My Call For Help.

I don't know where I'm going with this, or even what site I should post this on – perhaps I'll just cross-post it to everything.

Once upon a time I was a clever bastard. I used to devour computer languages, I used to write 6502 machine code, in Hex for burning straight onto EPROMs. I used to learn things every day, I devoured books. I used to build computers and fix them. I used to solder little electronic gizmos together – 555 chips and LEDs, all in bare feet so I could hold the board still with my toes.

But last night I was trying to understand 'regular expressions', something that I should have found really easy. But I sat there and scrolled backwards and forwards and it just didn't sink into my brain.

It's not the first time I've noticed this, I sit and read and reread a bit of text a couple of times before it sinks in. I try to remember something and it just doesn't work. I try and write a blogpost and the words stop flowing.

I've a sneaking feeling it's to do with my lifestyle at the moment. I've heard it said that learning computer programming will alter the way that you think but I think that my earlier life has slipped away from me.

It might be a result of rotating shiftwork slowly eating away at my brain, it might just be my age – but I'm hating it.

The other thing that it might be is that in my day to day work I don't need to use my brain anymore. I turn up to a patient and can tell what is wrong with them within a minute, the lack of any 'serious' cases has meant that I go from job to job picking up people with very little wrong with them (or the usual suspect illnesses like angina, or COPD), doing some vital signs and then writing the same paperwork. I drop them off at the hospital and repeat it all over again – the only thinking that I have to do is in trying to work out how to get some food inside me.

When I started the job every call was a problem to be solved, but now I think I've reached the stage where I don't need to think about how to get the trapped woman with a broken leg out from under her bed, I don't need to consider how I break bad news to someone, it all just comes subconsciously to me.

I guess I'm just not stretched by my work anymore, even though I don't know what patient I'm going to go to next it's all just become a bit 'samey'.

Because I'm not thinking in work, my brain isn't getting any exercise. Because I work rotating shifts I can't go to night school to start learning again, because I work twelve hour shifts it is incredibly hard to motivate myself to learn on my own.

I need a kick up the arse. I need something that will stretch me, motivate me and force me to do some learning.

I need to get out of shiftwork – but I can't do a fixed rota in the ambulance service because I just couldn't live on the cut in wages that I'd have to take.

I'm not sure what else to do, and this is part of the reason for this post – I love to hear what other people think. This is a request for advice, a request for things that I can do to get my brain working again because I hate this slow slide from how my brain used to work into a dullness.

I need to get motivated again.

I have some books on programming in modern languages – maybe I should hit the Python one, try and force myself into thinking again.


45 thoughts on “My Call For Help.”

  1. Perl is indeed wonderful, partially because of how silly the programs can end up looking (there's a module that'll turn any program you want into the shape of buffy the vampire slayer whilst removing pretty much all the alphabetical characters, and it will still run. That's how silly it gets).Other than programming stuff, I don't know – learning a new language? (Admittedly difficult if you have to learn from a book). Musical instrument? (Likewise, plus I bet your neighbours will love you if you practice it at odd hours).

    Writing fiction? You've got a talent for writing – we wouldn't be here otherwise – try doing something slightly longer form?

    If you want more challenges in your work, how about when you first turn up you make the situation even more ridiculous and see if that helps. (OK, now I've got to get the trapped woman with the broken leg out from under her bed before the snakes get her whilst avoiding stepping on any cracks in the floorboards, and all before 'Song 2' finishes). Maybe it'll even fulfil a quota.

  2. As you ask for advice…First of all, try and get some quality sleep ! You seem to be exhausted all the time…No brain can function that way. Eating well and doing a bit of sport helps a lot.And if you need a partner in the motivation process, I'll need someone to “defreeze” me when I'll get scared during the next two months. 🙂

  3. TR, When you find out what you want to do, let me know as I'm in exactly the same predicament. Good luck

  4. I really agree with the eating well (just some fresh fruit will go a long way if your diet is as bad as you make out and lots of water) and the sport idea. I know many people have suggested it and you find it difficult with your shifts. But to be honest you have to make the effort if you want to learn more/better. The shift excuse doesn't quite wash with me either, my father is a policeman and he used to run everyday when on shifts, even on night shifts. He still does run although he now only does day shifts.Even just a little bit of exercise at first e.g. 15min run will help. Though admittedly it takes a lot of effort to get yourself out the first few times. I always find after I get up is the best time to go, I'm so knackered after work, and need food etc that nothing will manage to get me out then! Just try it for a couple of months while the weather is good and you'll see 🙂

