Occupational Hazards

No matter what your job, there are some frequent questions or comments from the general public that get, shall we say, a tad tiresome.
I thought it would be interesting to make up a brief questionnaire and select a few nominees.  If you would also like to join in, please do!  Just post your answers below, or put a link on your blog to this post.

Q.: What term or phrase from your job/occupation do people mangle?

A.:  Entomology often gets changed to “Ant-o-mology”, as though we only study ants.  Not even Edward O. Wilson is an “antomologist”; he is (among other things) a myrmecologist.

Q.: What broadly erroneous assumption do people make about your preferences and your career choice?

A.:  That I love all insects.  Really, I don’t. (Although I will be quick to point out that only 1 % of the insects are pests.)  I do find grasshoppers to be kind of gross, especially after scrubbing their encrusted remains off my automobile windshield, and spending hours driving a riding mower and having them bounce off my face.  Blech.

Q.: What trivia challenge do people pose when they hear about what you do for a living?

A.:  “Wow, I bet you know all the bugs!”  No.  There are over one million species, mostly beetles, and I’m more familiar with butterflies.

Q.: What basic fact about your job/occupation do people rarely understand?

A.:  That insects are animals.  “Yes, they are.  They’re not plants, not fungi, not single-cell organisms.  They have organ systems and behaviors, and are not photosynthetic.”

Q.: Did you always want to be a/n  ___?

A.:  “Huh?  Sorry, distracted watching this bug.  Look here at what it’s doing–“

Q.: You musta been a weird kid, huh?

A.:  Yeah, but now I get paid to teach the other weird kids.

Q.: How did some totally unrelated previous job prepare you for your current occupation?

A.:  I went from doing behavioral observations of insects to behavioral observations of students with severe emotional and behavioral problems.  There are more similarities than you’d imagine.

Q.: So what do you do for a living?

A.: Do you mean my daytime, evening, or weekend job?

I would love to hear the answers from Dave Hingsburger, Bug Girl, Dean Dad, Wheelchair Dancer, and YOU.

Goldfish resting by an open fire

What a day!  There’s nothing so “fun” as grocering the day before a holiday, especially when the meteorology report is dire.  Guess what I found while stocking the doggy chews?
Yes indeedy, The Bad Goldfish were back, undeterred by the possibility of ending up as frozen fish from the weather.  Planning for their Christmas, they had picked up a couple bags of fresh chestnuts, but once again, got distracted and left their produce behind.
“Ooh, look!  Oyster-shell treats!”

Bags of chestnuts, abandoned in front of a packet of oyster-shell dog chews.

Merry Christmas to folks, and don’t forget to remind the kids, “Now remember, put your things away, lest The Bad Goldfish come and steal them!”

Grandma's Counting Book

(not suitable for an embroidery sampler)
1  Pair of shoes that fell apart, plus
2  belts that did as well.
3  Pairs of sad slacks with stains.
4  Part-time jobs I’ve worked this year, for
5  people whom I’m supporting.
6  Pairs of raggedy undies and
7  pairs of holey socks I tossed in the trash.
8  Hundred is a great credit score,
9  hundred is a mortgage payment,
10 days since I’ve applied for a mortgage in just my name, and
11 months I’ve paid the mortgage on my own.
12 Kitchen cabinets & drawers that are falling apart, plus
13 year old stained carpeting and gouged vinyl need replacing.
14 Days after applying, the letter will follow the phone call that said Grandma doesn’t make enough money to get her mortgage.

The Goldfish are back!

So today when I was stocking groceries, I found some more evidence of malfeasance.  This time it was not a compromised package with the seal broken or contents used, but rather, groceries abandoned in odd places.  (Thankfully, not perishables, like lunch meat stuck behind cookies, or yogurt tubs amongst the baking tins, ugh.)
This time, it was a russet potato and a couple of yellow potatoes left on the bottom shelf underneath the peg racks of razors.

