Friday, December 30, 2011

Let it be

The first funeral that I remember was while I was still quite young.  I think it was my cousin Barry's.  He was older than me and he passed just after high school. 

I remember one of my uncles joking with the young kids, I think it was Paul, but it could have been Jim or Matt.  The point is, I remember seeing the sadness and also the laughter. 
In my family we love each other intensely, not just our immediate family, but our extended family as well, all the aunts, uncles, cousins.  We cry when they leave us but we celebrate as well.  We celebrate their life and we celebrate that they have gone on to what we believe is not an end to life, but a change, an eternal life with their maker and an opportunity to be together again with all those relatives that have gone before them.

At my Uncle John's funeral this week, his grandson Jake, sang a song for us.  It was the Beatles "Let it be".  What a perfect song and what a good job he did, a gift for his grandpa and for all of us. 
Thank you Jake.

When the angel came to Mary and told her she would bear a son, her response was simple,  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.'

The song speaks of giving ourselves to our Higher Power, especially "in my hour of darkness" because "there is still a light that shines on me."

I believe in these "words of wisdom", and yet I struggle.  I struggle in knowing when I am supposed to act and when I am supposed to accept.  When is it time to fight with every God given once of strength against what I see as being unjust in this world and when is it time to leave it all in my Higher Power's hands?
Wiser people than I have pondered this question. 

So I listened to Mary's words once more.
"Let it be done to me according to your word."

Mary didn't accept things how they were, she accepted God's role for her, a role that was far from passive.
It's not so much accepting things as they are as it is accepting that God wants us to work for how things can be.
I like the way Cesar Chavez put it:
"There is no substitute for hard work, 23 or 24 hours a day.  And there is no substitute for patience and acceptance."

Laughter and tears, fighting on and letting go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NLRB rule change

This summer I had the great honor of traveling to Washington DC at the request of our union, AFT, to testify before the National Labor Relations Board.  At stake was a proposed rule change that would make it harder for companies to delay union elections and to use that time to intimidate workers, thus denying them their constitutional rights to organize and collectively bargain.  There were 2 days of testimony, by both those for and against the rule change.  I spoke for a brief 3 minutes. 

In a win for organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board on 12/21 approved sweeping new rules that would speed the pace of union elections, making it easier for unions to gain members at companies that have long rebuffed them.
The rules, which take effect April 30, simplify procedures and reduce legal delays that can hold up union elections after employees at a work site gather enough signatures to form a union.
"This rule is about giving all employees who have petitioned for an election the right to vote in a timely manner and without the impediment of needless litigation," board chairman Mark Pearce said.
The old rules allowed companies to file frivolous appeals, stalling elections for months or years.

My role was vary small but I was proud to be a part of the process.  Every nurse at Backus should share that pride.  We have come a long way and we have made a difference.  We will continue to make a difference. 

I never wanted to be involved in politics, but one of the roles of a nurse is to advocate.  Lesa Hanson, one of our organizing and negotiating committee members, eloquently said that advocating means at the bedside, in the boardroom, in Hartford and in Washington. 

We cannot be good nurses if we cannot advocate for our patients without fear of retribution!
THAT is what this is all about.

(if you want to see my testimony)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Blessings

I've been giving a lot of thought to this Christmas message post. Thinking about what Christmas means to me.  It's a special time of the year.  The birthday of Jesus, my savior.  God made man, coming into this world to give the ultimate sacrifice, himself. 

As great and important as all that is, I believe His real gift to us was in the way He lived His life.
Born in a manger, as a homeless person if you will.  His first visitors..... shepards, but also open to receiving kings.  He loved them all.  His mother, engaged but not married when she conceived, asked by God to bear His Son.  Her answer...... let it be.  His father, Joseph, a simple Jewish carpenter, visited by an angel, he stands by Mary and Jesus.  He teaches Jesus carpentry, religion, and love of man.