  5. Dunno, Tom. Setting aside some time for learning programming languages sounds like a good idea. Do you meditate or do yoga or anything like that? Those aren't terribly time consuming and you can do them on your own-maybe they would help you get to where you want to be mentally (and yoga has physical benefits, obviously). Don't know if you like that sort of thing, but maybe those books of puzzles like Mensa does, or some of the 'Very Short Introductions' books (or similar) might be a way to get a little mental exercise in. Have you thought about changing to a fixed rota and using your knowledge in other areas to bring your income level back to where it would be doing shiftwork (e.g., starting your own business, taking on some part-time work, freelancing). Good luck escaping the mental lethargy.

  6. The crossword, from any decent newspaper. Easy to carry round, can be looked at in any spare moment, or you can turn a couple of clues around in your head while you're getting on with work.

  7. I go brain-dead when I feel I'm being useless, or when I feel I'm stagnating intellectually. Best thing to do is address the root causes.I've been applying my field in some of the most impoverished, vulnerable populations in the world, and although I am usually exhausted/look like crap, it's the best feeling in the world.

    To use your skills/knowledge to help those who really need it (and by default usually can't afford it): that's the best rush in life.

    Try it. If not in the UK, somewhere else.

  8. You're not alone. Lots of people share your experience. In some cases, like mine, the easy diagnosis is to say 'age' and walk away, but I reckon it is more to do with an entire lifestyle or set of circumstances and is a symptom of some deeper psychological malaise. The thing we have in common is being 'trapped' in a situation that is physically exhausting with little or no stimulation beyond the occasional adrenalin rush.Surely the answer is to change lifestyle. “A change is as good as a rest” is a cliche, but there's a lot of truth in it. In my case (long term care of an aged parent) it isn't an option, but you can do it. Have you looked into moving abroad – or even in the UK? The grass in the next field might not be greener, but at least it's different. You have a great set of skills and are probably eligible for access to places like Canada, Australia and suchlike. At least look into it – that in itself might give you a boost.

    Oh – and I spent thirty odd years of my life in the computer business – right back to when when it was interesting. They kill your brain. They are evil. Find another interest ;^)

  9. I have this problem too Tom, maybe its time to think about the old Para course…. New challenges, more skills.I've considered leaving my job in SWAST but I'm not sure what else i could do…. i seem to have forgotten everything i did at uni.

    My main problem with the para course if if i'm still not having fun like u used to i'm tied into it for 2 years to re-pay training costs. 2 years is a long time to do a job you don't enjoy. let alone one like ours.

  10. It's not you; that's just what regexp is like. It *is* my day job and it won't lodge in my brain either.Perl even more so. A far better programmer than me (now at Google) described it as a write-only language. It's damn near impossible to disentangle existing code.

  11. Sounds a bit like the dilema I had a few years ago. but almost an oposite situation. I studied IT, communications and electronics at College, I used to really enjoy it and when I managed to turn it in to a job with a decent sized IT company I used to go home most days feeling that I had achieved something, fixed a problem, designed a good solution etc.but after a few years I felt I had seen most of the senarios in the field and that my brain was getting used to running on half power.

    My solution was to pick up a college prospectus, tear out all the IT related courses and ore or less blind folded stuck my finger on a random page and chose a course to do on a saturday, I now have a certificate in Massage to go with all my IT ones, not often used but was amasing how good it was to learn a new skill.

    I then, through doing a first aid at work course joined a voluntry first aid service and have really enjoyed spending one evening a week learning advanced first aid skills, ambulance bits and pieces and also putting them in to practice at various events etc. it was all new to me and really put my brain through its paces trying to learn Anatomy and Physiology etc.

    I still work for an IT/comms company and don't feel very challenged most days but doing the first aid stuff does get my brain some exercise, while its nothing like the amount of knowledge and skill you have its enough to get mine working hard when we get a job.

    Id suggest finding a local college prospectus and seeing what one day courses they do, might not give you anything very indept but may give you an insight in to another subject and meet new people.

    or if you fancy some IT, how about a job swap?

