Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Saturday, April 4, 2020

We're all Zoombies Now: Hellfire and ZoomNation

Not having to go out sure saves a lot of time. This morning even though I have to work for a few hours, I feel unrushed and able to relax and enjoy. I made berry-chocolate chip muffins. I hung out with Dennis and the girls on the stairs this morning, having a group hug. It was so refreshing to be able to stop and enjoy the moment.

I hope that's what other people are discovering in this break from our insane pace of life in this country. And I also hope people are realizing that when the virus threat is minimized and we are all allowed to start easing back into our normal lives, that we intentionally try to make our new post-pandemic world much less stressful and chaotic.

I started my new job orientation this past week and that was a great distraction from everything else I've been focused on for the past several weeks since we all started staying at home. I'm a bit mentally overloaded with the learning curve but it's actually not bad. I look forward to resuming work next week and starting to get into a routine.

Since all of my work is remote and using Zoom, and my social life has also been on Zoom, and prior to this, my business work was on Zoom, I'm turning into a Zoom-bie. Or a Zoom-bot? Not sure what to call it. We live, work and play on Zoom now.

Before I started my job this week, I was focused on all the bad things about our world, and angry about all that's going wrong. I care a lot about healthcare and I am still beside myself with the way healthcare workers have been treated and neglected in this crisis, but that's a whole other blogpost, or even a whole other blog. I will deal with that later, I am hoping to be able to collaborate with grassroots nursing leaders and start planning and organizing a response to this. I think ZDogg summed it up very well in his recent video, which I'll link here. 

Here is another link to one of the better articles I've read during this debacle.

After reading this short article above, and watching this 8 minute video, let's all take a moment to step back and contemplate why what is happening now is just an outgrowth of a flawed and broken system. This is what I've been bitching about here since the beginning of this blog, but especially since around 2012. Now it's to the point of being done out in the open, shamelessly. They don't even try to cover their tracks, healthcare leaders have been getting away with this bullshit for so long, they think it's business as usual.

And healthcare workers bear some of the blame. They (we) deserve it, the people who won't speak up, who won't have each others' backs in the workplace, who say nothing when they see something wrong, dangerous, or unethical, who run away with their tails between their legs, afraid they will lose their jobs. Their precious jobs, that undercompensate them, exhaust them, make them sick and fat and old before their time, abuse them, allow them to be sheep for their fat cat masters? Now do you see why I've been saying this?






Yes, I am yelling. Anything that is happening, regardless of the CDC changes, regardless of what you've been told is the new policy, that goes against what you know to be right and safe and scientifically sound, go home and write it down. Document everything. Because when this is done, we need to hold these people to account. I hope to see massive resignations and firings of high level healthcare executives and top "leadership".

We need to burn our healthcare system down. TO THE GROUND. People who use fear of socialism and socialized medicine as an excuse for not changing, if you're so opposed to that, then don't cash your relief checks from the government. Because that is called a social safety net.

If you take advantage of free testing or waived copays for any medical attention as a result of COVID 19, you're using government healthcare-because that is called socialized medicine.

OMG! Socialism! The horrors! That people would actually be protected from being kicked out of their homes, utilities being shut off, starving in the streets. If a safety net horrifies you, go hang out in a megachurch and pray with thousands of other idiots somewhere down south. Do us all a favor. We could greatly improve our national gene pool that way.

Okay, I'll stop now because I said this was for a whole other blogpost.

Right now I am so glad to see people out breathing fresh air and moving, walking, as long as they are social distancing. It's exactly what everybody needed. Time to slow down, take a time out from our insane pace of life in this country, our addiction to consumer goods and services, and just be the human beings that we are.

Let's not go back to normal. Ever.

Friday, March 27, 2020

I Can't Even...

I've been gone a while. And it's not because I've had nothing to say. I have a ton of stuff to say and I don't even know where to start.

Here in Larimer County we are only on the first full day of a stay at home order, and honestly, it doesn't affect my lifestyle all that much. I work from home normally, and beyond grocery shopping I don't go out all that much. We do go out to restaurants a few times a month normally. I walk the dogs, and I run. I do socialize with a group of runners once or twice a week under normal circumstances. That's about it.

So now, I just work, walk the dogs, run, and occasionally grocery shop. Not that different. All my races and events so far have been cancelled, which is good. I can run anywhere, any distance, pretty much any time, so it really doesn't matter to me. It's not like I'm training for performance.

I need to bitch and vent a bit here but then I'm going to focus on some positive things and what I'm looking forward to, although without a clear timeline at this point. I'm feeling slightly depressed today, but it seems to be related to the lack of sunshine. Today happens to be overcast and foggy. When it's sunny out, I do much better. Today, I'm not doing so well.

As of the end of last year I stopped contributing monthly posts to a nursing online publication I've been writing for, for about 2 or 3 years. I couldn't come up with any more things to write about. And I just didn't care anymore. I didn't feel like anybody really cares about the stuff I think about. Nobody questions anything. I wasn't deriving any pleasure from writing it, either.

The local nonprofit I was working with, imploded, and the timing was perfect for me because I was suffering from burnout there too. And fortunately my side gig is turning into a basically full-time endeavor for me as of the beginning of next month. And it will be more hours than I want, but in a way, it will be a relief to not be spread so thin in a million different directions. Plus having a steady income and benefits will help.

I managed to lose some weight last year and now I've nearly gained it all back. My outlet of boxing classes is on hold for now, since everything is closed, and for good reason. Crazy shit has been happening in my family and to friends of mine. Just yesterday we lost a friend in our running community, Doug DeMercurio, husband of my friend Connie, father of my friend Marissa. It wasn't from coronavirus, but the social distancing aspect of end of life care and making memorial arrangements creates all kinds of unfortunate difficulties.

