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Smallville: Blood, Sweat And Fears

"...my knuckles were white as I clutched the top of the parapet. Dry mouthed, knees shaking, I peeped over my side of the building, but not far enough to see parked cars...'' Forced to change jobs, Peter B Farrell discovers that he is not really suited to the construction industry - and working in a hospital makes him feel even queasier.

I was stranded on a rock in the middle of a raging torrent. Facing me was a cliff. Equipped only with a rope, two thick planks of wood and a large oil drum, I needed to ferry my five companions to safety.

“You have until tomorrow morning to find a solution.” The Instructor on the management course went out of the classroom, leaving me perplexed. The ability to solve this, and other puzzles, would determine which training course would be suitable for me, in order to gain further employment.

Faced with redundancy in three months, I had elected to join a government-sponsored scheme for re-employment. I would have to use all my powers of ‘deductive reasoning’ if I was to ‘analyse my needs’ in order to ‘realise my goals’.

Having ‘broadened my horizons’ I had already applied for a job as a technical author but apparently there was no immediate prospect “…because of defence cutbacks, but should the situation change then we would of course…etc. etc.”

Graduation day arrived and my interview was thankfully short, the week of testing having been completed.

“The results of the tests coupled with your technical experience means we could sponsor retraining in the construction industry or a technical post in the Health Service, given the state of the job market at this time…”

”Well, that’s a turn up, not what I expected but…any port in a storm…beggars can’t be choosers…a bird in the hand…” Thankfully I ran out of clichés.

“Well, you certainly look the part,” my wife complimented me. Clad in overalls and hard-hat, equipped with safety boots, goggles, trowel and a large spirit level I set out for the first day at the construction site. Provided I passed the week-long induction course, I could expect grounding in all aspects of the building trade, and if all else failed would at least be able to tackle the patio and make a professional job of re-pointing the chimney.

After a week I had mastered the theory and sailed through the tests. Weights and measures, metric conversion, temperatures, angles - all that geometry wasn’t wasted after all - percentages, costing, fire precautions; my past experience had put me way ahead of my fellow trainees.

While standing on the flat roof of a three-storey building, we were asked in turn to lean well over the low parapet and count the number of cars parked in the lee of each side of the building. My turn came and my knuckles were white as I clutched the top of the parapet. Dry mouthed, knees shaking, I peeped over my side of the building, but not far enough to see the parked cars. This required a degree of confidence, coupled with a head for heights.

“You’ll have to lean further than that,” bellowed the instructor. Perhaps if I knelt down or lay on the ground? Out of the question. I summoned up sufficient courage, quickly looked over and down, and just for a split second saw a number of cars.

“Three?” A guess, and the instructor ominously made an entry in his notebook. Ordeal over and ashen-faced, I tottered back and rejoined my fellow students who all managed to display a degree of swaggering nonchalance when their turn came.

Worse was to come. From ground level, the building looked at least 30 feet high, or converted to metric about ten metres, but that didn’t make it any easier. We were expected to climb the pre-positioned ladder with confidence. The technique involved leaning back, hands gripping the sides of the ladder and quickly and safely arriving at the top of the building.

“You’ll have to go back down.” Unable to make any progress beyond a few metres after crawling up in sideways fashion I remained glued to the ladder with arms wrapped around it.

“You can keep the boots and overalls.” Later the storeman retrieved my hard-hat, spirit level and trowel. Any humiliation I might have felt had been overcome by a sense of relief at being released from the induction course.

“Just put on this white coat.” I had successfully applied for training in the National Health Service, with prospects of becoming a radiographer. Today I was to accompany a team at the local hospital to witness the work at first hand. Walking down the corridor I was amazed at the deference the white coat imbued,. My previous knowledge of the workings of a hospital had been gleaned from seeing “Carry On Nurse.” All these young attractive nurses, the black stockings…

“We shall be giving this patient a barium injection.” The lady in question lay on her side. An injection was to be administered which would obviously show up on an X-ray. Until now my immediate reaction to any injection had always been to look the other way, but I now was forced to witness an injection from the largest syringe I had ever seen - something about the size of a milk bottle.

As the injection slowly proceeded I had a feeling of nausea and clamminess and became weak at the knees. All I wanted to do was to lie down in a darkened room.

I disappeared in the direction of the washroom, dowsed my face with water and slowly recovered by going over last week’s football results. Luckily the medical team were so busy I wasn’t missed. Perhaps I would get used to the experience in time.

Prior to taking up full time training I needed to get acquainted with general routine by spending a month on a hospital ward.

“This is it. The Accident and Emergency. You know, car crashes, burns, anything really. Saturday night’s the worst. All the drunks.” The nurse looked positively cheerful.

I gloss over the rest, except to say I had never seen so much blood in my life.

There is a lot to be learned from being stranded on a rock in the middle of a raging torrent. I used Deductive Reasoning and withdrew my application for training, Analysed My Needs and decided to wait - however long it took - in order to Realise My Goals in becoming a Technical author.

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