Nostalgia, Shame, and Unforseen Expenses Create the Perfect Storm

It started with the realization that i could neither afford to buy groceries at the mom and pop grocery i worked at nor the chain grocery i used to work at. If i missed the produce warehouse on wednesdays between 10 and 5:30 i didnt eat for the week because my budget was 15 to 20 dollars depending on how well people had tipped during the last week and how many days i was scheduled in the smoothie bar. I was told that i was too slow a smoothie barista so i got off the thc containing cbd after i was moved from the smoothie bar to front end for a whole week, rendering me absolutely tipless and leaving me 1 dollar to spend at the produce warehouse on wednesday because that was the tip i made one morning before my manager shifted me to front end once again. 1 dollar bought a vegetable. I couldn’t live on this for the week. I needed those tips so i got off the cbd and went back to just grinning and bearing the excruciating pain. It wasn’t fun but i have a history of self punishing and when i was told i wasn’t fast enough, living with my arthritis pain and quitting cbd cold turkey was a good way to kill 2 birds with one stone. I would self punish for being too mellow to handle the customer orders with the sense of urgency that was desired by my manager and i would become faster. I quit the cbd and never returned to it. I got faster and more efficient immediately but my manager never reinstated me full time to the smoothie shop station. I was allowed to work in the smoothie shop 2 out of five days each week and my manager watched me like a hawk to make sure i didnt need to be pulled to the front due to slowness in making the orders. After i got off the cbd my tips rose by 30 percent and i did my level best to crank those orders out as fast as i could, but i didnt want the quality of smoothie to suffer in order to do so. Many baristas didnt blend the fruit all the way or just tossed ingredients in without glancing at the recipe to make sure they were correct or without measuring ingredients in order to save time. It resulted in a less than fully blended smoothie and sometimes it wasn’t even all that sweet…sometimes it just tasted like unripe banana. I poured the tiny bit of extra into my taste test cup every time i made a smoothie and sampled it to make sure what i was putting out was good. If it wasn’t i tweaked it immediately, reblended, and poured it into a cup. I wasn’t going to send out a chocolove that wasn’t chocolatey. I wasn’t going to send out a spring fling that wasn’t sweet. I wasn’t going to send out a creamsicle that tasted like celery. I also noted that the recipes left a huge excess of fruit material in the blender, so i took great efforts to tweak my size of handful when i grabbed fruit with my gloved hand in order to make exactly 16 or exactly 24 ounces instead of nearly a whole second smoothie because i didnt want to dump their supplies and profit down the sink all the time. I didn’t receive as much gratitude as i expected for my efforts. Instead i was told my coworkers were much better and faster than me and i would get there with time but i was no longer scheduled for smoothie shop often and spent most of my week at front end where i couldn’t make any tips to eat off of. Meanwhile my comrade who i had been told was better than me (i luv her to death and find she is also just someone caught in the middle of this) struggled to remember the recipes, put spinach in the drinks people requested it left out of, and made a drink with peanut butter even though the door dash allergen comment stated they couldn’t have peanut butter and requested almond butter instead. I caught it and told her to wash the blender and get all the material that had touched the peanut butter out because they could be anaphylactic allergic. She made the smoothie again with almond butter. I helped train my replacements in smoothie shop and when they asked for guidance i gave them all the tools and knowledge i had because its not their fault they are replacing me. I might as well help them be good smoothie shop employees. The more i watched my coworkers do smoothie shop the more i realized my manager had no right to complain for what she was now getting in me. I was faster, getting more tips, i paid precise attention to allergens, calculated the price of all the add ons correctly, washed and sanitized everything daily and thoroughly, including the walls, was accurate with the recipes written down, and made food for the case and washed and chopped fruits and vegetables during my time between customers. The only one pulling in more tips than me per shift was my manager. I had earned the right to be reinstated full time in the juice and smoothie shop but it would never be given to me. Ultimately, unable to please my manager and tired of being never good enough for a wage that left me 200 dollars short of breaking even with my monthly bills at best, i called the store owner and put in my notice. The store owner talked me out of quitting and there was a promise that we would communicate with each other differently and things would be better. They were, but i was never reinstated to smoothie shop full time and nobody would ever acknowledge that i was good at it, which i have concluded, after watching my comrades and having them make me shift drinks, that i was. Instead the front end manager would order a drink that already came with ginger, request extra ginger, and then call the smoothie shop manager over to tell her that he was sure i blended the ginger instead of juicing it because all he tasted was ginger. That’s what happens when you order extra ginger without specifying you only want a smidgeon extra…it tastes like ginger…because i juiced more ginger. I let him know ive done many things wrong and blending ginger is not one of them. Ginger is fibrous and tough. It goes in the juicer. Never have i ever blended the ginger. He proceeded to tell the manager of the smoothie