“Must be them Bad Goldfish again,” I mumbled to myself.   Apparently they thought you could peel taters with a disposable razor!  Stupid goldfish.
So why were the potatoes left there?
Because goldfish have short memories, of course.

Saved by bureaucracy

( A follow-up on my shaky employment status, as described in a previous post, The Catch.)
So now I’ve twice seen the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat doc, not tree-folk), to figure out if the vertigo, worsening tinnitus and hearing difficulties are related to Ménière’s, or “just” migraines.  At those visits I also spent time in the audiologist’s booth:  “Huh?  Sorry, I can’t see what you’re saying.”  “Oh,” he replied jovially, “this isn’t a vision test, it’s a hearing test.”  Ha, ha.  Very funny.
(Have I mentioned that lately one of the cable channels is messed up, and maddenly, we’ve not had any closed-captions on episodes of CSI ?  Listening to TV is hard enough with fussy babies who want bouncing, much less auditory processing glitches and tinnitus.)
And then something wonderful happened:
The day after my first ENT visit, it occurred to me that it might be useful to ge an official letter from the doc to give to my various bosses.  So I called in my request to the office nurse and picked it up from the receptionist and passed out copies to my supervisors and those got fowarded to Human Resources people and —

SHAZAM!

I was saved by bureaucracy.
(I mean hey, it’s gotta happen sometime, right?)
Because apparently being treated for Ménière’s disease (note the careful legal waffling on diagnostics) falls under the umbrella of an American labor law known as the The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).  Basically, taking care of sick family members, birth, adoption, or one’s own illness (covered by the Act) is protected so the worker can get unpaid sick leave without worrying about job security.
I cannot be dunned for absences related to bouts of vertigo.
My principal was of course very polite and helpful in the process of explanating this unexpected coverage.  I was asked about accommodations that might be helpful.  Alas, none of the things suggested by the Job Accommodation Network are applicable to my job (but that’s a great site if you need ideas for accommodations for most any sort of affliction or difference).
However, I was giving some 60 days of sick leave for absences related to — and only to — Ménière’s.  Despite my initial relief, my job status still feels as wobbly as my gait some days.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Thieves!

Grocery stockers are well-familiar with the sight:  random empty boxes that are the hidden leftovers to stolen goods.  Cold medicine.  Hair coloring.  Condoms.  Diapers. Candy.
A couple days ago I found a different wrapper stuffed behind the tidy stacks of soap bars, a small cylinder of fish food, with the plastic lid missing and the foil seal compromised.  About a teaspoon of flakes were gone.
I showed it off to my coworker, Becky.  “Don’t you just hate it when those damn goldfish come into the store and steal things?!”

The Catch

I’ve been having intermittent bouts of vertigo (some severe), along with worsening tinnitus and resulting difficulty understanding what people are saying. My GP said I got poor results on the tympanogram, and is sending me to an ENT, whom I see next week.  I’m no longer driving on the highway, and take extra care if I’m carrying my grandson.
Meanwhile, someone at school told the principal that I was “doing the wall thing”, meaning touching the wall to steady myself as I passed down a hallway.  This resulted in being called up for a Official Meeting.  By the time I left, I was feeling queasy and light-headed for entirely different reasons:

  • Being a couple hours late to phone in my absences due to migraine and due to a Emergency Room visit for vertigo, had previously earned me a stern warning for procedural lapses.
  • Going to or staying at work if feeling dizzy is prohibited because an educator with vertigo is a liability.
  • Leaving work 30 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment must be taken as sick time.
  • No “flex time” is allowed for appointments (i.e. leaving a bit early and making up that time by staying later another day).
  • Thirty minutes, half a day or a whole day all count equally as an incident of using a sick day.
  • Taking 19 sick-day events by October due to viruses, migraines, vertigo or doctor appointments is excessive, and any further such absences can result in termination of employment.
  • Which specific number is unmentioned, but up to the Powers That Be in the Human Resources department.
  • Any employee who is feverish with a virus must stay home.

