In the U.S., for most people, the "earliest" you can retire is age 62. I turned 62 years old this past August. The only other people who can "retire" earlier are those who are very wealthy, or those who lived their lives in utter austerity (think eating a 50 cent box of macaroni and cheese every night for dinner and reusing tea bags four or five times), amassing their income into a sizable nestegg that most of us would be envious of.
I am in neither of those groups. But, I am planning on retiring at the end of the year.
I've spent the past 35 years working in the hospitals as a respiratory therapist. I treat respiratory patients, like asthmatics and COPD patients, and pneumonia patients. I'm the one who runs the mechanical ventilator for critically ill patients. And, of course, we've all had to deal with COVID. It is my second career. Prior to that, I was a professional newspaper photographer for 10 years.
If you had told me even five years ago that I'd finish up my career in respiratory therapy consumed by a global pandemic of a NASTY respiratory virus, I'd have to ask what you're smoking. There's no way I thought my career would finish up like it has over the past three years. This is definitely one "wrinkle" that NO ONE saw coming.
I started off as an on-the-job trainee, something that is virtually unheard of in today's healthcare environment. I received a "crash course" over six weeks, and then went to work on night shift. The first hospital I worked at paid for me to obtain my formal education (for which I'm eternally grateful). Today's license requirements and other government oversight now pretty much preclude "on-the-job trainee" positions from ever happening again.
I've always been a "quick study," and particularly in this case, it paid off. I had always had an interest in science and medical "things," so this was something that held my attention. When I worked as a newspaper photographer, I would always volunteer for the "medical assignments," because those things usually made my coworkers queasy. I, on the other hand, was fascinated with them. I would study through the night in between rounds when things weren't busy, and I made good use of the reference books and materials that were made available to me.
Over the years, I've worked in just about every aspect of respiratory therapy, except management and home care. I spent a LOT of time working in adult ICUs, neonatal intensive cares, the emergency department, and performing therapy and testing on inpatients across all age ranges. I even taught respiratory therapy for six years, right after the new millennium.
So many of my coworkers keep saying "you're gonna get bored." After 35 years, believe it or not, I don't think I'll be bored at all. I plan to refocus all my attention on raising my kids. I had my kids late. I was almost 53 when my son was born, and almost 56 when my daughter was born. Now, I just want to spend as much time as I can with them, and (hopefully) help set them down a good path in life.
My wife is also a respiratory therapist. When I was working full time, we were lucky if we got one day off together to do "family things." The 12 hour shifts are long, and don't allow for many other activities after one of us would get off work. We worked our schedules around each other, so that one of us was always there with the kids. We could have just paid a babysitter and not worry about it, but we didn't have kids so that someone else (who may or may not have my same values) could raise them. Some weeks, because of having to take "call" shifts, we wouldn't really get any time off together.
The older my kids get, the more they cherish and clamor for the days when, in their words, "they have both parents" home with them. Plus, the older they get, the more extracurricular activities they are involved in. Right now, both of them are in Cub Scouts. So yeah, I don't think I'll be getting bored.
I do think, though, that there will be some things I miss about working. Probably number one on that list is the interactions I have with my patients. Second on that list will be the interactions and relationships I've built with my coworkers.
I also know that I'm NOT going to miss getting up before the sun ever comes up so I can be at work for a 6 a.m. shift. Of course, as with just about any job, there are other aspects of my job that I'm not going to miss. Some of those "things" are just endemic to respiratory therapy as a profession, while others are fairly universal across most any field of work. Bad bosses and bad management are two things that seem to be especially prevalent in respiratory therapy. I'm definitely not going to be missing those aspects of the job, either.
Regrets? Definitely. B.T.K.C. (Before The Kids Came), I **really** wanted to get into management. Overall, I had probably applied for a dozen different supervisory roles over the years. And always, there was someone sitting on the sidelines, saying "oh, that's not for you" or "you're not cut out for that." Yet time and time again, I'd see them hire the most inept, awful person for the job. So, I'd double down my efforts, work extra hard with the belief that working even harder would show the world how much I should be in a supervisory role. In the end, what I think happened is that I made myself too valuable in my bedside role, and worked myself out of consideration for those supervisory positions.
I regret not having a chance to succeed or fail on my own in that supervisory role. If I failed, so be it. If I succeeded, even better. But never having that chance still stings.
Now that the kids are here, I consider that desire to be a ship that's "done sailed." I'm no longer interested. I'm only interested in spending as much time as I can with my kids. It would take a LOT of money (probably more money than any hospital is willing to pay) for me to take a supervisory role now. If anything has "soured" me on my profession, it's never having that chance to succeed or fail on my own in that supervisory role, and seeing all of those "promoted" ahead of me that were horrible supervisors. The list of the bad ones is at least twice as long as the list of good ones. I don't worry if any of them read this, because they wouldn't recognize themselves in it anyway. Unfortunately, that problem is still a HUGE problem today in respiratory therapy. The exact same environment exists and thrives.
I'm just looking forward to being able to be there for my kids more, spending more time with them, and never having to worry about missing yet another event the kids are involved in. I'm also looking forward to FINALLY being able to have some real family time. We'll only have my wife's schedule to work around, instead of juggling mine and hers.
This month's cover was designed by Meemaw, and celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.
Until next month, I bid you peace, happiness, serenity, prosperity ... and continued good health!