Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On snowy beauty, why it may have been responsible for a touch of pneumonia, and why, in the end, that's probably a good thing given an impending retu

Sometimes I'm a little bit worried about the concept of going back to a proper job/real life/boring shit/Not Backpacking And Travelling Around Doing Things That Make Me Happy But Don't Necessarily Contribute Hugely to Society. Will I be stuck in rut-ish-ness for the rest for life? Will I accidentally just get married and have kids and then all of a sudden be seventy two? Will I suffer a slow, horrible death by deprivation of sunshine and smiles (thank you Britain/Britons)?

… I am being slightly over dramatic here, but there is some basis of truth in my hyperbole. Faced with the approaching, inevitable return to The Workforce, I am a bit scared. Whilst my months of travel have no doubt instilled in me some new skills (card-dealing, improved haggling, evading train fares, saying “cheers” in at least seven languages), brought new, amazing people into my life, and given me some obligatory, wanky sense of self-contentment, I still doubt my knowledge and abilities in the realm of Physio. I'm kind of scared of my own profession.

There's no doubt I picked up lots with the couple of months of work in Phnom Penh, but there was definitely an element to my work there that enabled me to justify gaps in my knowledge or abilities according to me being “from The West”. The cultural and economical differences that influence how things are done in Cambodia probably made it easier for me to accept when I felt a bit below-par. But now, looking at working as someone “from The West”, and this time in The West... well, there's a whole lot of new doubts and scary thoughts that come into my mind. There's the old adage of “fake it till you make it” in regards to establishing a career, and I suppose I often still feel like I'm faking it. My Mum, other physios, nice people who think I'm a nice person will all me that all physios, all working people in general feel this, even when they've been working for eons, even when they're considered specialists in their field.

That doesn't change the fact that I feel bad when I can't remember the origin and insertion of teres minor.

But to say to potential employees, who are beginning to receive Claire McEvoy PT CV.doc in their inboxes: “Look, I might actually be a bit shit at this physio business. Like, there are other things I'm better at, and there are definitely people who are better at the physio thing than me, so if you've got someone else on file with more letters after their name, or more PD stuff on their CV, you could probably go with them, actually!”... well that might not go down so well for me on the gaining-employment-and-therefore-having-some-money-to-eat front. And there is a certain degree of bullshitting involved in job applications. As I'm writing official-sounding introductory emails to people, I always find myself doing this little pompous head-shake, and saying my “yours sincerely” out-loud as I type it, in a la-di-da sort of voice.

But there are some things that make me a good physiotherapist. So I have to focus on those things, don't I? That's what I have to pump up my applications with, as opposed to inner monologue phrases of “sometimes I don't really care for this job and sometimes I'm sort of making it all up as I go along.” I am good at talking to people. I care about how people feel. I try hard to make patients (/clients/humans) feel better if I have means of doing it, and I try to do it with a smile for the most part. I have a large capacity for empathy.

And if we're talking about respiratory physiotherapy, and the patients I might find myself assisting working in this field, it's my empathetic capacity that has definitely come along in leaps and bounds over the past few weeks of travel.

… What a segue, McEvoy. What. A. Segue...

About a month ago now, Simon and I were in Switzerland. After a couple of days in Zürich, we decided we should have some Alps adventures before going on through to Italy, where there was unlikely to be much snow in which to frolic. So, on the advice of our very helpful host Jens, we took a train to Bergün. It's a tiny town (population 500) in the middle of Switzerland, and it was fairytale wonderland on the snow front. We were too cold and tired to be bothered dedicating much time to being good shoestring-ers and seeking out the cheapest possible accommodation, and so landed in probably the cosiest, most “eee!”-inducing place we've been in- the hotel Piz Ela ('wing mountain', for those of you playing at home). Soft beds; plush, spotty carpet; a little table-and-chairs set up by the window with a crocheted cloth; a complimentary bottle of bubbly water and actual glass glasses (total deal-sealer, right?). We jumped around like little kids for a decent chunk of time.

Bergün is tiny, yes, but well known amongst snow-loving Swiss types for it's sled run. To get in on this action, all you need to do is hire a sled in town, jump on the train, and go on to the next village. Then you get off, jump on your sled, and cruise on down five kilometres back to Bergün. Being the bad-ass kids we are, we decided we'd do the run at night. So at around 8pm we were on the train, Michelin Man'd up in our layers, and not looking quite as pro as the others on the train with us- decked out in their sexy, colour-coordinated snow-worthy suits and shoes that didn't cause them to slip all over the place (Claire, meanwhile, is wearing her bloody excellent lace-up stacked-heeled boots, and men's thermal pants over the top of her other pants).
The first five minutes or so of the run down saw us cruising at, I don't know, five kilometres an hour or so. The sky was clear and the stars were bright, the cold blew in our faces gently, but our many layers did their job. We stopped to take some photos of the beautiful snow-touched trees on either side of us, and document our first real snow experience of the trip. It really was a beautiful night.

