Monday, February 21, 2011

"Ummmm, Is This Thing On My Neck Getting Bigger?"

Olá leitores gentil!

January 18'th 

I'm back at the IT campus again, this time for a "Test Drive" for the Health Information Management program.  A secretary kindly offers me another swag bag filled with orientation goodies but I can't except it in good conscience lest it lead to a "Hoarders"-like spiral of collecting hundreds of identical Day-Glo lime green satchels, pens and notebooks.  As it stands, I'm already paranoid that the administrators are starting to suspect that I'm doing these "Test Drives" just to get the free lunch.

My guide today is Samson, who seems genial but distracted.  He leads me into a classroom where a veritable spread of baked good is laid out on tables.

"We're doing this for our 'Teams in the Workplace' class."

"Making apple cinnamon fritters?   Are you sure you guys didn't end up in the Baking and Pastry Art class by mistake?"

"No," my host replied, 'dumbass' connotations in his tone, "We're raising funds for a local health-related charity and a large part of our mark is determined by whether or not we make our goal."

Although I thought the good karma that might result from such an unorthodox academic pursuit was obvious, I really had a hard time picturing myself going back to college for Bake Sale 101.
We proceed on to the first class, and Samson does a great job when he can giving me the strait dope on the program.  I say "when he can" since all day long he seems to be besieged at every turn with a constant bombardment of pop quizzes, pop tests and pop, er...essays.  Frankly, I didn't even think there was such a thing as pop essays.

At one point, after my overseer begins rocking back and forth and muttering "Krusty is coming, Krusty is coming" when faced with an impromptu writing assignment, I take the opportunity to go up to the front of the class and barrage the instructor with more questions that were asked during the Nuremberg Trials.

She tells me that upon successful completion with the program you usually end up working in some capacity with the Canadian Institute for Health Information.  You typically start with coding medical files and then you can sometimes move on to a supervisor/managerial role with the Department of Health or in some aspect of data analysis. And you all know how much I would ♥ that!


I discover to my chagrin that the job would involve a tremendous amount of sitting.  Despite its $20 to $23 hourly starting wage, the entry-level jobs mainly boil down to data entry.  You basically take one medical file after another, try your best to interpret the chicken-scratches, and then code all the information into an electronic template and then send it away for data compilation and analysis.  

I'm encouraged when the instructor is honest enough to confess that there was a shortage of job opportunities "a while ago" but things are really starting to pick up again, especially on a the national front.  There are approximately fifty people employed locally in the three major hospitals in the city, and the lion's share of jobs involve the aforementioned dreaded coding.

I go back to join Samson and he's since been forced to move to a new computer to complete his in-class assignment.  While I'm waiting for him to resurface, I flip through a text book which is filled with various symptoms, etiology, diagnosis, treatments, and prognosisi.  Basically, this is pure hell for a hypochondriac.  I'm disgusted that the textbook isn't content with just describing these horrible signs of illness, n-o-o-o-o-o, they've gotta photograph each one in high-resolution color closeup.  I'm only three hours in and already I'm starting to itch.

I begin to glaze over as I'm inundated with constant abstract references to ICD-10, CIHI, NACRS (Not as in, "Oooo, what a nice set of...".  Don't make the same mistake I did...), DAD, CPE, CHIMA...Cripes, this program has more acronyms then the friggin' I.R.S.  This isn't boding well.  Somehow I'm not surprised when Sampson informs me that class attrition has been brutal: they started with twenty-one students and are now down to twelve.

One favorable thing he does point out is the pronounced dearth of male students.  If the guy can be envied for anything, it's the male to female student ratio.  He's the only dude in a class of bona-fide hotties.

Little wonder baking skills are so important.  Kidding, ladies, kidding!  

I get a chance to chat with one of the gals, Melissa, who seems to be taking all the challenges in stride.  Our backgrounds are similar: she once worked for a certain major office supply chain before another (more evil) office supply chain bought them out and made working conditions so unpalatable for her that she had to quit.  Hence, her academic aspirations and hopeful career reboot.  She bright, genial and easy-going so I'm confident she'll do fine!

