Nothing’s Fine. I’m torn

The end to a year of debilitating pain is in sight. I make it sound worse than it has been, but I think my perception of pain is different to other people. I can take pain, yo! Except my feet. Man! I’ve got the most crazy sensitive feet on Mother Earth. Standing on my toe is the equivalent of severing my arm with a hacksaw! Not even joking here, except I’ve never attempted to sever my arm with a hacksaw, but I can imagine that would be pretty sore.

Did I tell you how I got to be in debilitating pain for a year? I can’t remember if I told you. Anyway. About 56 weeks ago I was running in the garden with my two dogs. The pitbull, Jess, a rescue from the SPCA had been living with me for about 3 months and EP, Maverick, Coco and Romeo had moved in about a month after her. Now we were a lovely, happy, loud boisterous family in a big, happy family home. So on this day, I was in the garden playing a new game with Maverick and Jess. Every game was a new game because we were all in a new family together. I ran away from the two dogs, past the pool, through the bottom gate, around the corner hedge.  I was doing well. They had given chase and I knew they would be catching me shortly. What I didn’t count on was their blindness and velocity. They just ran through me like I was a fucking flimsy finish line tape! It’s like they didn’t even know I was in the game with them, or even in the garden with them. I was running and then I was flipping over and then I was landing on my left shoulder and head and back and then I was rolling on the ground in agony. And didn’t those two fucking morons think this was the best part of the game? They proceeded to jump all over me, biting and playing like I was a newly opened groaning chew toy. I got up off the floor for two reasons: 1. I thought they were going to maul me and 2. I knew no-one was coming to my rescue!  I limped into the house while the two dogs kept doing zoomies around the house without their new chew toy. My shoulder was sore, but as it is with these things, I just got on with it. Three days later, I was walking down the patio stairs with Jess next to me and she got all excited and cut me off as I stepped onto the stairs which tripped me up and I went stumbling down the stairs. Would you know it, I landed on my left shoulder. I knew that this was not good, but got up and carried on. A few weeks later, no longer able to lift my arm, I made an appointment with my best friend, Clare-Anne the physio and she started the futile exercise of trying to fix my shoulder. And it got betterish. But it was never great. And as it goes with these things, I just carried on.

It was difficult lifting things out of cupboards. Simple things were challenging and my neck and shoulder were often sore and gave me headaches. And then one day in November I was running and then I was flying through the air and then I was landing with my elbows bent to break my fall. And in that moment, I knew I had blown whatever was left of my shoulder right into orbit.  From then on, no amount of physio, bio or painkillers could help. My shoulder went from bad to worse. Eventually, with Christmas holidays looming and as suggested several times by Clare-Anne, I called a surgeon and went for x-rays. X-rays revealed a little bony outcrop that could have been a cause of some, but not all the pain I was feeling. The surgeon gave me a cortisone injection and told me to come back in the new year if it didn’t get better and he’d arrange a scan and we could get a good view of what was going on. It got better, which was a pity because the surgeon was delightful. For the first time in many months, my shoulder got better. And then it got worse again. And then it got even worse. To the point that I went back to Dr Delightful last week. He seemed skeptical about my pain. Did he not believe I was in pain? Was I being a hypochondriac about the pain? He sent me for a very expensive MRA (like an MRI, but with ultraviolet ink injected into the joint) I was so paranoid that they would find nothing, I almost phoned and cancelled. I went ahead with the scan yesterday which was somewhat uncomfortable, but they’d given me a local anaesthetic in the joint to inject the ultraviolet stuff. They said I would wait 3 days for the surgeon’s call. When I woke up this morning, I was in so much pain, I almost vomited. I actually fantasized about Dr Delightful telling me that I’d blown up my entire shoulder and so I should have been in much more pain than I was showing and that I must be a real trouper to “shoulder” this much injury so stoically! And then a feverish fear would come over me that he would phone and tell me nothing obvious was wrong with my shoulder and so nothing could be done for me.

The thought of having to wait until Monday for that news was also just soul destroying. I really am in quite a bit of pain. I suppose it’s not hacksaw to the arm stuff, but I’m just in constant discomfort. I can’t lift my water glass off this table which is like half a centimeter behind my shoulder. I can’t check my watch while I’m running. Can you imagine not being able to do that simple thing? I can’t take a plate out of a high cupboard. I can do all of those things with my right arm, but I’m left handed. And everything I can do, I have to think about and do cautiously because I don’t want the pain that comes with almost every movement of my shoulder. I also think this constant pain has made me a nasty person. I have a short temper and I’ve stopped caring about people’s feelings at work. So I’m even shittier to be around than usual.

And then he phoned. Dr Delightful phoned me and told me he had the results. I still thought he was going to tell me nothing obvious in the scans. But he didn’t. As it turns out, I have a 1.5cm tear on one of the tendons. I have an impingement caused by that bony outcrop he spotted on the x-rays and there is some cartilage damage around the joint. I wanted to jump for joy, but I played it cool with Dr Delightful. He said that all of it could be fixed with surgery, 6 weeks in a sling and 6-12 months rehab to get back to normal. It seems like a lot, but I’ve been in pain for a year so far? So what’s another year? At least the next year will be spent heading towards relief. I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that I fucked up my shoulder. My biggest fear was that I would be told there was nothing wrong and I should just wait it out. I have waited it out and now I shall get it fixed and I shall have no more pain…eventually.

I was almost out of faith there. But now there is hope. Yay! I shall schedule the surgery for sometime in the next two weeks and then I hope to be able to give you a miserable update about my painful shoulder! I’ll also let you know how it goes with Dr Delightful!

Yours in Natalie Imbruglia!

SlowCoach

Long Live Lavasen

I think that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Wait! I’m sure there’s been an Excel spreadsheet harder than that…..

Nope! On Saturday I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I took 10 hours to run 40 kilometers of mountainous terrain in the Drakensberg mountins surrounding Sterkfontein dam. 10 hours to run 40 kilometers. And I was actually running at times! For the first time in my long and illustrious running career, however, it was physically hard instead of my head making it terrible for me. And that is an achievement beyond all my expectations for yesterday’s Drakensberg Northern Trail (DNT).

Lavasen

My friend and colleague, Lavasen, had been in a medically-induced coma for the past week and, as I drove through the Oliviershoek Pass on Friday on our way to the race, Diane phoned me with the horrible news that Lavasen had passed away earlier in the day. I may have slowed the car down. I really thought he would get better. I knew it was serious, but I thought he would get better. It wasn’t right! It just felt incongruous with the world. My world. He wasn’t supposed to die. In my world, he would get better and then I would share with him the song I had been saving for him to hear since he was placed in the coma and we would laugh and he would send me an equally awesome song and we would rave about how awesome an Incubus and Rammstein concert would be and we’d laugh inappropriately at something else and a little part of my work life would be more joyful because he was in it. But now my world had changed and it wasn’t as it was supposed to be. I cried myself to sleep on Friday, the night before a 40km trail race.

