Every time I get around to writing my blog, I promise myself that I will write shorter pieces but more regularly, perhaps even once a day, but somehow it never happens, life gets in the way (guess that is a good sign!), and blogging becomes a mammoth task. I wish that I had more time to try and write something properly rather than just a stream of random and unedited thoughts and reflections when I am half a sleep or not really in the mood to write properly.
That morning after feeling
I have had an amazing week this week, all be it an exhausting one. I haven’t felt this exhausted or euphorically tired in quite a while, and it feels a little like the grown ups version of an all night clubbing session when you spend the next day not really knowing what to do with yourself and not really caring either, because you are still full of happy hormones. So its a cup of tea and a duvet day today, prior to what will be another hectic yet exciting week ahead. I have to say, that I never would have expected to have had such a week like this, a year ago! But its a funny old world, and I think this quotation pretty much sums things up: “It’s choice, not chance, that determines your destiny.”(Jean Nidetch).
A year ago, I made some big decisions in my life, even though I probably didn’t really see them as choices at that time, and I felt at the time that they were more to do with fate or the hands of some rather rotten gods who were not on my side. A cancer scare and the loss of a loved one are generally pretty good motivators for shaking up one’s core beliefs! People who know me still think it is all a bit of a whim, especially the moving to Georgia bit, and can’t believe how my life has changed, or how I could have found happiness. If I had continued on that path, I would have been chained to the National Health Service, joined the Royal Navy as Surgeon Sub Lieutenant and spent the rest of my life pretty much alone, working graveyard shifts at the hospital, being sent off to war, always being either too tired or too busy to meet with friends and letting life just pass me by, probably ending up as some lonely old, arthritic lady living in a dirty apartment, dying alone and being eaten by twenty of my only companions, my cats!!! I was adamant that was the life I wanted, I mean, the being a doctor bit obviously, not the cat bit. I had my career all planned out, knew how much I would pay into my pension every month, when my mortgage would be paid off, and where I wanted to travel on my retirement had I not been killed whilst serving my country of course. By the age of 70, I might have just about paid off my med school loans, and then I would be financially stable and could start living a bit!!! It all seems pretty crazy now, and I’m sure those wretched gods are looking at me, wagging fingers and saying ‘we told you so, we did know what we were doing’.
I find it crazy now, that I had to keep a lot of my interests in life hidden, for fear of reprimand. Things that make me happy, that I had forgotten about. Like writing, painting, photography, filming, exploring, scuba diving, and working on projects. They were always seen as distractions from my career, and med school especially would reprimand me for having ‘multiple outside interests’. Yet to me they were not distractions, they were my way of relaxing. I wasn’t especially good at them, but I would prefer to use what little free time I had for these activities than to go out and get drunk and spend money I didn’t have, with a load of boring med students comparing notes on their latest fancy shoes or conquests in the bedroom.
British Rules of Education and Employment
There is an unwritten rule when it comes to the UK, that you should work in your employment for at least two years, and you should do GCSEs, A’Levels, University studies, and then move up the career ladder in just one kind of job. I never really understood this, and as a student whose family had no aspirations or funds available to put me through A’Levels or University, the chosen path for me was employment in a basic wage, non fulfilling job, and I rebelled against that by working full time to put myself through my studies by correspondance or night school. I was a black sheep. That always made it more challenging when it came to applying for jobs and university.
On a side note, for those of you who are not familiar with the British idiom ‘Black Sheep of the family’, it is a phrase that dates back to shepherds pre 17th century, as Black sheep were considered worthless. You couldn’t dye their fur, so it was not worth selling, and also black as a colour was considered bad luck in all areas of Britain apart from Sussex, where shepherds considered the birth of a black sheep to be lucky. It is a phrase we use when someone is different to the other members of their family or group, they bring shame or bad luck on their family and are worthless.