shop how i told him i was doing a smoothie wrong and he was sure this one was it. I told him the one i had done wrong was one that involved juicing kale. I had blended it because the recipe on the wall stated we were to blend it. I followed the recipe but the recipe was wrong. It also stated that there should be two handfuls of frozen fruit. What it was supposed to say was 3 and a half. So now i know…just memorize it, dont follow the recipe because the recipe is wrong. I told the front end manager next time he wants a shift drink im just going to hand him the blender because im not making any more drinks for him. I meant what i said. At the lowest end of minimum wage im not worried about losing this job that’s already not paying my bills. Im smart enough to know there’s not a way to win this. There is no scenario in which i make him a drink he likes. He purposely ordered it with extra ginger and then complained it tasted like ginger. I could make him a chocolate smoothie and it would either be too chocolatey or not chocolatey enough. Its just not something worth while to endeavor to do well. He gets too much of a kick out of critiquing me. He gets all goofy and smiley and just really enjoys telling the smoothie shop manager what thing i’ve done wrong now. He was the one that told me the smoothie shop manager told everyone besides me that i was too slow. After all the smiling drink critiques i do wonder whether he told me that because i deserved to know or to watch the drama unfold. It doesnt matter. What matters is that i couldnt pay my bills with this job to begin with and then it just kept getting worse. She hired a part time employee full time when we didnt have enough shifts to support another full time employee. So, we all kind of had to take turns doing 4 day weeks instead of 5 day weeks. I noticed it was my turn often. Then the front end manager had a heated verbal battle with me stating that i should answer the phones while running the smoothie shop. A restaurant doesnt have the cook answer the phones and take reservations, discuss store hours, menu options, and write down customer orders. Front end does that and relays orders to the kitchen. It was explained to me months ago that when i was front end it was my duty to answer the phones because smoothie shop couldnt be running blenders and talking on the phone at the same time. If an order came in for smoothie shop i was to write it down and give it to the smoothie barista for the day. I called the smoothie shop manager so she could hear the argument that was ensuing between us in which i asked him what he wanted from me and told him i was not answering the phone while making orders because that was a front end duty. She came back to the building and set him straight that answering the phones was a front end duty. He seemed way too excited every time i was given front end duty and took the phone with me, like i was being forced to do phone duty and he won. This puzzled me because of course i had the phone…i was front end for the day. Front end watches the phones.

The narrative i was fed on why my comrade had to be in the smoothie shop and i had to be up front was because they had been there slightly longer and they were better and faster at smoothie shop than i was. Well, theres only ever one of us at a station so there’d normally be no way for me to check that narrative. However, i had started a project to be able to give the owners an excel sheet with their inventory and all expiration dates on their product so they could pull up a date range and know all the product that would expire on that day or within that month. This would allow them to put the product that was about to go out of date on sale a month early and pull the product from the shelf at the appropriate time. It would also help them to know what they needed to order more of and what they had that would stay in date for a while. This particular day i was staying late to work on the project and i saw that my coworker was actually not as fast as i was in the smoothie shop and frequently asked me for help. I was finally able to see with my own eyeballs that my performance was not way behind all my coworkers as i was made to believe. I was booted from my duties in smoothie shop yes, but not because these people were better at the position than me, because when they were in it i still spent a fair amount of time managing crises, helping them remember recipes, and reminding them to pay attention to allergy or modification requests. I was also the only one trained on how to make several of the food and drink items in the case, though i did not know how to make the wraps and one other employee besides the manager did. So when i was front end, i would often find time to hop back in the kitchen and make vitamin water, parfaits, salads, and butterfly tea because the employee in the kitchen that day wasnt trained on how to make them and we were out of those things in the case. Originally i was told if i did extra work that was necessary for the good of the business then i would be paid for my time. Then i was told rather curtly that i was going to need to be off the clock when i was scheduled to be off the clock. Every pay day i was reminded curtly to be off the clock earlier and it seemed implied that they needed me to be paid less. So i started working on the inventory/expiration project off the clock. I was told to clock back in and i laughed to myself, oh no, im not falling for that again. Come pay day it will be some whole big thing and im going to get accused of inventing more work for myself so the company has to pay me enough to break even with my bills (crime of the century apparently). So, aware that the mom and pop shop was tight on cash and couldnt pay anyone for this needed project, i decided to donate my time and spent an average of 2 hours off the clock every other shift working on this project for them. While i was doing it i pulled all the expired product from 2020 to 2022 off the shelf.

