ALIVE AND WRITING, I SWEAR

Readers of this blog (if there are any left post my period of neglect) would have noted my long absence. This is not because London has swallowed me whole and I am lost wandering the tunnels of the Underground. Nor is it because I have given up writing and all modern forms of communication, and am now blogging solely through the art of cave drawings. (Although if I was lost in the tunnels of the Underground, this would be a great way to pass the time).

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(Proof I am alive and petting random wild animals)

Life has been busy. After an inexplicable pay decrease (thank you England, and the way you look after your nurses), I decided to increase my work hours to compensate. London is a greedy bitch and rent isn’t cheap, nor is flying to Vienna each fortnight, and so, given I was only clinging on financially by my fingernails, I needed to increase my income.

Luckily for me, working as an agency nurse, this option exists for me. I pick and choose the days I work, and previously I had used this to my advantage to have four-day weeks and long weekends. But it also goes the other way, and so my working weeks suddenly got a lot longer as I commenced working ten-day stretches, then heading to Vienna for four days. Technically, this is simply full-time work, ten days in a fortnight with my two weekends bunched at the end. But let me tell you, working all days back-to-back, it feels like a lot more.

Added to this is that I started a new line of work where I act as a sort-of community emergency nurse. Patients are recognised as deteriorating by their GPs and we are called in to do a full assessment and commence a plethora of interventions and tests to try and improve their worsening condition and avoid a hospital admission. This work is interesting and satisfying as you can see almost immediately the effect you have on a patient. The only downside (or upside given my desire to get some of that sweet, sweet green) is that the shifts are twelve hours long. My working week just got that little bit longer.

In the last ten-day stretch I managed to work one hundred hours. This is coupled with hour long bus rides at either end of my shift to get to and from work, and the sheer physical toll of walking through the streets of London, and I have little time or energy left for blog entry writing.

The brief time I do have left I spend with my beautiful girlfriend, recuperating under her administrations in Vienna, or trying to cram the German language into my head. Mein Deutsch wird immer besser, aber es gibt immer mehr zu lernen.

But, as stated, this does not mean I have stopped writing, which brings me to the reason for resurrecting this platform and reaching out to you, dear reader.

Just this month a reflective article of mine was published in the most recent edition of the American Journal of Nursing. It details the experience I had of verifying the death of a patient, and what actually goes into this process.

 

You can find it here and download a pdf version for free: Verification.36

Or if you’re super keen and want to part with some of your own sweet, sweet green, you can buy the whole journal here: http://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Pages/currenttoc.aspx

 

Thanks for reading, and sticking with me through the long silences and random german sentences. That is true friendship.

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LIFE IN LONDON #08

Shortly after moving to London, two friends of mine from the deep South-East (a.k.a Gippsland), also made the move to the cloudy city. When we lived in Australia, the three of us would routinely catch up and swap stories over dinner, and we saw no reason to change that habit now we had relocated in England. These friends happen to read my blog and subtly suggested that, given they were part of my life in London, they get a mention in a post. Over the weeks, this suggestion changed from soft promptings to an aggressive:

“So, I noticed we’re still not in the blog. What’s up with what?”

Their charming tact worked its magic and what follows in an extract from one of our exploits.

Quick aside: The two friends in question are Jess, who I recently learned stands at a little less than five feet, and Jen, who stands at a little more than five feet. Their height is in no way relevant, I just wanted to share how short Jess is.

After moving to London, Jess and Jen decided they were going to get the most out of their time overseas and downloaded an app called yplan that offers a random collection of things to do in the city (yplan = why plan? I know, the cleverness of the name wowed me too). They set up a system where each weekend one of them would scour yplan for an activity than ran for less than £20 a head, and as long as it fell below this price, they could go ahead and book it in for the both of them. This is how they discovered ice-hockey.

They knew nothing about the game, were not particularly fanatical about sports in general, but figured for less than £20, it could be a laugh.

They now love it. They went to almost every game for the rest of the season. They love it to the point that, when describing them to other friends, the first thing I say is, “They’re huge ice-hockey fans.”

Stunned by the passion with which they spoke about the game, I had to see what the fuss was about, so the three of us bused it out to Stratford for my first ice-hockey experience. I was not disappointed.

After making our way into the rink, we were met by two ladies sitting at a table and very officially were awarded wrist bands, proving we were paying supporters of the London Raiders. The London Raiders were Jess and Jen’s favourite team. They bleed blue and yellow, and after five minutes of watching the boys out on the ice, I did too.

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In addition to the very official wrist bands, we were also given a photocopy of the rules of the game, which I immediately digested (mentally, not physically), as, beyond knowing that the puck goes in the net, I had no real knowledge of the game’s particulars. Watching the Mighty Ducks film franchise can only get you so far, and I have a feeling that that rag-tag bunch of underdogs bent the rules on more than one occasion. (Despite all my reading, I found no mention of the famous “Hucklepuck” move as seen in D2: The Mighty Ducks.)

