Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Take a Knee

So, Thursday is my last day of work.  Then I am unemployed - for the first time, basically, in my adult life. 

(Pause here to throw up in mouth a little)

I've applied for a lot of jobs, and I'm still at the point where I'm applying for the "gee, this sounds like a great place to work"-type jobs.  In about 2 weeks, that will morph into "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, I WILL DO ANYTHING LEGAL IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON FOR MONEY"-type jobs.  There's this one place that my gut says would be wonderful for me (you guys know I'm all zen and crap, right-I listed to my 'inner voice') but on paper, I'm woefully underqualified.  I can do the job - but I just need to get in front of the bosses.  Hopefully they will see past the lack of "education" and "work experience" (she rolls her eyes at the elitest intonation of those words) and give Kat a shot.

Go Kat Go.

Well, in addition to pending unemployment, you all know I've been dealing with SP's cancer.  No news, really, on that front.  No news is good news, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

At this point I think I'm going to enlighten you all as to an average day in the life of Kat, as told through her text messages and phone conversations.  Serious as a heart attack, this all happened today.  Perhaps when we are done, you can register and leave a comment to explain why I'm single.  I'm at a loss.

First up:  Texting Alex.

Kat:  I hurt my knee last night.  The truth is, I smacked it on a TV in my garage, but I'm going to tell everyone I did it saving orphans from a burning building.
Alex:  OMG that's funny.
Kat:  It's killing me today.
Alex:  Maybe you shouldn't mess with a tv.
Kat:  No, remember - burning building, orphans.  I carried a charged fire hose 100 stories up the stairs too.
Alex:  Why would you bring a charged line up 100 flights when there are standpipes on every floor.
Kat:  The orphanage was not up to code.  Do you know how many orphans you can pack into 100 stories?  I had to make 300 trips to rescue them all.  It took me almost 20 MINUTES.
Alex:  You are so full of it.

Second up:  SP texting, followed by a phone call

Kat:  I tried to call you today, I got a message saying your phone number didn't work.
SP:  Upgrading phone, stand by.
(a few hours later, placed a call to SP)
Kat:  You upgraded your phone?  That's the most optomistic thing I ever heard.
SP:  Got an iPhone.  There's an app for everything.
Kat:  How is your pain level today?
SP:  Bad.  I don't want to end up as a cancer statistic.
Kat:  Well, darling, either way, you will be a statistic, if you think about it - the type of statistic is up for grabs.
SP:  You really should not consider a career as a hospice transition counselor.
Kat:  So noted.

Okay, I just re-read all that - maybe you don't need to comment after all.  Sigh.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

50 Shades of Denver

Okay, I'm back from Denver.  Baby Girl is officially a college graduate with a job, an apartment, and Sallie Mae is her new BFF. 

I have a great fire-related post from my Denver trip, but here in Bedrock, I won't get my pictures back from Wally World until Friday.  So hang on until then.  Yabba Dabba Do.

I have taken the day off from work tomorrow - originally, my Denver trip was a day longer, until I saw my checking account balance.  As sleeping in the park on 18th St was not an option for me and my children, the trip was modified accordingly; but since the vacation day was already approved, I'm loafing.  So I told SP this afternoon that since I'm not working tomorrow, I give him permission to take a day off from cancer and to spend the day acting normal.  Then at some point during the day, we are having one of those "Coming to Jesus" talks that we really, really need to have NOW about my imminent unemployment.  I told him I felt like his dominatrix, which he thought was funny.  Then again, he's on a lot of meds - everything I say now is side-splitting, incredibly sweet, or profound, depending on the topic.

Lesson #45 in my "Loving a Terminally Ill Guy" lifestyle:  If you want to feel really, really clever, funny or profound, have a lot of 2-minute conversations with a guy on morphine.

I should write a book.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Trip, A Censorship

After 10 long days, my SP is home from the hospital.  I wish I had something encouraging and positive to say right now.  Since I don't, I'll let you fill in that blank.

It's funny, the effect that stress has on the body.  I've felt like I'm coming down with the flu for about 3 days now.  I'm rarely sick, I think I've only had the ACTUAL flu twice in my life, that I can recall.  But my body has decided that it's sick of this "dealing with the stress of cancer" shit.  I feel hung over, headachey, stomachachey.  I want to go home, even when I am home. 