I saw that the recipes differed from the ingredients listed on the menu. I decided to hand write a sign and post it outside the smoothie shop asking customers to alert us to any food allergies ahead of ordering so that we could best serve their needs. I cleaned the industrial kitchen as much and as often as i could. That was what i was known for. I never finished early like the others but the bathroom was clean, the walls were bleached, the floor was mopped, the surfaces wiped, and nothing was sticky. One day the owner called and said both his managers had had 3 months to complete the food handler manager’s training and neither of them had finished it. He said if the health inspector walked in we would have to admit not one employee currently held a manager’s license in the shop. This would be a huge problem. He asked if he paid for it would i do it, for the sake of having someone licensed as a manager. I understood that this was just a technicality and i was not actually being put in charge of anything. I agreed. 7 hours of training and 73 minutes of testing later i had my manager’s food handling certification by the following morning’s shift. I finished it at 2 am, harvested a bunch of basil, slept a little, and then came and opened the store where i printed and then displayed my certificate in case of a visit from the health inspector. When the front end manager finally finished his he asked if he could move mine from where it was displayed to put his there. I thought this was a bit unnecessary. I understood that mine was symbolic and he was actually managing something but i had done the training fair and square and answered 75 questions in 75 minutes when no one else could find the time so that we would be health inspector ready and i didnt see a need to move my certificate now that other people had finished theirs. I was standing feet away when he said it and the decision was made that we would leave mine where it was for the time being and he could tape his underneath it on the second row. I suggested we buy a metal spoon at the goodwill next door instead of struggling to death to get the peanut butter out of the jars with plastic spoons. I got permission from my manager, bought the spoon, and was reimbursed. I made signs advertising that we are now open on sundays from 11 to 6 and decorated and displayed them on the outside and at the register of the store. I offered to take pictures of the food and drinks and describe and promote product on the facebook page. I was told no, that the owner would be the only one doing that for now. I offered to do this because i used to do this for my mother’s business in my teens and early twenties as i used to be a photography major and am also a published author. Im pretty good at describing food when i want to be and they might as well benefit from all the marketing courses the chain grocery made me take. I offered to learn to make the wraps for the food case and i was told i was not going to learn that because she wanted to make sure that the quality stayed at the level our customers expected. I was told if i really wanted to be helpful i could bag pickle spears and pretzels. So i became captain of the pretzels for a bit until there were 46 little baggies of gluten free pretzels and 38 bagged pickle spears. I felt under-appreciated and like my potential was being wasted. I was one course shy of a gis certificate. I was offering them a gis project for their business for free and this project contracted to a gis analyst would have cost them thousands of dollars. One of my managers said no and the other one said hold off on it for now. I offered it to the owners and they wanted it. So i began. But, people still couldnt promise me they would even use it when it was finished.

One day i walked back to the smoothie shop to relay an order and my coworker was in tears. I had told my manager that because of my arthritis and dislocated toes it was excruciatingly painful for me to climb ladders. The ladder had to be used to fetch down all the back-stock product in the store. My coworker had told our manager that smoothie shop was hard for her because she had fibromyalgia and using the blender tamper really hurt her arms and hands. So my manager assigned me to the ladder and my coworker to the blender. I thought this was extra cruel and so did she so we quietly switched stations and then switched back come closing time so we could document as if we’d been where we were supposed to be all day. It didnt matter what i thought of what was going on or whether i thought it would get better. When i started getting 4 day weeks and asked if i would take a 2 or 3 hour shift once a week i realized i would need to leave this job. I wasnt sure what i was supposed to accomplish here, why God had wanted me at this store. I wasnt sure if i was supposed to influence somebody or somebody was supposed to influence me. I didnt know if the little store would survive. All i knew was that if i stayed there i wouldnt. I began putting feelers out and testing the waters of the industry i left. Were they still ready to “sacrifice our lives for the good of humanity” or had they gotten over that “some of you will die and we’re okay with that” crap? What testing measures would i have to submit myself to and did anyone even have an industry need for extra help at this season of the year?