I’ve never run a 40km trail race. I have never run further than 28km on a trail run. I signed up for this race as a training run on my way to my goal race,  Namibia Crossing, in June. And I was on track until Namibia Crossing was postponed to next year. I became deflated. My world had changed. In my world, I would train hard, building up to June and then I would run my bucket list race. Now things had changed and I had no real purpose. I had no real reason to carry on training (and I’d been training hard). I was tired and hungry.  Why would I carry on doing this to myself for no real reason? So I slacked off a bit, but tried to keep focused. And then someone told me that there was a very good chance DNT would be cancelled due to COVID regulations. My balloon deflated all the way and I threw myself into work altogether, barely doing any training at all. And then DNT got cancelled the week before the race. That was the end for me. It was awesome to just sleep and not be hungry all the time. And then the government changed the regulations, the COVID-19 virus (and all it’s treacherous cousins) left the country and DNT was back on! So now I was going to run a 40km race for which I was not prepared, even if it were going to be an easy race. And it wasn’t.  Not by any international standard, was this an easy race!

Lavasen thought I was mad running the stuff I run. He had asked me why I run these things and I’ve never really had a coherent answer. And so on Saturday as I ran/walked/clambered/slipped/slid/trundled and trudged along, I took Lavasen with me. Every now and again I would go slipping through mud or run through a fast flowing river and I’d look skyward and tell Lavasen, “You see? This is why I do it!” Lavasen was too clean to enjoy sliding through the mud and I’m sure he shook his head at the joy I felt running through pools of sludge. But I know he felt and added to my joy as I moved forward, mostly quite slowly. The views were spectacular and I know he totally understood as I stood with him all around me in the form of wind and vultures and butterflies. Ah! This is why she does it. I ran with my conversation with Lavasen for eight hours until I reached what is known as Vultures Pass for the second time. As I descended the pass three majestic and beautiful vultures swooped over my head in a farewell that saddened me a little but also gave me courage to finish this grueling race. As I waved them goodbye, I thanked them for their companionship and I thanked Lavasen for the joy that he had brought me at work and on the race.

My back was sore. I took my hydration pack off and ran with it for a while. An almost gale force wind rose up, threatening at times to blow me off the mountain. It was daunting to carry on. The descents were technical beyond anything I’ve ever experienced and they were too steep for me to run confidently. So I stomped a bit until I happened upon Jaco, sitting on the side of a river crossing, gathering himself. He claimed he had dehydrated (oh, I didn’t mention that it was like 30° C on Saturday!) and was really struggling to go forward. I offered him some Souties biscuits which have saved my day a few times and gave him some Joobies to suck on. We were both in pain and we walked/ran on together until the end. He saved me. I saved him. That mutual dependence that two stubbornly independent souls experience on a run like that cannot be defined. It is the ultimate expression of humility and humanity. And that, Lavasen, is why I do it.

The world has lost an angel and gained another butterfly. His final lesson to me on Saturday was to start, be and end with joy in my heart and a smile on my face, even if the wind tries to blow me off my mountain. I felt such joy on Saturday. Even when I was cross with the unrunableness of the route, I still felt joy because here I was in the most glorious mountains, finishing something for which I certainly wasn’t prepared and which most sane people would not try and I was okay. My knee was a bit sore and my back was sore occasionally, but mostly, I just felt joy.

Thank you, Lavasen, for getting me and for allowing me to be me with you. Thank you for the joy you brought into my life on Saturday and every day we’ve been friends.

SlowCoach

We Only Have Good Memories

I like to think that Clare-Anne and I would still be best friends after all these years, even if I wasn’t a runner. She probably sees more of me now that I’m a runner, but seeing each other often has never been the cornerstone of our friendship. Clare-Anne, you see, is a physiotherapist. A damn good one, at that and I like to think partly because of me, can deal with mind-bogglingly curious cases. She has been an instrumental part of turning this couch potato into someone who can proudly cross over a Comrades Marathon finish line. She wasn’t a physio when we became friends and I certainly wasn’t a runner then either.

The sad reality, however, is that Clare-Anne is a rare find in the medical world these days. In fact, whatever teaching methods are employed by medical teaching institutions to teach physiotherapists, should be employed in other medical training facilities because physiotherapists generally (and I might just be lucky here) are able to see a malady in all its complexity and whittle away at the problem. In fairness to today’s fucknut of a doctor, I suspect the 15 minutes he spared me to consult me on my malady might have put him in a bit of a precarious situation of having to keep the conversation going whilst still eliminating many variables and possibilities. But I also like to think I made it kinda easy for him.

Have you been here before?

No. I am extremely healthy and I very seldom visit the doctor.

What seems to be the problem?

Well I was sleeping in a deep sleep yesterday morning and my dog jumped on me so hard that he winded me and that winded feeling hasn’t disappeared and I had to cut my morning run short today because I couldn’t breathe. Yes. I realise that at this time in the world’s history, it’s not good to tell a doctor that i am having difficulty breathing, but I wasn’t having any difficulty breathing until my dog jumped on my chest. I have no pain, just difficulty breathing.

What kind of dog is it?

Its a large one like labrador cross greyhound thing.

So big then?

Yes.

Does he do this kind of thing often?

Like I started off by saying, I very seldom visit the doctor and so, no he has not done this before, but he is boisterous. (In the back of my mind I was thinking of the surgeon I saw on Friday, but different dog.)

You can hear I’m starting to get a move on, right? Well he wasn’t. He was painfully and meticulously typing detailed notes on his computer as I spoke. He immediately veered towards his COVID test paper and stamped it with his official office stamp at the bottom and legibly wrote my name on the paper. I rolled my eyes.

Right. Let’s get your jacket off and come and sit on the bed here. Let’s check your temperature. Checked my ears. Listened to my lungs – breathe in. Breathe out. All normal. Imagine! So he asked me to lie down on the bed. Felt all my ribs. No pain. Felt my abdomen. Ooh pain. Excruciating pain, actually, as he pressed down on my organs. That seemed to me to be a clue. It seemed related to the discomfort that had brought me here, after all.

So what do you suppose this doctor decided was the next best troubleshooting method to employ after receiving that clue?

He sent me for a cholesterol test. And a blood glucose test. And a urine sample to rule out any infections. A fucking blood pressure test! I ask you with tears in my eyes. A blood pressure test. And a white blood cell count…you know because in the microsecond that my dog jumped on me, I might have exposed myself to and developed symptoms of COVID at 4.30 in the morning!

