February 4, 2020

Oooooffff Paaaaaw
I am your father, Waldo.
oooooffff Paaaaaw

Often, when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.

-Fred Rogers


Three weeks after I got Waldo, I worked my last shift. I don’t remember very much about it. There was nothing that stood out and the memories just got blended in with every other shift. I went home, took the dog out and went to bed. Next day, I woke up, took the dog out, and started living every day as a day off.

It’s really easy to live a compartmentalized life when you work in the ER. When you leave, you sign out whatever cases are still in the unit to your successor, who takes over their care, and you can “dump core,” wipe your attention of everything that happened. You have no beeper. When you’re done, you’re done. Most of the time, you forget about that part of your life and carry on with the rest, until it’s time to go back.

So, when I no longer had to work, it was like having a very large number of days off, all in a row. I never think about what I used to do. Never miss it, and with Waldo, never feel like I’m left with an empty hole that has to be filled. Waldo keeps me very busy.

It’s true that there were times when I would walk away from a shift knowing that I saved a life, or that I acted quickly and appropriately so that someone’s life would improve. That felt pretty good. I made a positive difference. Most jobs out there cannot supply that, at least so clearly and with so much immediacy. But there was also the dark side. Interactions with patients and coworkers were sometimes unnecessarily conflicted and management was always trying to find some way to fill my time with things other than direct patient care. Society has so many cracks that people fall between and it’s frustrating trying to find a way for patients to get the support they need. I’d guess that the dark side soaked up ninety percent of my time and energy. That, I don’t miss. I never felt like I didn’t want to go to work, a true sign of burnout, but neither do I now miss having to. One chapter closed and a new one started. It feels more like I’ve moved on to a new job, but one where I am answerable only to myself.

The decision to get a dog, so I wouldn’t just lie around and grow roots, was a good one. The rhythms of my life now revolve around Waldo and that gives it structure. He also is someone I care deeply about and care for. He is totally dependent on me and that plays into a need I seem to have for a responsibility that I must fulfill. He also provides me with laughs and chuckles and lots of pets and licks. Waldo is a warm puppy who gives me happiness. He also challenges me and helps me to grow to be a better person. When exasperated with his brattiness, I am forced to confront my own dark side and learn how to turn it toward the light.

Waldo’s independent streak also allows me to have a life independent of him. After all, a human life that only has dog in it would be pretty shallow. He is perfectly content to spend a couple of hours entertaining himself so I can get the intellectual and emotional stimulation I need from reading, writing and interacting with friends and family. I just need to be sure he gets enough exercise, which I need too (hence the six-mile daily walks), and plenty of playtime to entertain his mind. The pets, pats, rubs and cuddles come spontaneously and don’t have to be planned for.

So, was my retirement a good decision? Yeah, it was. It was time to move on. I’m just not so sure I would call it retirement. It’s more like a nontraditional job, one that is more oriented toward my, and Waldo’s, personal growth than any other job I’ve had. But, I still have to roll out of bed every damn day and get to work.

It’s just more a work of love.

So many sticks, so little time.

1 comment

Susan Loughmiller

I am very happy retirement is a happy beginning for you.

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