  12. Not wanting to come across as egotistical, but Para almost certainly wouldn't teach me anything that I don't already know from my nursing days.I might have to remember a few new protocols but that's it really. Also it doesn't change that my crewmate (the para) hardly has to use her extended skills because of the types of calls we go to.

    Likewise large chunks of the ECP role, and I wouldn't be interested in going back to solo work anyway.

    Now… DSO *would* be a challenge.

  13. To be motivated to learn a programming language I think you really need to have a good reason for doing so and a goal in mind.Maybe it's a personal project to write a little app in C# to manage your DVD collection, or a mash-up in Javascript with Google Maps that allows you to plot how frequently you visit an area of London, or perhaps you could learn PHP and SQL and help out MySociety or contribute to other open source projects.

    (Don't touch Perl though 🙂

  14. There's an old saying (Heraclitus iirc): “You can never step in the same river twice”.Learning a new programming language now just because you used to do it before doesn't sound like much of a motivation to me.

    How about taking up the Ukulele? – these guys do tutorials…

    Axy :p

  15. Have a go at learning C#. Its the microsoft made little-brother of C++, which is what the guys in industry use. The program to compile/edit it is FREE and you cant go wrong. Once you've learned it, you can go to C++, learn the C++ things and you'll be a seasoned programmer before you know it! 😛

  16. i dont know if you drink much water tom, but scientists have discovered that a 2% drop in hydration leads to 20% less concentration and makes it 20% harder to take new info in.

  17. Chuck in the LAS job and join a busy US Fire Department – they all need EMT's, more trauma to keep you on your toes, twice the wage and great standard of living (and I don't mean materialistic stuff).If you really get bored, then tranfer onto the ladder truck and smash things up for a living !

    Barking or Baltimore ? – I know which one I go for.

  18. I've been there Tom, and I think your fundamental problem is sleep deprivation. I know you said you can't stop working shifts, but have you thought about stopping working shifts and getting another, entirely different part time job that you do almost for fun (but not quite because you would need the money) on, say, Friday evenings or Saturday mornings or whenever you have a free slot. That would solve your problem of lack of sleep because you'd have regular bed times, you would have enought money because of job 2, and job 2 would also provide the new interest that you feel the lack of at the moment.

  19. I've always admired your 'nerdiness'. I gave up when Basic was superceded. Now have Vista which is totally incomprehensible. We all get into a rut from time to time, and as you've just had a holiday, can't profer that as advice, so I'm sort of with tahet – a year or two VSO which could be taken as sabbatical leave from LAS – wish I could do it myself but for the moment kids need their mum. Hope the angst dissipates soon.

  20. I agree with the sleep more, and eat well advice. If you want someone to come and cook you some proper meals then I'm your girl (though not so crash hot on the washing up!)…

  21. Normally I don't feel the need to respond to your blog, as you've said all I want to already, but this one hit a chord quite close to home, one that I find all the more worrying due to my relatively young age.I used to build computers for fun, eat operating systems for breakfast, devour hardware specs for lunch and then go out and fix goodness knows what problem joe public had managed to conjure up. I never really got into programming, but that was more due to my natural disdain for languages in general. Nonetheless, I still picked them up as I went along. RegExps, however, are the spawn of Satan. I never got them, and I doubt I ever will.

    I did tech support for what felt a lifetime. By the end, there was nothing new, nothing that could surprise me. I actually had seen it all. My brain was perpetually free-wheeling. I never had to think on how to solve a problem. Couple that with the sheer idiocy of the general public when having to actually help them with something and even trying to shoot myself in the head would've been hopeless; there was nothing left to damage.

    I'm now off work ill long term – another victim of NHS hospital “cleanliness”. I had long ago decided to join the RAF, and I was well on my way until I was struck down with MRSA. Now that I've been completely inactive for so long, added with not really having used my brain properly for years prior, I feel that same thing you do when trying to study anything that requires my brain to actually function. I have to read over everything 2, 3 times before it actually sinks in. My vocabulary has gone to hell too – I can never find the word I'm looking for by the time it comes to speak it, and it usually leaves me just trailing off in the middle of a.. ehm… eh… yeah. That drives me up the bloody wall!

