(ret) and What It MeansIn parenthasis, (ret) refers to retired. This morning, it also refers to me. After 43 years of contiuous EMS practice, 40 of those years as an advanced practitioner (paramedic), I am no longer employed in the field, and in just 10 more days my professional certifications will expire at which point I'll no longer be qualified to do the job that has supported me all those many years. Consequently on those rare occaissions it is appropriate to include my professional qualification in my signature, the NREMT-P will include the parenthesized (ret).
This morning, (ret) can also refer to retrospective.
CircumstancesMy retirement is the result of a bad case of 'dumbass disease' last September. Working at remote industrial sites on the North Slope, my work schedule was two-weeks on / two-weeks off. My crew-change day was Wednesday. On Monday evening, September 3rd, I was in my kennel, feeding the dogs, but my head was in Fairbanks, reviewing all the errands I would need to do to prepare for my next tour-of-duty on the job. I stepped into what appeared to be a water puddle, but turned out to be a very deep hole. As a result, I suffered major injuries to my left knee, including a complete rupture of the quadraceps tendon, a tear of the patellar tendon, spring of the later collateral tendon and a few meniscus tears. On Thursday morning, even before my co-workers were beginning their daily duties I was on the surgeon's table for the time-sensitive surgery absolutely necessary for any sort of recovery.
Following the surgery my left leg was completely immobilized for 6 weeks. Then began a long, arduous process of physical therapy to regain the use of the knee. Under the provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) I had six-months (extended due to that 2-on / 2-off duty schedule) to return to the job. To do that required that I pass a PAT (physical abilities test) to demonstrate my physical ability to meet the requirements of the job description.
Although my life-style requires some other abilities, my physical therapist and I focused on the abilities I would need to recover in order to pass the PAT. We put a lot of work towards restoring balance (needed to control a dog sled) aside to focus on strength and endurance necessary to achieve the criteria of the PAT.
Working in a dual role, as a security officer and medic, the test was oriented to the demands of a high-performance armed security officer, an included a 3-minute step test, tromping up and down a 12-inch step at a pace of 90 steps per minute, as a test of aerobic fitness. On my first attempt to pass the PAT, my knee buckled about half-way through the step-test (fatigue), and the technician called a halt to the test. In less than two minutes I had failed the test and was facing termination.
The company was very gracious, and although my FMLA had expired they allowed me an additional month to retake the test and return to duty. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking on my professional certifications as I had missed the refresher courses needed to maintain my State certification and national registration as an EMS provider. My therapist and I focused even more intently on the strength training needed to extend my leg from an angle slightly more than 90 degrees to fully extended, in order to overcome the obstacle of that damned step test, and it worked.
On my second attempt, I overcame the obstacle of the step-test. It wasn't pretty or eligant by any stretch, but I managed that 3 minutes of aerobic horror, and we continued on. Wearing a weight belt to simulate the weight of the duty-belt worn at work, I proved that I could carry a 50 pound box of weights the required distances, lift it to my waist, left it to my shoulder, and lift a lighter box higher than my head. I proved I could walk up and down the hallway with a steady pace and balanced gait. I proved I could kneel and return to standing on both knees repreatedly and assume all the positions needed to pass my firearms qualification requirement.
Then, along came the monkey wrench. During the month in which I was training to meet the requirements of that specific test, unbeknowst to me or (apparently) anyone else, the criteria of the test had been changed. The original test, for which I'd trained, required climbing up and down a ladder several times. I had trained and practiced that to the point where I can climb a ladder like a monkey. The new criteria, however, was one of those things my therapist and I had set-aside in order to focus on strength training. It was an endurance test requiring an uphill hike for 15 minutes at a rate of 3-plus miles per hour. That test proved I no longer have the endurance to pass 2 tests of aerobic capacity in the same session.
Decision MakingWas I pissed off? That's an understatment. I didn't mind that the company (and it might have been a contractor responsible for developing and managing the PAT testing process rather than my own) changed the test criteria. The new criteria is more in-line with the demands of the actual job than is clamboring up and down a ladder. What pissed me off (and still bothers me), is that I wasn't notified of the change in criteria. Even the director of human resources at my company (a relative new-hire) wasn't aware the criteria had been changed, though she was very quick to point out that "the company has no legal obligation to notifiy employees of changes in policy or procedures." Had we known about it, my therapist and I could have incorporated some endurance work into my therapy regime to prepare for the ordeal.
So the next decision I faced was to allow the company to terminate my employment, or just suck-it-up and retire. Obviously, I chose the latter.
(End of RETrospective)
ProspectiveAlthough a career in emergency services offers many rewards, wealth is not among the list. I'm not a rich man by anyone's measure, but neither am I impoverished. Throughout my career I've been diligent about contributing to my retirement fund and my financial advisor assures me that I have adequate funds to maintain my life-style well into the future.
I also have a team of very strong and attractive sled dogs. I've worked part-time as a sled dog tour guide in the past and earned enough to pay for the maintenance of my kennel. So long as I can keep my body together I can do such work on a full-time basis during winter and earn enough to support my kennel. That's important to me because if I can't keep and run my dogs I have no reason to retire.
I had already been taking some courses in genetics, particularly canine genetics, prior to my injury. With much more 'free' time on my hands than is typical for me, I realized early on I needed to do things to keep my brain active or I'd likely go either bug-eyed stir crazy. Albeit no tee-totaller by any means, I'm only a casual drinker preferring quality over quantity so spending the time in an alcoholic stupor simply wasn't on the list of things to do. So, I've spent a lot of that down-time and a not insignificant amount of money on on-line courses in genetics, population genetics and canine genetics. It's turned out that a subject that I intially struggled with (harder for me than organic chemistry) actually is understandable and is down-right fascinating.
I believe I can generate enough interest among other dog mushers to help them make better breeding decisions based on scientific evidence that will ultimate result in stronger, faster and much more genetically diverse kennels and the sled dog population in general. Most dog mushers just don't have the free time necessary to study anything not directly related to the immediate care and training of their dogs so I'm hopeful I can help them out, and maybe earn a bit of money to help pay for my own continuing education and maybe even some highly specialized (and very expensive) comuter software in the process.
Meanwhile, I love and live in Alaska. There are lots of fish that need to be caught. Caribou and moose that need to be harvested and sled dogs that need to be raised, trained and run on the back-country trails. I believe I have more than enough interests to keep me plenty busy both physically and mentally during my retirement.
Meanwhile, when old men gather around a table or campfire to boast of their past I can join the conversation and while others boast of their past accomplishments I can fit right in by explaining that for over 40 years I earned a living protecting others from the ravages of crime, terrorism and disease. It might be a bit of an overstatment, but then again I'm a fisherman and hunter and overstatement is expected, accepted and generally approved in a well-told story.