What irritates me the most is that at no point did I say to him, look buddy, I see your certificates on the wall there, but these tests have got fuck all to do with what I just told you, so let’s just skip the money-making scam you and your doctor partners have going on here and let’s move on to the x-ray or ultrasound part. You know? I didn’t say those things. So what I got is a clean bill of health. My blood pressure is normal (which means it must have been very low when I arrived because it certainly got dialed up the more time I was spending there). My blood glucose was normal even though I ate cake for breakfast. My cholesterol was normal. And I have a super healthy resting heart rate.

Allegedly, I am to return tomorrow to get the results of the white blood cell count in order to establish whether I need a COVID test or not. Not in order to rule out every fucking thing in the world so that I can go for an x-ray. No! To check for COVID because I’m having difficulty breathing after my fucking 30kg dog jumped on my chest and kicked me in the guts.

How did this story end? Like they all do with GPs. With a prescription. You could actually feel his panic as he considered what to write because if he didn’t prescribe something, did he even come to work today? So obviously the urine sample showed no infections and I seem intelligent so I’d be able to tell him off for an antibiotic prescription. So this dude prescribes Stilpane! Stilpane! I mentioned at least 3 times that I had no pain, unless he pressed firmly on my organs which I generally don’t do during a day. And I never once mentioned that I was looking to get high or slip into a coma and yet, there he was writing a prescription for Stilpane!

This experience, by the way, is in diametric contrast to the surgeon I met last week Friday for my shoulder injury. Also dog-induced, but a different dog, a different time and an obvious structural engineering job. The surgeon was intelligent, thorough, present and confident. And took an engineering troubleshooting approach to my assessment rather than a post office process approach.

When I am faced with doctors like today’s guy, I am reminded of something my friend, Daniel (similar to Friday’s guy), once said to me. I had spent a weekend away with him and all his doctor friends and he’d asked me why I’d been so shy. So I told him, well it’s pretty intimidating being around all you doctors. You’re all so intelligent. “Oh no!” he said. “To become a doctor, you don’t need to be intelligent, you just need to have a good memory!” That statement has lived with me since then and it is on days like today that I think about Dan with affection and I shake my head at the fucknut with the good memory!

Yours in the lucky packet that is the medical fraternity.

SlowCoach

Winner of the Polka Dot Award 2020 – SlowCoach

There was a moment of poignant self-reflection as I accepted the Polka Dot award from Michelle’s tiny hand on Sunday. I had a little moment where I choked back a tear. Not because I was emotional about winning, but rather because the award was an affirmation for myself that I had indeed sought out the hills and conquered them in 2020. I know that everyone did that this year. I know. And I know the fact that I carried on living my life, largely unaffected by COVID-19 and all its things does not make me that special, but the award meant more to me than just doing more elevation per kilometre than anyone else in Michelle’s ever-growing athlete contingent. Of course winning stuff is always nice and winning athletey stuff when I’m surrounded by really phenomenal athletes is also extremely cool. I’m super competitive in everything I do, but generally, my prowess at things is limited to trivia and the English language, if I’m aiming to win. Running, unfortunately, I usually have none but myself with whom to compete. Which is quite a competition when I consider the saboteur that lives in my head, constantly giving me reasons to be a loser! And so winning at something runningy was really cool to do and aside from being very proud of the achievement, I’m grateful to Michelle for making an award that I was always going to win even though I didn’t know I was competing for it because I seek out the mountains!   

In this year, the other things I have been grateful for are:

  1. I’m an introvert and the world has evolved to give me my ideal world.
  2. I’ve had a job the entire time this lock down has happened.
  3. I haven’t been asked to take a pay cut.
  4. I have a lovely home with a wonderful partner and awesome dogs.
  5. I’ve got to see my grandchildren a few times even though it has been lock down.
  6. My family are well.
  7. My running is great and my body is in the best shape its been in years. I can also go down stairs without pain for the first time in years. (I know, things we take for granted, hey!)

And even though that is more than I could have expected in a year such as 2020, I have had moments where I’ve been absolutely low and honestly felt like giving up.

In my life I have suffered from anxiety and suicidal depression. I come from a very stoic background and so it’s never really been spoken about. You just have to carry on and get over it, cheer yourself up and keep keeping on. In my mid-twenties, I suffered from an eating disorder which saw me come very close to death and again, it was never spoken about. Except for one caring soul who blurted out, most alarmed, “You are holding your pants up by your hip bones, you cannot go on like this. You’re going to die!” it just wasn’t spoken about. Through the help of a kind and holistic Dr Hawkins, his friend, Rosemary and a wonderful, patient, committed therapist – Lesley – who slowly but surely got me out of the bottom of the deep hole in which I found myself, I managed to once again become a confident, contributing member of society. My mid-twenties was a seriously long time ago and I’ve had a full and crazy life since coming out of the bottom of the well.

But in 2020, for no reason I can fathom because personally I’ve had worse years, I found myself not in the hole, per se, but experiencing these overwhelming feelings of failure in life; of thinking about ways in which my death would just make everything better; of how I had failed everyone and so my death would just bring them relief. Even though I did some amazing things at work, all I could think about was the things I was failing at. Even though I could see with a logical lens, that I’d had an amazing year at work and at running. All I saw was failure. And often I thought that the best way to deal with it would be to just end my life. It’s crazy when I think about it now. I am a really happy person. I live a life of joy and I see the good in the world and others and I’m always very logical about things and I’m very good at solving problems, especially my own. But I cannot tell you why this happens. I remember a scene from the movie, “A Beautiful Mind”:

John Nash: It’s a problem. That’s all it is. It’s a problem with no solution. And that’s what I do, I solve problems.
Dr. Rosen: This isn’t math. You can’t come up with a formula to change the way you experience the world.
John Nash: All I have to do is apply my mind.
Dr. Rosen: There’s no theorem, no proof. You can’t reason your way out of this.
John Nash: Why not? Why can’t I?
Dr. Rosen: Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place.

And so it is that over time, and with Lesley’s help, I have learned to recognise the symptoms, I have learned skills to step back from the mind and accept that this is just a problem with no solution and it is just something that I shouldn’t listen to because it’s not real and it’s not true. That I’m a failure. That I have failed at 2020. That I am failing at living. That I am failing at running. That I am failing at work. It’s just not true!

My Polka Dot award is the physical evidence of the fact that I’m not a failure. It’s funny because my Strava this year is full of PBs and segment crowns and best times ever, but it took a certificate from Michelle, in front of my peers, for it to be real. (For those who don’t know what the Polka Dot reference is about: In the Tour de France, the polka dot jersey is given to the rider that gains the most points for reaching mountain summits first. The leader of the classification is named the King of the Mountains, and since 1975 wears the polka dot jersey (French: maillot à pois rouges). And those Tour de France mountains are mountains, yo!! All bucket list segments for me to run!

