Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'm Not in the Happiness Business

SO FAR, I HAVEN'T made too many metaposts about this blog itself, especially regarding my schedule. I post when I have something to write. When the idea's mostly done in my head, I sit, write, warm the idea to completion, and send it on its way into the dark dungeons of the internets. I have a number of prose blobs in my computer's blog folder . . . half-baked ideas, sentences, paragraphs, that never really jelled. I hang onto them in case I ever come back to them with the right sort of mindset to finish them, or bearing the ending that was eluding me, or whatever.

Still, I feel crummy for not promptly finishing my whole set of Las Vegas posts. Not to use real life as an excuse, but . . . I don't know how to finish that sentence. Seriously, I think I lost momentum on relating the tale, despite taking notes while I was there. Bringing a computer along next time might assist matters, especially if I stay at the Plaza again — the table and chair setup there was great for writing.

I may still finish out that trip with some sort of summation, but when I have the words done. I'd hate to just apply some sort of conversational twist-tie to seal it off like some sort of literary Hefty Bag. It might spend a little time in my fragment folder, or just pour out when it's done. I want it to be as true as it can be, even if it's just closing out the story. I'm not here to lie about myself. The truth is far more amusing.

So this will be a catchall catch-up sort of post. Strap in.

The other big issue weighing on my mind recently, in addition losing a friend of mine, is my mother's continuing quest to determine what's been up with her health. I can sum it up thusly: Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

Last time I wrote about this, my mother had been told that her right carotid artery was 50% blocked, and that the doctor didn't regard it as an emergency. The number struck me as odd. The stereotypical responses to a test of an artery's flow are either that it's totally clear and the patient has nothing to worry about, or it's 90% blocked and the patient is immediately swabbed with Betadine and cracked open like a Brazil nut. It's never 50%.

This piqued my mother's curiosity as well. She was also concerned about her continuing visual impairment, and whether anything else could potentially break off and travel somewhere more sensitive. She spoke to a friend of hers who had suffered the same condition and had been treated with carotid surgery. The friend spoke highly of the care she had received from a doctor practicing at a hospital on the other side of the county. Mom mentioned this to the primary care physician's nurse, and she gushed over the doctor in question, a vascular specialist. So she asked for a referral.

Now, keep in mind that my parents both spend a few days a month each at one doctor or another for chronic ills. If my mom isn't getting an epidural from a pain-management specialist to stave off sciatica, or having her liver enzymes checked to monitor the side effects of the psoriasis and anticholesterol meds she is on, then my dad is at the cardiologist having his pacemaker checked or having the latest suspicious growth examined by the dermatologist.

At this rate, the future depicted in Logan's Run is looking mighty sweet.

Anyway, this just shows how little incentive my mother had to add yet another medical station of the cross. But she thought, I didn't even get my diagnosis from the doctor himself. He didn't request a CAT scan of the brain for blockages, or a heart scan to see if any coronary arteries were occluded. What the fuck? (Yes, in those words. Salty gal, my mom.)

Her experience with the second doctor was in every way excellent. It turns out this man is not only a vascular surgeon who has broad experience in clearing carotid arteries, but he is the chief of that specialty at his hospital. His card had more board certifications than a medical convention. He put her at ease, interviewed her for a history, asked to see the previous scan, and — when his staff couldn't read the results — asked her to have a more complete scan done there.

Good idea. The prior scan was unreadable because my mother has irregularly formed carotid arteries, curving repeatedly instead of straight. The other hospital quoted 50% because they were seeing an incomplete picture. Her right carotid is actually 70% blocked, on top of being malformed.

Had she simply heeded her primary care guy's advice — which didn't even come directly from him — she might have put off surgery for months. The vascular specialist was stunned to learn of this, as well as to hear that the other guy prescribed no cardiac scan or plaque-managing drugs. As for the technician who prepared the first scan, he said that the person ought to lose his license.