On Saturday, my youngest daughter graduates from college.  Her sibs and I are taking a 3-day weekend trip to Denver to attend her ceremony.  While I'm out of town, I forbid the following words be uttered in my presence:


If I hear them - in any context - you may just want to gird your loins and then run for cover.  It will get ugly.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Diagnostic Exam - Done.

Today was EXAM CRAM day.  Can I get a woot woot?

So I hauled my little self down to my favorite place on the planet, The Salmon Creek Coffee Company, for a little study time.  I mean, look how cute my coffee and muffin look:

And yes,that's a little smiley face on my cup.  Melanie rocks.  When I move, I'm seriously considering committing a felony by taking her with me, probably against her will.  You know how hard it is to break in a new barista?

Anyhow, it's the hippest little place in O-town:

And I go there every morning before work.  Today I just wanted to get out of my house, and be all trendy and noir like the nursing students I see huddled around these tables every day, so I went to the coffee place for my study time.

My study time began with an overview of the CPAT, which stands for "Candidate Physical Ability Test."  Unlike other physical fitness tests, like you might have in boot camp or something, the CPAT is a series of events where you simulate fire activities - a stair climb, dragging hoses and carrying equipment, ladder raise/extension, forcible entry, and ceiling breach and pull, to name a few.  It involves a lot of pulling, twisting, climbing, obstacle courses in enclosed spaces.  I kid you not - just looking at the sketches of the test SCARED ME.  The thought of crawling through a dark tube, which is stuffed with obstacles and dangerous scary things, while wearing 75+ pounds of gear makes me throw up in my mouth a little.  Seriously.

It all goes back to boot camp.  (Yes, 90% of my phobias originate from my time in the military.  Deal with it.)  One day we all had to go into a gas chamber.  Presumably the reason is, when we are exposed to mustard gas FOR REAL, we won't panic - we'll get all nostalgic about our boot camp days when we were 17, and rather than falling over dead, we'll just back-slap the person next to us and stroll off into the sunset, swapping stories from our old Navy days.  Anyhow, the procedure is - you put on this gas mask (which was probably manufactured during the Truman administration) and huddle into this chamber filled with chlorobenzlyidene gas (non-lethal, lucky for us), stand there for a bit, remove your mask, say your name and social security number, and then run out into the fresh Orlando air.    Well, Kat's mask had issues.  I had a bad seal.  So I got to suck CS gas for, like, 5 years longer than I should have.  Or maybe it was only 30 seconds, but still.  Have YOU ever been in a gas chamber?  Thirty seconds=5 years.  By the time I got out into the fresh Orlando air, I was pretty sure my lungs had imploded and to this day I still have no nasal hair. 

Of course, the master of the human intellect being what it is, my brain didn't associate the near-death experience with the gas; it blames the MASK.  So since that day I absolutely panic if I have any kind of mask covering my face.  This, dear reader, is reason #80 on the list of "WHY KAT WILL NEVER ACTUALLY BE A FIREFIGHTER".  I can't do the SCBA, and without the SCBA, I would die a horrible, oxygen-deprived fire death. 

I tell you all this because this CPAT test overview was chock-full of sketches showing little firemen with air packs strapped to their back as they climbed, pulled, twisted, and obstacled their way around.  Just SEEING  a little DRAWING of those masks made my pulse race.  Pathetic, I know. 

So I moved on to the "diagnostic test".  This little 100-question gem tests your knowledge of a set of categories at the beginning of your study process, so you know where to focus your energies when you do start studying.  The idea being, I guess, that you aren't wasting your valuable time on the areas that you've already mastered.

The categories:
Listening and Recall
Reading Comprehension
Judgment and Decision Making
Mathematics and Science
Tools and Equipment
Mechanical Devices
Dealing with People

The scoring scale rates you as "Excellent," "Good," "Fair," or "Poor."  Anything less than "Excellent" indicates a weak area, according to Mr. Barron, Test Prep Book Writer Extraordinaire.