I love the mountains. Aside from the fact that I’ve always loved the mountains and their majesty and their beauty and their silence and their tranquillity, I love running them. And I love running them because when you run them, you see wonderful things. When you run in places where cars can’t go, you see things that others don’t get to see. I know that you get that from hiking, but when you run them, it’s different. It’s sometimes terrible. Your heart rate goes through the roof. Your legs ache, burn. You go forward slower than you know you’re capable of and you really suffer. But the overcoming of that suffering proves your worth to you in that moment. And even if you choose to walk, because sometimes you actually just can’t run them, you’re still worthy and that worth is proven to you when you get to the top and see something spectacular. And I always wonder, when I get to the top, is it so beautiful because I can only see such beauty when I climb the mountains or is it especially beautiful because I know the suffering that it took to get me there.

I seek out the hills and mountains, partly because of the beauty, partly because of the suffering, but mostly just to see if I can do it. And that curiosity about myself and my limits and the world is what has created the polka dot award with Michelle Coach Mee. I know that there will be other curious people now coming for my award next year and so I will have to work very hard to keep my “jersey”. With my preparation for the Namibia Crossing race in June, I know I will have plenty of opportunity to gather altitude points which will set me on a good trajectory (see what I did there?) to once again proudly wear the polka dot jersey this time next year, but it wasn’t about the certificate in January and it’s not going to be only about the certificate in 2021! It’s just the mountains that I love. And I think when you do something you love, it really is easy to be good at it, even if your mind tells you otherwise.

Yours in the mountains that have been 2020.

SlowCoach

Why Stakeholder Management and Bagging Poop are Important

Falling and landing with my hand on a bag of dog poo is turning out to be one of the better parts of this week, which has included the words, “There’s an angry mob approaching. I think I’m about to be lynched.” Followed by, “Seems so. We’ll hide you.” It is with this as a backdrop that I can explain why I haven’t run this week.

EP and I were walking the dogs at Albertsfarm on Sunday when my very strong pitbull caught me off guard and lunged forward, dragging me with her. I slipped and very dramatically landed on my knees and hands and butt in that order. I am a very responsible dog owner and I always bag my dog’s poop. And it was this very responsible side of me that saved my hands from any harm in the fall, because as I landed, I felt the soft squelch under the heel of my hand. It occurred to me that the bags might have exploded and then this story would have been less palatable. Luckily for me, they did not and I was left only with a bruised and swollen knee and torn pants.

In a previous life, I was project manager. I used to lecture other project managers and I often had construction engineers in my class. The stories they told me chilled me, but I could tell them stories about IT projects that defied explanation, so both types of projects could prove to be challenging. I had, until this year, avoided all construction projects in my personal life and once even sold a house when it came time to renovate. But now we have a house that needs some work and selling is not an option right now. So I decided to renovate the garage and re-plaster the boundary wall that was looking a bit worse for wear.

Lesson #1 Your project will never be as small as you initially think. The wall seemed like an easy win. But it was not to be so. As we leaned up against the wall, it kind of moved a bit and the builder shook his head and said, we’ll have to rebuild it. Lesson #2 Get a second opinion. But then you get a second opinion and that’s a different opinion.  What do you do then? Anyway, I’m all about attrition. Scorched earth and all that. So I asked him to quote me on a full break down and rebuild.  He did and gave me a materials list. It was within what I considered a reasonable budget and so I started phoning around for materials quotes. Lesson #3 Go into lots of hardware places, including those in crappy parts of town, to get quotes and find out how much they charge to deliver. One place online wanted R99k to deliver. I phoned them today and asked of that was correct and they said absolutely not! They’re fixing their website as we speak. Going into the place let’s you ask questions from people in the industry so they can advise you.

Lesson #4 It’s okay to pay more for someone you already trust or someone that a close friend trusts. You have to identify the factors that make you trust them, however to find out of they still meet those criteria before you agree to the contract. As you can see, the past week has been quite a steep learning curve for me, the very experienced project manager! I considered my neighbours. If my neighbour was building, what would I want in place? Well, I’d want them to get rid of their rubbish. I ordered a skip (or 4!) I would want them to keep their dogs in their yard.  I ordered construction netting and poles to hang it on. I would want to know what to expect. I duly prepared a very civil message to them, explaining that I’d be making a mess and a noise and apologized in advance for any inconvenience. I even took the trouble to notify the neighbour who’d be directly impacted by the building, even though I’d never met them before. Lesson #5 You’ll want to apologise up front. (See lesson#9)

The skip arrived at an ungodly hour on Monday morning which was a good sign, although the clunking and grinding and trucking sounds must have delighted my neighbours as it shattered the early morning silence. The sand arrived, but only after I had followed up because it didn’t arrive as promised. Lesson #6 As soon as someone reneges on a promise, follow up. Lesson #7 Everything seems smaller or less than you expected. It’s very disappointing. The skip was smaller than I anticipated. How big is six cubic metres anyway? The sand pile was much smaller than I imagined. How big a pile of sand is 4 cubic metres and would I even know if these guys gave me three and a half cubic metres? There’s no way of knowing. And also, if the skip is 6 cubic metres, then the two piles of sand should have overflowed the skip. I’m looking at it and I don’t know so much.  Lesson #8 There are one trillion brick types. Just use simple cement bricks. They work fine. Apparently. But you can’t mix cement bricks with clay bricks because they expand differently. Apparently. I learned that by going into the hardware store!

Lesson #9 Regularly check in on the progress. Lesson #9 can be broken into many large life lessons because it was in realizing the importance of Lesson #9 that I learned the most lessons during this project. #9.1 When you log a call with the municipality to fix a cable hanging dangerously across the road, through the trees on your pavement, over your wall and into the side of your electricity meter, make sure you keep that call reference number for perpetuity. ✔ #9.2 Some people are bricklayers because they do not understand and have quite possibly never been taught about the dangers of massive electrical cables. Accept that not everyone has your understanding of the risks associated with large electrical cables. ✔ #9.3 Don’t suggest people laying bricks do something to avoid a large electrical cable. Make sure you tell them exactly what they should do with/to the cable. ✔ #9.4 in case you didn’t know this before, never yank a large electrical cable out of your electricity meter to “move it out your way”. Ever. ✔ #9.5 The sound fiiizzzzz pop over and over again is not the sound of your favourite sweet, it’s more likely the sound you hear right before three blocks of neighbours become furious! ✔ #9.6 A fire at the top of a pole should be reported, to all of the 15 teams that arrive over the next 3 days. ✔ #9.7 Sometimes you’ll have to open 15 different tickets for someone to come and resolve your issue. ✔ #9.8 When the inevitable angry mob comes waltzing up the road, be brave, tell the truth and apologise (even if it wasn’t technically your fault). Explain to them what happened, what steps you’ve taken to resolve their problem, the current status, and challenges you’re experiencing, what they can do to help (don’t tell them they could help by just buggering off), and how they can minimize the impact they’re experiencing. Give them regular updates to explain what they can expect next, when they can expect a status change and what you’re doing to minimize their pain. ✔ And so it went for 3 days with my logging calls with the municipality, running outside to meet the team to explain what happened, to giving the neighbours….each of them an update, to reporting that the team went away without fixing the problem, to logging a new call, to checking that the builders weren’t trying to kill themselves (after I’d read them the riot act about that fucking cable, I came out to find one of them jumping over the wall and, would you believe it, landing flat on the cable. I don’t think in all their years of construction work they’ve ever heard “fuck” used in that many different ways!), to keeping the neighbours….each of them updated, to meeting the new team and explaining what happened, to helping them troubleshoot (I’m not lying, several of them came to me and explained what challenges they were having and how they didn’t understand what could be causing it and looked to me for the answer. I was like, dude, I work in a bank.). And all of this while I was trying to work and supervise the builders because their supervisor was AWOL. That was a week! Of learning. And also of getting to know neighbours I had never met. I really do live in a lovely neighbourhood.

