This is a series in which you help me learn about America.
Meghan, aka, Not Your Average Harlot, 25, was born and raised in Milton, MA, and now lives in Boston, where she runs a surgical waiting area. She was kind enough to get real with me, and I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did!
What’s the story with your Tumblr name, “Not Your Average Harlot”?
The short version of the story was that I started my tumblr around the time when there were rumors floating around the hospital about me and a married nurse.Someone called me a slut for trying to steal another woman’s husband (which I was not, for the record!). And so my name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the whole event. I was going to change it, but people liked it, so I kept it.
I didn’t think women still called each other “sluts” seriously. (I’m out of it!) Do people at work call you “Harlot,” or is that just a Tumblr reference?
Harlot is more a Tumblr nickname than a “real life” one. Actually, I hear it a lot as a joking term of endearment, which is actually really backwards, if you think about it. Who wants people they like (or anyone for that matter) calling them a slut?
Speaking of work, how do you like running a surgical waiting area? I’ll bet you see a lot of raw humanity there. Any moments stand out to you?
Oh, this job has provided some of the best and worst moments of my life to date. One in particular that stands out to me was when I first started—six months in, really—and we had a trauma come through the emergency department.
We don’t generally get too many traumas, as the surgeries are mostly elective procedures, but every now and then, a patient comes through the emergency department, and the family comes to us.
A woman came in complaining of stomach pain, and after some discussion, the attendings decided to take her to the OR to perform exploratory surgery.
It was an open and shut case: When they opened her up, they determined that her internal organs were being destroyed by a flesh-eating bacteria. The damage was extensive and the surgeon went to speak to the family without first warning us of the nature of the conversation.
I put the family in the consult room, and the surgeon began to speak—I heard the words “I’m sorry” as the door shut behind me. The sounds that followed can only be described as “gut-wrenching,” and even that doesn’t cover it. The screams of profound and total grief coming from that room have stayed with me to this day, and that was almost four years ago.
Peoples’ lives change in front of my eyes. It’s a powerful experience.
Oh wow. Has that affected your worldview in any way? Or the way you live your life?
I think it’s changed me, most definitely. I was far more of a meek little country mouse, even two years ago. I was afraid to go outside of my little town, my little group of friends…all for fear of what I’ve come to learn (through therapy) was a deep-seated fear of abandonment. Realizing that life can be taken away from you at any given moment made me realize that if I wanted ANYTHING to flash before my eyes at the end of my life, I needed to go out and do things. Now, I’m out visiting different areas of the country—mostly the east coast for now — more often than I’m home.
And what’s a more typical workday like?
A typical workday is anything but typical. The number of cases I see varies anywhere from 30 to 65, and each day brings its own set of issues. Someone is out sick, or we have a prisoner coming in, or the obstetrical floor is backed up…it’s always something. Even just now, I had to run the code cart over to a code blue (which is any kind of medical emergency).
Generally, though, I spend my day in touch with the ORs, the PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit) nurses, and the doctors. It’s really a fun responsibility, to be the “go-to” for all these different people. Stressful, but fun.
You posted recently about being told by three different women that they didn’t want their husbands to be their health care proxies—the implication being that the guy would let them die. Yikes. Is that common?
It’s not uncommon, unfortunately. That day was an anomaly; I’ve never had three different people tell me that in one workday, but it happens far more often than not. My whole job could be a study on the human condition.
Before this, you worked for a private student loan company, deciding whether or not people could get approved for loans. I’ll bet that you have an informed POV on the current student loan crisis! Do you?
Semi-informed. The company I worked for only issued private loans. The problem with these loans is that the interest rates are generally higher. You can easily borrow a large amount of money (up to $40,000 a year in some cases).
Federal assistance is not always easy to get, if the co-borrowers (typically one’s parents) income is deemed too high, then people turn to private student loans. It’s easy money, but what these students fail to realize is that it’s very real debt and the interest accrues while you’re in school.
So by the time you’re done with school, depending upon your interest rate, the amount you now owe the bank may very well have doubled. Now, these students leave school and have thousands of dollars in debt, and can’t find a job because the economy is awful, or the only job they can get is waiting tables at a restaurant.
There’s a vey real possibility that people (myself included, and I have a small amount of debt as compared to others) are never going to get out of debt.
What did you enjoy (or not) about that job?
It was a great atmosphere. I really liked the office and my co-workers. And the job itself gave me an educated perspective on debt and borrowing and how important credit scores are.
