Well folks, as much as I hate to say it, I’m getting desperately close to a flameout. Lately I’ve been making mistakes at my (paid) work and I’ve got a stack of things to do that just aren’t getting done. I’ve got half a dozen articles plotted for the blog plus at least 4 more episodes for the “Romanians on American TV” cued up, more documentary editing to do and a whole host of other things far too numerous to mention. Long story short is that they’re all going to have to wait a couple of days as I simply need a break (from everything).
But there’s a cold rain falling and it reminds me of a story that I haven’t told to any of you before. It’s not really a happy story but it is a true story and it’s just one more reason why I moved here to this country. Perhaps if you are Romanian it will seem almost unbelievable but please remember this really happened in my life.
A long, long time ago in a culture far, far away, I was working in a very large hospital. I was doing “office work” and nothing medical. I had been to Romania once or twice for vacation but I had no intention of moving there or really even returning for another holiday. I’d seen the country and had my fun and was back to my “real life” in the United States.
I was working what we call “grave yards” or the third shift, overnight from about 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. Our schedules overlapped with the “day shift” crew so over time I got to know a lot of the people who came in before I left. One of these was an elderly lady, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten. When I say elderly, that’s not an aspersion. She was in her 60’s and she had been working at the hospital since before anyone could even remember.
I wish I could say she was a nice lady but she wasn’t. She wasn’t a monster but she was a tired, crabby woman who was not a manager of any kind but just another office peon like I was. One day when we were both working she asked me to move a heavy stack of papers and I refused. I told her that it was her job to deal with it and she told me she was too elderly and too sick to do it. I realize that sounds heartless but there is something I haven’t told you yet.
The truth is that she was old enough that she could receive both Social Security as well as retirement money from the hospital itself. If you’re Romanian, just think of it as her “pensie” and it was quite more than enough. I did end up helping her shift the papers but I sat down and I had a long talk with her. Why was she working when she could be retired? The money was sufficient. She owned a house and a car and everything else. She didn’t even really like her job that much, so why did she stay?
A few days later, while driving home from work, she passed out (fainted) and of course got taken to the same hospital where we all worked so we went to visit her. Turns out she had a number of chronic (lasting a long time) illnesses, giving her even more of a reason to retire and quit working. Why in the hell would you want to keep stapling papers and doing mundane office crap when you’re sick and could be at home collecting the same money? It made no sense.
But a week later, despite protests from our boss, she was back to work. And she told me that she came back because she literally had nothing else to do. Her husband was dead and her children had moved to other cities and were married and had their own children. If she retired, all she would do all day would be stay at home and watch television. As bad as it was, coming into work was all she had in her life. She told all of us that she would work until the hospital administration forced her to retire.
Well they didn’t have to force her to retire because two weeks later she fell over at her desk, was rushed downstairs (to the medical part of the hospital) and died a short while later. Before my very eyes, she had worked herself literally to death. And, just like every other patient at the hospital, we had to process her paperwork. And as I sat at my desk at 3:00 in the morning looking over her files, I realized what a terribly sad and awful thing all of this was.
Was that was ahead of me in my future? To work and work and push papers until I fell over dead and then became more paperwork for someone else? Would I work until I was so old and sick that I’d be barely able to drive myself or walk down the hall? Would I work for 40 years only to sit in a house so empty that I’d prefer to be back at the job because that’s the only purpose left in my life?
If you’re Romanian, it probably makes no sense to you why this woman worked herself to death. But she wasn’t a freak or an aberration, just perhaps a little extreme. I’ve known dozens of people who had to be forced to retire because they too feared a life without the job. I’ve known men and women who didn’t take a vacation in more than 10 years, preferring to “save” those paid days for… something that never came along. I once knew a man who was collecting his salary for more than three years after he “retired” just based solely on his (previously unpaid) sick leave alone. He had come into work sick for years and years and it wasn’t until he wanted to retire that he finally used it all up.
Quite frankly, Romanians are far more talented at “taking it easy” and “relaxing” and going on “vacation” or taking “holidays” or “missing work when they’re ill” (where I come from you either better be in the hospital or at work) or only working one “job” (at a paltry 40 hours a week! Jesus, the old joke at the office was “it isn’t the first 40 hours that’s hard, it’s the last 40 hours” which is only funny because it’s horribly true). It’s one of the reasons I came here, to learn how to do this, to not work three jobs (as I used to do), to not work the 100+ hours per week, to not be stressed all the time and suffer from insomnia and other much worse things. I mean let’s face it, Romanians are quite often lazy as hell but sometimes that’s a good thing.
But it’s hard, I admit it. I’m learning though, which is good. As difficult as it is for Romanians to believe, it’s actually hard for me to switch off the computer, to not get up at 5:00 in the morning, to not read 300 newspaper articles a day and all of the other things I do (which I am too ashamed to even mention) on a daily basis. Time to play with my cats a bit, watch the grass grow and quit earning money for a couple of days.
For those of you who tend to worry about me, please don’t. I’m quite okay, I just need a day or two off (no Easter for me, no 1 May, etc) and I’ll be fine. I mostly wrote this post to excuse my brief absence and also to give a little more understanding of where it is I exactly came from and just how different some cultures are from one another. Although to be quite honest with you, I don’t think anyone Romanian could ever understand any of that LOL
Be back before you know it!