It was about here that my favorite checker and stocker at the produce warehouse got together and decided to cover my weekly groceries one time. They said they knew i was struggling financially and they decided amongst themselves that i was not paying that week and they would buy my groceries. It was a beautiful God fueled gesture and i could tell it was important to them. I tried to pay it forward and then just to contribute 4 dollars but they wouldn’t let me. I knew it was done from a place of grace and God had placed the mission to help me on their hearts but all i felt in that moment was mind-numbing soul-crushing shame. I didnt know how to handle the situation without being ungrateful and so i thanked them and told them God bless them and made them take a dollar at least. The moment stuck with me for weeks and it was very unsettling. Somebody had bought my groceries. I had become that person in the grocery line that couldnt handle their ****, that needed others to step in and make sure they had something to eat. How did it get here? How did i let it go this long? What was happening? Who was i if not the person that hustled and brought home the bacon to handle my ****? For the past two years i had been a student who had gone back to school and was at the mercy of teachers who discriminated against me in my online classes because i could not come in in person periodically because i did not live in the same city as the school. I had relied on hand outs from family. I had needed other people to buy things that my dogs needed because i couldnt. I had hesitated to treat the oak wilt because i knew i couldnt easily make that $4000 again. My grandmother had graciously bought all my dental work. I had become a person who couldnt financially support myself and along the way i had let myself open the door to a man old enough to be my grandfather because he said he wanted to date me and if we got along well he’d never let my mortgage lapse. When it became apparent he was looking for something more immediately physical than i was willing to have and he had fibbed a bit when he said he was patient and could wait for an emotional relationship to be established before wanting something physical, i let him know this was not an exchange i could sign up for. He had offered me a car, a horse, and to help pay my mortgage monthly, said i’d never have to worry about being late on the mortgage again. I had told him i had a car and didnt need a horse, though i really enjoyed visiting the spirited mustang he got to work with at his ranch job and wouldnt mind visiting it regularly. I did note that while the horse was comfortable with my hand, it flinched and constantly moved out of reach when he went to pat the horse. If you listen a horse will tell you what you need to know, what humans cant sense. I wasn’t a person who wanted to be bought but if we established a relationship and he wanted to become part of my operation and consider me his other half and for that reason help me pay half the mortgage, i was down for that. I guess i was naive and didnt understand that being bought was what was on the table. It didnt occur to me that someone would want to buy my love because i wasn’t wired to be able to do that transaction. It was so far out of my capability that it didnt compute why someone would be willing to buy me a horse when they just met me. Well, after one 4 hour coffee date and a single brush of hands, several evening-hour text conversations let me know this arrangement was not going to work out and i communicated that clearly. He said he understood and that we could remain friends. He then proceeded to need to know what i was doing and how i was several times a day every day and then transitioned from there into needing communication with me via text every few hours while i was at work and assuming i was angry with him if i didn’t answer while i was working. He used my phone number to look up my facebook page and describe my photos to me. He googled me (which most people do but don’t tell their partner about after…thats kind of out of the ordinary to admit to). He kept telling me to “be good” as if i was a child being told to stay out of trouble. He also had this need for me to be tucked in safe by a certain hour as if i needed protection from the world and he constantly wanted to know that i was being safe and being good. I quickly understood this man had decided he wanted me without knowing anything about who i was. I was firstly a Leo and pretty **** sure i was not a fragile damsel that needed protecting. I could look after myself. Secondly i had always looked after myself and was a proudly independent woman and wasnt going to take kindly to being kept and fawned over or spoken to like a child. He would come to the store and tell me i was learning something knew every day and that it seemed like i was doing better and better and that i would get there with time. I felt like he was a school teacher trying to encourage a small child to reach for that gold star classroom behavior sticker that would allow them to visit the toy chest and pick out a prize at the end of the week. I realized that i put myself in this situation where i ultimately had to block this man’s number and ask coworkers to check him out when he came to the store because he always wanted to talk about “us” or tell me that i needed to call him in the evenings because “i’m not that bad” and “i gave you a big tip.” I put myself in this situation because i couldn’t pay my mortgage independently anymore and so when a man came along and said “i’ll help you with that” i entertained the idea of a partner even though i knew full well i’d be sitting in jail for homicide or buried on my land somewhere depending on who won in the end. I am a leo, a super independent woman, a survivor of 24 years of abuse, and a ******* warrior and there’s never going to be a day when i check in with a partner on the hour every hour or provide sex in exchange for a horse, a car, or a mortgage payment. I can’t be bought. Any attempt to do so will end in bloodshed of some kind, so when i understood thats what was happening i ended it before he even had a chance to know who i was. So the level of obsession is inappropriate because he doesnt know me well enough to miss me the way he’s doing. He misses an idea of what he could have had…not me.

