Barbed wire freedom

I’m Canadian but maybe, just maybe, I should be an American…

It’s because I love freedom.

Isn’t freedom what America’s all about?

All of the magnificent swelling anthems, all of the heartfelt oaths you have to take to be an official U.S. citizen offer up the compelling and appealing idea that you live in the best country in the world and that’s because you have freedom, both personal and collective.

By the way, and this is important … if you really want to hear about the U.S. as the world’s best country, I suggest you listen to Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy skewer the whole idea on the TV series The Newsroom … I’m not sure there’s a more powerful political moment in TV history as this soliloquy 

America Greatest Country

Freedom is so important – we tell ourselves we possess it, but really?

Just saying it doesn’t make it so.

Personal freedom is something that each of us yearns for, but really… really … those of us who are more Downton Abbey downstairs staff Carson and Daisy than upstairs aristocrats Lady Mary and Lord Grantham –  have to earn our freedom little-bit by little-bit.

I feel a little burn inside when someone tells me what I should be doing – little infringements on my personal freedom. There have been countless times in life where I needed to suck it up and just do it. It’s called survival. I accept that and have played along nicely.

But … Is that freedom?

Truly, I prefer to just tune out and pretend they never said anything. I long to be my own boss. I’m not talking solely about workplace stuff here. Friends, relatives, store clerks, stoplights … they all – at times – want to be my boss.

Today, finally, for most intents and purposes – not all – I’m my own boss.

Of course, there are degrees of freedom. Compared to a slave worker in any era of history (including today), I have enormous freedom.

But I’m greedy. I want more.

greedy

 

My freedom, my free choice, my power has been earned over many years. And in looking closely at why this is, it comes down to dollars and cents. Yup, the almighty DOLLAR.

I began my working life as a cute little 5 year-old paperboy. A few years later after being accused by one of my elderly newspaper customers of car theft (I was a modern version of elfin’esque Oliver to nasty Fagin) I graduated to becoming a McDonalds’ burger flipper in a hippie-refuse-to-cut-my-hair-short-wig.

Then began my extended 30+ year lab tech career that has brought the “retired” me to today where I enjoy more freedom than ever before.

But… the freedom I carry with me now like a smug smart-ass is part of a slow-moving plan I hatched way back in my early working years in William’s Lake.

In 1980, I left a lab job in frigid Yellowknife to follow my love south to British Columbia’s interior region called the Cariboo.

The town of William’s Lake is cowboy country. I loved the chill snowy winters, cross-country skiing in the deep snows outside my back door in January, the crystalline blue lakes and camping close by in the wide-open Chilcotin area in the summer.

I won’t mention fishing at Anahim Lake here, because how many folks can claim to fish on a lake where EVERYONE and his 3 year-old sister catches their daily limit of trout in an hour, and get out of the boat empty-handed (or hooked!), like I did?

chilcotin

It was in William’s Lake that I had an epiphany of sorts.

NO, it wasn’t while I visited with my wiry long-haired neighbour Dean who grew and smoked pot while his wife Rita tended their 2 little kids.

An no, it wasn’t while attending the William’s Lake Stampede and watching famed Canadian folk-country singer Ian Tyson competing on his quarter horse in the rodeo ring.

And it wasn’t even while enjoying the azure blue skies and cheek-pinkening air while swish-swooshing between the trees of Boitano Park on my skis.

Nope.

It happened in the lab at Cariboo Memorial Hospital where I worked.

A normal day in the lab began early in the morning when a group of us techs and lab aides circulated through the overnight faeces-and-fetid-pus-scented wards to collect blood samples from in-patients for testing. Routine stuff.

I sucked a few tubes of blood from a young woman labouring with her 3rd child when she first arrived at the hospital. Routine stuff.

My co-workers and I returned to the lab and began processing and testing the blood and urine samples we had collected on our morning rounds. Routine stuff.

About 9 am, all hell broke loose and the rest of the day was a total whirlwind. Not routine stuff.

The young woman in labour whom I had needled earlier, delivered a healthy baby through her vagina. And then …

… the blood began flowing … and flowing … and gushing.