The photocopy of the rules was full of useful information such as the description of the puck being “a 3” disc of rubber which is kept below 0°C and is very hard!” and the warning to “keep an eye out for it because it can hurt if it hits you!” Beyond an over-enthusiasm for exclamation points, the writer of the piece was obviously very fond of pointing out the obvious.

The three of us made our way to the front row in the London Raiders fan club, obviously, because we are such huge fans, and we were soon joined by said fans. It was great to get some local colour, and one father of two quickly made himself known by spitting insults at the competition who were warming up on the ice. His allegiance to the London Raiders was inspirational.

The players disappeared from the ice and I felt a spiral of excitement unfurl in my gut as I realised the game was soon to start. There was commotion at one end of the rink, a gate opened, and I felt my pulse race. Then a giant machine trundled out and slowly and methodically drove over every inch of the ice. I learnt the vehicle was an ice-sweeper designed the clean the ice before each game. I also learnt that the machine moves at about 1km/hr and that the driver was very fastidious about his work.

They certainly know how to build the tension.

Finally, the moment came, and the players once again poured out onto the, now perfectly polished, ice. They lined up and were called out by name one-by-one so we could applaud those who would entertain us for the next hour. The father behind me went with a different tack and each time the announcer called out a player from the opposition, he gave a little “boo!”

Every. Time.

“Brandon Michaels.”

“Boo!”

“George William.”

“Boo!”

He was an excellent role model for his little boy and girl.

Game played started, there was the clack of hockey sticks, the swish of skates through ice, and the ping of the puck as it ricocheted off walls, poles, and helmets. The London Raiders burst into action, spreading out in formation, and, wow, let me tell you…they sucked. No, seriously, the other team was substantially better — the Raiders didn’t know what they were doing out there.

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But the poorness of the play didn’t reduce the enjoyment of the game, nor, judging by my favourite spectator’s comments, the ardour of the fans. Father-of-the-year had witty remarks such as:

“Hey, number 23, you wear your mother’s panties!”

And one time, when the opposition scored, just the simple and elegant:

“Knobhead!”

This explosion of emotion was followed about five minutes later by his five-year old daughter jumping up and down and our-favourite-fan turning to her and in all earnestness saying:

“You need to calm down. Hey, look at me. You need to calm down.”

He clearly led by example.

The timer counted down and before I knew it the siren blared, and my first hockey game had come to an end. Despite the Raiders’ rocky start, the final score was still a nail-biting…9 to 2. The Raiders had confidently lost.

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The three of us made our way from the rink with the crowd of departing spectators, and I had to admit to the girls that I could see now why they had fallen for the sport. The chill of the ice counted by the heat of the adrenaline, the thudding of players as they crushed each other against the rink walls, and the charm of the fans. And of course, the player’s children out on the ice, decked out in full gear. Did I not mention that? Oh man, it was fricken adorable.

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We left the light and glamour of the arena and into the dark and cold of a London night, crossing the road to wait at a bus-stop with a collection of other fans. But just when I thought the spectacle was over, I got one last little slice of entertainment as an intoxicated girl of around twenty-four scuttled into the trees running along side the road, and squatted to take a piss.

We had literally just let a place with toilets. We were standing about twenty meters from it. She could have easily headed back inside. Charming.

But in all seriousness, I had a brilliant time, and greatly enjoyed watching the game. If you’re in London and have a chance of catching the mighty London Raiders in action, I’d highly recommend it. Thanks, Jen and Jess, for sharing your world with me. This post’s for you.

REGISTRATION ROAD – CONCLUSION

Ten days ago I re-sat the OSCE, the final exam to garner UK nursing registration. I had no idea if I passed. In fact, if you were to ask me, gun to my head, I would have told you I failed. I don’t like this kind of pessimism, and consider myself an optimist, but the delay-riddled road towards nursing registration changed me in a lot of ways, and, when it came to this, I was not so naive as to presume anything.

It has been nineteen months since I begun the paperwork necessary for getting myself registered in the UK. Back then, I was full of adrenaline and a dogged enthusiasm. I had been warned by many parties that it was a trial for an Australian nurse to work in England, but I surveyed the mountain I’d put in front of myself and decided that, as long as I kept walking, I could scale it.

This attitude worked for a year. A year is a long time to work towards something. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound so bad, but for three-hundred and sixty-five long days I thought about and put energy and effort into achieving this goal. That means from the outset, I awoke three-hundred and sixty-five times and resolutely pointed myself back up that mountainside. And in case you haven’t done it, it’s damn exhausting to walk uphill.

Which is exactly how it felt. Every step I took came at a great expense of physical and mental energy. Nothing was simple and straight-forward. If I had seen the logic behind the things I was doing, the documents I had to gather at personal cost, and the exams I had to sit, also at a high personal cost, then it would have eased the journey, I would have seen my destination getting closer and known that what I was doing was effective. Instead, everything I was asked to do led me around in circles, often having to repeat steps I’d already taken, like police checks, immunisations, blood tests, GP declarations of good health, and forcing more and more detailed paperwork out of my university. It wasn’t a matter of ticking boxes, it was ticking all the boxes, then going back and ticking them again and again as you watched your mark fade from the page.