Before I tell you my scores, in my defense, let me say that in order to score "Excellent" you have to get a perfect score in every category except Reading Comprehension.  In that one, you are allowed to miss 2 and still be "Excellent."  I'm thinking, no sweat.  Then I got out the score key.

I was not Excellent at anything.

I was "Good" at Dealing with People.  I got a 90%.  (stop for back pat here).

I was "Fair" at Mathematics and Science and Reading Comprehension.  80% on those 2.  (insert awkward shuffle here).

I was "Poor" at EVERYTHING ELSE.  The big loser was "Mechanical Devices," which featured a number of schematics involving pulleys and fulcrums and other stuff I probably learned, and ignored, in the military.  I got a 50% there.

So basically, do not have to worry about wasting my time by over-studying ANY PORTION of the exam prep book.  What a relief.  I'm so happy I don't have to keep track of what NOT to study.


Monday, May 7, 2012

I Need a Volunteer.

So, I get asked this question a lot.  By "a lot," I mean about once a week since November.  This, to me, constitutes "a lot," which probably says more about my lack of social interaction than anything else.

Anyhow, I get asked this a lot.  "Kat, if you want to TRULY EXPERIENCE firefighting for your blog, and TRULY LET US KNOW what it's like, why don't you just sign up as a volunteer firefighter and write about the ACTUAL EXPERIENCE?"

Well, my dear little chickens, thank you for asking.  I have "views" on this, and my answer is multi-dimensional.  First of all, there's the "idol worship" facet.  You see, in my little mind's eye, a firefighter is a demi-god, right up there with Thor, Elvis and Princess Diana.  I, on the other hand, am so entirely mortal it's not even funny.  Us mortals do not mix with the demi-gods, and vice-versa. 

I kid you not, when I hear a fire siren, I look out the window to watch for the truck.  When I see a fire truck, be it parked in front of a fire house, casually driving down the street, or racing through an intersection with sirens blaring, my reaction is always the same - I point like an idiot and say "FIRE TRUCK!".  Anyone within earshot that's over 5 years old rolls their eyes at me.  A guy got hit by a car in front of my office a few months ago.  I wanted to see the fire truck, not the mangled guy in the crosswalk.  And when it showed up and parked right in front of our building, I pointed and exclaimed in ecstatic exultation:  "FIRE TRUCK!"  Serious as a heart attack. 

Last weekend I was driving around town with my 12-year old son and his 12-year old friend.  The local firehouse had a portion of a street blocked off, with hoses strung out on the back of a flatbed truck.  I actually pulled over and cried out - "LOOK!  LOOK!  They are doing something WITH THE HOSES!  LOOK!  Where's my CAMERA???"  To which the 12-year old friend responded, "Uh, I think they are just draining them.  Can we keep driving?"  He wouldn't even let me get out.

Put me in a fire house and I would probably be a "firefighter" in the same arena as Heather Locklear was a "police officer" on TJ Hooker.  Lots of makeup, great hair, sits by the door in her well-tailored uniform.  Does any of this instill confidence in any of you, as to my potential firefighting abilities?  Not hardly.

Second facet - the "Private Benjamin" effect.  I've mentioned this before, and it bears repeating now.  I see firefighting as a calling. I saw a reference once to firefighters as "the guardians of citizen safety."  While my police friends might take issue with that, I see where the commentator was going with it.  In a fire situation, things can go badly so very, very quickly.  If I were in a situation like that, I would want to know that the person behind me literally had my back, should something happen to me, and that I could put my complete confidence in that person's ability to get me out.  I, in turn, would be equally capable to assist that person as well.  To just show up with no skills, no drive, no fire in my belly at a local firehouse and say, "Hey! Kat's here!  Sign me up so I can write about our wacky adventures!" seems insulting to those who have dedicated their lives and sacrificed their time with their own families to the cause of taking care of me, my family, and my fellow citizens.  It also sounds like a good way to either a) burn up in a fire, or b) cause somebody else to burn up in a fire trying to save my ass.

So I ran this question by 3 fire professionals.   "Do you see men and women sign up as volunteers who are obviously not cut out for it, and are just looking for a little thrill or maybe a weird little hobby? If so, as a fire professional, how do you handle it when these people show up at your firehouse?" I was positive that they would all agree with my astute observation about the Private Benjamin effect.  I would be wrong.  Their responses were fascinating.