My stepbrother is very ill right now. He has myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a blood cancer that is often a precursor to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Since his is very aggressive, they treat it as if it were AML. That means the option of a clinical trial and/or a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). Except he is so sick that right now the only thing that has a chance of slowing it down and possibly getting him through to the point where he could have a transplant, is starting on chemo. And that has been delayed since he needed to wait 8 days for his coronavirus test results to come back as negative, and then there was another delay.

He went to a big name West Coast cancer center and they seemed more interested in getting him to become a research subject in their clinical trial, than in taking care of his needs as a human being. Not surprising to me, of course. But maddening. I finally had a phone call with him in which I laid out all of his options and started discussing the pros and cons of each, since the cancer center didn't seem to be capable of doing that. Including talking about advance directives.

My dad broke his hip last fall. He has recovered well physically from that, but he has Parkinsons and that presents a whole range of other issues. My stepmom is on double duty between my dad and my stepbrother. I've been down there 4 times since November and trying to provide some company for my dad while she goes out to California to see her son, and now traveling is not wise at all.

In a nutshell, F*** the ### in the $$$!

I won't even go very deep into politics here because it raises my blood pressure and makes me angry and I don't need to do that when I'm already stressed. I am not even one bit surprised at the idiocy that has further revealed itself among our politicians and citizens and healthcare executives. I have had to limit myself on social media because I read all the stories about nurses and doctors and I have too many friends who are nurses and doctors and I can't stand it. They are being exploited in ways that should never, ever have happened and it's a function of our for profit system and the worship of productivity and profit above people.

Yesterday I was out walking and ran into a former coworker from ICU. She's been there for many years. We talked over about a 12 foot distance. But she told me what I've been hearing from my other nurse colleagues across the country- one mask a day, you can go into work if you test positive for coronavirus as long as you don't have a fever. WTF?

She is a mom of young kids and I heard the pain and worry in her voice. She said there is so much anger among the workers. And of course the suits are nowhere to be seen. They tell the staff to go in and risk their lives and then they are fired or threatened if they speak up in protest of any of these dangerous policies.

Yesterday it occurred to me that all the emergency preparedness training and disaster training my husband had in his old position could have been put to good use over the last 8 months, except he changed jobs after them pushing him out of management. And he would have been paying attention to this virus threat and would have pushed for preparation, because that's who he is. Not sure the higher ups would have listened, but what a waste of all that training.

When this is all done I would like to think people will see how ridiculous our system of siphoning off all the resources to the wealthiest few in our country is, starving the infrastructure and the public well-being, so that we end up in crisis situations like this, totally unprepared. But I don't have a lot of hope. People are so damn stupid and there are so many of them.

Trying to go outside in my usual running routes right now is a joke. Normally I get plenty of solitude where I run, but lately people are out at all hours in droves. It sucks, because I hate people breathing down my neck or having to listen to their conversations within earshot. Right now it's impossible to escape people, and I do know some places I could go, but I don't have the desire or energy to drive that far.

I was supposed make this positive by the end. I'm not sick, I am okay. My husband is not sick. We have our beautiful, fun, sweet dogs. I can still go outside and run. I have a job. I have friends. I have a Zoom account. I use it to stay in touch with my friends and running buddies. But I am watching myself for slipping into depression, because people vulnerable to that, like me, need to pay attention early, and this whole situation and current circumstances are the perfect host for a raging torrent of quicksand.

I bitched. Now here I am with nothing much to say except I hope we learn something from this as a society. I hope people realize that government is there for a reason and that it needs to function. And that we're all in this together, and it's not about me, me, me like that orange boneheaded dimwit who is making things worse on a daily basis.

So I guess my positive thoughts will be to you, readers of this blog. Stay well. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Stay the fuck home. Six feet apart, or six feet under, your choice.

And when the dust settles, let's make this country, and our healthcare, something that actually serves its people and not a few rich ass, empty-headed, heartless motherfuckers.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Ome Mil Cempohualli: Across the Years 2020 and 1000 mile jacket

I'm back. I just took an unplanned 5 month break from blogging and pretty much all writing in general. No excuses, I ran out of words.

I haven't done much in the way of ultras either, I ran a 100k this summer with Felix, and then all hell broke loose. Pretty much the whole year was a series of hell breaking loose, but somehow we made it through to a new decade.

We'll have plenty of challenges ahead of us, but I really hope 2020 turns out to be a better year than 2019 was.

To sum things up, last year read like a textbook case of multigenerational aging trials and tribulations. In May, my mother-in-law broke her hip. About that same time, my husband was getting forced out of his management job at the hospital. He found a new job right away and in his own quiet polite way, told his old boss to go to hell, surprising her in the process. They wanted him to leave when they were ready to get rid of him, but he made the move first. I was so proud of him. There's nothing quite as satisfying as being able to tell your shortsighted, incompetent, Peter Principled superiors at work to fuck off.

Now he works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at a much less stressful, yet lower-paying, job, where he doesn't have to play babysitter on a salary. It hasn't been easy, not emotionally for him or financially for us, but you do what you have to do. And the thorn in our sides was we were making great progress on paying down our mortgage, until this, but, at least we have a roof over our head. I could say so much more, but things happen and this is the state of our country and for-profit healthcare system, and you know the rest...

We got through that mess by early summer, and then I was planning to do some long runs as I was preparing for Across the Years. This year I was within striking distance of the 1000 lifetime mile jacket at that race, I signed up for the 48 hour knowing that the remaining 103 miles would be pretty easy to finish in that time. I hoped I'd be able to run substantially more miles, but as the year went on, the family aging streak continued.