The next class was a spot of apparently necessary yet unfortunate dreck dealing with Sensitivity in the Medical Profession.  You would think a lot of this would boil down to common sense, but since that phrase has become an oxymoron in this day and age, such training is required.  To me the class was way too painfully similar to the insufferable Sexual Harassment awareness sessions at my last place of employ where you were politely asked by your managers to avoid touching each other's Danger Zones.  Really?  You actually have to tell us not to do this?   You, in particular?        

Some of the issues raised are valid, but I can see how they can irk the average health care professional.  Some examples:
  • Jehovah's Witnesses don't accept blood transfusions.  While it's important to honor this stance, I imagine to a lot of doctors it's the medical equivalent of not wanting to get your picture taken because you're afraid the process will "steal your soul".
  • Rastafarians believe that the body should remain intact.  That's all well and good in theory, but just think how much richer the whole world would be if Bob Marley had just lopped off that pesky cancerous toe?  
  • In some Asian cultures the character for the number 4 is pronounced the same way as the character for the word “death.”   Needless to say, being assigned to stay in the "death" room in the hospital would do little to speed up your recovery process. 
One of their class assignments involved coming up with a slogan and image to represent the group's collective ethos regarding tolerance for different economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds when it comes to patient care.  I really don't want to belittle what is, I'm sure, a very important issue but the whole time I felt like a kid in grade school who was about to express the sentiment "Drugs are Bad" in the medium of pipe cleaners, painted macaroni and glitter glue. 

The final class of the day was all about symptoms, diagnosis and treatments.  If glancing through the textbook earlier didn't give enough reason to believe that I already had fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, then this class put the capper on my paranoia altogether.  The instructor was a young, gregarious and micheviously funny lady who couldn't resist sneaking some subversive slides into her otherwise sober Powerpoint presentation on various ailments.   When it got to the section on colds and flus, it wasn't enough for her to describe the condition of rhinorrhea (which is a runny nose, by the way, not when a certain gray-hued, one-horned Spider-Man villain is explosively incontinent).  Noooooooooo, she also had to show this slide...

Sooooo, between the program's exorbitant tuition costs ($9000.00 a year, zoinks!), the mind-numbing reward of doing glorified data entry and knowing I'd end up feeling more germ-infested then Howard Hughes, Health Information Management is a BIG thumb's down for me.   

EPIC: Whatever you wanna say about his skeezy interest in disproportionately and vaguely related young Asian girls, Woody Allen is still the prototypical hypochondriac.

FAIL: Here's a tip...don't FAIL

"Hey, kids, be the first on your block to collect them all!"

Monday, February 14, 2011


Hey, y'all.

Well, just to let you know, my quest to try and figure out what I might go back to college for Rodney Dangerfield-style, has been going on all this time.

So much has transpired since I last wrote about this (, I feel as if the next two chapters of this woeful saga would be best rendered in a time-line format.  So here goes...

November 29'th

I have a meeting with my career transitions case worker to go over the results of a second Career Aptitude Survey.  Some tolerable "Pursue" recommendations include Manufacturer's Representative ("Look, just because the Ferris wheel rolled into the river it doesn't mean our bolts are to blame!"), Marketing Director  ("Our product only causes anal leakage now while jogging, how can we spin that?"), Advertising Account Executive ("It's the new and improved Slap Chop, now with 20% less suck!"), Media Executive ("Fox News, fair and balanced!"), Public Relations Director ("We truly believe that technology  is a tremendous boon for humanity here at Cyberdyne Corporation."), Corporate Trainer ("We truly believe that pharmaceutical bioengineering is a tremendous boon for humanity here at Umbrella Corporation."), Commercial Artist ("Hey, can I do a caricature of you for five bucks?"), Liberal Arts Professor ("So, basically, in ancient Greece, homosexuality was more commonly practiced then Sudoku."), Librarian ("Don't choo know de Dewey Decimal System!?"), Translator/Interpreter ("Shaka, when the walls fell!"), Writer/Editor ("Reeding bookz makz Inglish speeking gud!") and Architect ("Whups!  I fergot to drawr in some terlets!").

