Chapter 14 | Meaningful

butterflies sitting on notes

Operating: Teaching, chatting, watching, typing, learning – all through screens.

At the age of 43 I have discovered how lucky I am. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do with my life (what a question to ask anyone at the age of 16!! really!!) all I could answer was: “I don’t want to sit behind a desk”. There was this amazing TV programme in SA called 50/50, which I think was on a Sunday night. It was all about nature and there was this very attractive lady that presented it.  She travelled all over the world researching animals, a bit like David Attenborough (of course then I didn’t know anything about Sir David, neither did anyone else in SA).

So, I thought great, that will do! Fantastic.

My dad then lovingly informed me that that was not the greatest choice for a woman, because you have to travel away from home a lot and that wouldn’t really work well with children.

Well Dad, two things: I hope, sincerely, that I have challenged you on your sexual discrimination and I hope that you would have mentioned too that that was probably not a great choice for a husband either!!

Secondly: Dad, I don’t have children!!!

So back to the drawing board. If I couldn’t work with animals and I didn’t want to sit behind a desk, I narrowed it down to working with my hands and doing something meaningful. Art, back then, was not exactly what you would categorise as ‘meaningful’, instead it was for ‘the weird people’ who wore mostly black clothes, Dr. Martens boots, lots of make-up – and even then in good old South Africa, let’s say they had more than the norm in piercings… So art bit the dust!

What was left? People. Working with people, helping people. Something meaningful. As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a little bit of ‘nurse’ in me.  A few examples: Dad had a migraine – I’d rub his neck; my sister had a black-head – I’d squeeze it out; mum didn’t cut my brother’s hair quite ‘fashionably right’ – I’d help him out; my little sister felt sad – I’d give her a cuddle; my grandpa needed someone to look after him – I’d sleep next to him, plait his hair, massage his feet, help him up, walk with him…  I even assisted myself when I fell off my skateboard – fixing myself up before my parents spotted any injuries and confiscated the skateboard.

I did not think about it at all, instead, I just did it without thinking; it was the most obvious thing in the world for me. Spot ‘a need’ or ‘a person in need and my natural response was to ‘find a solution’ and most of the time (most of..) I did (some better than others).

This decision to work with people means that I spend so little of my time on a screen. My phone is on silent 90% of the time because most of my work-day is spent seeing patients. I spend some time on my phone during my lunch break, after work and some time at night before dinner, if there is time. And then there’s the weekend, where I moderate my time on my phone as a habit.

However I have spent more time on a screen – looking at one, talking to one, looking through one – in the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 3 months. It is unreal how much screen time ‘a normal person’ does on a daily basis in his or her life. I would describe my feeling as stepping off a long-haul flight and feeling slightly jet-lagged, discombobulated, a bit dizzy and as if my feet are not really steady on the ground. I feel encapsulated. It is bizarre. And then, to watch TV at night – another screen. I find it extraordinary how people have adapted to this and that they are probably not even aware of it. The waves through my brain feel like a river that never stops flowing…

On that note, The Heath is calling, time for trees in real life, birds in real life and the smell and feeling of air on my skin.

Thanks Dad, I am happy with my choice and if I had to choose again, I have no idea whether the penny would drop on ‘Art’ or ‘Health’.., the combination though is rather perfect.

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