Did you ever approve people for loans and think the person was taking on too much debt. Like did you ever think, “Oh, man, this person is gonna be screwed!”
Oh, absolutely. I would see the same names on the file and just shake my head because they were asking for the maximum amount of money yet again. Eventually, there’s a maximum lifetime limit, and then the applications begin getting denied right off the bat. The borrowers are usually fairly irate about their money, or lack thereof. The customer service staff I worked with were absolute heroes—such patience.
What was most surprising to you about what you learned there?
I really developed my leadership skills there. Prior to working there, I would have characterized myself as introverted and fairly shy, but I was very good at what they initially hired me to do, breaking productivity records and showing a willingness to take on extra responsibilities.
Ordinarily, they wanted us to review and close 40-50 loans a day; I routinely closed about 70 and on a particularly good day, I closed 100. It was a competition with myself to see how many I could approve or deny. Once it became clear that I was capable of doing my job, my supervisor and my team leader met with me to ask if I wanted to start learning other pieces of the loan-approval-puzzle, to which I replied with a resounding YES, of course!
I was then given my own team of about 20 temporary employees, which required me to learn quickly how to make hiring and firing decisions.
At 20, that was pretty nerve-wracking, especially since a good number of the temps were actually OLDER than I was, and did not enjoy being told what to do by a 20 year-old. You have to learn quickly when you’re thrown into the fire.
I’ve never had to manage someone older than me. Any tips?
Patience. It’s hard to tell anyone what to do, let alone your elders, so I just found myself repeating myself a lot. I wasn’t afraid to bring in my team leader, if necessary—asking for assistance is also important. Finally, I think that an appropriate amount of humility is also key…making sure that you’re not being self-important while still asserting that the buck stops with you. Also, never admit your actual age . Ha.
Also: how did you manage 20 people? That’s a lot!
Many late nights, for sure. I was scheduled from 8am to 4pm, but more often than not I was in before 7am, and working until 7pm or 8 pm. I had to actually approve all the loans that the temps approved. It was a LOT, but it was a great experience. I found that as long as you know what you’re talking about, people generally listen.
Wait—just trying to track—did you go to college? This sounds like a full-time job?
I was not finished when I started working there - I did eventually leave the full-time position to return to school, and finished in ‘09.
You mentioned that you’ve been through some tough times, including rape and a bout of depression. (Not sure if you want to discuss, so please feel free to ignore me.) Can you say what’s been surprising to you about those experiences?
The most important thing I took away from those experiences is that they do not define who I am. One of my closest friends said to me that, knowing me now, she never would have had any idea that I had struggled with those experiences. I think that’s one of the best compliments anyone could ever give me.
They’re part of my life—they’ve helped make me who I am today—but they are by no means the ONLY things that have shaped me, either. I did not have a lot of support from my family and so, while I remain in touch with my parents, our relationship has suffered as a result.
I learned to do a great many things without the support of my family because I held a lot of anger towards them for a long time.
That said, holding that kind of anger inside you only hurts you, so I eventually had to learn how to let it go…and I think that learning how to let go of anger has added a lot of value to my life.
How did you learn to let go of anger? Trying to imagine how I could be that strong in your situation. Also, I need to let go of anger much more often than I do.
Lots of therapy, on and off for several years, mostly. I had a great therapist at college who I firmly believe is who helped me to change my entire outlook on life.
I have no problem stepping away and taking time for myself now—if I’m angry, I can’t be of help to anyone, let alone myself. I need to go for a walk, or write about it, or call my best friend, or watch a movie that’ll make me cry. I’m in control of my reactions to things, and while sometimes anger is the appropriate response, holding on to it will only further the cycle of anger.
And when did you realize that you needed to get help for depression?
Well, the first time I went, it was not at all of my own volition. When your guidance counselor calls in the D.A.R.E. officer because she’s concerned for your mental state and the police department shows up at your house…well, you don’t have much choice but to go into therapy. I went for about 4 years, and then stopped. I actually don’t know why—I think I thought I was cured. As it is wont to do though, the depression came back.
One day, I found myself in my car, crying for no apparent reason, and I contemplated driving the car into one of the concrete dividers on the highway. Well, luckily, I realized what an awful idea that would be, and immediately walked into the mental health clinic when I got back to school. I knew how I was feeling wasn’t right, and I knew I couldn’t fix how I was feeling without help.