Anybody who’s had a job that feels endless, who does all their work and finds the same amount or more waiting for them the next day can appreciate how this taps your motivation. It worms into that part of the brain that says to keep going and riddles it with holes. Defeatist thoughts begin to intrude, until you feel like laughing at the efforts you make while the out-box is consistently outweighed by the in-box.

This was me after a year, sitting and laughing and shaking my head when the latest report came online in my UK registration portal telling me the documents I’d already acquired needed to be reacquired, with no explanation as to why the previous version had been deemed insufficient. I was watching the ticks fade from the boxes, and it got to me.

My view of the world has always been one of hard work winning out. Not that every hard worker somehow becomes a millionaire, more that input results in an equal output. I had seen my parents work and save for their whole adult life, but the victories seemed to match up with the sacrifices they made. We had a home, and food, all the possessions we’d ever need, and the ability to go away in the summer and relax with family and friends. They worked, yes, but the payout of that hard work seemed justified.

For the first time in my life, hard-work added up to jack-shit.

But, slowly and resolutely, clinging more to an insane refusal to break than any real hope that I would achieve my original goal, I persevered, and eventually those boxes, now scarred and marked with repeated ticks, remained filled. It had taken sixteen months, a lot of money, and a huge chunk of my energy, but I finally only had one last box to check. Of course, it wasn’t this simple.

This last box cost money. A lot of money. I was to be tested, despite the testing that had already taken place when I completed all my placements, graduated from university, and successfully obtained, held, and was even promoted in my employment. I was to be held to their standards. This bothered me, mostly because I felt I had done more than could be reasonably asked from a person, but the logic of it was clear. What wasn’t clear was the obscure way they went about laying out the exam, feeding those to be examined scraps until the whole procedure became one stained with doubt and confusion, which led invariably to stress. This seemed so unnecessary, and not an accurate way to examine anyone. Shouldn’t we be taught first, and then be tested on what we’ve learnt? Instead, they seemed ready to test, and then tell you where you went wrong. This meant failing, and paying the huge sum of money just to find out one piece of information, one lesson, and then having to try, and pay, again. It seemed backwards, and horrible, and exactly like every other part of the registration process. I don’t know why I was still surprised at this point.

I sat the exam, and failed.

In the wound care station, I picked up a cotton ball from my sterile field with the same hand I used to clean the patient’s wound. It didn’t matter that I was wearing sterile gloves, that all those sterile gloves had touched was a sterile cotton ball soaked in sterile saline, I had reintroduced something into the sterile field that had left the sterile field, and this was deemed sufficient to endanger the patent’s wound to infection. While I can see the minute chance that this would have at creating an infection in a wound, and while I can agree that they should tell me not to do this in the future, it bothered me that this was enough for them to fail me. And by “bothered me,” I of course mean it almost brought me to tears of rage and utter frustration.

I had played their game, done the hard work, and this infinitesimally small excuse was enough to, once again, set me back.

Something changed inside me with this failure. I felt defeated. I felt that I had been beaten, and knew I couldn’t keep stepping back up and trying again because eventually I would go broke in the attempt. I knew what I had done wrong and would not make the same mistake twice, but part of me knew they’d just get me on another small hitch that would see me fail again and again.

Despite this, hanging onto the last threads of refusing to be broken, I signed up, paid the money, and rescheduled a resit of the exam. I didn’t think I could pass, but had come so far up the mountainside it seemed there was no way to go back down.

Ten days ago I resat the exam, and passed.

I was, unsurprisingly, pleased. Okay, I was fucking ecstatic. But also, more so, the dominating emotion was relief. Upon reading the email congratulating me, the weight and stress that had dragged at my shoulders for a year and a half suddenly lifted, and I could have collapsed as mental muscles released. It was done. I did it. I hadn’t been beaten.
And this seemed the greater accomplishment. Not the fact that I could now practice as a nurse again, not the easing of financial stress this fact resulted in, but that I hadn’t been broken. That I had kept scaling the mountain despite what felt like endless pitfalls and active opposition, and I achieved what I set out to do. That lesson, that reaffirmation of the belief that perseverance will win out, was the sweetest victory I took away in that moment. That was the win.

And it was communal win, because in no way did I accomplish it alone. Without my community around me, I would have buckled. I am infinitely grateful to all the people who supported me in my efforts to beat this beast. I have had nothing but support, encouragement, praise, assistance, and love from my friends and family. I am humbled by the people who have bothered to take the time to give me their time and kind words. That I have come this far is because they have held my hand and pulled me up each step of the way.

I have had countless conversations with friends about the madness of the registration procedure and they have all sympathised and empathised with me. My current housemates, Dom and Nikki, shared a lot of the same ill-logic England presented to me, and their mutual understanding helped tremendously.

My family supported me from the outset, knowing that a victory in this arena would ultimately mean time spent away from them. They didn’t hesitate for a moment in filling me with encouragement and pride.

My brother and best friend, Damian, for whom this absence would affect the most, actively bolstered my motivation every time it flagged. I lived with him and his girlfriend, and my friend, Holly, for six months before leaving Australia, and they patiently let me talk through every delay and frustration that tripped me up along the way.

