I work at a job that requires me to be 'on-call' for a certain number of hours at various times of various days above the usual forty hours a week I regularly work. I have been doing this on-call thing for ten years now. That is not counting two years of on-call that I did about twenty-five years ago. So, I guess, technically I have been working an on-call job for twelve years. (Was that a lot of numbers? Well, get use to it. Number crunching is one of the many on-call past-times. But, we will get to that in a minute.)
For those of you who have never experienced on-call work, let's try a little experiment. Give a total stranger your cell phone number. For the next eight-ten-twelve hours, this person may randomly call you up, and then within one hour taser you. Randomly. No matter what you are doing. It is both exciting – you never know when it will happen, and painful – as you never know when the tasering will stop. Want to up the ante? Then let's make this an 11PM to 7AM gig. On a holiday. In the middle of an ice-storm tornado.
You will be surprised how quickly your spine curls up into your hairline when that phone rings. You will start making bargains with God and the Credit Card people over just how much you really need the extra cash. Of course there is a monetary payout for your pain. Usually time and a half with a two hour guarantee.
Which leads me to the numbers game or:
Thing I Like to Think About While I Am On-Call
- The Numbers Game: I like to convince myself just how much extra dough I will be making. Time and a half times, oh – ten hours. Looks great. But I don't really want to work that many hours and now I have been on-call for three hours and have not had to go in so lets times it by four. Ugh. Not so great.
(I keep this up until I start subtracting for taxes. By then I have given myself a migraine and am just too depressed to care. Oh, and NOW the phone rings and I have to go to work.)
- Bargains: I make a deal with myself that rather than working extra I will just dye my own hair, paint my own toenails, repair the washer, perform my own dental extractions and weave and install new wall to wall carpet. Seems doable.
I make a deal with Chase Manhattan Bank that I will, indeed, pay them on time and not use their devil card again.
I make a deal with God that if he lets me stay home and not work I will clean the house from top to bottom, bake cookies for my family and perform three miracles that involve ending all wars, pestilence and hate.
- Avoidance: Now I have worked myself up into such a frenzy that I will do anything to avoid getting caught in the middle of something enjoyable only to have to stop and go to work. It looks something like this – Me. The Couch. The ScyFi Channel or any other network with really bad, free movies. Sometimes it also involves me just staring off into space thinking random thoughts such as:
Things I was scared of as a child – The Iron Curtain, Iron Lungs, The Electric Chair.
Jobs I could do which did not involve call – Diner Waitress, Fashion Designer, Diner Waitress.
Things I am scared of now – The Phone, Bad things happening to my family and friends, Iron Lungs.
- Memory Games: Remember the first time I was on-call? It was so exciting. I was at the grocery store and had to hurry home with my groceries, leaving them for my husband to unload because I GOT CALLED IN!(Uh-uh. Took about one more time for that to lose its novelty and I was looking for ways to 'accidentally' break my pager.)Remember that time I worked an entire Thanksgiving?(My on-call buddy's husband brought us their turkey dinner for noon and my husband brought us ours for an evening meal. AND neither of them really complained that we had invited all our families to our respective homes for Thanksgiving only to be called in to work leaving the husbands with their Mother-in-laws and an entire turkey to cook.)Remember what it was like to NOT be on-call?(No.)Remember pagers?
By now I have either been called in and can relax and just do my job OR my call shift has ended and I can relax and not do my job. And thank Heaven because I really need to see how The Day After Tomorrow ends. Again.
(Before you get on me about complaining that I HAVE a job and one which pays time and a half – I do understand how lucky I am. Plus I get to see some amazingly ridiculous things people do to themselves which require a trip to the hospital after hours. But it never fails. Everyone always plans really fun things to do when I am on-call. And while cell-phones have made it much easier to stay within the one-hour return radius it is no fun to have to leave the party, grocery store, restaurant or beauty salon in the middle of an event. No matter how awesome it is to say, 'Sorry, gotta go. I am on-call.')