We then hopped back on the sleds at a little crest, and here began the screaming. All of a sudden our speed increased to what was handily shown to us on a little screen somewhere along the route to be in the vicinity of 50 km/hr. I had that sort of half-crazed laughter thing going on, which was an outward expression of the slightly conflicting emotions residing within me at that moment (“This is AWESOME!” and “I think I might DIE!”). Then I crashed into a snow bank. It was a fairly spectacular crash: a hairpin bend that I knew even my finely-honed toboggan-driving skills weren't going to see me around; I tried to put on my brakes (ie. digging your heels into the snowy ground)- that resulted in a lot of ice in my face, and a relatively classy dismount from the sled as it hit the bank and I was airborne for a few, beautiful seconds. Simon pulled up behind me, laughing quite loudly but, like a true friend, inquiring in between gasps of laughter after my well-being. Anyway, he got his because five minutes later, me having reached the bottom of another hair-raising slope, I had to wait longer than expected for Simon, and he informed me when he eventually pulled up next to me that he had snow in most of his bodily crevices having survived an even cooler-looking crash than me.

So we made it to the bottom, nothing broken, and felt very cool. In both the metaphorical sense of the word, but also quite literally- my hands had never been so cold. We got back to the hotel and warmed up and ate food and all was well.

Except then I woke up in the middle of the night in a pretty furious sweat. It was that kind of delirious fever where I couldn't tell whether to laugh or cry or sing at the top of my lungs (this has helped with previous midnight fevers). The next morning, the sheets were a messy tangle of sweaty cotton and my body felt a little exhausted, but okay.

Long story short, this sort of set a pattern for the next week or so. During the day I was alright (although my energy levels and motivation were slowly creeping down), and at night I'd wake up throwing my clothes off, sweating profusely, and feeling generally pretty horrible. Poor Simon suffered almost as much as I did, being constantly awoken by my “*grrrooaaaaan*... sorry, it just feels better if I make a bit of noise... *grrroooaaaan*...” and, being a lovely friend, always offering his assistance (this was most likely met with a sickness-inspired “No! Just leave me aloooone! *grrrooooaaaan*...”).

Somewhere in Italy the fevers went away (hurray!) and a slight cough took their place (quoi?!). I thought it was sort of tickle that would just bugger off eventually, but with each day, my assurance (to myself/Simon/whoever we happened to be staying with) that “I think it feels better today” became less and less convincing. It really began to feel like something was stuck in my right lung, and my hacking cough (particularly impressive in the middle of the night or just after a run) couldn't shift it. It was around Rome that stuff started coming up with the coughs that wasn't a particularly pleasant colour, and by Sweden, it was obvious the lung sewage wasn't going anywhere, regardless of the level of my dedication to getting it out. My abdominals were also feeling pretty worked out, but not in a sexy, cool way; and the right side of my chest had begun to hurt with most breaths I took. After a particularly unpleasant run one morning, I got back to the apartment we were staying at with the feeling that someone had poured molten lead into my lungs, leaving me with about 3cm at the top of them to get on with the old job of breathing. It was not a nice feeling.

For any Australians planning on doing some European adventuring anytime soon, may I suggest Sweden as an excellent spot to get violently ill and in need of a doctor? Thanks to the handy dandy internet, I was able to ascertain that for whatever reason, Sweden and Australia have a sort of reciprocal agreement when it comes to public medical cover. This meant that I paid about $15 for a visit to the doctor which, for travellers from most other countries would have seen them around 150 buckaroonies out of pocket. So that was nice. As were the antibiotics.

And can I just say that snow makes a fantastic receptacle for phlegm? In the last couple of weeks I must have expelled hundreds of millilitres of the stuff, and, burying my disgusting lung excretions with its pretty, powdery whiteness, the snow has quite literally softened the blow of my grossness.

As I alluded to earlier, I think these last few weeks, my first experience of a real, live chest infection inside my body, should really be able to go down on my CV. Whether due to stupidity at my part on not keeping warm enough that night on the sled run in Bergün, my backpacking body just feeling tired and a bit fed up on the immune front, or by some higher being from the realm of Ha Ha Ha Let's See How You Deal With This On Your Holidaying, a chest infection was sent to me. But despite the pain involved, I can only look at it in a positive light: this is respiratory physiotherapy Professional Development in action!!