And most recently, Alex, who showered me in unfailing love and support, and kept me together when the first failing of the exam threatened to have me fall to pieces. Her perspective of me gave me the drive to sit the exam again when my own perspective of myself left me devoid of incentive. Her own determination and tenacity is a constant inspiration, and I am blessed to have her in my life. I simply cannot thank her enough.

So this was a win. A win for me, and for my community. It took a lot from me, and scoured away some of the naive optimistic from my personality. It had me doubt my world-view, and face a society stripped of the beliefs I used to navigate life. But ultimately it proved that some things are true, and no matter how hard and exhausting the climb, it is possible to scale a mountain.

That persistence can win out.

Thank god it’s over.

2015/16

This time last year I was writing about how 2014 had felt like a year of waiting. It had been a strange year, one of routine that had become monotonous, and of a sense of disquiet. Of waiting.

It’s hard to wait for something, but even harder still to feel like you’re waiting for something that might never come. For most of 2014, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew that the lifestyle I had set up was only a way-station to something bigger, only that something bigger kept not happening. I stuck to my routine and waited for the universe to deliver the next turning point in my story. The universe did not provide.

So I did. I could only wait so long, and in the end I decided to make the turning point myself. I resolved to move to London to see the world and, more importantly, to just do something. I wasn’t sure what I expected to happen, if anything would happen, if anything would really, on a fundamental level, change, but I knew at the very least I’d be doing something. That seemed like a better alternative.

So the end of last year’s blog post was hopeful. The waiting was at an end — I would be moving to London come the new year. This turned out not to be entirely true. The waiting continued for another six months, but at least by this point I knew what I was waiting for. The waiting had a different flavour to it, an anticipatory taste at the back of my tongue, and the tedium at least felt like it was building to something. And it did.

It’s safe to say that, despite the first half of the year still being consumed by waiting, the second half more than made up for this period of inaction.

2015 was a year of exploration, of trying new things, and, to a certain extent, of making it up as I went along. I’m sure I’ve been doing this since the moment I was born, that there isn’t a book somewhere with the plot points of my life already written down in easy to understand step-by-step instructions, but I’ve always sat and thought things through so that by the time of decision, what I’ve decided to do felt planned and preordained. I would convince myself that I’d mentally explored every possibility, and the one I’d chosen was the most logical and responsible. This has not always turned out to be the case, but it felt like it at the time. The illusion is a comfort.

But after literally disbanding my previous life — renting out my house, selling furniture, quitting my job, and buying a plane ticket — it seemed not to be in the spirit of things to fall back on my previous method of nutting everything out first before taking action. That way of thinking had certainly provided me with security, but it also ended with me living in an empty house, repeating what felt like the same day over and over. I was trying something different, now. That was kind of the whole point.

So instead I had a loose framework. I would catch up with my cousin and his girlfriend in Italy and we’d explore the country before heading to London. I knew in August I would head to Vienna to catch up with a friend for a few week before the both of us, and a few of her friends, went to Greece. After this, I had vague ideas of working and travelling, the ratio of those two things dependant on my financial status at any given time. That was it.

I figured this cavalier attitude towards my future would liberate me, would eliminate the weight of expectation. Expectation can be a hazardous thing. On one hand it gives you something to hope for — a future you expect and anticipate is one you can prepare for, and look forward to. But expectation cuts both ways, and sometimes the stressors of the future, those far-off jobs we can do nothing about but sit and chew over regardless, can get to us. I had no expectation for the future and so reasoned I could neither stress about it nor be disappointed if what I expected never came to pass.

It worked, to an extent. I said teary farewells to my family and friends, and dived in to the rest of the world. I met my to-be roommates in Rome and, through a forty-degree summer, we ate and drank and trained in across a country I’d been hearing about since primary school. I had no expectations, and every new wonder was an unanticipated joy.

Eventually we made our way to London, and a new apartment, and before I knew it I was boarding a plane to see a friend I’d made in Vietnam two years previously. Alex and I had maintained contact through Facebook and the mutual pastime of writing. This mostly involved her writing essays for university and me editing those essays. I am very thankful to her university for making her write long and detailed essays in her second language as it gave us cause to stay in contact.

I hadn’t seen Alex since the trip through South-East Asia, and wasn’t sure what would happen when I got to her house in a country I knew little about. From memory, she was lovely, and her messages and generous offer to have me stay with her while I travelled reinforced this, but spending two weeks with someone you haven’t seen for two-and-a-half years is full of potential social risk. She could have been crazy. Or I could have been. We were both gambling.

But, armed with my new outlook, I dropped expectation and just let it be what it was. Thankfully, after landing, hugging Alex, and about five minutes of conversation, I realised it was going to be fucking amazing. And it really was.

Alex was as kind and funny as I remembered, and it didn’t take long for us to discover we had more in common than just booking tours through Vietnam in 2013. The city she showed me was stunning, and her family’s generous proved to be equally incredible. Those weeks in Vienna will forever be one of the greatest times in my life.