I did manage to run the LongView marathon inaugural race in Loveland, my first road marathon in who knows how many years. I did it mostly running and in under 5 hours, 4:51 I think was my finishing time. And then a few weeks later I planned to visit my parents in Arizona, since the year had been so chaotic I had not gone down there for my usual visits.

I arrived in Phoenix on November 2 for a 3 day visit, and on the morning of November 3rd, I was out on the canal enjoying a beautiful Arizona fall morning run when my phone buzzed at me. I checked it, and saw a text and voicemail from my stepmom. "Come home, dad fell, he thinks he broke his hip, the paramedics are here..."

I called her, and she said she was headed to the hospital. I ran home, took a quick shower and went to the ER, where my dad had been Xrayed and was was waiting to be admitted.

As things turned out, he had surgery that night, where they did what's called an ORIF (open reduction internal fixation) where they put a carbon fiber rod in his femur, and then he was in a hospital room upstairs. The drugs and anesthesia did not agree with him and the next few days were a haze of pain and hallucinations and delirium.

Thinking I would only be there for 3 days, I packed minimally and didn't bring my work stuff with me, but I wanted to be able to stay there and help my stepmom, especially when he made the transition to rehab after the hospital. My brother, who is also a nurse, was planning a vacation to start that weekend. So I flew home, grabbed my work stuff, and turned around and flew back before my brother left town. I stayed for most of the following week, including with my dad overnight in the rehab facility his first night.

I'm not going to get into it, but suffice it to say that rehab facilities, like any healthcare facility, are understaffed and patient safety is an afterthought to the administration. They have no idea what level of staffing it takes to keep delirious, confused, disoriented recent post-op patients from climbing out of bed and falling on the hard floor. My dad did it twice in the two weeks he was there. It was a learning curve for our family, because we have not had to deal with this in the past for any of our older relatives. And don't even get my dad started on the cafeteria food...he was truly living in hell for two weeks. We brought him as many homecooked or restaurant meals as we could.

My dad is now back at home, improving steadily, and when I was down there for Across the Years, he is doing so much better. It's a slow process and he's having lots of physical therapy, but he is much more independent and moving and transferring much more easily than before.

Two parental broken hips, upended retirement plans, and a job loss later, it was December and time for Across the Years and I had missed out on doing any more long runs. That really doesn't matter because I have the base and the mental capacity to make it through pretty much anything, as long as I stay slow. I managed to break a tooth two days before Christmas, so I had to go to the dentist and get a temporary fix before the race. Meaning I'd have to be mindful of what I chewed on that one side during the race, too.

Across the Years was shaping up to be a super exciting race this year for a number of reasons. Aside from the 1000 mile jacket, one of the runners I've known forever through ultras, Tracy, was getting married just after midnight at the event on January 1.
And there was the new years celebration, and my friends Connie and Marissa DeMercurio from Colorado were both running ATY for the first time. I asked them if they'd join me on the final lap as I finished the 1000th mile. And then the usual joy of being at ATY for me is seeing my Arizona running friends and others I know from so many years at ATY and Badwater and other ultra races I've run in my life. The tribe.

My usual group of friends from Colorado were mostly not there this year. Anne Watts was, she ran the 24 hour on the 29th and it was a hard one for her since she (and all of us) lost Matt last spring. But she was out there and we got a chance to talk and walk together. I am going to Kansas with her this coming spring for Prairie Spirit.

The Pence family-Anne, Eric and Ethan- missed out this year too, they had some other events going on. Sasquatch unfortunately got sick a week before the race, and during the race he texted me to tell me he had gone to the ER with breathing trouble. He was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia! Good thing he didn't try to come down and do the event. Fortunately he's home now.

I took it super easy the first day and night, I rented one of the small tents, I brought a sleeping bag, foam pad, and a pillow yes!, and pampered myself in the tent after just 50K, with a sponge bath, total change of clothing and socks and shoes, I even slept 3 1/2 hours each night of the race.

The second day I did the same. I ran only a total of about 6 1/2 hours through the whole event, the rest was walking, socializing, and hugs. I'm pretty sure that by the time I finished the race, I had received more hugs than the number of miles I ran.

I wanted to be finished with the 1000 early enough so I'd have time to enjoy the New Years midnight celebration and Tracy and Sally's wedding, and then just kick back and take it easy until 9 am on the first when my race was over. It worked out perfectly, I got done with 1000 miles right around 9 pm.

Connie and I finishing my 1000th mile
I enjoyed the festivities at midnight, had a glass of champagne and did the usual midnight lap. Then Jubilee, the race director, officiated the wedding ceremony. There were no dry eyes from what I could tell.

I wore my SpongeBob pajama pants while watching the few crazies participate in the underwear beer mile- it was COLD outside! Tracy and Sally tied empty cans to their waists and ran with the cans dragging behind them. There was wedding cake in the heated tent, and I have to say this was the most fun ATY ever.

I kept doing laps for a while but got tired and crawled in my tent after I had a few more miles on. I woke up late in the morning, but there was still time to spare for me to get another 5 miles or so. I ended up with 117.34 miles. It always seems like it takes forever to pack up afterward, but I did it, and drove back across town to Scottsdale, slept for a day and half, and then was able to visit and hang out with my dad, stepmom, brother, and sister in law.

And now I'm home, with Dennis and the Wranglas, feeling leg-weary but happy. There are some work-related changes on the horizon this year for me, and I'm continuing to work on improving at Spanish, and have started to pick up some- very limited- Nahuatl, because I have big plans for an adventure in central Mexico in the coming year or two, something I've been wanting to do for a long time but need to do before I get too old. More about that later.

And I've been enjoying the increased population of bald eagles who nest near the lake I run around daily, on most of my runs in the neighborhood.

Sushi in the aid station- THE BEST!

