I’m sitting at work today, miserable. My desk faces the wall and the faces staring back at me are eight blinking screens towering over my head. For twelve hours at a time they cast a ghoulish green hue into my corner, battling with the fluorescent lights to see which can needle through my eyes and spark a white hot fire behind them, blinding my brain, forcing me into a catatonic, ‘function enough to get through the day’ kind of state.
I don’t get to talk to many people. When I do, I am usually on the blame-end of the hot fire poker. It seems that my job — this desk with the towering screens and effervescent bubbling, blinding light — was created as a boiling pot to pour all the blame and anger into.
My desk is the blame vat and I answer the phone.
I used to have a job I loved.
A word I cannot stress enough; loved.
A job where I was excited to go to work. Excited to see the people I worked with.
They weren’t just co-worker drones that leered past me in the halls, peering through the slivered windows of the doors in an manner that made you wonder if they knew your darkest secrets or had some juicy gossip on you.
The people I worked with weren’t my co-workers, they were my friends. They were my family. I had to build myself up with them, learn to trust them and have them learn that they could trust me. We were a small group and we knew everyone’s secrets but we took care of each other anyway. They were my family. I consider some my brothers, others are like sisters to me, some, the weird uncle or the creepy in-law that people politely put up with but try to swiftly avoid. But we were a family.
We could, and did, say anything — to anyone. We could fight like families do and still come together at the end of the day and depend on each other, but more importantly, laugh together.
My favorite part of this hodge-podge family was that we used constructive criticism. We could tell each other what we had done wrong, we could hash things over, we were willing to argue and fight to prove our points, just to get our points proven wrong, forcing us to eat our own words.
But we learned. We taught each other and we learned from each other.
Admittedly, this vast amount of learning came mostly through mistakes. We learned from our own mistakes and we learned from others mistakes. We played pranks, said things that were too true, and still, at the end of the day we could sit down as a group – as a family – and the stress of the day would melt away with jokes and laughter. On bad days we would come together and the stress would melt with talking and tears.
The times weren’t always fun. In fact, when I really think, — really remember– my feelings at the time were mostly those of despair, of failure, of hopelessness and a profound feeling of being lost and not knowing where I was going.
I didn’t feel competent in my job skills and that really bothered me. It made me feel inadequate.
But with such a strong support structure, I learned. I grew. I became adequate to myself. I was pushed to my limits, learning things I didn’t know I should have to learn. Doing things wrong the first, second, third time to get them right the fourth, fifth, sixth time.
I loved the attention from my “co-worker” family. I began to crave it, to want to learn more, to see more, to know more, which led to me to begin to ask more.
The best advice to this day I have ever been given was by a friend, and I guess also a co-worker and definitely a fellow family member, we’ll call him the bald eagle. He said,
“Always question everything.”
When I first started working at my current job, I felt shunned. I came into the job with experience, which, in the blame vat, is something that you are not supposed to be equipped with, I guess. The people that were already working here learned their skills after they were hired, it was part of taking on the job.
I felt like I was walking in with a leg up, I had less training to do, less initial learning to complete. Still, I went through the same exact training as everyone else, but I felt like I was treated differently – and not in a good way.
When I asked questions, I felt like I was put down because I knew too much. If I asked a question that the ‘askee’ did not know the answer to, I was told
“it doesn’t matter, we don’t need to know that stuff here.”
I loathed that answer. “We don’t need to know that.”
Why? Why would we limit ourselves to knowledge?
At first, I brushed off this limit that was placed on my allowance for knowledge. I went with the flow, that’s what you have to do when you first start working for a large company. If you fight the current you get beaten down, eaten by a big hungry bear as you struggle backwards upstream.
But this limit has begun to eat at my soul, to tarnish the cheery disposition that I work so hard to bring along with myself every single day. It has turned me sour to the job.
Now a little bit about the blame vat:
I work in an area that I cannot leave or people might die. It sounds like I’m being dramatic, but I’m really not. I never get to meet these people, the patients that I take care of. I only see their names and their heart rhythms. I don’t get to administer care if something goes wrong, and the worst feeling I have ever felt as a health care provider is watching someone’s heart just stop beating and not be able to do anything about it.
So why do I call this place the blame vat?
A wise woman and mentor of mine once told me,
“Shit rolls downhill.”
The blame vat is the bottom of the barrel. It’s where frustrated nurses call when their patients aren’t doing well, it’s where blame is placed when messages don’t get passed along through proper channels.
We are supposed to have all the answers but have absolutely no authority, which spirals into a cyclical question hell. A nurse calls and wants to know what she should do for a patient with a certain heart problem. I may know, I may not know, but even if I did, I can’t tell her. Why? Not because I’m an asshole. Trust me, I’m not. I can’t tell her because even though I have had the experience of treating patients for seven years, now I only get to look at a screen. And you can’t diagnose or treat a patient just based on their name and their heart rhythm.
So this vat of blame that I stew in for 12 hours at a shot has really brought down my mood. Instead of coming into work with a smile on my face, I have noticed that I look at the ground, avoid eye contact. I walk as fast as I can to get where I’m going, and once I arrive at the blame vat, I stay put. (Mostly because I can’t leave) but also because interactions with the other jilted people is just as unpleasant.
Working for a large company means you have a lot of co-workers. But to me it means that I make no friends. There are a lot of people around, but you never really work with the same group of people. You don’t get to build up trust in those around you, and they don’t learn that they can trust you.
I am tired of the blame vat.
I hate – and I don’t use that word lightly – coming to work with the mindset “I really don’t like my job.”
I don’t like thinking of my job as a torture chamber. I want more positivity in my life, and the only place I don’t feel positive is at my job.
I have decided to change that, because I really do like my job. I have the opportunity to improve or save up to 70 patient’s lives every time I go to work. The health care professional in me should be giddy with joy for that statistic. So I have started forcing myself to smile more. To make eye contact with people again. To make meaningless conversation because I guess that is what you do when you work at a big company with co-workers. (I’m getting really cynical, but this job just really gets at me, crawls under my skin and lays it’s itchy eggs of negativity.)
My main point is that I’m trying. Trying to be more positive.
Sometimes trying is all the better you can do.
So I smile, I say hello and make eye contact, I compliment people who I otherwise wouldn’t talk to because, as sad as it sounds, the only way I can get people to talk at all around here is to compliment them. It feels good to give people compliments, to see them smile. It makes me feel good that I made them feel good, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’ve made a difference.
And that, I believe, is the real heart of the problem. I’m still stuck, boiling in the blame vat and I feel like I haven’t made a difference.
My quest for knowledge and my push for others to know more has been crushed. My attempts at teaching, at constructive criticism, at learning from others, have failed, they are not accepted methods of practice here. How can I make a difference? How can I help others when I can’t learn and grow?
I miss my old work family.