Alas, this is all legal, and there seems to be a large limbo of being disabled by irregularly re-occuring conditions without actually being Disabled enough for some kind of accommodation.
Even if I somehow negotiated with H.R., the interpersonal climate with the school admin is too prickly to stay.  This is a shame, because I have a great relationship with my classroom staff/faculty.
I’m looking for a different job, hopefully something full-time that also pays well enough so I can have just ONE job in my life.  But everything I’ve seen pays fast-food wages, or else is so technically specific that my skills profile is a mis-match.
The free-floating anxiety is just HELL.

Role-Playing

I’ve role-played in various capacities over the years, from the “acting-out student” in a staff safety seminar, to the novice thief in a D&D game.  But the other week I was asked to try out a far different rôle:

“If you were Melba Toast, where would you be hiding?”

Melba Toast … gee, were I a small box of cardboardy toast slivers, where would I be hiding?  Hmn …

Such queries fill chunks of my life now, as I am working two and three jobs for 65-70 hours a week, which should explain the general lack of bloggery.  It’s not a lack of interest, nor a lack of subjects worthy of blathering about.  (The sad part is that I still have plants sitting around in pots that I bought back in June. That, and another goal is to finish my grandson’s quilt before winter sets in; he’s nearly three months old already!)
These oddball encounters always hit me out of the blue, when I’m otherwise preoccupied with squinting at the shelf tag UPCs to figure out which peg the -48699 fancy chandelier light bulbs should hang upon, or am trying to line up a stack of shiny toothpaste boxes without knocking over its companion rows.  (Why do we have to stack all those wobbly boxes three tiers high?  Because the boss like them that way, that’s why.  But hell if I’m going to try stacking up some of those styles of maxipads, because even single packs don’t want to stand upright.)
Melba Toast … The problem of course, is that every store has a set of random products that are difficult for customers to find.  So there we are, grocery stocker blinking and trying to remember to smile and make eye contact and parse the unexpected conversation from the background noise, and customer trying to find the right person for help.
“Do you work here?”
[No,] says the tired-and-cranky part of my brain, [I just like standing around the local market wearing a dress shirt with the corporate logo, knee pads, compression gloves for my arthritis & Raynaud’s, and a box knife holstered to my waistband.  I sure as hell better work here, because I’m getting so nearly OCD about “facing” groceries that I’m starting to pull forward and straighten out merchandise even when I’m just shopping for my own groceries.]  Working two shifts a day doesn’t make me as cranky as going two weeks at a stretch without a full day off.  Damnit, I want a life.
Savvy customers ask me, “Do you work for the store?” because they’ve learned that the burly guy stocking cola works for the cola-distribution company, or the little old lady giving out food samples works for a food conglomerate or a temp agency, and neither of these people knows where our market stocks the sun-dried tomatoes, oat bran, or tiki-torch oil. Actually, we don’t stock tiki-torch oil, which is why that customer couldn’t find it.  You’re shocked, I’m sure.  Or maybe not; we get all kinds of crazy-ass seasonal shit to sell.  Maybe we did have tiki-torch oil once-upon-a-time.  By my 13th work-hour of the day, tiki-torch oil sounds perfectly reasonable, and I can just about hallucinate bottles of sunset-gold tiki-torch oil by the tins of cigarette-lighter butane or the blister packs of Tropical Paradise air freshener candles.  Blarrrg.
Sometimes the senseless placements are simply accidents of history, like the display of snack cakes that migrated inward from and aisle “end cap” and are now juxtaposed to the tinned soups for no particular reason other than some space existed there once, and no one’s since bothered to move them over to the sweets aisle.
Sometimes the senseless placements are just that, like the forlorn bags of barley that are slumped against the soup powders, instead of with the rest of the dry grains and beans. (Well yeah, people put barley in soup, but people put damn near everything else in soups, too; so what?)
Customers are usually so apologetic when they can’t find something;  they don’t want to “be a bother”. 

“Oh, now I’m messing up your nice display,” frets the gentleman as he fumbles to remove two packs of liquorices.