Part of this may be because I fell for Alex in that time, and we spent a certain portion of the second week kissing (I made the first move, for those of you playing at home). After another two weeks in Greece, I had a girlfriend. Another unanticipated joy.

But months of holiday had to come to an end eventually and I returned to London and set about procuring employment. And it was during this process I learnt that, just like expectation, a lack of expectation also cuts both ways.

I stressed about all the things I hadn’t thought through. I stressed about money. I stressed about the future. It fluctuated, this stress, my “take it as it comes” attitude gaining the advantage for a few days when I reflected I was halfway around the world and who cares about anything else, only to be knocked off its perch by my more experienced responsible self, who sat in the den of my subconscious crunching numbers and sweating about the results. I had nights of blissful sleep and nights of anxiety-ridden tossing and turning. The consequence of abandoning my secure life had finally hit.

The beauty of it all, the lesson I can take away if there is one, is that the benefits still far outweigh the consequences. Yes, of course having a lack of plan results in anxiety, particularly for someone wired like myself. Of course working three days and then disappearing to Vienna for a week causes financial stress. Of course stress doesn’t just disappear because I decided not to focus on it. Idiot.

But when I flick through the photos in my 2015 album, holy crap have I had some amazing experiences. It’s hard to be resentful when I have so much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the places I’ve seen, the breath-taking, mind-boggling places from documentaries and travel guides that literally spread out from my feet, feeling both intensely real and unreal as my brain tried to assimilate my new reality.

I’m thankful for the meals I’ve had, for the pizza eaten on cobbled Italian avenues, the home-cooked Austrian feasts of pork-belly and dumplings shared around a family table, the meals in London pubs enjoyed with a pint and friends from home, and of mugs of steaming punsch held in cold hands burning warm paths down my throat.

I’m thankful for the work I’ve had, walking the streets of London and disappearing into the homes of the locals, getting to see how the citizens of this land live and love and cope. Of strolling through the west-end past theatres and shops, of accidentally stumbling into Camden markets, of wandering the tiny cafe-lined streets of Soho, and eating lunch in Trafalgar Square.

I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the generosity given to me that I never anticipated.

And most of all, I’m thankful for Alex, for the joy of having her in my life, for the hours of conversation and sharing of her fascinating and beautiful self, for her endless kindness, and for her making me stupidly happy.

So, all in all, all things weighed and measured, all stock taken, and all pleasure balanced against pain, I can confidently say 2015 was an incredible year. It was a year where I took risks that paid off. A year where I felt elated and exhausted, liberated and anxious. It was a year where things happened.
A year where the waiting came to an end.

 

P.S. I also got a new nephew this year. His name is Harris, and he’s beautiful. That was also pretty fucking amazing.

REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 2

…my documents were rejected.

Not all of them, to be fair, but enough to delay me considerably. The document the university drafted for me apparently wasn’t detailed enough, so I had to get back in contact with the incredibly generous staff member who’d helped me previously and beg her to give a little more. She was a lecturer, and class had started by this point, so it was a further two months before she got back to me. Given that I was the one asking the favour, I figured it was rude to harass her.