Mike Melton- our AWESOME timer
As I was running one of the hundreds of laps in ATY, I had a conversation with Martina Hausmann, the German runner who is almost up to her 5000 mile jacket. She said I would have to go for the 2000 mile jacket after this. And she's right. I would like to be able to do that, in less time than it took me to do the first 1000. If I live long enough. But what I really want as my next goal, is a Geezer hat, like the guys in the timing tent wear at ATY, including my recently-minted Geezer friend, Mike Melton. He told me I'd have to be 60 to get it. That's just a little over 4 years away.

Ma cualli yancuic xihuitl. (Have a happy new year)

Mike shows us how to have a good time!

My 1000 mile jacket and 100 mile belt buckle

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nancy's 2019 Summer BlogHop Challenge

Every summer my blogging friend Nancy Stordahl poses a challenge to the cancer blogging community. This year she has offered 14 random questions for us to answer, and she will post links to everyone's blog who participates. I've done this for a couple of years now, I think.

It's always good to have someone give you a writing challenge, even if it's easy, just because it gets me off my ass to start writing again after being very quiet this summer. So here it goes, the 2019 Blogging Challenge courtesy of Nancy's Point.
This Year's 14 Random Questions

1. Who are you? If applicable, share anything you want about your cancer (type, stage, when diagnosed, whatever.) Share something about yourself such as where you live, the name of your blog and it's "mission", a challenge you have faced or are facing now, or whatever you want. I am Alene Nitzky... I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and my blog is called Journey to Badwater The “mission” of my blog is to voice my opinion and perspective as a middle-aged woman who is an athlete, healthcare professional, business owner, author and writer, because in many of those spaces out in the world, we middle aged and older women are not heard from enough.

I think there is value in voicing your experiences and opinions because it helps other people to see that they are not alone and validates their feelings about their experiences. And we have a lot of wisdom that is often lost in the process of ignoring us in favor of the shiny objects. I write about all kinds of things, from running ultradistances to my experiences in healthcare to my take on politics and current events, and I definitely have an opinion!

On the topic of cancer, I have never had cancer, to my knowledge. I’ve been an oncology nurse for about ten years, after working in ICU for four years. I worked in a hospital infusion clinic giving chemotherapy and supportive medications, but I felt I could do more for people by getting out into the community and working with them where they really live, that is, not in a clinical setting.

I developed two programs, FIERCE and Cancer Harbors, both of which are primarily for people with breast cancer, during treatment and in the months to years following completion of primary treatment or with ongoing treatment for advanced cancer. I also wrote a book in 2018, Navigating the C, about my programs and about all the stakeholders in the healthcare system as it relates to cancer care, and how we can all do a better job of caring for people with cancer.

2. Have you ever participated in a blog hop before? Yes! and Nancy’s challenge several times.

3. What’s your favorite sort of blog post to write and/or read – personal story, informational, how to, controversial, political, opinion, rant or other? My favorite blogs to write are political/general social observation/rants, and my favorite topics are running, healthcare, and politics. I like to read about how other people see and perceive the world and ordinary/extraordinary events.

4. Describe yourself in three words. Yes, just three! Intense, creative, energetic

5. Name three of your favorite books from your youth (whatever age that means to you.) that had an impact on you. Nancy Drew books- made me want to be independent and adventurous and question things. Harriet the Spy- similar reasons, and like me, she wasn’t a girly girl. I also liked Green Eggs and Ham, don’t know why, maybe the rhyming, but I still have a copy.

6. What are you reading right now, or what’s on your to-read list for when you have time? I am currently not reading anything other than daily blogs and political briefings because it is summer, when I spend more time outside playing. But top on my list this fall are Becoming, by Michelle Obama; and Madeline Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning

7. What’s your favorite dessert of all time? Our wedding cake. It was this chocolate cake that had the perfect texture, flavor, moisture, and we still talk about it after nearly 30 years.

8. Tell us about a special pet you have, had, or would like to have. (Never wanted a pet, that’s okay too.) I have had 5 dogs in my adult life: all female Australian Shepherds: Joanie, Iris, Isabelle, Velcro and Gypsy. Each one has/had their own unique personality and quirks, but they have all been very smart, funny, and sweet. Right now we have Velcro and Gypsy. Velcro is our first redhead- she’s a red tri, and all the others have been black tris.

Velcro and Iris have been the smiley-est: they smile at us all the time. Iris was the best hugger- she always gave hugs. Gypsy is Miss Sassypants- she won’t back down and she’ll let you know when she has something to say. Joanie was a Ninja- she was an incredible athlete and could walk through a pile of papers strewn across the floor without disturbing a single one. And Isabelle was the shyest and quietest of all our dogs, except when there was another dog behind a fence- she was a world champion fence fighter.

9. What’s something people don’t know about you and might be surprised to learn? I’m keeping THAT a secret. and... If I told you, I'd have to kill you. and... "You can't handle the truth!"

10. Do you believe healthcare is a privilege or a right? Neither. I don’t think it should be a privilege, but it’s not a right either. It’s a necessity. I do think it’s something we should strive to provide for all people. I only take issue with the word “right”- because it assumes that it’s a universal entitlement (I REALLY bristle when people start talking about gun “rights” or property “rights”) and some things are not always possible to provide for everyone, for a variety of reasons.

Some people make choices to live in extremely remote areas, where it’s not practical to provide access to care, for example. Some people may do other things that make it extremely difficult to provide adequate care to them- sabotaging their care, for example, abusing healthcare workers, or doing unreasonably risky things- though these instances are usually a result of a mental health condition and people need that kind of care at least as much as physical care.

But I think anyone who wants healthcare should be able to get it and have it reasonably accessible without being discriminated against or being given lower quality care than anyone else. And that includes both physical and mental health care, which are equally important. As a nurse, I have to say you really can’t have one without the other.