But, you would think that working three jobs whilst studying would be seen as a strength, but not in Britain. I would take whatever work came along, working as a waitress in a Thai restaurant, as a cleaner in a hotel, writing for my local newspaper, dog walking, as a film extra, killing and plucking turkeys for Christmas, working as a wine advisor. To me that showed my versatility and dedication and was a strength, yet to employers and med school, it was evidence of my having a lack of direction. The irony being that I was actually quite the reverse. I wanted to be a doctor specialising in barometric and diving medicine with the Royal Navy and NASA.
I would have done it too, had med school not given me so much grief about it. I had an elective organised with my AsMA mentor (Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine Society of America). I was an active member of the society, was already working as a Diver Medic Technician prior to medical school, was Midshipman in the Royal Navy, was participating in research with the Space Medicine group at Cambridge University, and NASA had set up an elective for me with my mentor who was the doctor for the astronauts. That meant I would be working with the astronauts whilst they did their training under water (scuba diving!), and my mentor had advised me that most space medics work for the Navy first, in America or the UK, and many of the Royal Navy doctors were already working with astronauts. I asked med school if I could go during the holidays and they said no! I learnt quickly that I should never ask them anything, but instead just do things and keep them quiet, but such things always need a reference or letter proving that you are a med student.
SCOGS, Royal Navy, Scuba Diving, and NASA
In fact, NASA and the Royal Navy have worked closely for a long time, because NASA have funded research based on incidents that have happened to people at sea. I will give you one example. On submarines and in the International Space Station, the people on board must make their own oxygen and air in order to survive. One way they do this is to use a device called a ‘scog'(Self Contained Oxygen Generator). In 2007, two RN employees died and a third was badly injured when a SCOG exploded on HMS Tireless, a submarine which was on a training exercise in the Arctic, just off Alaska with the American Navy. These ‘oxygen candles’ are generally used in emergency situations and provide enough oxygen for one man for three hours. They are therefore also used on the space station.
The reason for the explosion came down to the way in which they had been stored and looked after, as they had become rusted and the vents blocked, leading to a build up of pressure and thus the explosion. As a medic working for the Royal Navy, and one of my dreams was to work on the new submarines, when they look to employ females in the future. Hence I had also studied public health medicine because one of the roles of a doctor on a ship, submarine, or in the field is to make sure that the water is a good enough quality to drink, and to also check the air quality. Basically to ensure the health and welfare of the whole team, because if you have for example a bout of food poisoning on the ship, that is your whole team out of action, not great when you are at war and want everyone to be focused on the job in hand! That is something that I find really exciting and enjoyable in all of the work I have done, whether that is film, working in accident or emergency or in working with the Royal Navy or as Diver Medic Technician.
I love submarines and also helicopters. I don’t understand the excitement of shoes, bikes, cars, or gadgets, I only like scuba diving on ship wrecks because of the marine life, not because of the ship or history, but I have always found there to be something very sexy and endearing about submarines and also helicopters. I had two dreams, one was to learn how to fly a helicopter, the other was to work on a submarine.
So imagine my excitement, on getting medical schools and the Royal navy, to discover that for the first time EVER, women were soon to be allowed to work on submarines. This was not possible previously because of fears that the nuclear reactor on board could affect the unborn child of a woman, if she happened to discovered that she was pregnant or later decided to become pregnant. Apart from the fact that often subs are under sea for months at a time, and if she discovered she was pregnant, she would not be able to give birth safely whilst under the sea. Lots of research was done into this, and submarines have now been deemed safe for women to work on. But it all seems pretty unfair at times, when women are passed over for medical school or submarine service for the fact that people think they will have children. What about those women who don’t want children? I’ve always known that I have never wanted children of my own, and if I do end up having children, it will be when I am ready and at that point I want to adopt. Some women just don’t like or want kids, yet others have made this decision for them. No one ever questions the viability of the male submariners sperm do they, or asks him what he will do about his kids whilst at sea! Yet, med schools will pass over women in their thirties because they think they will take time out to have children. If you love children and want to be all mummsy then medicine is not really the right career for you, unless you have already established yourself as a doctor and become a GP or whatever. Why would you put yourself through all that debt and stress of exams, just to give it all up five minutes after graduating, especially if you want to join the armed forces or be a surgeon or whatever? Anyway, the new vanguard submarines will now carry trident weapons, and because of this 5 Officer posts will be offered to women for the first time, and I would have loved to be one of the first female medics on the submarines, and that was my first priority above EVERYTHING else, so I needed to be as competitive as possible. Working on the submarines was also perfect for my next step on the ladder, to work with astronauts. I’ve no regrets how life has turned out now, but I will be watching closely next year when the first women start working on UK submarines!