    Unfortunately when you get to this stage, your brain is so atrophied that it becomes a vicious circle. Learning becomes the absolute last thing that your mind wants, that would have to strain your brain, and it's already strained enough from the repetitiveness of your daily life! It's just the same as normal exercise.

    I say this, and I know it to be true, and I speak them as if they are words of wisdom that I can impart upon you. But the truth is, I'm no different. I'm still stuck in this repetitiveness, trying to find something that will gently ease me out of it, but I know that will never come. I'm going to have to just buckle up my will and start learning something new on my own again, like I did when the inside of a computer was still a new and fascinating frontier to me. It's going to take grabbing a reference book I'm interested in and bloody well reading the damn thing instead of swapping it for a Tom Clancy novel every second page.

    Heh, we should become “brain gym” partners, you and I.

  22. More sleep, more sleep, more sleep.Don't be surprised if you need over 12 hours for a few days. If you wake up early, empty your bladder, drink some water and GO BACK TO SLEEP. Learning new stuff is hard. You're just not going to grok it unless you're fully rested.

  23. Forget the computer languages. Once you've learned one the rest is just syntax. Get yourself an Open University syllabus and pick a short course (one of the 10 pointers) in something you've never done before.Has the bonus of qualifying you for a Students Union card too so you can get all the nice concessionary rates for a year 🙂

  24. Hi TomYour working yourself into the ground mate. Long hours, a bad diet, less exercise than might be prudent and a job that doesn't challenge you anymore is only going to cause you to stagnate.

    You need to take your working life in hand and do something a little wild. I imagine near enough everyone here would agree your a damned fine writer, and I for one would snap up and devour anything you wrote, fiction or otherwise… Whatever it is you decide to do, whether it's a big change or a small sideways one, you need to do something.

    Your bigger than this, don't waste your talents

  25. Being bored can make the tiredness worse. Likewise, frustration can affect concentration. I was like this in my last job: worn out, poor sleep, very poor concentration, job (same field but nicer place) brought a surge of interest and motivation. I am still tired but it's a happier tired and I'm catching up on sleep. One other thing…I always found that irregular hours plays havoc with the digestion until I discovered the 'little and often' approach. When I know I am in for unpredictable work / rest pattern, I go armed with peanut butter and marmite sandwiches or peanut butter and banana sandwiches. You probably hate both but make your own version of high nutrition, portable, cold food that you can have every few hours on the move. Only takes 5 minutes to prepare with minimal shopping and is loads cheaper than commercial fast food. Drink plenty and I'm sure you'll find your energy levels stabilise and concentration will improve.Finally, don't forget the old black dog you are occasionally plagued by is a b*gger for slowing up the thinking process. I am sure you have all your previous faculties, undiminished – you're just tired, a bit undernourished and maybe still a bit low in mood?

  26. I'm so sorry you feel this way. You are very clever, I couldn't begin to understand any of the stuff you mention. I've been reading your blog for a couple of years and recently you do seem to be fed up and ready for a change. There must be something out there for you, something which involves health care, teaching, computers – are there any NHS / LAS positions that require your skills?If you want to stay in the ambulance service how about a move to a different part of the country- is there somewhere where there's more to it than picking up drunks?

    Does the LAS arrange any sabbaticals or would they pay you if you arranged your own? Our GP managed to arrange a 9/12 sabbatical in Spain/ Gibraltar comparing GP work with England.

    I'm sure your brain power hasn't gone for ever!

  27. How about the Open University. I've been studying with them for a couple of years now and love it, and while you have to get down to the work yourself, there's a good online community (on an intranet thingumy – I'm a computer numpty really so don't know the proper terminology) you can get support, inspiration and motivation from. If you don't want to do a full-length (30-32 week) course, they do loads of 10 week courses to give you a taster. It might be worth a go, and it'll get the old grey matter doing its splodgy tickings again. Just an idea.

  28. Lack of sleep is a definite problem.Short term suggestion is get a dictionary. You and your partner pick a random word and have to get that word into conversation with next patient, or better, on the PRF or even on radio to control.We used to do it at work with scientific reports for clients.

  29. Dunno.. I find myself in the same situation later on. My newest hobby (looking for a job far far away from a NHS hospital) is helping a lot though. But let me know if you find a better option, I am open to suggestions (actually, make that desperate)Good luck

  30. I have to comment on this (but I haven't yet read others' comments to check I duplicate them But I will read them.)I suggest you consider writing some medical/healthcare related software. You are in a such a great position of being a medical professional yet with the IT savvy – from your past life and also from reading your blogs you know your stuff. You could write some genius applications that could make the NHS ultra efficient. It can be done.

