Monday, June 25, 2001

Studying for my Microsoft certification is going painfully slow. I hear confilicting stories from people regarding the usefulness of having them. Some people (recruiters included) are saying that industry experience dwarfs the importance of the MCSE. Still, I feel that having the qualification will lend some credibility to my claim to "know" the various flavors of Microsoft server products. I am just going to have to put my head down and get through a few exams.


In spite of how much I bitch and moan about my job, I have to admit that it *has* been a great place to learn (and make mistakes) as I hone my management skills. I'm learning the finer points of playing politics by observing and occasionally foraying into the escapades. I've wielded power over the vendors that holding the purchasing decision gives, and learned to benefit the company and myself from that power. I've developed the ability to deal with difficult and arrogant people - staff, coworkers and supervisors. I have even disciplined and fired - which is much harder than it sounds.

To me, firing is the action that results when an employee keeps passing all the "Turn Back Now" signs in the middle of their path. The times that I have fired someone (there have been two) have been hard for me, as I wondered how these dumb-dumbs could not have seen the warnings and taken heed. I remember beating myself up for each person that I had to let go, wondering if I had given enough clear signs and/or benefit of the doubt. In retrospect, I now realize that each one of those I fired had (presumably) known what they were doing and, consciously or not, chosen the consequence that awaited them. From my viewpoint, they all ended up better for leaving my employment. I've even had one employee arrested and charged with a felony.

All of these lessons pale in comparison to my experience at one job I had that most would consider to be the the ultimate of a non-stressful job - standing around on deck as a lifeguard at an indoor pool. As lifeguards, we would sometimes joke about it being a boring day because nobody died. Then one day, someone did.

An elderly man was swimming during a typically quiet lane swim, along with about fifteen other people. This senior citizen who came infrequently to the pool was swimming lengths when, without a sound or warning, he sank to the bottom in the middle of his swimming his length. The lifeguard on duty (a mother of two teanage boys) saw him sink, sensed something was wrong and dove in after him. She brought him to the surface and called to the other guard (who from the office had heard the whistle blast and the splash of her dive) that she had a "major". The other guard went in to assist, while he called for one of the instructors (an eighteen-year-old university student who worked 8 hours a week) to clear the remaining patrons into the changerooms and lock the doors.

The two guards hauled his limp body out of the pool and onto the pool deck, careful to cradle his head from hitting the hard-tiled deck and cause further injury. The second guard told the instructor to call for an ambulance and inform them that they had a non-breathing, pulseless victim. The first guard began doing chest compressions while the other started doing rescue breathing. The chest compressions caused the man to vomit all over the second guard, who had knelt beside his head. They rolled him onto his side, cleared his airway, rolled him back and continued with compressions and artifical respiration. The two guards worked on the man for seventeen-and-a-half minutes while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. They never switched places as they were told in training that they should do - the adrenaline kept them going, counting out loud rhythmically - five compressions, one breath, marking each minute when they reached sixty compressions by starting count again. When the paramedics came, they took over the compressions and ventilations, but they seemed to know that this man's time had come. They, nor the lifeguards, could pronounce the man dead so they continued their work all the way to the hospital.

There wasn't an inquest into the incident at the pool - the coroner's autopsy clearly identified it as a massive heart attack, meaning his heart stopped sending any signal to beat altogether, and that he was most likely dead before he sank to the bottom. No amount of diligence could have saved this man when his heart quit beating and refused (through all of the efforts) to start again. Knowing this would not have made me feel any better as I stood in the shower, all of 22 years, crying and shaking as the hot water rinsed the vomit from my guard uniform and legs, into the floor drain.

That, gentle reader, is where the high bar is set for a bad day at work.

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