My Preference in Job Role
One of the reasons for the professions or interests I have chosen is because I worked out that I am an enabler. I am at my happiest when I can enable others to do their job to the best of their ability. I like to prevent problems from happening in the first place, That might be making cups of tea for everyone on the film set, because that means everyone is hydrated and happy, both physically and psychologically, and that means they will be more focused and concentrated and less likely to have an accident. Or that might be having comfort breaks on expedition, so that people can look after any hot spots on their feet BEFORE blisters kick in, because if you are on a long expedition, blisters get worse, can get infected, can make you feel shit, and if they get really bad you can potentially get septicemia and die. If a person has sore feet, they will walk slowly, change the way they walk, and be more likely to sprain an ankle or break a leg. A broken femur in the arctic would lead to massive internal bleeding and death because no one could reach you in time, that is a big deal for the rest of the team, who have to leave you to survive themselves, and then have to meet your family face to face. Its why communication is so important on expedition, and why you must always be honest and speak up, because in not doing so, you are putting your team’s life at risk. Blisters also make you tire quicker, and when you are tired you start to make bad decisions, and that affects the whole team dynamic. I think that was one of the most valuable lessons I learnt at med school and on film productions, and for those who can’t relate to those experiences, they only have a stereotypical view of what is involved, and end up missing the point entirely. To me it is the little things which make the biggest difference and have the greatest effect on the chances of success.
Medical School War
At medical school, my tutors were totally against me in this philosophy, and not just disagreeing, but actually interfering and trying to force me into a corner. This was tough and created a lot on unnecessary friction and stress. One tutor went so far as to say that I had a hero complex and that I consistently showed ‘rescuer behaviour’ which was something she didn’t approve of (a little bizarre given that she was a cardiac surgeon who reportedly saved people’s lives on a daily basis!). She failed to see how things like working as a diver medic on film productions or my working with the Royal Navy or wanting to do an elective at NASA was applicable to medicine or my career. But worst of all, was the fact that she didn’t allow me to behave like the adult I was. I had remortgaged my house and given up a steady and good job to pursue my career in medicine and spent four years trying to get a place on a course, taking on pretty crappy jobs to make ends meet sometimes. Why would I therefore want to fail my course or not give 100%?? As far as I was concerned, what I did on weekends or holidays was my business, yet here she was reprimanding me for having interests in things that she failed to see the relevance of. We even had a big committee meeting to discuss whether or not I should be allowed to do an elective at NASA over MY holidays! NASA Internships are hard enough to get at the best of times, even more so when you are not American, and I had spent a year going through security clearance. Ironically, it was easier for me to get an internship at NASA than it was to get into medical school!! But, having lived in Georgia and been out of the bureaucracy of Britain, I can kind of see why now. Britain is just too tied up in its own fears and paperwork and is full of people who spend lives ticking boxes rather than actually living a life and being human, or trying to comprehend the bigger picture. We Brits have lost our connection with humanity somehow, and have got caught up in worrying what others will think, and if they will approve of us.
I think that is something that has really hit home this past week. On the one hand, life in Georgia is disordered and chaotic with no set rules, and too much freedom that can leave you feeling really frustrated and annoyed, but on the flip side, it allows this creative energy and a ‘can do’ attitude. If a Georgian wants to do something, there is nothing to stop them. In Georgia everything is possible. I am not saying it is easy or right or wrong, but it is possible, and this is something I m growing to love and respect here.
Lost the thread!
So, its two weeks since I started to write this blog..epic fail, and I haven’t even written about what I wanted to write about…filming and the differences between the cultures. Its a few weeks ago now….hopefully I will get back to it!