My charge port on my iphone broke and i had to get a new iphone. This was a 600 dollar purchase and it would have been worse had i not negotiated and argued for hours about what model they could sell me so i could reuse my otterbox case and not shell out for a brand new one of a different size. I had to pay for the tank of gas to get to san antonio. Having not eaten all day after my work shift and the trip to san antonio i found myself at the loves truck stop eating french fries from mcdonalds and staring at the beautiful view of the hill country from the auto area of the parking lot, thinking back nostalgically to my days as a contract certified occupational therapy assistant traveling the hill country from sun up to sun down, just me my car and energy drinks, visiting all the patients in different towns to provide the treatments needed to facilitate new neuropathways for their brains to communicate with nerves and muscles they hadnt had access to, forcing them to balance and cross midline while standing and shifting weight and acknowledge parts of their body and sections of the room they were unaware existed following their stroke, prompting them to find me when i moved into their blind spot, having them bear weight on limbs that were not online in order to prompt the brain to acknowledge and try to connect with something that was providing feedback that could not at this time be received and computed but was sending signals indeed. I remembered teaching a one armed patient to change and clean her colostomy bag, something staff thought she’d never do, so that she could discharge and live independently. I remembered teaching a patient paralyzed from her shoulders to her waist to hook her hands in her elastic waist band while her pants were at her knees and then stand up tall and shrug her shoulders to her ears to lift the waist band over her hips, using a hook on the bathroom wall to finish pulling the pants up all the way. I remember providing ROM to her fingers daily to keep them pliable for when she did regain movement and when she did regain movement teaching her to write with a pen again. She made a full recovery and i ran into her a year later in the grocery store. I still have the letter she wrote when she first regained the ability to write words again. I laminated it and it hangs on my wall. She wrote in big capital letters, “thank you” and wrote each of her therapist’s names. She made three of them that day. I took one home and laminated it, as a reminder of why occupational therapy is worth it when the industry forces you to work off the clock and lie about it, decide between doing whats best for the patient and getting fired or doing whats best for medicare and staying employed, and place people on arm bikes eight at a time when you want to do self care and neuromuscular re-education one on one because that’s what is really needed…. That paper used to remind me what occupational therapy was really for, not why i got paid. People could pay you for a number of reasons but you had to know within yourself what occupational therapy was for. If i committed fraud in my career, the fraud was saying that i put people on arm bikes four at a time while i sneaked around behind corporations backs and helped them regain control of their flacid limbs, regain independence in their self care tasks, and form new neuropathways by which their brains could communicate with long offline limbs and challenge their brains to acknowledge parts of the room their working eyeball told them didnt exist. So shoot me. I facilitated recovery and billed for busywork. Every industry will require you to lie about something. Its easier to sleep at night if you lie to them about doing the busywork nonsense they asked for than if you lie to yourself about being a meaningful and productive influence in your patients lives and in the facilitation of their recovery.