It was determined quickly that this was an undiagnosed case of placenta praevia – a normal placenta attaches to the uterine wall above or to the side of the opening of the cervix so that it does’t interfere with the baby as it passes out of the uterus during birth. In placenta praevia, the opening to the cervix, and hence the exit door, is covered over by the placenta. The placenta can shear off either during or before birth – this is when the bleeding begins.

Placenta-Previa

One of my colleagues received a phone call from upstairs saying they needed blood … NOW!!

Our blood bank fridge had a normal supply of blood on hand so that a typical patient needing transfusion would have timely access to about 4-6 units of blood, maybe 8 if they were lucky.

Without going into a huge amount of lab detail, our blood bag supply of suitable Red Cross-collected blood was exhausted for this woman before the hour was out.

She continued to gush from her vagina as fast as they could squeeze the blood through the needles in both arms.

This is when the lab took on the look of an army MASH unit as we called in local donors to give fresh blood to stem the tide of this woman’s losses.

She clung to life as we set up cots in the middle of the lab and jammed thick-bored needles into our local folk, filling blood bag after blood bag, doing the most remedial cross-type testing and then sending the bags upstairs to the operating room where surgeons and OR nurses worked feverishly to halt the tsunami of blood.

At one point I rushed to the OR to deliver another couple of bags of blood and entering the OR suite, I saw large pools of dark-red brown, sticky blood covering the floor. Surfaces of the bed on which the pale, unconscious woman laid were drenched in crimson, the staff passing wads of blood-soaked dressings back and forth like a fire brigade shuttling buckets of water to put out a fire.

Blood soaked OR

The day was a total panicky blur until finally after about 8 hours the wound was closed – the blood flow slowed to a trickle and the woman was – amazingly – still breathing and pumping blood, none of it her own.

Everyone I worked with throughout the ordeal was exhausted but relieved, most of all the family of the poor lady who had received somewhere in the vicinity of 35 units of blood over the course of the day, or about 3 full human bodies equivalent of blood.

…………

FREEDOM.

Yes, I wanted to talk about freedom.

That day … that event… was traumatic not just for the lady involved but it affected me deeply as I realized that I might not be able to handle the stress and trauma of these life-and-death scenarios for 40+ years (I was about 23 years old at the time). I began thinking and reflecting.

I realized that I had to take some control over my life so that I could walk away if circumstances turned ugly or undesirable. We all have days in our working lives where we can barely stomach the idea of continuing on because of workload, or co-workers, or bosses or any number of stressors.

I decided then that I would refuse to be held captive because I had no other choices. And I figured the larger the sum of dollars backstopping my life, the greater amount of freedom of choice and decision-making would be in my hands. I wanted the power.

And so that day, I became a saver and an investor. 

And that day I began telling people I’d retire by the time I was 35 … which turned into 40 … then 45 and well … here I am at 57 and I’ve just “retired”.

It has become a long running joke with many of my colleagues over time that I should have retired years earlier, given my bold predictions.

Well, my optimistic financial scenarios took a while to mesh with reality, but that’s OK. In my final years and days in lab work, I enjoyed going to work, I embraced the camaraderie of my colleagues.

But now, I can make the choice of whether to arise at 5 am (as I usually do to visit the gym) or 7 or 8 or 9. I can go to a movie or concert on a weeknight without worrying about getting home early to sleep for tomorrow’s workday. I can eat my lunch at 10:30 am or 3:30 pm if the feeling strikes.

Choices. My choices.

FREEDOM.

Let’s be real. I can’t do anything or everything I want, when I want… I’m not a BDSM billionaire like Christian Grey. I’m not powerful in the same way that Oprah Winfrey is powerful. But I have power over the little things, the little things that are important in my little life.

And because I began saving and investing early on, I struck a healthy balance of enjoying the moment while at the same time saving and looking outwards to the day when I could make the important decisions about how I want to live.

I planned an escape route because freedom is knowing that you can make your own choices.

FREEDOM

 

 

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