The next step is surgery on the afflicted carotid, sometime within the next few weeks. The primary care physician finally got his shit into gear and ordered cardiac and brain scans, but earlier this week, my mom had to cancel on at least one of them. The pressure of going from one doctor to another for this, on top of having to push one of them to get serious about followup, gave her a panic attack, to the point of shaking like a leaf and being unable to hold a cup of coffee. A day of blessed inactivity with my father at her side and an extra Xanax helped calm her down, though, and she has continued the march from MD to MD this week in a more tranquil spirit.

All of this — my mom, Nick's death — has reduced my tolerance for bullshit by a marked degree. Some things I deemed important have diminshed; others have grown. I have also been reading two productivity blogs, 43 Folders and Lifehack, and picking up hints on tightening my routines at work and home.

At work, the four Mac users in my groups lost the ability to use Microsoft Outlook for email. I know what you're thinking, "Free at last!" Not so simple; as the company uses it, so must we, even if it's through its vile Exchange incarnation. So we had been struggling for two weeks to read, print, and archive email via this clunky Web interface. An utter waste of time.

Last Friday, we all got Microsoft Entourage. So much more functional. Once again, we can drag and drop files to get them in or out of emails. Filling archive folders is now an instant experience, not a 7-step series of clickthroughs. Moreover, we can organize groups of emails, contacts, and calendar dates in "projects," a quantum leap forward from merely having a swelling Inbox in which lurk five or six related emails with disparate headers and addressees.

This inspired me to instigate a purge. I deleted well over a thousand emails over three days. I felt like the last 5 seconds of an Ex-Lax ad. My immediate boss had asked the other three of us to organize our printed emails and off-press work in file folders along her system. I had done so, but now I felt like this new software could help me group this sort of stuff in these projects and keep everything moving and marked for updates.

Then I turned to workflow. For the vast majority of our newsletters, the in-house editors provide us with printed MSS and Word files on a common server. For three of them, though, the files are emailed directly from the publications' editors in the field to me — not to the in-house folks for reviewing art quality, styling text, and the like. This has me printing the MSS, doing the aforementioned editorial tasks, and (for one of the three) contacting the field editor to solicit MSS.

This is patently not my job. I pointed this out to my boss, who agreed. I then emailed the two in-house eds and their supervisor to tell them that the next issue should go directly to them, not to me.

Said super came down to discuss this. She has a history of being spongy on decisions, of not standing up to demanding field editors, and of allowing her eds to be used for tasks better suited to a temp. (Amid slates of 9 to 11 active monthly or quarterly editing and proofreading jobs, she has them review online Web versions of their pubs for quality control. Get an intern to do this and let the editors edit!) More alarmingly, when I pointed out an aspect of workflow to her in explaining why this job was better done by her staff and not me, she betrayed basic ignorance about how the edited files are prepared for typesetting — and I made it a point to run through that process for her in a voice loud enough for my boss to come over and get involved in the discussion.

In the end, I evaded her claims that "this is how we've always done it" and "it will create more work for these folks" and left the issue in her lap. I was pleased to receive my boss's direct support and her compliment for "standing my ground." I replied that the company is riven with inefficiencies like this, and I am not interested in supporting them, especially with a major switch in how we produce newsletters coming sometime this year (read as: should have been in operation for 6 months by now). that, incidentally, will require that supervisor to know the procedure she blanked on as well as her staff. I said to my boss that I had a feeling the editors wouldn't be happy with my move, but — and this phrase has been running through my head for the past week since I read a thread on personal mantras — "I'm not in the happiness business."

This is not to say I will not make people happy. I made my boss happy by detaching an inessential function and grafting it back onto the department where it will best be carried out. I surely made my sysadmin happy by douching out a grand of useless email. In the phrase, the happiness I am denying people is the happiness of complacency in believing my department will do your shit work, of tolerating mediocre results like a half-assed medical scan that could have killed my mother, of letting a thousand emails rot, of seeing tasks and believing them impossible rather than digestible in single bits . . . of evading the excellence I could achieve in writing, in exercising regularly, in mastering poker, in being an example at work and leading rather than responding.

I'm not in the happiness business. And business is good.

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