My declaration of good health was rejected on the basis that I hadn’t been seen by the GP who assessed me in the previous six months. Of course I hadn’t — I’m in good health and have no need to regularly see a doctor. That was the whole point of the declaration. This line of reasoning was lost on them.
They also took issue with the fact that I hadn’t any experience in the field of midwifery. When I rang and explained that was because I am a nurse and not a midwife, the confused adolescent at the other end of the phone responded with: “Oh yeah, that’s tricky.” Tricky isn’t the word I’d use.
Round two: I eventually liaised with the contact at my university and she provided me with a second, more detailed, document. After all this, I wouldn’t be surprised if how regularly I went to the toilet at uni was listed in the document. I got checked over by another doctor and was once again deemed to be fit of mind and body to work as a nurse. And I had my current employer complete a document stating I had some experience in the world of midwifery. Which isn’t a complete lie — I had cared for two pregnant women in my career. My thanks go out to those two woman for allowing me to honest when checking that particular box on the endless requirement list.
Round two was sent off and I waited once again. I was told it could take up to three months for them to process my documents and get back to me. Three months after I’d already waited ten. By this point I had rented out my house and moved back in with my brother and his girlfriend in preparation for my overseas relocation in what was meant to be a very temporary situation. Luckily for me, they were unfailingly patient as I continued to reside in their home, month after month.
This was getting ridiculous. I had mentally made the move to the UK a year ago and that I was still in Australia was starting to grate, on principle alone. Plans I’d made to meet up with people overseas were falling through as I pushed my timeline back, and back again. So after talking it over with my brother, I decided to make the move before hearing back about my documents. I had provided them with every form, identification, history — personal, work, health, love life — that they had asked for, and I didn’t want to kill three more months that could be used for relocating. (Okay, not love life. That form wasn’t mandatory). So, fuck it. I bought my ticket.
And life was grand. I travelled through Italy with my cousin and his girlfriend, my soon-to-be roommates, and finally begun the trip I have envisioned a year ago. After three weeks of explore Italy, the three of us made our way to London, to our new home, and I picked up the task once more of battling for registration.
By this point it had been three and a half months since mailing off round two and I had yet to get an email confirming that my documentation was complete. Needless to say, I was a trifle nervous. I contacted them, waiting on-hold for half-an-hour before getting another juvenile young man who sounded as if he’d started work only the week before judging by the helpfulness of his answers.
I asked him why it was taking so long for my documents to be processed and when I could expect a response. He said he couldn’t access my account and so had no way of knowing. I asked why, when he worked for the organisation that managed the account, he couldn’t access it. He said that was how it worked, and seemed to think this was a completely satisfactory answer. I asked him if I was ever going to get a response, or had the organisation lost my paperwork, forcing me to attempt to gather the documents once again, a process that had taken me months to arrange. He suggested I wait one more week and see how I go. I asked if he really though one more week was really going to make a difference. He said it was worth a shot.
He was blowing me off.
But I couldn’t care. I was in London for only one week before jetting of to Austria for two weeks followed by two weeks in Greece, and registration stress could wait post-holiday.
A week later, in Austria, I received an email saying my paperwork had been received and to now wait for the outcome of the processing. Even though this was good news, I was kind of annoyed the vague and apathetic adolescent had been right.
It wasn’t until I was back in London that I received another email. They’d processed my paperwork. And according to them, things were outstanding. 1) The document from my university, and, 2) A declaration of good health. I fought the urge to cry from frustration.
I immediately contacted my helper from the university asking she resend the document, only to get an automated out-of-office email saying she was on long-service leave. Until December. At this point, it was September, meaning I wouldn’t get registered until at least the next year.
This was the lowest I’d felt during the whole process. To begin with, I’d met each hurdle with grinning gritted teeth, determined and resolved that, as long as I played the game, I’d win out. But over the months I’d felt my metaphorical back bend, and with each needless delay my resolve had warped and twisted into a cynical continuance, a plodding one foot in front of the other, more out of habit than the enthusiasm I had started with.
An old colleague of mine once told me not to let the bastards win. The bastards being anyone or anything that tries to beat you down. This expression has stuck with me during the years, and every time I felt like David in front of Goliath, completely dwarfed by the weight of stress or disappointment or expectation, I reminded myself of it. With this mantra in my head I straightened my metaphorical back, grinned my gritted teeth, and emailed the university asking if there was anyone else who could assist me while my contact was on long-service leave. Thankfully, they responded.
They couldn’t draft any new documents for me, but luckily they were able to assess the documentation that had already be created. They sent me a copy, and, reassured that the file did indeed exist and had been sent to the UK, I went about defending this position.
A phone call, a half-hour wait on-hold, and I was speaking to another person who was ready to dismiss my issue. I wasn’t having it. I insisted that all documents had been provided and if there was any issues, it was at their end. I detailed all that I had done, explaining that my university contact was on leave, that I had been doing this for a year now and I wasn’t going to be deterred. After a grumpy sigh like I was asking them to do more than their job, I was transferred to the correct department. They didn’t answer. When I bounced back to the original staff member they said I should try again in a few hours. I said I would’t do that, that every time I called I was on-hold for thirty minutes, and politely requested that they called me. She sulkily agreed. They never called me back.
Three days later I rang back and had a repeat of the same conversation. Again, the department I needed wasn’t available, but I the worker I spoke to this time was more proactive and promised they’d get in contact with me by the end of the day. I was skeptical, but two hours and forty minutes later, my phone rang.
I pleaded my case for the third time, this time to the right department, asking that, given that two documents from my university had already been sent, couldn’t I simply send the electronic copy I had to them? She was empathetic (or as empathetic as the organisation was capable of being, by which I mean she listened), but insisted that all documents had to be originals. She made me one allowance: If my university sent the same document I had to them, they would accept it.
Despite the fact that the electronic document was literally the same collections of 0s and 1s regardless of whether it came from me or my university, I didn’t argue, I thanked her and said she’d have it by the end of the week.
My new contact at the university was as confused as I was, but pleasantly agreed to send the form on. Her pleasantness may have come from the fact that my email to her practically dripped with platitudes and words of praise.
Meanwhile, I went about obtaining a NHS number, giving more forms of identification and proofs of address, so that I could see an English GP and get a third declaration of good health. If nothing else, it was validating to have three practitioners deem me mentally and physically sufficient.
This form was mailed off, I waited two days, and emailed asking if all documents had been received. She responded saying she’d look into it later that day.
That afternoon I got an email saying all paperwork had been cleared and I was free to book in the final exam. The final hurdle between me and registration. I was mildly pleased with this news. I’m pretty sure I literally clicked my heels at one point.
The final exam. It was a practical exam, meaning I have to physical demonstrate some aspects of nursing. This I knew, and was rather confident about. I think after six years working as a nurse, I’ve got my practical skills down. What rocked me, what I didn’t anticipate was the price tag that came with the exam. For the honour and privilege of sitting a one hour exam, I paid a grand sum of £1000. Roughly, $2200 Australian.
I knew there would be a cost associated with the exam, mostly because they had taken money from me at every juncture, why should this would be any different, but I didn’t realise it would be so much. But what could I do? I had come this far, and the wage difference working as a nurse as opposed to working a health care assistant as I was presently doing, was substantial. If I had any hope of recouping my loses due to the registration venture, it was through becoming registered.
I paid the money. It hurt.
And, at the time of writing this, I now have exactly one week until I sit the exam. The 23rd of December. An early Christmas present to myself.
I don’t think I’ve been more nervous about an exam. Not because I feel underprepared, but because I’ve never gambled $2200 on my own wits before. It adds a certain spice to the process.