Lesson #10 When an IT guys gives you a time estimate, multiply by 4.2. When a construction guy gives you a time estimate, multiply by 4.2. Uncanny!

You know my saying that you learn more on a bad day than on a good day which makes bad days better days than good days? I thought I would use the recent bad days I’d had to teach the builders some good life lessons. The guy that yanked the cable out of the meter had no idea that he’d nearly killed himself and all of us.  No idea at all. When I explained to him that he’d nearly died, I asked him what he’d learned from this. He said he’d learned nothing. When I was finished laughing,  I told him if he’d learned nothing, then he was going to die young. I gave them a long lecture about the importance of learning something new every day to improve oneself. I then asked them to take care of their lives. To not do reckless things and to want to live because their lives are important: to them, to their families, to their communities and to me. I think several of them appreciated my saying that to them. I hope they take care of themselves. That guy with the cable is a moron! A damn moron! I have logged another call with the municipality to fix a cable hanging dangerously across the road, through the trees on my pavement, over my newly built wall and into the side of my electricity meter. I have cordoned off the meter to prevent morons from killing themselves.

Most importantly, I learned the value of proactive, constant, consistent, truthful communication with all stakeholders. I have met neighbours I’d never met before and I learned things I’d never learned before. I built relationships with people who are now keeping a lookout for my missing cat (please come home, Ozzy) and I’ve helped to build a more caring community where I live. I like to think I’ve had a positive and caring impact on some construction workers lives and I might even have saved someone from meeting a Darwinian end! Here’s hoping.

And that’s why I haven’t run this week!

Yours in the lessons of life.

SlowCoach

P.S. Bag your dog’s poop!

Ethiopia calling

Probably the greatest long distance runner in history (not considering the history that Eliud Kipchoge is currently making) is Haile Gebrselassie. He won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres and four 10000 metre World Championship titles. He won the Berlin Marathon four times in a row and the Dubai Marathon three times consecutively. In 2001 he was the World Half Marathon Champion.

Gorgeous to watch!

Haile is my age and hails from central Ethiopia. If you’ve ever watched him run, you’ll be aware that he’s always chatting to his opponents. He loves competition. When he was at the top of his game, there was little competition for him and so he would coach and encourage and possibly cajole his opponents in races. What an amazing thing to do! His sportsmanship always filled me with admiration and watching him race filled me with joy. And I wasn’t even a runner then. I was joyfully watching and admiring him from my couch! Around the tail end of his illustrious career, I was working for the government of Ethiopia on a project which was run from Johannesburg. I was young and stupid and starry-eyed and I don’t think I was very good at my job, but I was helping to develop young people and I was getting to broaden my horizons by meeting people of a cultural group I’d never known before. It was mind-broadening stuff.

Ethiopia at the time was dichotomous. The African Union headquarters had recently been established in Addis Ababa (it’s actually pronounced Abhebhah and so the English spelling is shit! Colonialists are often lazy linguists!)  As a result, loads of development was taking place and infrastructure was being upgraded. Haile himself had contributed to the building of highways and malls and other infrastructure, humbly giving back to the land of his birth. The poverty, however, was everywhere. In South Africa, poverty location was legislated for decades and so poverty is mostly localised to certain areas, largely invisible to the middle and upper classes. In Ethiopia, no such arrangement exists and the poverty and wealth intermingle, creating a stark and jarring contrast. And there’s a lot of poverty. Real poverty. People who think South Africa is a 3rd world country know nothing of 3rd world things or else there is a 5th world. Aside from the less obvious lessons that my love affair with Ethiopia taught me, there are two that have stayed with me since then and that I think of often.

1. Who am I?

Our company worked with an Ethiopian agent named Akalu. Akalu and I became friends. In Ethiopian culture, it is customary to call someone for example Mr Akalu or Mrs SlowCoach or Mr John or Mrs Mary. Akalu had recently become engaged to Lidet. So Mr Akalu was engaged to Mrs Lidet. This was interesting to me because at some point, according to prevailing Western culture at the time, Mrs Lidet would become Mrs Akalu in theory. But those are first names. How would it work? So I asked Akalu what people would call Mrs Lidet once she got married. He looked puzzled and said that people would call her Mrs Lidet. I laughed and said, that if I were to get married to him, I would go from being Miss Taylor to Mrs Mamo, explaining the Western norm. He contemplated that for a moment and by way of explaining, I said, “Where I come from, when a woman gets married, she usually changes her name.” He replied, “Why? Where you come from does a woman forget who she is when she gets married?” It was such a poignant commentary on “Western” “civilisation” and I’ve never forgotten it. Now I also look puzzled when women change their names when they get married and I always wonder if they’ve maybe forgotten who they are.

2. Two days’ bread

The project I worked on required that we employ mainly Ethiopian nationals living in South Africa. One of the positions was for a cultural advisor. It was a well-paid position and a specific amount was allocated to this role. We interviewed a number of people and Ledetu got the position. (Ledetu is the male form of Lidet and the name means the birth of Christ or Christmas. It’s quite a common name in Ethiopia.) Ledetu was a humble man, like most Ethiopians I’ve met. A good man, dedicated to education and to experiencing the world.  When it came time to negotiate salary with Ledetu, the amount I offered was more than he was willing to accept. This was a concept I’d never had to deal with before, but he was emphatic. “I cannot accept that much money, please.” “I’m sorry, Ledetu, but I have to pay you this much.” “That is too much.” “How much is too much?” I asked, tongue in cheek. And then Ledetu silenced me with words that I have been forced to consider regularly ever since. “My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread.” I’ll let you think about that for a moment. My God says I should only have enough money for two days’ bread. Imagine a world where that was a guiding principle. Just imagine! Ledetu and I came to an agreement. He took his two days’ bread as salary and the remainder I transferred to a Danish university, where he went and studied something in the humanities. I hope he is well. I hope he found love. I wish the world was full of Ledetus. I wish I was more like Ledetu. I wish two days’ bread was the way we lived. Do I live a two days’ bread life? How would I even start?