11. What’s your favorite thing about blogging and/or reading blogs? Learning about the people behind the blogs. They are, more often than not, interesting people with enlightening points of view with whom I’d love to have a beer.

12. What’s something you really suck at? Working in the corporate world (whether it’s academia, healthcare, or business). I think the corporate world purposely attracts and promotes mediocrity and people with poor social skills at best, sociopathy at worst. I can’t keep my mouth shut and my filter leaks like a sieve. When I see things being run poorly I point it out. That does not make people up high very happy. But I’ve always felt better after I left the job.

13. What’s something you’re pretty good at? Running. I love to run, I’ve been running for 35 years and I’ve been doing ultramarathons for almost as long. Roads, trails, tracks, deserts, mountains, I love being outdoors and covering distances on my feet. There’s so much to see on foot. And it’s great for my mental health.

14. How do you escape from cancer (or life in general) worries? Running, being outdoors, talking with my husband Dennis, hanging out with my dogs, and taking summers pretty much off. I recognize that I have the "healthy privilege" of being able to escape from cancer while the people I work with do not have that privilege. Being a support person, caregiver, healthcare provider, or any of those roles can wear on you over time and it is necessary to take time for self-care so you can come back and be thoroughly engaged in your work again. I'm a big believer in self-care for healthcare professionals and the patient suffers most when the providers/caregivers/supporters do not take care of themselves.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Second Annual DIY 100K

So, this happened last Friday.

As usual, trying to find ways to occupy my time and prepare for upcoming events always takes a bit of creative genius. Felix and I decided to do this again, even after last year's not so great event. I think we were in Spanish conversation group when we decided to repeat it.

Last year was okay, but we did 50 miles and it was hot and I remember feeling like I couldn't get my head in the right place all day to really enjoy it.

This year was completely different. Our friends Mel, Brooke, and Rachel came out to do a few miles, and Crisann generously offered her front porch for an aid station area, and between Felix and Crisann's house- they are be neighbors-  we had bathrooms and refrigerators available as needed.

My intention was to stay out for the entire 100km, as long as it took me. I wanted to make myself run at least 6 hours of it, as I am building up my running time again after several years of doing way too much walking. Other than that, I just wanted to take it easy and have fun. It looked like it would be hot again, so I had plenty of ice and cold drinks in my coolers.

Crisann brought bagels for everyone who wanted them, and we set up my table on her porch with potato chips and other crap food, and we were set. Her house is centrally located on the course, and Felix's is right around the corner.

I was the lone hard core early starter. I got to Crisann's at about 3:50 am, set up my stuff, and was ready to start at precisely 4 am. I strung a section of toilet paper labeled "DIY 100K Start" in Sharpie across the entrance to her porch in the dark, and took off. It was still dark but soon the sun began to rise over I-25 and the Budweiser plant, and at some point Mel drove up and was ready to start by maybe 5 am, and we ran about 3 miles together before taking off on our own loops.

There are maybe 4 to 6 different loops that anyone can run on this course to keep it a little more interesting. A few have hills, but they are pretty tame, except after you do them ten or fifteen times you start to recognize them as hills. I keep track of my distance using paper, pen, and calculator, and GPS is my backup system.

The morning got progressively hotter and by 9 am I wanted ice on  my neck. That lasted until about 1 pm when it clouded up enough to seem less intense, and even cooled down a little. Instead of 93 degrees as forecast, them temperature hit maybe 88 or 89 and then cooled off into the low to mid 80s with cloud cover. That saved my butt.

I felt good all day. I distributed the running well over the entire time I was out there, and didn't walk super hard when I was walking.I didn't even use music until late in the afternoon- for the last 3 or 4 hours. Most of the day I ran alone, with occasional loops with Mel or Felix.

Mel originally wanted to do her first ultra, so she set her goal as 26.3 miles, but she felt so good that she ended up doing a full 50K. Her first ultra at the DIY.

After that, she went over to the pool and hung out with Felix, Brooke, and Rachel. Brooke did about 16 miles but she was running a half marathon the next day, and Rachel did her longest run ever, I think that's what I heard from Felix. At the pool they were drinking mimosas and who knows what else...

While they were out there I stopped by Felix's for an ice cream sandwich. The afternoon was pleasant and I had few issues- a tiny bit of chafing and I changed my socks once- but other than that, it was all easy.

Felix hung out at the pool until at least 3:00 and then he was way behind- but he wanted to do 100K and got back out there. I kept teasing him about his harem. As it turned out, he did finish around 12:48 am on Saturday- about 4 hours after I did- and I was long gone and asleep at home by that time.

The sunset was a bonus with the cloud cover. I finished my 6 hours of running by 6 pm and finished the entire distance at 8:41 pm. Crisann helped me put my stuff back into my car and I went home.

Not super exciting, but it served its purpose and I felt good running. I was able to still run the uphill sections even toward the end. I haven't felt that good running in a long time. It gives me hope that I might actually become a runner again. Just really looking forward to Across the Years this time.

Not much else to say-it was a good run, 62.2 miles in 16 hours and 41 minutes, nothing to get too excited about, but a decent training run on my feet and ready to take it up a notch as I go into the fall. Kind of a backward approach to marathon training. At least now I know I can run long enough to run a whole marathon.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Never Trust a Teflon Suit and Other Truths about Corporate Healthcare

Hi, my name is Alene and I’m in recovery from the U.S. corporate healthcare system, after another relapse.

The latest relapse was around my husband being forced out of his job where he's been working for twelve years. He did find another job, in a different line of work but still in healthcare, on his own terms, and our lives will be much improved for it, despite nearly a fifty percent cut in pay. But this see-through scheme is becoming all too common for people nearing retirement age.