I needed to go back to work. The industry was beginning to realize the vaccine did not prevent or lessen covid. They now did not care if i was vaccinated, something that had previously rendered me unable to work in the industry i was trained in. I reached out to an old boss to see what the industry was like, what testing measures were necessary, and whether there was even a need for as needed (prn) employees during this season headed into winter. I was going to move to austin for a semester in january to finish my gis certification by completing the practicum. I was looking for sporadic prn cota work to hold me over financially until then so i could supplement my grocery job. My old boss got back to me and stated that he and his comrade (also someone i used to enjoy working under) in the sister building could use me sporadically prn for the winter season. They couldnt promise steady hours, the need would fluctuate, but we could get me back into the industry. I just needed to fill out a w4. I filled out a w4 and a week later my former boss called me and said he had some hours for me on a wednesday if i wanted them. I ended up working 3 to 4 hours on wednesday, thursday, and friday.

Just like that, i rejoined an industry i hadn’t been a part of for two years. I had locked all my scrubs in the shed the day i quit and never looked at them or gave them another thought. I realized quitting an industry i had called my own, shedding an identity i had known for 7 years and leaving my degree behind had been painful and to avoid processing that loss i had locked it in the shed and never given it a second thought. All the tools of my trade; my gait belt, my pulse oximeter, my blood pressure cuff, and my scrubs were right where i left them. Billing rules, medicare vocabulary, the sentences i used to write reimbursable documentation on patients progress towards goals, pnf patterns, stroke recovery techniques, body mechanics, transfer techniques, safety awareness education, navigation of the documentation software….it all came flooding back to me as if i’d never left. After two years of not working in the medical field i asked my old boss what time the cnas got the patients up for breakfast, woke up at midnight, left for fredericksburg at 4 am, and spent several pre-dawn hours waking patients up and assisting them with toileting, dressing, tooth brushing, hair brushing, and transfer techniques before the cnas could get to them to get them up for the morning. I stepped right back into that old role, walking into a strangers room, turning on a light, introducing myself and telling them it was time to get up and i was there to help them. I let them choose what they wanted to wear, as it was important to make sure choice was still part of elders’ lives when they went into a care situation. I was there if they needed me but i prompted them to thread their own limbs through the clothes and look for alternative ways of getting tasks done themselves rather than waiting for me to do it for them, with the explanation that the more they could do for themselves the less their day would be greatly influenced by how short staffed the facility was on any given day. If they needed help with every task they would be waiting for a long time when there was only one cna for 40 people but if they could find alternative ways to get a task done, when they could get up and get ready was now completely up to them, not the availability of staff. I handed them reachers when they were unable to reach to the floor for pants. When balance was a factor i taught them to roll side to side to pull their pants up their hips rather than stand to pull them up. I instructed on thoroughness when wiping during toileting to prevent skin irritation and infection. I made sure to include toothpaste and deodorant in our routine, something staff dont always do because while dressing is a necessity, deodorant and toothpaste are parts of our routine outside the nursing homes but often get overlooked for patients inside the nursing homes. Its important for dental care and dignity as often times patients get a shower every other day and would like to smell nice for the two days they must go before the next one. I never in a million years thought i’d get an opportunity to put scrubs on and care for patients again. Not only was i banned from doing so without a vaccination. My long hauler covid symptoms had prevented me from doing what i used to be responsible for for some time. I wondered if my battered body would hold. I am a more cautious therapist now. My ego does not get the best of me. I do not do max assist or total assist transfers at a grab bar or bedside. I will only do these transfers inside the parallel bars because i know i have damage to my right arm as a result of covid and i know when those muscles are tired they release, causing me to let go involuntarily of whatever im holding. This means if i cannot swing pivot transfer them with one arm (min assist or mod assist) and i know the patient is one of those transfers that will linger and require a minute to pivot their leg, i will not do it without the assistance of a cna. If it becomes apparent mid-transfer that it will be a prolonged affair i just sit them back down in the chair because i will not put my arm in a situation where it has a chance to fail me. I dont give it a chance to get tired. I know what i am and i know what im working with. I can still be useful to these patients. I just have to be smart about it. Three days in a row i put scrubs on and drove to fredericksburg in the predawn hours to get people up and work on self care. This morning i realized a number of them had never recovered standing balance or their ability to be upright without retropulsing following their bout with covid. A silent challenge was accepted and something