I have never fallen out of love with Ethiopia. In marathons, even when Eliud or Wilson Kipsang are racing, I secretly always root for the Ethiopians. Kenya dominates these days, but the humility and goodness of the Ethiopian people I’ve met and who’ve impacted my life always makes me wish that we could once again see a humble star like Haile rise again. I’ve never been back to Ethiopia since those days, but I still follow their news with keen interest. I would love to return again to see if it’s still the beautiful, humble, dichotomous place I fell in love with before I was this jaded, teenager-beaten, worn out Comrades runner I have become.

It’s calling me.

Yours in the pursuit of two days’ bread.

SlowCoach

Garmin 2020 – resilience, risk management, communication

Garmin is down! Their financial results are due for publication on Wednesday. I’m interested to understand their market share of the fitness watch market, because I have a lot of angry running friends. But I also have a lot of friends who are clearly not Garmin sports watch users. Those are the people whose Strava has been as busy as usual since Thursday. Us Garmin users appear to have been on the couch because, since Thursday, when Garmin allegedly became the victim of an alleged Ransomware attack, we have not been able to sync our watches with our various fitness apps, including Strava and Training Peaks.

The entire outage has fascinated me because, aside from a tweet and the standard “We are down for maintenance. Please try again later” message, they’ve been incredibly quiet. Whether it is a Ransomeware attack or not is just speculation in the media because Garmin has been conspicuous by their absence since Thursday. You see, managing outages like this is one of the roles of the job I perform at the bank and I have found the following things interesting

1. I work for a bank. We are governed by many laws about protecting data and obviously, people’s money. We really cannot afford to have people penetrating the bank electronically by for example a Ransomeware attack. What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware is a type of virus which hackers insert into your computer system which then encrypts all your data, rendering is unreadable or inaccessible. Oftentimes, the hackers will demand a ransom for the unencryption of the data, hence the name. The bank can be fined 10% of annual turnover for putting people’s private data at risk.

Garmin, although perhaps governed by data privacy laws, is not necessarily governed by such punitive laws and so maybe their focus is on innovation, more than on stemming a tide of relentless hacking attempts. Garmin also doesn’t look after people’s money and so has no real moral obligation to safeguard attacks on people’s bank accounts. What Garmin does have, however, is geographical movement data, not only of people, but of maritime vessels and, more ominously, of many airlines. Imagine the value of that on an espionage market!

The bank is also required, by many laws to make sure it is limiting and managing it’s risk. (It is also required by law to hold capital in return for the amount of risk it tolerates in it’s operations. Shareholders do not like the bank having to hold capital unnecessarily which incentivises the bank to limit its risk.) Imagine for a second, a hacker got into the bank’s systems undetected and took R1 out of every account. The hacker would stand to get millions of rands without anyone noticing. So security is tight in the bank’s systems. The bank even pays hackers to find any vulnerabilities in their ecosystem.

2. The job I do has an element of disaster management to it. So, in the event of oh, I don’t know, let’s say a pandemic, we can put measures in place to ensure we can still provide a reasonable service to our customers and also manage the risk related to the bank’s activities. Or, if a data centre in London where some of our systems might be located, were to be suddenly struck by lightning, we’d have to be able to bring all our systems back online within 4 hours. Another element of my job, and possibly the most important part is, in the event of an incident, getting technical people to 1. Get organized and 2. Communicate communicate communicate. I’m getting the feeling, Garmin, at this point in their history could seriously use a me.

The CEO of Garmin is an engineer. A software engineer. His whole life has been dedicated to software development and, under his stewardship at Garmin, they’ve seen some unbelievable innovation. I mean, who doesn’t find something new on their Garmin watch every now and again, proclaiming, “Oh wow! Check it out! My watch can also do xyz!” Garmin are all about the latest innovation. They do not think risk management first, innovation, close second. Banks have had to embrace this reality of late and have had to become more innovative, but their number one deliverable is always safety first. Garmin will now have to confront the same reality only they’ll now have to become safer whilst still delivering on their number one priority of innovation.

They have been down for 4 days so far. They haven’t told us anything that might allude to the magnitude of the problem, to the expected duration of this outage, thereby managing customers’ expectations. There is much speculation in the media, making people nervous. Are airlines in danger now? Are flights in danger of being cancelled or delayed as a result of this? If there is a delay, how long will it last? Will I get my fitness points from Vitality/Momentum/etc? When will my coach be able to update my programme? Does some international terrorist organisation now have the ability to track my movement? (Look, hypothetically speaking, one might be concerned about this!)

Garmin have not shown that they have the ability to restore their service within a reasonable time frame. They have not shown that they have any resilience built into their systems. They have not understood their customers well enough to know their communication needs. They do not appear to have enough safety nets built into their systems to minimize the blast radius of a malicious attack.

I cannot wait for their results presentation on Wednesday. I hope someone had it on a powerpoint presentation saved outside their network!! Imagine!! How do you suppose that results presentation will commence? “Good morning to you all on this magnificent 2020 summer morning. Let me start off by saying, ‘We need a SlowCoach!'”

Yours in the spirit of resilience!

SlowCoach

Garmin 2020 – resilience, risk management, communication

Garmin is down! Their financial results are due for publication on Wednesday. I’m interested to understand their market share of the fitness watch market, because I have a lot of angry running friends. But I also have a lot of friends who are clearly not Garmin sports watch users. Those are the people whose Strava has been as busy as usual since Thursday. Us Garmin users appear to have been on the couch because, since Thursday, when Garmin allegedly became the victim of an alleged Ransomware attack, we have not been able to sync our watches with our various fitness apps, including Strava and Training Peaks.

The entire outage has fascinated me because, aside from a tweet and the standard “We are down for maintenance. Please try again later” message, they’ve been incredibly quiet. Whether it is a Ransomeware attack or not is just speculation in the media because Garmin has been conspicuous by their absence since Thursday. You see, managing outages like this is one of the roles of the job I perform at the bank and I have found the following things interesting

1. I work for a bank. We are governed by many laws about protecting data and obviously, people’s money. We really cannot afford to have people penetrating the bank electronically by for example a Ransomeware attack. What is a ransomware attack? Ransomware is a type of virus which hackers insert into your computer system which then encrypts all your data, rendering is unreadable or inaccessible. Oftentimes, the hackers will demand a ransom for the unencryption of the data, hence the name. The bank can be fined 10% of annual turnover for putting people’s private data at risk.