With barely seven years to go until retirement, and 30 years of experience in the same line of work, and 18 with this particular company, he got the typical corporate healthcare tactics foisted upon him. This shit is so transparent it's a joke, I can't even believe they think these tricks will work anymore.

Side note: For those of you who aren't in healthcare, one new vocabulary word for you: HCAHPS. It means Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) and it is THE HOLY GRAIL, the Pope's ring, the GOD of corporate healthcare executives. It is their raison d'etre. It is their data orgasm. It isn't everything, it's the ONLY thing. Also known as "patient satisfaction" scores. It's as if the currency used in the industry has been changed from dollars to HCAHPS. (All about the Benjamins, baby.)

You know, the one where they drop little hints about outsourcing if the HCAHPS (patient satisfaction) scores don't come up. Then the personal snide remarks, "You've changed". Then the one where they suddenly blindside you and kick you below the belt with all the things you're doing wrong, "Do you even know how to do your job?"

And they pretend like they are going to "help" you, via the "performance improvement plan". Which is a way to start gathering data to be used against you at the time it's convenient for them to fire you. But instead of following through, they leave you hanging- no specific timelines, measurable improvement points, or what exactly it is that you're doing wrong. When you try to pin them down, they squirm out of it with vague mumbles "four to six months".

Four to six months of what? Until they fire you? Or until they outsource the entire department? Or until they can find someone to take your place who isn't at the top of the pay scale?

They say they are going to "help" you, but when those meetings are supposed to occur, suddenly they become unimportant, forgotten, or pushed aside.

If you've been working in the same job and place for 12 years and no one has ever had a problem with your interviewing style and your hiring methods and your patient satisfaction scores and then all of a sudden they are- there is an ulterior motive. Especially when your past evaluations haven't reflected any of these things.

And then the barely 40-something snot-nosed, suck-up, little suited asshole who "worked" his way up the teflon corporate ladder-like an endoscope works its way up your colon- he can't even look at you in the eye, as he makes the decision to axe you.

And does it using the convenient excuse, the tool, of HCAPHS scores not high enough, that means smaller bonuses for the snot-nose and since he only makes more money in a year than you've made over the entire decade-plus duration of your time there, that would be really fucking traumatic for him. One less vacation home at a ski resort. The horror.

Infection control? Patient safety? People skills? Attention to detail in these things? No, not good enough for the snot-nose. You gotta have that arbitrary HCAHPS ranking. Why? Because HCAHPS data is GOD, so says the god of corporate healthcare.

Are the snot-noses really that important that they can throw away other people, on a whim, deciding someone has no value- basically saying they contribute no value to the organization and discard them like a piece of trash?

The feelings people experience when subjected to this sort of behavior- the dehumanization, the lack of kindness, appreciation, gratitude, empathy, or fairness, show that the corporation is a machine- as lightweight, yet profit-heavy, as possible.

Why can't executives be honest and straightforward, without eroding trust and someone’s self esteem. How about, “We appreciate that you’ve worked hard for us and sacrificed time with your family for ___ years. We have made some decisions that are going to result in us eliminating your position. Can we help you find another job?”

It's not THAT hard.

Secret Initiation Rites of Corporate Healthcare Executives (not including the handshake)

I am convinced that in the secret initiation rites of corporate healthcare executives, there is a test, and here's a sample question from that test:

Q. Just say, for example, it takes a certain amount of time for a chemical to do its job to thoroughly achieve its disinfection capacity, and the organization has chosen that chemical for the purpose of disinfection because there is evidence for its effectiveness, and is within the budget. The evidence came from research studies allowing the chemical to sit on a surface for a given amount of time. But that amount of time is longer than you are willing to allow staff to take to thoroughly clean a hospital room between patients, and since you, the snot-nosed executive, insist that they go faster and give them fewer staff to work with, then you have to choose between several options: (make sure you pick the right one!)

A. pay for more staff,
B. find a different, faster acting chemical if there is one within your budget,
C. shut the fuck up and let them do their job,
D. face the consequences of a higher infection rate, or
E. pressure the managers of all departments to make their nursing and support staff work harder and faster with fewer people and resources, expect the entire organization to turnover hospital beds faster than the amount of time it takes to thoroughly disinfect, and if anything goes wrong, blame junior management.

The correct answer is________. (fill in the blank)

There are some ugly truths in the corporate world and not only are they getting worse, they are being encouraged by a culture that ignores individual contributions in favor of monetary and tangible wealth-building units of currency. There’s a laser focus on whatever measure translates to more dollars and profit for the organization’s top tier. It is enforced by people hired as pitbulls, masters of deception, and compliant, robotic drones. No one is safe.

The worst thing about it, is that ultimately, it’s the healthcare “consumer”, the patient, who suffers, as well as all members of their community.

The people in a community who provide the labor for a healthcare organization, regardless of the level of skill or status in the healthcare system, are human beings first. They have lives, families, emotions, needs, and are connected to a community. As human beings, they also have basic rights, that seem to be getting encroached upon incrementally, as our democracy has declined into oligarchy and our wealth distribution has become more extremely unequal.

This has been a really hard post to write because my emotions have been so tangled up and so many feelings around past experiences of my own have been triggered by this.

I’ve worked in academia where there was a boys’ club. I’ve worked in the business world where there was sexual harassment. And I’ve worked in healthcare where there’s an insidious current favoring those who don’t question, simply comply, and sacrifice their entire lives until they are physically and/or mentally broken, then discarded.

I think they’re all reprehensible, but healthcare is completely out of control and it’s the industry that directly impacts whether people live or die.