was ignited in me. Today we were doing standing. Today we would challenge the limits of their brains. Today we would facilitate new neuropathways and require all their focus and multitasking abilities on-board. Today we would do recovery. Today we would progress. Today we would seize life by the throat and say “not yet! I am not done here yet universe! Hold my apple juice and watch this.” So i went in and did self care and then i let the cnas transfer the max assist patients to their wheelchairs. I saved my strength for the real work to come. I dragged these patients into the parallel bars one by one during the predawn hours in an empty gym and i locked their w/c brakes and put a gait belt around them real tight. I told them we were going to stand. I instructed them to place their feet flat on the ground with a wide base of support, place their arms on the arm rests, and lean way forwards to stand up. Then i pulled with all my might, squatting nearly to the ground and using my body weight with my center of gravity near to theirs to get them into an upright standing position. As they rose, so did i, staying close to their center of gravity. I felt the shift as they took over the work once their feet were under them and they began holding themselves up. I challenged them to examine and fix their posture, straighten their knees, tuck their butt in, look forwards, stand up tall. We celebrated their previously unknown height as they now stood tall in between the bars. I sprinkled praise as much as possible, celebrated every step, every accomplishment, every task. The goal was to make them understand they were in control of their own progress and if they put the work in results would come. Once they were up and balanced between the bars i challenged them to let go with one hand at a time and interact with me using pnf patterns to either high and low five me or place opposite hands on my shoulder and then reach towards my shoe depending on how much they needed me to hold them up during all of this. Some patients needed little enough assistance balancing that i was able to let go of them with one hand to engage in these high and low fives we were doing in pnf patterns while standing in the parallel bars. I had them weight shift, rock and pretend hula hoop. I had them work on reaching back and using their core muscles to do a controlled and gradual sit. Their performance was beautiful and their progress from two days ago was amazing. I had patients who on day one could not for the life of them follow my verbal commands to correct retropulsion, leaning all the way forwards and completely self correcting retropulsion upon verbal command. We did double high fives to celebrate their progress and all my little ladies went to breakfast so proud of themselves and their capability to take their own level of function into their own hands and regain some independence. I watched them sit at the breakfast table bright eyed and awake. I was addicted once again. I missed this. God how i missed this. It was just a few days a week, three or four hours a day, but i suddenly had access to patients. I had my career back. I had a reason to put on scrubs and go help people again. And i was being paid a livable wage to do it. In three half days i had made half the money i made in two weeks at the grocery. My wage was four times my minimum wage hourly rate. And i got to do what i was meant to do, what i studied to do. I got to give people back their independence and i got to watch their faces light up when they realized they still had it in them.

Its good to be back in scrubs

This all led to a moment where i was standing in line at the loves truck stop, bustling with truckers and contract healthcare workers. i heard a staff member announce on the overcom, “customer 14, your shower is ready, i repeat your shower is ready. Come on down.” I said alloud with a smile poised on the corner of my mouth, “i ******* love this place.” This was my home. The road and the loves truck stop. This was my environment. This was my life’s purpose. I wasnt willing to die for it and thats why i had left. We took an oath not to do harm, not to die for our jobs. The industry had failed us, no question. I don’t regret leaving and if i had a do-over i’d do the same thing again. However, i ******* missed this. I ******* missed this. And just like that, i was back.

In late september when im sure all the cbd is out of my system i have an appointment to rejoin another group i used to work for in kerrville as prn help. They will be under new management but are the same people and they know me well. They know i will do good work for them as needed. I will take care of the patients well and care about advancing their goals. I can be trusted to self govern and keep track of time management. So for now i will dip my toes in with one company three days a week but there are future plans to go prn with multiple companies. I never again want a full time day job in the healthcare industry. I want to be able to walk away if there are more mandates. “As needed” allows me to do that because i have not signed a contract and don’t belong to anybody, but right now i want to rehabilitate people. I don’t want to be captain of pretzels and pickles. I want to regrow neuropathways, challenge balance and visual fields, and use my body to lift others until they can get their own balance and stand on their own two. I want to see patients again. It was as if i’d never been gone, as if two years hadn’t passed, as if i was flicking on the same light and pulling the same gloves, brief, and wipeys i always used to pull. It was the best feeling i have had in a long long time. I knew who i was again. “Hi, i’m Lauren. I’m going to be your occupational therapy assistant for today.”

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