Molt Be Blog

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

morbid inspiration

There are moments when I can't stand my job - dealing with tiny nonprofits with no IT budget that want an amazing website with a Google map and integrated social network ("can it be, like, facebook?") - and then there are days like today, days when I realize that (a) things could be so much worse and (b) my lack of pay is actually doing some good.

This morning I checked my outlook calendar before leaving home and realized that I didn't have single internal meeting. I hadn't had a day without an internal meeting in a long time and decided it was a prime opportunity to work from home. One of the great things about the new job is that I don't have to lie when I say I want to work from home. Here's what I wrote:

Looking at my schedule I see my first day with no meetings in quite a while, so I’m taking the chance to work from home. I’ll be on email and cell all day and may get lonely and wander in later.

One of the tasks on my calendar was to follow up with a hospice for the homeless located in Adams Morgan. They'd called about some glitches in an Access Database that someone at the company had built for them back in 2001-02. I called up and arranged to come in to take a look at the issue at 2pm.

The hospice is located in a large old house on a street behind Columbia road. I had a little trouble finding it because the address in our company database was wrong, but called after knocking on the wrong door and was directed by Candice. Once up the steps and through the doorway, I found myself in the foyer of a classic DC corner row-house. A large living room opened up to the left with a rounded window looking out onto the corner of the street. To the right, four people were sitting at a thick wood dining-room table. The youngest (about 14) picked at some food in his hands as he talked to the others and leaned back on the hind legs of his chair.

I'd never been to a hospice before, but had looked at the database on our own servers a little bit before hand. We didn't have any resident information, but we did have lookup lists of the various diagnoses that could be checked off for incoming patients: HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, Dementia caused by AIDS...

"Hi!" I said, "is, um, Candice here?"

"She might be in there," the youngest one said, pointing to the doorway straight ahead of me.

I walked around and into a long restaurant-style galley kitchen. Two women there directed me upstairs two flights where I met Candice and had her walk me through the various problems. Most of it was pretty easy stuff and an hour and a cup of coffee later, I had it all wrapped up.

On my way back out the door, I stopped by the kitchen to drop off my empty coffee mug and passed the youngest resident who was on the phone.

As I passed, he put his hand over the receiver and asked, "are you from DC Teen AIDS?"

It took me a minute to process before responding, "No. Sorry. I'm just an IT guy."

I left and the whole way home I couldn't help but think what an asshole I've been for having complained about anything in the past, well... ever. Who cares if I feel busy with trying to balance work and a class and the wedding and everything else? I'd never even considered the idea of seeing a 14 year-old with AIDS... let a lone a 14 year-old in a hospice. I'd expected to see elderly people, but only one of the six residents that I saw there looked to be over the age of 50.

Later this evening, I went to a party to celebrate the end of the small writing class that I took over at the USDA Grad School. Our teacher has a space that he uses for his business and writing classes over on Q street and I made it there only a little late after trying to wedge in some random home improvement tasks after finishing my work stuff.

Shortly after we arrived, someone asked the teacher what classes he was teaching now. Amongst others, he mentioned teaching a class at the University of Maryland which he'd been asked to take over after one of his colleagues, Nick, had died unexpectedly. Nick was only fifty-four and had died of a heart attack with no prior symptoms. The teacher told us a few stories about the funeral (including a priest refusing to stop a Liturgy while a mourner had a stroke and was carried out by EMTs) that lightened the mood a bit.

Later, we were talking about the class at UMD again and I asked what the course title was.

"Technical Writing," he said.

"Oh! I took technical writing when I went there," I said.

"Who was your professor?"

"I can't remember his name," I said, "but I remember that he was really good.... maybe it was Ni... oh shit."

"What was his last name?"

"I don't remember... maybe..."


"Oh yeah," I said. "That was it. Oh my god. It was him?"

And indeed it was. Nick Allocca was one of the few inspirational professors I can remember having at Maryland. He'd given me a recommendation for a temp job when I came back from Spain and had been one of the few professors to tell me that I was doing a good job verbally instead of through a grade, a rare feat in a school as big as Maryland. And now he's gone. There's another service in College Park on Wednesday and I think I'll go.

Some days I might feel like I'm overworked or that I'm not making a difference - not affecting something bigger than myself. Other days I don't consider anything larger than me at all. My day today was full of death - all of it making me feel sad and grateful.


DC Food said...

Wow nice piece, and very moving. These Hospices are doing great work all over the city and only servive on help from mostly volunteers! Way to go...


Lindsay said...

Wow. That gave me chills....