So that has been my project for the past fifteen months. In between working, moving out of my house and into my brother’s, and eventually moving to London, I have been chipping away at a mountain at times I doubted I could level. One boulder now stands in my way.

Wish me luck.

LIFE IN LONDON #06

I knocked on his door, an ornate blue slab of wood flaking from neglect, and heard movement from inside the residence. This was already a win — it meant my patient was home, could hear my knocking, and was capable of moving around the house. The door-knocker’s trifecta.

When the door opened, I was surprised to be met by a younger man (younger being anything under seventy) of around fifty-five who squinted at me through blurry eyes set too-close together over a vein-tattooed nose.

‘Good morning, I’m Jonathan, the community phlebotomist. You must be Gerald?’

He gave the question thought as if unsure of who he must be, before asking,

‘What’s all this then?’

I wondered if I’d gotten the wrong address.

‘You are Gerald?’

‘Yap.’

‘Gerald, I’m Jonathan, I’m here to take a blood test.’

‘I don’t know anything about all this. Come in.’

I was surprised, expecting further resistance from a man with no knowledge of a scheduled blood test and a stranger showing up at his door welding needles.

‘Okay.’

I followed him through his dimly lit hallway, further narrowed with a collection of boxes, clothes, and assorted piles of what can only rightly be called trash. He stepped into his kitchen, the food-preparation based equivalent of his hallway, and plonked down in a seat by a dining table, picking up a glass of apple juice and taking a drink.

I slung my backpack onto the table and withdrew my yellow sharps container and the pre-prepared pouch of needle, tourniquet, blood vials and cotton ball. Gerald squinted at me again and asked,

‘What’s all this then?’

I had a feeling of déjà vu.

‘Ah, the blood test, remember?’

‘I don’t know anything about all this.’

‘I’m guessing your doctor ordered some tests to be done. Have you see your doctor lately?’

‘No! I haven’t seen anyone in, oh…’ He trailed off, apparently forgetting he was talking mid-sentence and took another drink of his juice.

‘Someone should have rung you yesterday to let you know I was coming. Did you get a phone call?’

Gerald shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I did, I wouldn’t remember. I’m a drunk.’ He took another sip of what I was quickly realising wasn’t apple juice.

I stopped the preparation of my equipment, stunned slightly by his completely unabashed confession.

He didn’t say it like it was something he partook in, he said it as a title, like how I imagine a pilot would introduce themselves. “Good morning, I’m the pilot.”

Only in Gerald’s case he wasn’t in charge of piloting us south-west at 10,000 feet, he was steering me through the booze-addled maze of his poor logic and patchy memory.

I pulled on a pair of gloves and he glanced at the needle and tubes now neatly arranged on his tabletop.

‘What is all this?’

Now that I knew what I was dealing with, it was easier to handle. ‘I’m taking a blood test, remember?’

‘No. But I suppose I wouldn’t. I’m a drunk. Do you want a drink?’

I tipped my head side-to-side, giving the question serious thought. ‘That’s very generous, but I better not.’ My eyes went instinctively to my watch. It was ten o’clock in the morning.

‘Sorry I’m drunk,’ he said, unapologetically.

I shrugged and wrapped a tourniquet around his upper arm. ‘It’s your house.’

I instructed him to keep his arm still as I swabbed his skin and aligned the needle, slipping the splinter of metal into the curve of a vein. A flash of blood appeared in a tiny chamber at the base of the needle. I slotted the first vial into a canister and watched as a dark line of maroon snaked down the thin tubing, filling the glass container.

‘What’s all this, then?’

The query was calmly asked given, to Gerald, his memory had just reset and he’d blinked awake to find a young man draining his blood. I respect that in a person.

‘I’m taking some blood samples your doctor ordered.’

‘I haven’t seen my doctor in months.’

I didn’t have it in me to explain again. ‘Weird, that.’

‘Well, maybe I did. I forget things. I’m a drunk.’

He went to reach for his glass and I clamped my hand on his, stopping him from moving it, dislodging the needle and bleeding all over he table. He blinked at where I clutched him, and then stretched out with his other arm and took a swig of wine.

‘Do you think that would affect my memory?’

I pulled the needle from his arm, pushing a cotton ball to the site and taping it down, and then snapped of my gloves.

‘Alcohol abuse can affect memories, absolutely. So I’d say that has something to do with it.’

‘Yeah, I’d say,’ he said, leaning forward and chortling a laugh as if we were sharing a joke. I didn’t want to be rude: I laughed too.