“No, no, that’s okay!  If you don’t buy it, then I can’t re-stock it, and what would I do for a job?  You’re keeping the economy running!”  Seriously.

They worry that I’m going to think less of them because they can’t find something that’s staring right back at both of us, which is also silly, because sometimes we’re both staring at the shelf, leaving me mumbling,

“I know I saw it right around here the other day, unless it got moved the day I was off …” 

“Oh, here it is!” exclaims the customer, who actually has a “search image” for a product, unlike this store employee who neither stocks the item nor buys it.

“Ayup, I remembered seeing it around here … is there anything else for which you are looking?”

Of course, there’s the person stalking up and down an aisle because they too have that feeling of it’s-right-in-front-of-me, and they finally break down to ask me as I’m passing by with a trolley artfully crammed full of cartons of chocolate bars and thirteen flavors and sizes of toothpaste, or a handtruck heaped high with bags of charcoal. (Nothing says, “Working Hard” like having coal schmutz on your cheek.)

“Um, have you seen the — Oh!  Here it is.  Sorry,”

“No worries — we do that at home all the time:  ‘Hey Mom, where’s-the-nevermind’.”

My canned joke, with its carefully-honed wee bit of wry camaraderie, usually prompts a reciprocating expression of familiarity.  Small talk is hard for me, so after I’ve had the same type of experience a few times, I make myself up some scripts to add to my standard lists of “Grocery Stocker Small Talk” or “Grocery Cashier Small Talk”.
But of course, there’s the inevitable ad-libbing.
“Melba Toast … you know, I don’t think I’ve ever role-played bread before,” I replied.  Fortunately, my off-beat attempt at levity worked, which bought me some time as I stood there, staring up into space to access my mental store map.  “Well, let’s go check Aisle 5,”
We get there, cruising past the peanut butter and jelly selections, in our grocery manager’s dual homage to cheap sandwiches and suggestive product placement.  “I already looked in the bread aisle,” volunteers the customer, but we’re both familiar with scenario of missing something right in front of us, so we give it a look-through just to be sure.
“Okay, another likely place would be in the cracker aisle,” I offer, as we pass the end-cap display for the other brand of snack cakes (located in another part of the store, naturally) and make a U-turn to cruise fruitlessly past the chips and crackers.  Before my customer gets too dispirited (or embarrassed),  I offer an explanation, “The problem is, there are some things for which there are several perfectly logical places to keep them … and every store has its quirks.  Well, if it’s not down here, we’ll look in the Import Foods section by the Dutch rusks,”
“I already checked there,” says the unusually diligent shopper.
“Wow, most people usually miss — ah-HA!  Here they are, next to cereal and the toaster pastries.”  Hooray, this mystery is solved, and I can go back to fighting with the Halloween bags of Twizzlers candies, which are refusing to stack neatly and have taken to suddenly slumping off the shelf and slithering onto the floor as I get halfway down the aisle.  It would take no less than five episodes of this before I finally got the heaps stabilised.  Such repeated incidents of fruit-carting would be funny later, but there are only so many ways you can stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack and re-stack bags of individually-wrapped cherry-flavored twists before getting utterly twisted, too.

12 Days

Man, but July just oozed by in a protracted mental fog.  One of the huge blocks to regular bloggery was the incredible 12-Day Headache.  It got slightly better at times, and it got worse at times, but the “Ten Kilos of Lead Atop Me Head” pain just would NOT go away!
It made working the three jobs worse, despite my adamant determination to not miss more than a day’s work from the para or grocery jobs.  I couldn’t even consider missing a day from the professor job, because summer semester runs at twice the speed, and we had no wiggle-room in our schedule for covering everything that needed to be covered.
As before, putting thoughts together was like stringing beads while wearing heavy ski mittens.  But this time I didn’t have a handy excuse, other than, “I’ve had a headache for over a week now,”  Being in pain means not sleeping well, and increases stress, and all three of these factors combine into a viscous circle.