Some questionable "Explore" recommendations for me include Attorney ("I'm out of order?  You're out of order!"), Financial Planner ("Um, crazy idea here, but why don't you just stop buying stuff you can't afford?"), Hotel Manager ("Man, you do not wanna see what they pulled out of the drain in 204!"), Realtor ("Yep, this home sure is...homey."), School Superintendent ("Skin-NER!"), Secretary ("Only if I can train under Christina Hendricks."), Psychologist ("Vat ist ze nature of ze psychosis?"), Bank Manager ("Hey, look, I did find a way to take it all with me!"), Insurance Agent ("Well, sir, it says quite clearly here in section four, subsection 'B' of your policy that any claim you make will be ignored."), Retail Store Manager ("Please, kill me."), Accountant ("Please, I'm begging you, kill me."), Chef ("Mmmmm, just like mom used to boil!"), Restaurant Manager ("How the f#$@% did you manage to burn the ice cubes?"), Landscaper ("Okay, let's put a happy little tree right over here..."), Agribusiness Manager ("Hey, look, I made a tomater!"), Fashion Designer ("Fabulous!") and my own personal favorite...CEO!

Regarding the last one, I've been thinking about driving down to the headquarters building of Exxon Mobil, walking into their lobby and announcing: "I'm here, bitches!  Where's my penthouse office, $80 million dollar compensation package and private jet?" 

November 30'th

Since I hadn't "picked a specific program yet" for exploration I was prompted by the community college's website to sign up for a "General Information Session".  The introductory propaganda was actually quite amusing, since it featured rebuttals to the following hoary old myths: 
  •  "Community college is for people who can't get into university."  FALSE!  
  • "Community College is easier then university."  FALSE!
  • "All Community College degrees come with rainbow clown wigs, squirting flowers and a free trained tutu-clad Pomeranian."  FALSE!  
Actually, I kid, there were some interesting stats.  For example, one-third of the student body has previously attended university or college, 96% of students would recommend their instructors and 94% of graduates found employment in Nova Scotia.

At which point in time the Dana Scully in me has to ask: "Okay, but what percentage are actually working in their field of study?"  Sorry, I know, sometimes I can be such a prick...   

Although the meeting that followed was facilitated about as well as I could have hoped, regrettably it only covered the same self-appraisal/occupational resource/life-wheel drawing crap that I'd already been doing for the past three months.  Since this whole experience was a total bust, I immediately made a one-on-one follow-up appointment with the councilor (who henceforth will be known as "Diego") for December 14'th, hoping to glean just a little bit more information on the five or six hundred programs I was still trying to decide upon.

Meeting low point: being asked to turn to our neighbor to discus "What brought you here and what questions do you want to have answered?", only to be confronted with an apathetic, pimply-faced teen who could only grunt and say "Um...nuthin'."

Quote of the evening: (from a clearly hung-over girl to her boyfriend during the 15 minute introductory presentation) "I promise not to throw up during this and embarrass you." 

December 14'th

I drive all the way over to the appointed campus across the pond for my afternoon meeting with Diego.  When I get there I'm stunned to find that he didn't come into work that day due to a power outage in his area.

Gee, it would have been swell if someone from the college could have given me a head's up on this so I didn't schlep all the way over there for nothing.  But, hey, whattaya gonna do?

His reply email is sincerely apologetic but he tells me he's booked up for the week leading up to my departure home for, The Holidays.  The meeting is re-scheduled for January 2'nd.