None of this is a new discovery, these are things we’ve known and understood, and quite consciously, for a long time. We’ve been living in the United States our whole lives. It’s just that over time, things in the working world seem to have gotten a lot more ruthless and anti-human. There’s a complete lack of acknowledgement and appreciation of the value of individual human beings and what they bring to the workplace.

Two Things On My Mind

One is people’s basic needs, and another is human rights. I’m going to talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not because these are perfect models or documents, but because most people are at least vaguely familiar with them, or have at least heard of them.

When I talk about human rights I am quite aware that no one is being coerced to work in these increasingly abusive situations, but there are very few alternatives if you want to work in nursing or the healthcare discipline in which you were educated and trained, and the mass exodus of nurses and ongoing nursing shortages are a direct consequence of this abusive behavior on the part of administrators. People do have a choice to leave, at great personal financial peril, but they can leave freely if they want to. But think about what people need in the U.S. to maintain a certain standard of living.

If you think about a visual model of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs- there are three levels, all of which start from the bottom and build into a pyramid. Basic needs include the physiological safety and shelter needs, Psychological needs include belongingness & love and esteem, and at the top are self-fulfillment needs, also called self-actualization.

Look at the universal declaration of human rights and you will see throughout the document that there are multiple instances of violations here in the United States with regard to everyday life and especially in these healthcare workplaces. Look carefully at Articles 24, 25, 26, 29, 30. Then think about how corporations treat their employees. I think in the U.S. workplace we are coming dangerously close to practices, that in a setting without choice to freely leave, even in the face of financial ruin, would be called human rights violations.

Some of the language in the human rights declaration includes phrases such as:

  • act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood,
  • no person shall be subject to...degrading treatment,
  • freedom of political or other opinion,
  • all are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
  • Everyone has the right to economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

It seems that in this country, we’re toeing the line on human rights violations in many ways. Making a profit is not a basic human right, and really, if it means you have taken away from someone else’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs, that's not good. Not cool. No bueno.

I propose ending the declaration of human rights with something to the effect of: The right to profit should not supercede anyone’s basic needs, abuse their psychological well-being, or violate their human rights as stated above.

And we need to have a new code of ethics around business operations in this country. Because most corporations are ethically challenged to the point of being out of control.

Think about this, for example: in a healthcare organization, employees pay the same for their benefits whether they earn $12 an hour or $500 an hour, as CEOs do. That is not right, either. Since we don’t have universal healthcare and employers provide private insurance for many working people, they should also consider that there is a gap in affordability and apply a proportional deduction from paychecks. Then healthcare would be a real benefit, helping the lower paid employees avoid a poor tax on their health insurance.

A Few Solutions

So let’s look specifically at a few of the places we could make improvements. This is just a tiny list- my wish list is massive. Corporations and big business should:

1. Be good citizens-take responsibility for the communities they impact. Pay full taxes, nonprofit status is not allowed to be exploited. No more disguising profits as expenditures.  Stop outsourcing, cutting jobs without taking care of people they displace or push out, no matter how much they have given to the organization. Be mindful that these people have families who have also been impacted by the employees' sacrifices and will be impacted by the displaced workers' status.

2. Eliminate golden parachutes and "special" status for executives. If you leave for another job, you get your last paycheck from the old job, and then collect your first paycheck from the next job. No more padding in between. All benefits should be equally distributed and should not disproportionately cost lower paid workers more. No VIP treatment if the CEO or family members get sick. They get treated the same as any other patient. No picking their nurses, no special accommodations, no altered staffing ratios for that purpose.

3. Be transparent about the organization's plans and practices. No secret meetings or huddles, have representation of all levels of workers in decision making and on boards. No surprises for the masses.

4. Be banned from using money to influence the political arena- no more lobbying to protect self-interest and industry interest.  Stop union busting tactics, stop using deterrents to organized labor.

Some takeaways:

1. Old ideas of retirement and planning for it are no longer applicable. You need to assume you won’t live up to your full earning potential in the last 10-15 years before retirement, and most likely will be making less money at that time.

2. Don’t put up with abuse from your superiors at work. Fuck them. They have plenty of excuses and they’ll use every last one. Be brave, get out. If you live a "middle class" lifestyle, you can figure out a way to get by on less.

3. Their game is to pull in as much money as possible, cut costs and minimize risk to the organization, no matter what, even if it’s detrimental to patient and worker safety.

4. Healthcare is neither. In this profit-obsessed industry we have lost our humanity, and our ability to care. And that’s not healthy.

5. Your job is a job. It is a tool to bring you financial assistance in addition to contributing to society and furthering your own self- actualization/esteem. It is not something that should hurt your health or where you should sacrifice beyond a reasonable workday. And you should be compensated fairly for it. You should do the work of one person, staying reasonably busy for 8 or so hours a day. Not 12 hours. Not 7 days a week. Not for a period of time that does not allow you to do the basic things to take care of yourself and your health- eating, sleeping, seeing your family and caring for your own and their needs, rest time including mental rest. You should not feel threatened that you will lose the roof over your head or not be able to feed yourself. You shouldn’t be coerced into working more hours or taking on two or three people’s jobs.

6. I am unapologetic to those who somehow think the corrupt and distorted market can fix itself without regulation. Or to those who think that if you’re poor it’s your own fault and all the other lame excuses about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  I look at the rest of the world and the countries where they care for their people and don’t let them slip through the cracks, have socioeconomic safety nets, and provide universal healthcare. They have a better standard of living overall because they don’t have the wealth disparity that we do and people are cared for from birth until death and there isn’t the degree of extreme poverty as we have here.

7. No corporation should have the power to impact communities and individuals’ lives in this way. We need to get money out of politics. And we need a rebirth, reinforcement, and then actual enforcement, of antitrust laws.

