Sometimes, money isn’t the best form of payment

76_4296841When I first thought about going to college, I had big plans.  I had grandiose plans to be rich, successful, have the perfect life and the perfect family.  I was going to graduate, get an amazing job, have a beautiful home; and pretty much have a life like someone had on television.  I started my freshman year as a Business Administration major.  I was at school on a full academic scholarship; but was emotionally unprepared for the demands of Honors college courses.  Plus, I was miserable.  I hated business.  Hated numbers, economics, and math.  I loved to read.  I loved to write.  I loved music, and art, and literature.  I took a semester off, “found myself”, and went back as an English major.  It was a completely different experience that time.  I actually enjoyed going to class and learning.

To my everlasting regret, I gave up college for marriage.  I packed up and moved across the country and began a new life as a wife.  I focused on making sure everyone around me was successful, rather than focusing on myself.

I tried to go back a second time; this time in an Adult Studies program, still thinking that I wanted to teach English.  I had gotten a job working in health care, but hadn’t quite fallen in love with it.  As the years went by, however, my fascination with health care and helping people grew stronger and stronger.  I went from working in an outpatient rehab facility with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists; to working in pediatrics.  By then, I was really hooked.  After a several years in pediatrics, I moved to family medicine.

Until I worked with people that were in such broad ranges of economic, social, and educational classes; I never knew how disparate things were.  I went from a pretty “insulated” job where I saw some of the bad, to seeing people have to make the choice between food and medicine.  People who had to literally give up their homes and move because they couldn’t afford life saving medications.

780_4179394A light finally came on.  I had always wanted to teach, but not in the school system.  Now I had a venue.  I had a fire in me to fight for people.  To help them.  To show them that there are people that actually care.  People have so little knowledge sometimes of the help that is available to them; and it gives me a sense of being a superhero.  I have so many things that stand out in my memory that make what I do worth it.  When I get a thank you note written in the shaking hand of a 87 year old woman, who had been under dosing herself with insulin because she couldn’t afford it and groceries; and was now enrolled in a program to get free medications.  The pink bracelet given to me by a patient who was a Nurse anesthetist in the Korean War. Every time I talked to her for the first year I was there she was just as mean and ornery as she could possibly be.  I kept being myself and one day a grouch turned into a grunt.  Then the grunt a sigh.  Then the sigh a smile.  And finally the smile into listening to her talk for 30 minutes just because she needed someone to listen to her.  I just happened to wear that bracelet for the first time when the lady’s daughter came in without her mother.  She told me that she’d passed away the night before and that she had such wonderful things to say about me.   The elderly man who recorded a CD of him telling stories, because he wanted someone to be able to listen to them before he couldn’t remember them anymore.  This same patient emailed me last week from the hospital, just so he could let me know how he was doing and sent me funny and historical videos.  Missing the patient who had a tracheotomy and couldn’t speak; remembering how he always gave me hard candy; then remembering the day he passed away in front of me.  Reaching down to get a hug from a tiny old woman and feeling her trembling hands pat my cheeks and hearing “I love you” in a shaking voice.

I know that I could certainly make more money doing something else.   People have told me that.  They’ve criticized my choices and seen how I struggle financially.  “Why don’t you find something that pays more?” “If you go to work uptown you could get a job making twice what you do now.” But sometimes it’s not about money.  Sometimes it’s about your heart, and your soul, and your passion.  Sometimes helping others is more important than financial gain.  Sometimes fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, and advocating for those who have no advocate is the richest job of all.

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Melissa McAtee

Melissa McAtee

I'm a single mom of 2 originally from the Midwest. How many people can you say that you know from the Town of Normal? I have one son, age 14 and one daughter, age 17. I'm also engaged to be married in June, 2015. We also have 2 furbabies, Tinkerbella Pixiedust, a 9 pound Chin-Tzu, and Jack Sparrow, our rescue Boxer. I have quite a few nicknames; including Mama Mack, Wonder Woman and Chocolate Mary Poppins (all of which are totally true....).