January 2'nd

The meeting with Diego proves to be helpful, inspiring, eye-opening and, ultimately, a complete waste of time.  Previous to this, two other councilors helped me pare down a short list of programs I might be interested in.  This list was arrived at, in large part, due to the likelihood of receiving some sort of partial sponsorship for retraining through Career and Transition Services.  Thanks to their efforts I'd whittled things down to Architectural Engineering Technician, Environmental Engineering Technician (Water), Library & Information Technology, Business Administration, Human Resources, and Information Technology.

Now, for the purpose of taking sponsorship into consideration, my number-one choice, Screen Arts, (which hypothetically would give me the nuts n' bolts training to work in the local film industry) had already been completely jettisoned, but I kept it on the table just because it really does represent my one true passion.  In the meeting with Diego, however, he looked at my list of seven options and noticed that, in the immortal words of Big Bird "One of these things is not like the other."

"Hmmmm," he began, "I see you've included Screen Arts here, which is a bit of a departure from everything else.  How much of your free time would you say is dedicated to some pursuit regarding film?"

I paused for a second, raised the People's Eyebrow and then cautiously waded into a response to the curious question.

"Um, I dunno," I said, suddenly feeling like my lamentable, acne-ridden ward.  "If you take into account watching movies, reviewing movies, volunteering to do background work in movies, writing something that could possibly be turned into a movie, writing actual screenplays and whatnot, I'd say, oh, maybe about seventy percent of my time.  Easily."

"Well, I think you have your answer," he replied, adding fuel to my burgeoning fire of excitement.  "When I saw you come in here with all of this information you've researched and how well you'd organized all of your findings, I think that maybe some of these other options were worth looking at.  But frankly, I think you already know what you want to do."

Before I got too carried away, I explained my dilemma about being tempted with funding to study what the state considered to me more "practical".  He went on to tell me that I shouldn't dismiss the Screen Arts option outright, since he was personally aware of some students getting funding for such diverse programs as Culinary Arts (!).

"The powers that be are starting to realize that it doesn't necessarily make sense to give funding only for certain programs," he went on to explain.  "Often it's the equivalent of jamming square pegs into round holes.  Sure, these people get sponsored to fill some sort of manpower demand but what we've started to see lately is that a lot of them end up back at square one because the so-called 'practical' career they trained for either doesn't interest them or they aren't suited for it."

"Wow,"  I replied.  "That's pretty encouraging.  Frankly, the difference between me taking Screen Arts in September versus anything else is that if I was taking Screen Arts, I'd actually be excited to start school as opposed to feeling a sense of dread."

"Now I don't want to set up any unrealistic expectations," he cautioned, sensing that certain wild horses needed holding.  "Get in touch with the case worker who'll facilitate your application and find out for sure if it's a viable option."

Before I ran back across the parking lot yelling "WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP!" I had to ask:

"I was kinda hoping that, with your close proximity to the school itself, you might be able to answer a few lingering questions I have about each of the other programs, just in case I do have to pick one of them."

"Well, actually, I don't have much inside knowledge about the other specific programs you have listed here.  But frankly, I don't think you need any more information.  I think if you end up getting more information it's just going to result in more confusion and paralysis."

"Yeah!" I enthused.  "I agree!  That's exactly what's been happening to me lately!"  

I thanked Diego profusely, rushed home, composed an email to the appropriate councilor, sent it off, and then spent the rest of the day filling out the application.  The next day, this was his reply:

While any program recognized by the provincial department of education is technically eligible for consideration under Skills Development, there are some significant practical considerations that must be covered in the application. The application package must clearly define the specific reason why you are unable to find sustainable employment using your current marketable skills and assets, how the chosen training would help you to overcome each of them and how likely you are to find employment upon completion of the training. It is this last one that works against screen arts. The local film and TV industry was hit very hard by the recession and, coupled with the recently announced cancellation of the provincial rebates for film projects, there are very few opportunities in this field (as an aside, Culinary Arts, while a creative program, does qualify graduates for a specific type of employment)."

I sat staring at this for awhile, realizing that a response was futile and feeling somewhat defeated.

I then proceeded to sign up for three more information sessions that I wasn't really interested in.