8. We need to stop our addiction to wealth, fame, money, and power. We need to reform what’s become a national culture of shallow, lazy, self-absorbed, materially-obsessed, apathetic people. If something doesn't affect you directly, that's not a pass. You need to see yourself as a citizen of the community, your country, and the planet. What affects one person affects us all. When one person suffers injustice it impacts everyone. That bubble you want to keep living in, pretending like it's someone else's problem, is really the walls of your rectum. Get your head out of your ass. And once you pull it out, get off it and do something for the good of humankind.

9. Then, and only then, will our lives will be so much better and so much less stressful. And this country and world will be worth living in.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Nurses' Week: Moving Forward and Podcast with Lisbeth Overton

Ultrarunners understand RFMs- relentless forward motion. We often use our determination and mental strength to carry us forward through discomfort and difficult situations in our personal lives and work lives in addition to our athletic pursuits.

I had a conversation with my friend Lisbeth Overton yesterday in a podcast for Nurses' Week (listen here). We talked about the difference between moving forward one foot in front of the other in a way that breaks you down, versus moving forward intentionally with progress. I want to say more about that because right now, between healthcare and the crazy shit happening in our country, it can be easy to go to a place of despair.

I've found myself over the past month deteriorating into that place of despair and realized I need to get out and move more. I have been so bad about allowing myself to not go outdoors to run in the bad weather this winter. I need the fresh air and the brain break it gives me. Being a bit of a political news junkie and overthinker has not been working in my favor lately.

Lisbeth and I talked about how so many nurses are struggling and frustrated with the opportunities and working conditions their profession affords. They want to use their knowledge, talents, and skills to truly make a difference in patients’ lives, but often there is no place for that in the task-oriented, rushed and understaffed workplaces of healthcare facilities and hospitals.

Many nurses wish they could break out of the grind, find a better job that allows them to practice patient care they way they’d like to. They can feel stuck, which leads to despair, low morale, burnout, and health problems, none of which are good for taking care of sick people.

There are two ways you can move forward: one is to grind through, trudging with dread because you feel like you have no choice. The other way to move forward is by taking small steps, still moving forward, not any faster, but with intention and action, no matter how small those actions are, but doing something to move yourself toward better days.

The lesson, I think, that ultrarunners have learned, that sedentary people need, is that active leisure is such an important and undervalued part of our lives. It seems that so many people have forgotten how to play. Too busy chasing material objects, or buried in our electronic gadgets and devices, we end up sitting down as time flies past us.

The time focused on a screen takes away from the time we’re aware of our environment, using all our senses, learning, and appreciating what is in our world at arm’s length. Unaware of our surroundings, we could be moving and breathing, paying attention, burning calories, reducing our fatigue, circulating our blood, and boosting our mood and energy.

People who have not pushed themselves toward physical goals, who are not athletes, often miss out on the rich lessons that athletes learn, of pushing beyond prior achievements, and refusing to accept outwardly-imposed limits. We're always looking to go further, in distance, time, space, or experience.

Working with cancer patients, acutely ill people, and those with chronic disease, I've observed what being an athlete can do for a person in terms of mental and physical strength. Athletes who do get sick are at a big advantage, not just in terms of likelihood of recovery and regaining function and quality of life after an illness, but in coping with the physical and mental demands of an illness, even when there is a discouraging prognosis.

I used to say to my co-workers in the hospital, that it was easier to run a fifty miler than work a twelve hour shift. None of them believed me, but for me it was true. If you're going to be on your feet for 12 hours, you might as well be outside without crazy demands on you every second. Plus you can eat, drink, and pee whenever you want!

When it comes down to it, nursing is about public health, helping people (the public) get healthier, function more effectively, and live better lives. All of the major issues facing our country right now are connected to public health. Here is an incomplete list:

1. Income inequality- the greed, sociopathy and lack of empathy that leads us to a place where a few people have the overwhelming majority of wealth so that large numbers of people are unable to meet their own basic needs or access adequate services that allow them a decent opportunity at a decent standard of living and level of health. People who have to work two or more jobs to pay their bills are unable to take care of their own health.

2. The lack of mental health services, proper care and treatment of addiction, unaffordability of health insurance and prescription drugs, and near-monopolies that destroy competition and drive up prices, make decent healthcare out of reach even for those with health insurance.

3. Our stressful lifestyle- too many people are working too hard for too little compensation for things that are too expensive and often unnecessary. Poor community planning leads to overreliance on vehicles and commutes that are detrimental to our environment, people's health, and financial well-being. We don't have enough mental health services available and people don't demand them because of stigma associated with mental illness.

4. Obesity and metabolic disease are an epidemic, for many of the reasons cited above- community planning, mental health, low incomes, working several jobs, lack of education, feeling powerless, cycles of abuse...

5. The opioid crisis, a result of greed, poverty, lack of mental health services, lack of education, unemployment, family and social cycles of stress and despair.

6. The gun violence epidemic- children and teachers shouldn't be traumatized by the idea of being shot at school, and parents shouldn't be traumatized by dropping their kids off at school to get an education. We had another shooting this week in Colorado in Highlands Ranch. Our U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, big NRA money recipient, has blood on his hands. AGAIN. And again, nothing is being done legislatively to stop this.

I think if we could solve one of these problems I think income inequality and the factors that lead to it are the key. I think nurses need to make it our business to push for social change. And I don't think we've done nearly enough on that front, at least not in a publically vocal and visible way. Nurses care for other people regardless of who they are, their background, what they look like, or other characteristics. No matter how much the current sociopathic executive in chief wants to erode this.

Nurses could teach the public a lot about how to truly care for others and to see the humanity in everyone. I think it is something we've lost in our country- the idea of caring for others and considering others' needs before asserting one's privilege and "rights". If we cared for and about each other, we would be caring for ourselves, too.