worked harder at avoiding work than they did at the job. And if another aid sherked her job, that meant I had more work to do by having to process more patients because she would only finish getting two patients ready for bed.  I was too responsible to sherk my responsibilities toward the patients assigned to me. I guess that was a good sign about my character, but I had trouble dealing with these situations. The work was otherwise not hard. One summer I worked the nurse's aid job during the day starting at 7 am, and the car hop job in the evenings. I always came home kind of wound up from the drive-in and couldn't always get right to sleep, so mornings came pretty quickly. I must have become quite sleep deprived because one night near the end of summer, I fell alseep driving the 25 minute drive home, and rolled the used car my father had bought me earlier that summer, totalling it and lacerating my scalp and my arm in the process. But I was enormously lucky in that accident; we just lost the car, but no other major injuries. That would seem to indicate that I shouldn't work two jobs and deprive myself of sleep in the process, but what did I end up doing? Going to medical school and becoming a doctor, a profession which probably produces the most sleep deprivation of all.
     In college, I took on a job working serving food in the dorm cafeteria. I had to wear a uniform, and worked either serving food on the line, or managing the beverages, pouring milk into glasses, and keeping the juices and water pitchers filled. I also typed people's termpapers and other writing for other students who didn't know how to type. I had audited a typing class in high school so I was quite a good typist.
     I also worked in an unpaid capacity to man the college radio station for some hours, spinning some music and just filling in with various raconteur sometimes by myself and sometimes with another college gal. That was kind of fun, but you really didn't get much feedback. I never knew how many listeners we had. In some ways it was like doing this blog; you really didn't know what kind of effect you were having. As far as I knew then I could have been just talking to the air waves, and right now I might be just writing to that great wireless network somewhere between the cosmic plasma and reality without any intelligent beings intercepting my words ever.
     During one summer in college, I got a job at a factory that made batteries of all shapes and forms. My mother had worked at this factory in Freeport, IL when she graduated from high school. She sort of pushed me to apply there for the summer. I could stay in Freeport with my aunt and uncle during the week and them she would come to pick me up and bring me home for the weekend. I usually worked the 2 PM to 10 PM shift so I never saw my aunt and uncle. They were in bed asleep by the time I walked home from the job. It was a very lonely job. That job was working on an assembly line. The factory had set up a summer line using temporary summer help. It was kind of difficult to make friends with the others on the line. First we were all trying to work fast doing one thing to move the line fast, so you couldn't always converse. And if you did converse, the topics were uninteresting. I had little in common with these folks; they spent Monday through Wednesday talking about hanging one on the last weekend, and Thursday and Friday talking about how they were going to party the coming weekend.  It was hot, and messy and boring. I complained to my mother about these concerns and she said, "It's good for you. You are seeing how the other half lives." I didn't exactly know what she meant by 'the other half,' but I probably made some sort of unconscious decision that I was not going to be in that 'other half.'
     After I graduated from college in microbiology form University of Iowa, and was set up to start medical school in the fall at the University of Wisconsin, the UW found me a job for that interim summer, working as the microbiologist in an entemology lab on campus. My work was to try to find out if certain pesticides would be broken down by microorganisms in the soil. Basicly I was crushing up apple maggots and culturing the result out to identify the fungi and bacteria from the guts of these little creatures. Strangely enough, that was a very fun summer. The other lab workers there were great fun. And our lab was one block away from famous Babcock Hall in the Dairy department, with its famous ice cream productions each day. We always took an afternoon break and went and got an ice cream cone. My college roommate had come to Madison with me since she had the summer free before starting teaching in CA in the fall. She found a job selling encyclopedias door to door (a job that is obviously totally obsolete now). But this meant that she worked evenings and I worked 8 to 5 Pm in the entymology lab. We had come to Madison to keep each other company and we never saw each other. I got into the habit of walking over to the UW Student Union and sitting on the Terrace writing letters to college friends. Low and behold, that is where I met the man that would become my husband a year later. So, yes, it was a very fun summer!
     During the summers of the first 3 years of medical school, I got a job in the State Lab of Bacteriology. Mostly I streaked out stool samples looking for Salmonella or Shigella, stool pathogens. Then we had to do recultures and chemical analyses to identify and type the pathogens. It sounds like a rotten job, but it really wasn't a bad job either. It was 2 blocks away from Babcock hall in the other direction. Also the ice cream cone breaks.
     Then came internship and residency at Mount Sinai in Milwaukee. Those years occurred during the years that I had my children. That is another story that there may be a chance to tell on another occasion. After residency and the birth of my second child, I began my internal medicine practice at Milwaukee Medical Clinic where I practice for 34 years, retiring 2 years ago.
     If I count up all these little and very huge jobs, I arrive at 12 different jobs from about age 16 to 30. Of course, in my case I was working through about 10 years of schooling at the same time. That changes the picture a little bit. Once I settled into my medical practice I stayed put for 34 years before retiring.
     It is interesting to look back at such an long productive work life and recall the people that I had contact with as fellow workers, as bosses, and later as patients. Though I enjoyed the science of many of my later summer jobs and the science involved in being a physician, I think that the most rewarding part of any and all of these jobs was the personal interrelationships that they created -- some temporary but many lasting a lifetime. I really would not have lived my life any other way. It was terrific!  

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