Plans, progress and dinosaurs

This time last year I was in the midst of my comprehensive exams, trying to pull together my research ideas into a coherent whole, enough to convince the examiners at UBC that I had enough knowledge to move into the research phase of my doctorate.

This time last year I was in a different job, in a different province and married. Things have changed.

It’s axiomatic that doing this kind of in depth introspective work alters you. Also that you’ll smugly assume at the beginning that you are somehow exempt from that. You’re not.

This last year has reminded me that when we think we have it all figured out, life throws us a curve ball. Or as the old Yiddish proverb goes – Man plans and God laughs. Which reminds me of my all-time favourite:

Dr. Ian Malcolm, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates Man, Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs”
Dr. Ellie Sattler, “Dinosaurs eat Man….. Woman inherits the earth” (Jurassic Park)

 Yeah, OK, not really the same but chaos theory, am I right?

This last year has also shown me the need for cheerleaders. As well as from my EdD cohort (shout out to Chickadee Nation!) I draw a lot of doctoral-type support from Twitter. The recent #ImmodestWomen tweets have got me cheering. Women with doctorates are changing their Twitter handles to ‘Dr’ to make a point that if they’ve achieved something, they should be able to be proud of itPostings from people doing doctorates can also be inspiring, encouraging and motivating. I love reading the “I finally did it” posts with the pictures of happy people in funny hats. The “OMG why did I start this” tweets can be funny or sad – depending – but usually trail a number of comments like “you got this” and “keep going!” I’d like to think if I was having a terrible day/week/month I’d get my share of cyber hugs as well. Recently my virtual buddy Janice posted about taking a break – people shared with her how hard it had been for them, and how taking a break was sensible and necessary if she needed one. It sounds trite (and I would have scoffed at this three years ago) – but sometimes it really IS about the journey. We don’t want to burn out before we get there.

So after a move to Alberta (home of many dinosaurs!) I’m unpacking my notes, downloading the reference management software on my new laptop, and getting on with it. Or starting to. Or thinking seriously about it. I’ve posted the “things I need to do to be called Dr. Bolderston” table on my wall (see pic!) and put up my “you should be writing” memes so it’s a good start.

Even though my dissertation is about 11% done* since I started my EdD I’ve developed an LGBT healthcare research niche, published, presented and changed a few things for the better. It’s hard to separate the doctoral work from my daily practice (which is the whole point of a professional doctorate – so well played UBC). As an example, I was talking to a volunteer patient last week – she generously gives her time to be “treated” by our radiation therapy students at the University of Alberta. She told me that last year she had to play a patient with prostate cancer. I said, that’s amazing! It must have been so cool for the students to learn about trans patients. She looked at me strangely and said – well, no, we just didn’t have any men volunteering! But think of the missed opportunity, I said, we could rework the whole scenario! I’m not sure if she is going to sign up for that but it’s an easy way to queer the curriculum just a little bit. Impact – right?

So whether I start on my discussion section tomorrow, or next month – graduate this fall or in 2021, I’m (89%) OK with that.  Just remind me when I post the “OMG why did I start this” tweet!

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*probably a generous estimate

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Do I look gay enough?

Last week was my last one at BC Cancer. It was also my last week working in healthcare, after 30 plus years of being within earshot of the radiotherapy treatment machines beeping away I’ll miss the clinical environment. I’m moving provinces, to a job teaching and researching which I know I will love, but still there’s a sense of loss as I say good bye to helping patients find the exit (up one floor), working with clinical educators (universally awesome) and eavesdropping on waiting room conversations (some jaw dropping, some touching). I marked my last week with a lot of goodbyes, an evening of too much beer and some lovely speeches and a photo shoot at the Vancouver Cancer Centre.

The session was organised by our director of patient experience, to take some stock photos for our education material, posters etc. I was asked to take part because of a (mostly) off the cuff remark I made at a meeting a few months ago that I wrote about in this blog. We’d been reviewing our patient education material to see if it included representation for LGB and T people – it mostly didn’t. The images had been carefully selected for ethnic and racial diversity but (to me) no one looked remotely gay enough, the smiling women were all femme and long haired and all the couples were heterosexual. No one seemed to care much except me and a gay colleague – we were videoconferencing and had a lot to say to each other with the microphone safely muted! We both know that representation matters, that LGB and T patients scan the healthcare environment for signs of safety and images on walls and in brochures are important.  Finally, in a fit of frustration, I said that I’d volunteer to pose for a few stock pictures (I think the words I used were I’d be happy to “butch it up”). There was an awkward silence and we moved on to the next agenda item.

So, I was surprised to get an email inviting me to pose as a patient for the photo shoot last week. I felt considerable pressure not to let the side down (especially after my comments!) That morning I spent a lot of time staring into my wardrobe – I skipped the usual floral top and earrings, going for a baseball t shirt and denim jacket. I’d just had my hair cut so spiked it up. Was that enough? Was I identifiable???

The shoot was done in a crowded clinical area with patients coming and going around us. We had a pharmacist in a lab coat playing “the doctor” and a room full of patient volunteers. I felt a fraud as I listened to their stories, one woman with late stage cancer talked about her previous two terrible and current wonderful oncologist and how she’d learned not to put up with bad healthcare professionals (“time is too fucking short” she said). I knew one volunteer from other groups and sprang it on her that she was going to be my partner. She took it well. When the photographer asked for “family” shots he looked at the man next to me and suggested we come in. I grabbed my new lovers hand instead and we went for it.

The first scenario was “bad news” – I was the patient (only fair as my other half had already been through that).  We giggled a lot, but also managed some serious award-winning acting with lots of loving embraces, hand holding and emotion. Then we were told to “talk” to the fake doctor (who did a good job of telling me about my upcoming chemo regime). We were encouraged to use our hands and gesticulate (I guess talking alone doesn’t shoot well) and we took a lot more pictures.

As I left (and hugged my temporary wife farewell) I weaved through actual patients, attending a new patient clinic, some of whom would be getting bad news for real. I hope some of the pictures we took make it into the waiting rooms and elevators, and I hope I looked gay enough – that we looked like a real couple. I’d love to think that in a few years someone sees me in my baseball shirt and denim jacket and relaxes just a tiny bit. That they feel that the cancer clinic is a place for them. It was a fitting way to say goodbye.

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