EPIC:  "Hey, kids, wanna see what unrealistic fantasy job that doesn't exist in the real world that you should be doing?"

FAIL:  Hey, who hasn't wished that they could just pee into their golf club?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Typical Teacher

Howdy, Pahdnahs!

The best thing about being a reasonably good student in High School is that you could typically flirt with borderline slanderous behavior.  If the following diatribe came from a student with poor marks, it would instantly be interpreted as burgeoning antisocial behavior.  But coming from a kid who was academically respectable, it was just an example of someone being "creative".

But looking back, I really can't believe I got away with this.

Ladies and Germs, I humbly present my Grade 10 essay entitled "The Typical Teacher":

Teachers are odd beings found with frequency in and around any education facility.  However, the chances for a successful encounter are greatly reduced on weekends and holidays when the troop disbands for rest, relaxation and/or mental therapy.  At any rate, expeditions on any other weekday will surely yield an entire congregation of these bizarre creatures.  

Teachers are easily spotted, even if placed amidst a dense crowd of common-folk.  They are frequently clothed in attire dating from 1950 to 1970.  These motley raiments often feature archaic styles and colors typically indicative of a toxic waste spill.  Their hair tends to be short, conservative and reminiscent of the styles  popularized by either Jackie Kennedy or Harry S. Truman (and sometimes both).  Male teachers commonly employ a flat-top haircut so precise one can calibrate scientific instruments based on its dimensions.  Female teachers often keep their locks bound in a ponytail so tightly constructed that they often risk impeding blood flow to their brains.  In fact, if you are ever able to close within ten feet (not recommended) of a female teacher, you may notice a curious indentation on their necks.  This is, in fact, their navel which has been pulled up from it's traditional location in the mid-drift region by their tension-filled hairstyle of choice.

Approximately ninety-two percent of teachers are bespectacled.  Their eye wear is also woefully outdated, in fact some sets are so archaic that it is surprising that the lenses are still intact.  In the way of physical build, teachers are often short and slim.  Very short and slim.  Some appear almost minuscule in stature.  Other more uncommon physical mutations include morbid obesity or freakishly unnatural height which often results in chronically absurd levels of clumsiness.

Teachers are typically equipped with chalk, a gross of multicolored pens (one featuring blood-red ink), a ream of paper, and their infamous method of defense: the meter stick.  This terrifying piece of paraphernalia is a multi-purpose tool used for diagram construction, directional orientation and physical assaults.  It's use as a weapon to inspire fear and dread alone is unrivaled.  

Despite their oft-diminutive stature, teachers possess the temperament of a rabid, starving wolverine wounded after being backed into a corner where subsequently got caught in a bear trap.   They are notoriously short-tempered and their potential for fits of unrestrained rage seems to be boundless.  Indeed, these creatures are dangerous if provoked.  

Hand in hand with their fury is the auditory delivery system for their wrath: their voices.  Some possess a loud, grating system of communication that can eclipse the volume level of a Yamasaki 9000 stereo system.  A considerably more rare vocal signature is a squeaky, high-pitched wail which often veers into a pitch that only canines can hear.  Those teachers with weak voices tend to have matching personalities since they typically inspire hilarity instead of fear.  Through natural selection these pitiable creatures are becoming increasingly scarce since they are often bullied into early retirement.                         
Clearly teachers are unique lifeforms.  They are distinctive creatures that occupy a unique niche in society.  With their borderline obnoxious intelligence levels, conservative appearance and tendency towards unprovoked bursts of psychosis (coupled with a periodic flirtations with bouts of unearthly patience), they have become a pivotal, if not odd, pillar of our social structure.  

Please note that the preceding depiction of teachers is purely for the purposes of parody and any resemblance to any person living or dead is strictly co-incidental.   

The comment from my teacher:

Note: This statement is not legal protection against libel!

EPIC: This teacher proves a little humor goes a long way...

FAIL: Well, maybe she IS a loser...