First up:  my buddy Alex, who is Station 4 Fire Captain, Stevens County Fire Protection District No. 1.   

"When people sign up for the wrong reasons, it's complicated.  Some people sign up with the best of intentions but don't realize what a commitment it is; they are not prepared, they admit it, and move on.  Some sign up for the glory...if you always have to be in the spotlight, you are never going to be a good fireman, good ones go do their job and do it because they want to help people, not for the atta boys.  They will work hard, put their life on the line and never brag about it.  When they are in it for show...I would never put them in a situation that would require them to think on their feet and reach down when it got tough.  I remind them why we are really here....I have no room for someone who can't back up what they say."

Ya gotta love Alex.  He reminds me of Tommy Gavin, except he's not Irish, not from New York, not a raging alcoholic and he is an actual person, not a fictional character.  If you don't know who Tommy Gavin is, stop reading right now and put every episode of "Rescue Me" in your Netflix queue.

Ah, but check out this very interesting, and much more moderate, opinion from Mike Bucy, Chief of Stevens County Fire Protection District No. 1 and owner of Red Devil Training:

"That’s a great question. (Thanks, Chief.)  I do think that there has to be something special "inside" you in order to do this job. However, I have also seen people sign up because they wanted to give back to the community but weren't sure if this was right for them. Once they started training, it woke up that inner calling. 
As a Chief in both paid and volunteer worlds, I have experienced people who are not cut out for this job. Most realize almost right away. It can be hard to spot those people as they are signing  up. Once in a long while you can spot them. Others, it just takes a while to awaken the passion.
True story: In 1989 I was planning on getting married and had to quit my EMS only job. I moved to Northwest Indiana and got a job with the  Portage Fire Department. Not because they did fire, but because they also ran the ambulance and paid better than other areas. I got on the job not wanting to do firefighting. I was sent to the fire academy in Arlington Heights (suburb of Chicago) and only then—after struggling a bit—did I fall in love with the fire service.   I might have been one of those people on the surface, but the passion was awakened because I was given a chance."

You know, I have to admit, I was a little surprised at his diplomacy.  He seems almost willing to give me the opportunity to get hysterical on scene and run for my life. (Just not at Station 4, because Alex would drop me in a heartbeat like a sack of wet cement.  Things to know.)  Anyhow, Mike's response made me wonder if I am being a little too harsh in my assessment.

Enter Keith Zweigle, Assistant Fire Chief, Douglas Okanogan Fire District 15.

"Yes, it is very noble for what ever reason that drives oneself to volunteer for anything. But I would say that there are a lot that do it sometimes for all the wrong reasons! I do it because it is a great way to serve the community that I live in.  And I do love the thrill I get when responding to a call, but there has been hours, months, years that have gone into training away from my family for just that moment.  So I ask you this- are you looking for a HUGE commitment because this is what you will get when you enter this world of firefighting.  I've seen different people come and go for different reasons but most leave because of the time commitment it takes to stay current with all of the training, etc."

The thing you need to know about Keith is, he is the nicest man on the planet.  Seriously.  I don't think he's spoken a harsh word in 46 years.  In fact, I bet after he typed and sent this response to me, that he sat agonizing at his computer, wondering is he was too hard on me.  But I did love the fact that he brought up the time commitment.  My gawd, just studying for the exam and trying to get my slug ass into halfway decent shape takes up every free second of my life as it is....throw in weekly training meetings and fire calls at 2 a.m. - when do my demi-gods sleep, I ask? 

So there you have it, my little chickens.  Has my opinion on the "Private Benjamin effect" been altered?  Not really...at least, not as it applies to me.  I will concede that perhaps there are some individuals looking to have the calling awakened in them, as Chief Bucy pointed out.  For me - I know for a fact that I'm not cut out for fire service.  I could certainly volunteer administratively, or help with rehab on a fire scene, or maybe even be a firehouse den mother and make lasagna every Sunday - but I will never be a hooligan with a Halligan.  I will leave that to my heroes, and I will continue to point at their trucks, advocate for them, support them, feed them, and flirt outrageously with them whenever the opportunity arises.  That is my contribution to our Guardians of Citizen Safety.