Garmin, although perhaps governed by data privacy laws, is not necessarily governed by such punitive laws and so maybe their focus is on innovation, more than on stemming a tide of relentless hacking attempts. Garmin also doesn’t look after people’s money and so has no real moral obligation to safeguard attacks on people’s bank accounts. What Garmin does have, however, is geographical movement data, not only of people, but of maritime vessels and, more ominously, of many airlines. Imagine the value of that on an espionage market!

The bank is also required, by many laws to make sure it is limiting and managing it’s risk. (It is also required by law to hold capital in return for the amount of risk it tolerates in it’s operations. Shareholders do not like the bank having to hold capital unnecessarily which incentivises the bank to limit its risk.) Imagine for a second, a hacker got into the bank’s systems undetected and took R1 out of every account. The hacker would stand to get millions of rands without anyone noticing. So security is tight in the bank’s systems. The bank even pays hackers to find any vulnerabilities in their ecosystem.

2. The job I do has an element of disaster management to it. So, in the event of oh, I don’t know, let’s say a pandemic, we can put measures in place to ensure we can still provide a reasonable service to our customers and also manage the risk related to the bank’s activities. Or, if a data centre in London where some of our systems might be located, were to be suddenly struck by lightning, we’d have to be able to bring all our systems back online within 4 hours. Another element of my job, and possibly the most important part is, in the event of an incident, getting technical people to 1. Get organized and 2. Communicate communicate communicate. I’m getting the feeling, Garmin, at this point in their history could seriously use a me.

The CEO of Garmin is an engineer. A software engineer. His whole life has been dedicated to software development and, under his stewardship at Garmin, they’ve seen some unbelievable innovation. I mean, who doesn’t find something new on their Garmin watch every now and again, proclaiming, “Oh wow! Check it out! My watch can also do xyz!” Garmin are all about the latest innovation. They do not think risk management first, innovation, close second. Banks have had to embrace this reality of late and have had to become more innovative, but their number one deliverable is always safety first. Garmin will now have to confront the same reality only they’ll now have to become safer whilst still delivering on their number one priority of innovation.

They have been down for 4 days so far. They haven’t told us anything that might allude to the magnitude of the problem, to the expected duration of this outage, thereby managing customers’ expectations. There is much speculation in the media, making people nervous. Are airlines in danger now? Are flights in danger of being cancelled or delayed as a result of this? If there is a delay, how long will it last? Will I get my fitness points from Vitality/Momentum/etc? When will my coach be able to update my programme? Does some international terrorist organisation now have the ability to track my movement? (Look, hypothetically speaking, one might be concerned about this!)

Garmin have not shown that they have the ability to restore their service within a reasonable time frame. They have not shown that they have any resilience built into their systems. They have not understood their customers well enough to know their communication needs. They do not appear to have enough safety nets built into their systems to minimize the blast radius of a malicious attack.

I cannot wait for their results presentation on Wednesday. I hope someone had it on a powerpoint presentation saved outside their network!! Imagine!! How do you suppose that results presentation will commence? “Good morning to you all on this magnificent 2020 summer morning. Let me start off by saying, ‘We need a SlowCoach!'”

Yours in the spirit of resilience!

SlowCoach

COVID-19 Diaries Saying Goodbye

This is not a running blog. Today, we (many of us) bade farewell to EP’s dad, Dave Pierce and my dear friend, Kara. I felt COVID-19 brutally this past week. On Wednesday morning, EP woke up to a very early phone call. I could hear the call down the passage and it sounded like someone had died. EP’s gran, Hugga, is 98, so a quick statistical assumption on my part called out a concerned, “Is it Hugga?” She laughed which was a weird reaction in hindsight because the correct answer was, “No. My dad died.” It was a startling piece of news. EP’s father has suffered from Alzheimer’s for a decade and, in all the time I’ve known her, I’ve stood by helplessly wishing it could be different for her and him and her sisters. Seeing a person with Alzheimer’s is just awful. I assume seeing your own parent with Alzheimer’s must be horrendous and so unfair.  I think a weight lifted off her shoulders. The burden of watching her dad suffer and having to keep visiting and caring for the physical shell that was once a loving father was immediately lifted from her. In its place was the permission to grieve a loving father who had simply and slowly disappeared from her. At times I could see how his death overwhelmed my usually stoic partner and for once I wasn’t a bag of used tissues. I was able to just be there and just let her be. Be there to veg on the couch and, in place of actually running, check out by overanalyzing Garmin watch types. (My  God! She is never going decide on a watch!!)

At the same time that Dave was bidding farewell to the world, my dear friend, Kara, who I’ve known for about 20 years, gave up her fight and succumbed to a heart attack. What a shock! Kara had valiantly fought cancer for almost 3 years and on Tuesday, as her cancer finally turned a corner and she was given a clean bill of health, her heart gave up the fight. I am trying to find meaning in all of this, really I am.

Dave’s girls couldn’t arrange a funeral because of COVID-19 restrictions and their living all over the world. Kara’s daughter Demi had to do the almost cruel job of deciding who, of Kara’s friends, got invited to her memorial service of less than 50 people. You’ll be surprised how quickly 50 spaces fill up in a list of family and friends for someone as lovely as Kara. I was invited to the funeral. What an honour, in these times, to be counted among someone’s 50 closest people. (What a bizarre thing, to be invited to a funeral. I think I should make a list now of people who should and should not be invited to my funeral in 50 years time!) I don’t take that honour lightly and I’ve pledged that Kara’s daughter, Demi, will never have to walk alone on her path now that her best friend and Mother has gone from this Earth. Many of us there today did the same. Kara single-handedly raised Demi from a tiny baby to a beautiful, poised, unique and well-loved 21 year old. Everything she did, was either with Demi or for Demi. What an amazing person! We owe her for giving this world a lovely Demi. This contrived and unnaturally cruel situation into which COVID-19 has us thrust is amplifying our duties and obligations to one another.

COVID-19 restrictions are also forcing us to come up with creative ways to be “normal”. Today, on the day of Dave’s cremation, his daughters, around the world, set up little cenotaphs with his photo, candles, flowers and few of his favourite things and they shared this with one another remotely over WhatsApp. It was impromptu and beautiful and a loving way for the sisters to comfort one another as they said goodbye to their dad.

Dave Pierce, loving father to Janine, Nicola, Maryanne, EP and Jessica. May his soul rest in peace

Today was a very sad day. I feel very sad for EP. I feel very sad for her sisters. I feel very sad for Demi. I feel very sad for Kara’s mom and dad and sister. And I feel very sad for me. I’ve lost a lovely friend who was a shining example of motherhood.

Today, I have been a bucket of used tissues. And with every used tissue, I felt bad because fucking COVID-19!

Kara, dear friend to me. May her soul rest in peace.

Goodbye.

SlowCoach

COVID-19 Diaries

What a ride it’s been!

