As I prepare for my upcoming retirement in a few weeks, I find myself reminiscing about my very first day of work many years ago. I’d been out of the office for almost 20 years after a stint as a stay-at-home mom.
For most people, that doesn’t result in them ending up unconscious on the floor in the middle of the office.
After the kids were grown and on their own, I’d fallen into a monotonous routine of housework and yard work, which still allowed time for reading, taking long walks, and lunching with friends. While enjoyable for a while, it eventually became lonely, boring, and lacking in challenges.
To say that I had a bad case of nerves about re-entering the job market would be an understatement. I was especially uneasy about the computer, which was a newly acquired skill, and I use the word “skill” against my better judgment. I knew how to turn one on, but I thought Excel was just another way to write “extra-large.”I still am unsure why the employer chose me among the applicants. I was honest and upfront about my abilities, or lack thereof.
I’d just gotten to work on my first day when the trainer sat down at the computer and began a rapid-fire demonstration of my new duties. I stood at her shoulder and struggled mightily to concentrate as a tsunami of new terminology surged into my head.
I’d often wondered if the human brain could reach full capacity and become unable to absorb any more information. Maybe my brain was already full. Might that be why I still can remember all the words to Chuck Berry’s novelty hit from 1972, but seldom can remember where I parked the car?
Now I know what happens when a brain reaches full capacity: it shuts down. I remember only three lucid thoughts before the cerebellum rebellion.
- Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me? This is a question I hate to ask at my age, because probably it is me because it is a hot flash.
- Uh-Oh. This stuff is way over my head. I’llll never get it.
- Gee, I feel weird.
Down I went, felled like a mighty oak by a woodsman’s ax. For the first time in my life, I’d fainted.
Passing out in real life is not nearly as cute as in the cartoons. There was no circle of chirping birds fluttering around my head. I just woke up a few minutes later to find half a dozen employees clustered around my prone body in alarm. The staff nurse was kneeling over me and there was a blood pressure cuff tightly wrapped around my upper arm. Other employees kept sticking their heads in the door asking, “What’s going on in here?”
My first thought was, “I hope somebody remembered to pull my skirt back down over my knees when I went down.” My new co-workers didn’t need to know what style of underwear I was wearing. (White cotton granny panties with a safety pin holding the elastic together, in case you’re wondering.)
For a fleeting moment I toyed with the idea of trying to convince them that I was performing a spontaneous carpet-pile-resistance test, but I didn’t think they’d buy it.
It’s a miracle that I didn’t crack my head open on the adjacent filing cabinet, which brings to mind what I consider to be the three sacred caveats of first-day employment:
- Don’t chew tobacco.
- Don’t park in the boss’s parking spot.
- Don’t bleed on the new carpet.
I don’t know how long I was “out,” but I figure I was just minutes away from being carted out of the building by a couple of burly paramedics and bundled into an ambulance. What a way to restart a career! I don’t know where I found the courage to defy my embarrassment and come back the next day, and for 22 more years. I know I let my sense of humor carry me through it, and laughed along with them. After all, there was no way to take it back. It’s one of those things you can’t unsee.
For a few weeks, whenever my boss gave me a complicated task to do, I’d say with an exaggerated face-to-the-forehead gesture, “I can’t do that, because I’m feeling a bit woozy and lightheaded. I may swoon!”
She’d laugh and say, “Sorry, I’m not buying that again. Get to work!” She’s since become a good friend as well as a good boss, although she is herself retired for many years.
Other people get carpal tunnel doing office work. I got rug burns on both elbows and a painful bump on the back of my head.
Remember me when you dare to return to your long-neglected career. If I can come back from that embarrassing first day at work, so can you.