‘Well, we’re all done, my friend,’ I said, packing away my things and slipping my backpack on. ‘Thank you for your time, and your blood.’

I headed for the door and reasoned he had probably donated just as much alcohol as blood. Given his state of inebriation, someone could use his blood samples as smelling salts.

I reached for the door handle and was about to make my escape but Gerald was too quick for me.

‘I still don’t know what all this is about!’

‘I took your blood, Gerald!’ I said, dropping all tact.

‘Oh. Okay. Thanks then.’

‘And thank you, Gerald. I’ll leave you to it, mate.’

‘Right,’ he said, easing the door closed. ‘It’s about time for a drink.’


When relocating to London, I moved in with my cousin, Dom. Dom is a primary school teacher, and has spent his time in England working throughout different schools. He also has a blog, and has recently written an excellent piece about an intense conversation he had with a student. It’s worth a read, and worth a click of your mouse.

Click here to read: http://29andprimed.weebly.com/blog

LIFE IN LONDON #05

I scanned my list of names again and found her address. The number matched the rust-bitten silver digits screwed into the black door and I consulted my paper to find her flat letter. I leaned on the “A” doorbell and stepped back, waiting for the little box beside me to squawk into life with my patient’s voice asking who it was.

I locked eyes with a landscaper working in the neighbouring garden and flashed him a smile. He nodded, a recognition of a fellow community worker navigating the maze of London houses and apartments.

When the response finally came, it wasn’t from the direction I’d anticipated. The metal box remained silent and instead a wavering voice drifted down from above.

‘Hello. I’m up here.’

I glanced up to find a thin elderly woman in her nineties leaning out from an upstairs window, a bird-like hand waving at me, and a toothy smile grinning down at me. It was instinct: I waved back.

‘Hello,’ I said, remembering why I was there. ‘I’m Jonathan, the community phlebotomist. I’m just here for a blood test. You must be Catherine.’

‘Oh, right you are. I’m not good on my feet. I’ll have to throw the keys down.’

‘Oh.’ This was new. ‘Okay, sure,’ I said to an empty window, my patient already disappearing inside.

I rocked on my heels, waiting on a stranger to throw her door keys at me, and shared another look with the landscaper. I gave a weak smile and glanced away, repressing the urge to tell him this isn’t how it normally went.

After five minutes the frail face reappeared in the square of window frame. ‘Oh good, you’re still there. I’m throwing them down now.’

I raised my arms above my head and clapped my hands. ‘Go ahead,  I’m a good catch,’ I said, then felt an absurd surge of anxiety that I’d drop them with the landscaper watching. I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to impress a stranger with my key-catching abilities, but there it was.

Catherine gave a little flick of her claw of a hand and the keys hung in the air. I traced the arc of the descent with my eyes and my hand snaked out, snatching them from the sky with a contraction of my fist. I felt a flood of elation and sneaked a glance at the landscaper to see if he’d seen. He gave a raise of his brows and I shrugged like it was no big thing.

‘It’s just the one by the handle, and then the bigger one unlocks the lower lock.’

Catherine’s words snapped me from my victorious reverie and it occurred to me to put the keys I was still holding aloft like a trophy to use. I followed my patient’s instructions, unlocking deadbolts and locks with keys straight out of the Victoria era, big fat keys with the small square of teeth at the end. I stepped inside and into an apartment that could have been lifted from a Sherlock Homes’ novel. Sunlight filtered through the dusty air and a rug-lined staircase twisted up through the wooden foyer to the bedroom above.

I mounted the stairs and found my patient sitting in her nightie and dressing gown on a two-seater couch that looked as old as she was. She looked small in the big bedroom instead of the image I previously had of her hanging out a window.

‘Catherine, it’s nice to meet you,’ I said, handing the keys back, stupidly triumphant in this exchange of property, as if it was a challenge I had risen to and won.

I slipped into my role of health carer, providing the necessary small talk and questions while simultaneously preparing equipment and poking this sweet old lady with something sharp. If done well, you can have your patient more absorbed in the conversation than the act of taking blood, and they’ll swear afterwards that they didn’t feel a thing, even if in the moment they winced as the needle pierced flesh. This I treat as a real triumph — the ultimate victory.

I completed the necessary paperwork and Catherine fell silent as I worked. When finished, I looked up to find that she had a portable phone in her hand.

‘The council are always so hard to reach,’ she said.

‘Tell me about it,’ I replied while slipping on my backpack. While I’d never tried to reach my local council in London, I felt I’d waited on-hold long enough with equivalent organisational bodies to share an eye-roll at the ineptitude of Catherine’s local council.

‘I just ring the gas-leak number,’ she said with a wicked and satisfied little smirk I wouldn’t have believe this old dear to be capable of, and she pressed dial on her phone.

I laughed and gave her a silent tip of the hat, and as I waved her goodbye and turned to head down the stairs I heard this exchange:

‘Hello! No, no, there’s no gas leak. I just need more of those green compost bags…Oh, you could? Oh, well, thank you, dear.’

As I made my way down the stairs I couldn’t help shake the feeling that there was a lot Catherine could have taught me about navigating life in London.