For a job, I come from a traditional Project Management background. I like to create order out of chaos generally. Once the order is created, I like to move on. This has often led to my leaving projects half way through and it has become, over the years, a little stick with which to beat myself. “Don’t give up on this, SlowCoach!” “Why can’t you just see something through to the end?” “You never finish anything!” Luckily I knew it was a problem and possibly a development area for myself. In 2014, I ran, and finished the Comrades Marathon – down run. In 2015, I ran and finished the Comrades Marathon – up run. For anyone who has ever attempted this or attempted a standard marathon, you’ll know what an amazing achievement that can be. How much more so for a person who doesn’t like to finish things? How much more so for a person who had already run the Comrades Marathon once, to do it again? The training in the 2nd year was tedious and mentally brutal. I remember a total meltdown tantrum I had with my coach in the month before the Up Run because it was so frustrating to me that I had to finish this thing. I just didn’t want to!!! My finishing the first Comrades ushered in a new me. I had a new perspective on things. Firstly, I could no longer tell myself “You never finish Anything!” because I had. I had finished something quite spectacular and extremely hard and at times extremely boring.

I suddenly considered the idea of working somewhere for longer than ‘sort out the chaos and get the hell out of there’. I met someone nice and the idea of being in a relationship longer than a weekend didn’t fill me with horror. I took on a project to bring order to some chaos. The person I worked for was the epitome of chaos. In fact, they were like a hurricane in a handbag. It was endlessly frustrating working with this chaotic person as I diligently tried to bring order to the chaos. I still don’t think I ever brought the order I sought to that project and over the years, my role in the company has morphed from Project Manager to being someone who deals with chaos every single day and I have to move on to the next fire without having much chance to finish fixing the chaos!! I recently got moved into a role that I’ve been doing for two years in addition to my fire-fighting role. This role will allow me to bring order to what is currently chaos. In this role, I get to head up “Always On” for my division. So naturally, when the alarm was sounded for a response to COVID-19, my name was called to allow our business to be Always On, even if we were told to go home.

And so the unending chaos began. In an attempt to control the chaos just a little, I started a spreadsheet on 5 March. It’s hard to believe that that is only one month ago. So much has happened in that short time. At least 6 months worth of work took place in just 21 days. It’s also hard to believe that for 21 days, I worked on a spreadsheet. I would come home every day and EP would ask, “How’s your spreadsheet?” It was crazy. After 47 years of life on Earth, the COVID-19 virus had reduced everything I’d learned in those 47 years to make me a very important data capturer. A data capturer and an incredulous look. I tell you, the things I saw and heard and had people ask for over this time was totally unreal.

“Can you give me a sign out form for my chair please? I’m going to work from home.” (After two weeks from working at home, I’m starting to understand why this wasn’t a totally ludicrous request)

“Can you meet me outside to give me my 3G card?” “Yes.” *runs down flights of stairs and outside to meet them* “Thanks. Can I also get a card for Mary?” “Do you think I walk around with SIM cards in a little locket around my neck?”

*Sends a link to Excel spreadsheet* Kindly update your details on the spreadsheet which you can reach by clicking on this link. *short while later receives link to same spreadsheet with a note, I have updated my details, please see attached link*

“We need 150 laptops.” “There are none in the country and COVID-19.” *three days later* “We received the first 100 laptops. The other 50 arrive tomorrow.”

“Here are 13 phones which I drove many kilometres to fetch and it’s night time now and I’ve driven here to meet you to deliver them to you.” “Well I don’t know how to get them to my team, so I’ll only take 3.” Ten minutes later: “Here are 15 phone which I drove many kilometres to fetch and it’s night time now and I’ve left someone else who didn’t want all of their phones, but here I am at your house to deliver your 15 to you.” “Thanks! I’m going to uber them all to my team right now!”

I spent from 5 March to 27 March, nursing my spreadsheet and rolling my eyes at ridiculously unbelievable things. An amazing army of 11 people descended upon the project room and just put up their hands for things they’d never done, interacting with people that they’d never met and learning things they probably never wanted to learn. It was like a war zone in the project room. And as you can imagine, sometimes I got overwhelmed by the magnitude of work that I had and I would skulk off to the toilet to have a little cry. I will never change that about myself. I cry when things get hard and I want to give up. I’ve realized that its one of the sweetest things about me and it complements my pathological swearing most fittingly. I also cried because sometimes you just need a hug and it just wasn’t going to happen in this COVID-19 scared world.  I’ll tell you that, given a real war, I would phone up those 11 people and let them know I’m on their squad.

Anyway, it took just 21 days for us to move an entire critical service – about 500 people – to work from home. The past two weeks, there have been some teething issues, but it’s been an amazing endeavor and we’ve secured a lot of business by being ahead of the competition.

And so now we’re all in lockdown and we’re for the most part, confined to our homes to help tame the spread of the virus. I sit at a table for up to 10 hours a day in online meeting after meeting after meeting. What used to be a stroll over to Junaid’s desk for a quick question, is now a few text messages or a quick Microsoft Teams meeting or call whilst seated at my table. What used to be a quick catch up over a coffee with Diane is now a quick sit at my table seeing Diane on Microsoft Teams. My running is now loop after loop after loop of a route in my garden. Each loop is 140m. I did 10km on Sunday. I nearly had a mental meltdown going around and around and around like that. I can never do that to myself again. My 10km had 252m of elevation gain. There were 72 loops. In my 72 loops, there were 280 steps. There were 72 water crossings. That’s like a brutal trail run. It was brutal and the strain, combined with my well-toned sitting body has led to my knees, quads and back going on strike.

Luckily, I can speak out to my team about this and together as a leadership team, we’ve implemented some new workplace policies. No meetings between 12 and 1 every day. Meetings have to be either 25 minutes or 55 minutes or 15 minutes. You may not use up the entire hour or half hour.  This will allow people to walk around between meetings/chats. You have to walk around between 12 and 1. No meetings on Friday after 12. It’s good that we have all agreed to this way of working so that we give ourselves permission to look after our bodies and our well-being. I’ve also implemented the policy that I have to see who I’m talking to because the dissonance was becoming like voices in my head. Most unnerving! I also wear a different head gear every day. Adds a bit of personality to the place.

Take care of yourselves during this time, people. More importantly, take care of others by observing the rules related to lockdown. Please stop fucking complaining about stupid shit like cigarettes and hairbrushes. Assume you have the virus and assume everyone outside your house has the virus and assume everyone you might meet outside your house is your mom or dad! This shitty time won’t last forever and when it is over, we’ll have learned a whole lot of new skills and hopefully we’ll have learned to be a lot kinder to ourselves, our bodies, our spirits, our families, our friends, our neighbours, our grocery store employees, our police officers and our fellow human beings.

Hang in there people. This is probably the weirdest time of our lives.

Yours in the love of a new world order!

SlowCoach