  • I tried acetominophen (paracetamol), in addition to my daily naproxen sodium that I take for arthralgia.
  • I tried soaking in a hot bath in a dim room.
  • I stood under a strong shower and let it beat upon my head.
  • I laid down with cold compresses.
  • I took two-hour afternoon naps because I could not keep my eyes open.
  • I took a vigourous 1-mile walk and gardened, and avoided afternoon naps in hopes of getting better sleep.
  • I had a hot toddy at bedtime.
  • I ate cold ice cream to the point of “brain-freeze”.
  • I massaged my head.
  • I vigorously brushed my hair.
  • I took Imitrex, my migraine medication.
  • I did Tai Chi Chih-like stretches.
  • I layed with my feet higher than my head.
  • I massaged my feet.

I thought to myself, “This can’t keep going on!  I can’t live like this.”  But of course it can, and people do.
Initially, I kept saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow when I feel better.”  But the mañana list kept getting longer and longer.  After a week, I finally came to the grips that for whatever reason, I was going to have to deal with The Damn Leaden Burden of Pain as a chronic issue, whether long-term or short-term. It forced me to pare down my Daily To Do lists to the merest essentials:

  1. This morning I will shower and shampoo.
  2. After a nap, I must write at last 75% of an exam.
  3. I will eat something nutritious for dinner before working tonight.
  4. I will set out a complete change of clothes before I go to bed.

What hellish demands upon my time and energy!  That was of course, a day when I wasn’t teaching a class, just doing the morning para job and a few hours of stocking groceries after tea.
Oh crap, I forgot one:
5.  I will refill my daily pill minder.
You know you’re exhausted when dosing out a few bedtime pills is too much of a bother.
Finally I gave up and went to my GP.  “I’m exhausted.  I’m even falling asleep at work, and at dinner, even though I’m sleeping seven to ten hours a night, with two hours naps during the day.  My joints and muscles ache.  I keep getting bruises, and cuts heal slowly, and my gums bleed when I brush my teeth.  My hands and feet are cold.  I’m sensitive to light, my ears ring most of the time, and I’m having dizzy spots.  I get disoriented, and have the worst mental fogginess, despite taking my ADHD meds. I have dry mouth, and am thirsty all the time and drinking two or more liters of water a day.  AND I’VE HAD THIS HORRIBLE HEADACHE FOR TWELVE DAYS.”
I mentioned a family history of diabetes.  The doc sent me down to the lab for blood draws, also checking my thyroid and some other factors.  Additionally, he gave me a heavy-duty pain reliever that I took when I went to bed.  The next day was much better, although I could still feel headache lurking around the edges, so I took another pill the next night.
The Damn Leaden Burden of Pain finally went away.  My blood tests all came back normal, thankfully.  I don’t know what caused such an intractible headache, but I sure hope it doesn’t return.  Or if it does, I’ll smack it down a lot quicker with the pain med.  The pain-exhausted-stress cycle gets so hard to break.

Where P = 0

Where P is the momentum, and P = mvv = velocity, naturally.  But the m = inertial mass.  As in, if something doesn’t act upon and force the m, then there is no v and no P, and certainly no W of work!
I’ve not been blogging much lately due to the Jobs, but even after the education-related Job #1 and Job #2 finished a couple weeks ago, I’m still finding it hard to get back into the blogging groove.  I’m still working Job #3, which is only part-time, but grocery stocking is giving me the most inconsistent hours and days, ever. It’s getting to the point where I’m having trouble remembering what day of the week it is.
The Geekling has yet to sleep through the night; I’m not feeding him at nights, but apparently Grandma Ears are the same as Mom Ears, and hunger cries in another part of the house will still awaken me.
Furthermore, my watch battery died, so I can’t even tell when I am, aside from night and day.
But most of all, I have a bad case of Inertia.  I have a bazillion things to do, but struggle to complete the most time-sensitive ones.  I am working on some posts, but stringing thoughts together is like watching syrup ooze down the bottle.
What do you do to get over Inertia?