    Don't learn Python – it is pedantic about the spacing and formatting.

    I suggest you learn Java – now a very mature rich featured language that is cross platform.

    C# is not mature enough yet and is too tied to Microsoft, though the mono version is emerging for Linux/Unix.

    Or PHP and the Drupal content management system. Drupal is the free best website content management system. Perhaps you could build some really advanced intranets for the NHS and solve a lot of problems.

    I'm sorry to hear about your frustrations with not being able to learn due to the paid main job commitments. I share your pain, society and work is too rigid and people are expected to be railroaded into going down one career path. Sure some headway has been made into flexible learning, like Open University, as others here have mentioned but so much more needs to be done.

    Which leads me onto the need for this flexible learning because I think we are entering the era of hybrid careers. Yours might be Healthcare IT Professional – where you have both the solid trustworthy qualifications, skills and experience as a EMT and and A&E nurse plus you have the aptitude and attitude for IT things. Something that the IT Professionals implementing the Digital NHS probably lacked.

    Or what about applying your medical and IT tendency and your passion for computer games to working on new games at Nintendo. I think they are leading the way in Entertainment Fitness and Entertainment Healthcare – other mashups/hybrid careers and markets. Gyms are boring, and if all the members used them at once, they'd be overcrowded, they rely upon people giving up. But Entertainment Healthcare and Fitness – combing physical effort with computer games, as Ninendo have done is the real future. Sure the idea has been around in prototypes, but Nintendo have brought it to the mass market.

    Read too.

    Curious that you say programming changes the mind – where did you hear that and does it make the mind worse or better?

    And good luck I'd be fascinated to see if you can combine the 2 to make the world a better place. But then I am romantic about problem solving – though this does keep me in good spirits and gives mean to what I do.

  31. Yea I'd agree about not touching Perl. It's powerful but this is disadvantaged that by the fact that it is hard to read – lots of symbols, compicated syntax, which means code you wrote last week you'll forget how it works and spend time getting to know it again all over. Java is quite nice to learn though and can be used to do just about everything – from running websites, to financial computers, to games on mobile phones, to set top box TV systems.

  32. How about learning how to play guitar, or piano (if you are not currently a musician?) I know what you are saying, I've felt the same way sometimes, you're craving more challenging mind-work.

  33. If you get an electronic piano you can use it with headphones so you can practise at all hours of the day or night without disturbing your neighbours.

  34. You're not alone in finding it harder to think after not using the noggin for a bit. But the good news is that, as far as I can tell, it's not a permanent decay – just a weakening of the mind-muscle…Read that Python book *and* the Perl book. Seriously, please do. Learning more than one programming language is really really good for you.

    And really consider ditching the job. It's boring you. It's bad for your health (on many levels). I'm sure you can find a more rewarding, healthy, and ultimately, more helpful to humanity role for yourself somewhere!

    Don't be afraid of change. The fear of change will make you stagnate!

  35. I'm going to agree with Rob – pick something like Java. If you think you can fit in the time, go for a course on it. That way you're investing the money so are much more likely to keep up with it. The Open Uni has a few courses, as do Sun themselves.PHP is another possibility. You may even like to get involved in WordPress, probably more relevant to you then Drupal. Regular expressions are inherently difficult, you'll learn them better by applying them to a proper situation. If you'd like a challenge look on some freelancer sites for small projects and try and complete them – not necessarily as a bid but just to see if you can. The job is clearly getting to you. You've mentioned a number of times you're planning on getting out, maybe it's time?

  36. I am an emt with a master's degree in education, and the job is eating your brains out. And you are not alone, apparently. And since you ask; you need to find something else to do, in my opinion. How about going into teaching? They must need instructors in England, too? I think you'd be great at it! You definitely need new challenges, and for quite a while now. You can probably find a part-time teaching course for a start. Is it not possible for your boss to clear one day each week for you? Do they not want to keep you and your “street-wisdom”?

  37. Hey Tom, why not go for a field position with MSF. Very relaxing(!), change of scenery, fresh inspiration for your writing…Pete

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