I recently had an op-ed appear in the paper, unedited, about the need for Oregon pharmacies to submit root cause analysis of errors, even if they reported only one annually.  This voluntary, confidential program, with 721 pharmacies state-wide, would lead to 721 reports and improve patient safety.  There were 3 tweets and 4 shares, so I doubt much will happen.  Still, I tried.

Before the op-ed was published, I sent it to a friend of mine here and got a long reply.  She reminds me of my brother: sends a letter, I reply, and never hear again. I’ve gotten used to it.  People are busy. She said the following: “I was, indeed, surprised that it (my offering to help people) is a volunteer endeavour (sic) in the first place. That is the first thing that could be changed for the better.”

In other words, if it is for free, which my offering help to organizations throughout the state was, it can’t be worth much.  Don’t volunteer, do it for pay.  Get dollars for what you do.  Dollars matter.  Money matters.  It measures our worth in society.  Don’t laugh: a woman wrote an article about the richest people in the world, and a few sent her their bank statements to show they deserved to be in the article.  Why did “ARod” ask for $252 million?  It was twice the previous high for a contract.  Many define themselves by their net worth in money, not by their worth to society.

I have a different philosophy:  not every error can or should be counted, and not every dollar potentially able to be earned can or should be earned.  I can do online tutoring and make a few hundred dollars a month, or I can do it for free.  I choose the latter.  Crazy?  Nope.  I love it.

I hope I have a lot of time left in my life.  Probabilistically, I have a little north of 17 years left.  Seventeen years ago, I was 49, which seems like yesterday.  Time passes, and people are busy.  I was there once, too, although I woke up in 1989 and discovered I had choices in life, and I was going to make a few, recognizing that some doors lock permanently when closed.

I’ve long been concerned about my legacy; that’s why I volunteer.  What am I leaving behind? Did I do something good for the world? Did I matter? I desire to help animals and people, mostly in that order, since animals didn’t choose to be here and need more help.  Yes, none of us chose to be born, but birth control still is available here, and life is a lot easier with fewer children and better for them, too.

What surprised me is that I actually offered to do something for free in medicine, since 5 years ago, after my last failed initiative, counting obesity in schoolchildren, I swore I would never do anything for medicine again.  I’ve got to quit swearing.  I changed my mind, but whether I am too old, too out of date, or too fixed in my ways remains to be seen.  The first two are possible; the last exceedingly improbable.  I am more open to new directions in life than anybody else I know.  “I will change my mind in the face of compelling evidence,” is one of my favorite sayings.

I came to Oregon to begin probably the last phase of my life.  I wanted to integrate myself into the community, and volunteering is a good way.  It’s easy to get around, and I am 30-90 minutes from trailheads that lead far from civilization. I can help others or to find solitude.  I knew some of my attempts with organizations would be good fits and others would not.  I wasn’t surprised that some of the things I expected I might do, like substitute teaching, didn’t work out.  Not much surprises me these days, except Dan Savage’s “Savage Love” in the Eugene Weekly.  His column teaches me every Thursday something new about human sexuality, and having spent two years as a doctor on a Navy ship, that’s a stunning admission.

I thought I would take German courses, and I didn’t.  I thought I might hike a little; I have now taken 110 major hikes, seventeen of them as hike leader for the Obsidians, a local hiking group.  That’s been great.  People know my hikes aren’t easy.  I tell them that upfront.  I have an exceedingly good sense of time, how we are doing on the trail.  That matters.  Hike with somebody who doesn’t have that sense, and you find yourself back home a lot later than you planned, 3 hours in one memorable instance.  Go on a hike with me, and you know exactly the departure time, the planned pace, what is going to be seen, the lunch spot and estimated time of return.  I never dreamed I’d lead hikes.  I’m giving back.  I’ve found places and routes to some that native Oregonians didn’t know.

Teaching?  I found a home at Lane CC, tutoring students.  I’ve had an ex-con, 76, who was taking basic arithmetic.  Good for him.  I’ve been pushed to learn things I hadn’t known and relearn things I once knew.  They like having me there.  It’s a great fit.  They need somebody for free.

I thought I would be a resource in advising people about end of life issues, but that hasn’t worked out.  It’s not out of the question, but there isn’t a fit right now.  I’m a little disappointed, but I’m at peace with it. The SMART program, reading to young children, is important, but it wasn’t a good fit. I love to read, but I can’t translate that to helping people like I can math.

The planetarium shows I do twice weekly at The Science Factory are interesting.  Children aren’t usually my forte, but few things are more fun than a curious 5 year-old asking better questions than most adults.  I like that.  I’m going to build an analemmatic sundial, one of those where you stand on the month-line and your shadow reads the time.  I’ve made a few, and this might be useful.  Is this place a fit?  Not yet certain.

My op-ed was my eighth publication in the newspaper since I’ve been here.  A few notice them. Maybe they help, maybe not, but I’m on the record, putting my money where my mouth is.  One Tucson friend told me I should send the article to the Arizona Daily STAR.  Nice but nope. My time there has past.

I don’t know where my life is heading, and that suits me just fine.  I’ve long pushed for national mandatory service to the country.  I believe every retiree who can should serve a little.  I don’t tell them that.  It isn’t polite.  I’m not leading by example.  I’m focused on my legacy.

I’m not counting dollars amassed.  I’m counting hours served.  Some numbers matter more than others.

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