At age 30, following a calling, Jesus leaves the comfort and safety of his life in the carpenter shop to spend 3 years preaching God's love, knowing all the while it will mean His ultimate death.  He surrounds himself with fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes.  He speaks of a Father who loves us and wants our love in return.  He does not judge others, he does not seek for others to serve Him.  He lives his life as an example.

He refuses to judge and stone the women caught in adultery, He praises the woman who gives her last few coins in the temple over the man who gives more but from his surplus, he washes the feet of his disciples.  Over and over he teaches in parables, his message is God and one another. 

Not everyone claims Him as the Messiah or their savior.
I think Jesus would be OK with that.  He never was about claiming the glory, He was about the message.
I think He would be OK with Santa Claus and our modern gift giving too.  Santa stands for bringing joy to the world, so did He.  Some people get upset about the materialism of Christmas, I understand that.  But when Jesus was asked about paying taxes to the Romans what did He say?
He asked who's head was on the Roman coin.  Cesar's they said.  He told them to give to Cesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's.
When asked where His kingdom was He told them it was not of this world.

He doesn't care about money, doesn't care about materialism, He cares about our hearts and souls, He cares about our love for God and each other.
No, I don't think Jesus would be upset when Santa, or his helpers (parents and grandparents, etc), give gifts out of love, I think he would smile.  I think Jesus would make Santa one of His disciples.

Whatever your personal beliefs, whomever you Higher Power, I wish you love this Christmas and into the next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Elfs Got Organized

This is a look at working conditions at Santa"s workshop.  It is intended to be lighthearted and yet at the same time it reminds us that we should always consider the working conditions of those who produce, sell, and deliver what we consume.

I'm a man of reason, and they say "'Tis the season to be jolly"
But it's folly when you volley for position

Never in existence has there been such a resistance
To ideas meant to free us
If you could see us, then you'd listen

Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages
There's no union
We're only through when we outdo the competition

A full indentured servitude can reflect on one's attitude
But that silly red hat just makes the fat man look outrageous

Absurd though it may seem, you know, I've heard there's even been illegal doping
And though we're coping, I just hope it's not contagious

You try to start a movement, and you think you see improvement
But when thrown into the moment, we just don't seem so courageous

You look at yourself
You're an elf
And the shelf is just filled with disappointing memories
Trends come and go, and your friends wanna know why you aren't just happy making crappy little gizmos
Every kid knows they'll just throw this stuff away

We're used to repetition, so we drew up a petition
We, the undersigned, feel undermined
Let's redefine "employment"

We know that we've got leverage, so we'll hand the fat man a beverage
And sit back while we attack the utter lack of our enjoyment

It may be tough to swallow, but our threats are far from hollow
He may thunder, but if he blunders, he may wonder where the toys went

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

Bare Naked Ladies/Michael Buble

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I come from an Irish Catholic family so what I know of Hanukkah is limited.

It seems that throughout history, the Hebrews have had periods of self rule alternating with occupation. During at least one of these occupations the rulers promised to let the Jews observe their religious customs and traditions and they did for a while. But, as rulers often do, they reneged on their promise and desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem even erecting an alter to Zeus and butchering pigs. Eventually, the Hebrews got organized and kicked them out.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready). Hence, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights and days.

I have Jewish friends and relatives and feel at least somewhat connected to the Jewish people.
Both Jews and Irish have faced oppression and occupation and we have persevered.
Christian and Jew also share a spiritual heritage. David, Abraham and Moses are fathers to us all, our Judeo-Christian heritage makes us more alike than not. Jesus, was a Jewish carpenter.
So, while I do not understand Hanukkah like someone who grew up celebrating it, I will celebrate it now.
May this Hanukkah season bring you peace, happiness, and love.
I'll close with my own Irish Hanukkah blessing:

May the roads rise up to meet you
and the wind be always at your back.
May your candles always burn bright
and your oil never run out.
And until there is peace and justice in the world,
may the Lord God hold us all in the palm of His hand.

and a song from the Bare Naked Ladies:

Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

National Writers Union

I started writing this blog in March. I had been keeping a journal off and on for years and more consistently since fall of 2010 when we started to organize. It has been a way for me to understand my feelings and deal with them. It grew out of that need to write and an ever expanding email list of news and encouragement that I had been sending out during the early organizing campaign.
Now,10 months later, am writing my 87th entry.
I guess I had a lot to say.
It has been most rewarding for me.
Ole Hermanson is my editor, he has greatly helped me refine my writing.
Those who know him know that Ole is much more than an editor,he is a wonderful writer, an organizer without equal, he led us, advised us, encouraged us, and has given us a voice. He is also a dear friend.
In the past few months I have come to know another fine man and writer, Wayne Burgess, President of the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. This is the group of unions for southeastern Connecticut who come together in solidarity.
Wayne asked if he could use some of my writings for his union newsletter. I was honored to be asked. He also asked me to consider joining the National Writers Union, an affiliate or the United Auto Workers. I didn't have to consider it long.
The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers. Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.
I am now proud to say I am a member.
Solidarity isn't just a word, it means we are stronger together than alone. If our goal is to help the working men and women then we need to work together because there are forces of greed against us.
In my first blog in March I said this:

"One of the roles of a nurse, one of the most important roles I think, is to advocate for his patients.
Our union is not some outside "third party ", it is me and you and the nurses you work with every day, coming together, reaching a consensus, and speaking with one voice. We will be partners with administration, working to make Backus better.For this to happen we need active members from every floor, every shift, every age group, because it is diversity of ideas that makes us strong.Is this dream possible? You bet it is! It is happening already, one floor at a time. I invite you to join us."

That statement is as true now as it ever was.
If this blog has helped in any small way to help you consider the positive that a union can bring, if it has fortified your resolve, if it has given you hope, made you laugh, or made you think about the great gift we call life, then I have succeeded.
For my part, it has bee a wonderful outlet for my feeling and thoughts and you have been a wonderful audience.
And I'm not done yet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's a wonderful life

This time of year we all gather together and re-watch the classic holiday movies. We all have our favorites, be they in black and white or Chevy Chase and Home Alone.  One of my all time favorites is It's a Wonderful Life from 1946.
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel Clarence. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community.
George's dream has been to see the world. However, he repeatedly sacrifices his ambition for others. He spends his life running the Bailey Building and Loan Association, that his father started and vital to the people of Bedford Falls because without it they would be at the mercy of  Henry Potter, a heartless slumlord and majority shareholder in the Building and Loan, who also owns the bank and most of the rest of the town.  Without George, the people of Bedford Falls would have little hope of ever owning a home or improving their lives.
George forgets this and Clarence is sent from heaven to help him remember.  If Clarence succeeds, he will earn his wings. 
There are many great scenes, let me share one of my favorites.
On Harry's (George's younger brother) graduation night in 1928, George discusses his future with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl. Later that evening, George's absent-minded Uncle Billy and Harry break the news to George his father has had a stroke, which proves fatal. A few months later, Mr. Potter tries to persuade the board of directors to stop providing home loans for the working poor. George talks them into rejecting Potter's proposal, but they agree only on the condition that George himself run the Building and Loan. He gives his college money to his brother with the understanding that when Harry returns from college, he will take over the Building and Loan, which of course, doesn't happen.
This scene shows George's passionate speech before the board on why the Building and Loan must continue.  It speaks to the idea that love is more important than greed, an idea George forgets for a time until Clarence helps him remember and realize that though he may not have the most money he is indeed "the richest man in the world"!

Monday, December 12, 2011


On Saturday, the following wonderful letter from John Hayes of Pomfret, appeared in the Norwich Bulletin letters to the editor section:
Appparently, Scrooge has moved to Norwich in the form of the CEO of The William W. Backus Hospital. While the current CEO laughs all the way to the bank to the tune of $600,000 per year, he’s withholding annual holiday bonuses from the nursing staff. He isn’t alone in his merriment. Backus also pays the former CEO, yes, former, as in no longer working there, $700,000 per year. These figures are public through the tax records. The nurses, from Norwich and surrounding communities, are representative of the people to whom they provide care. They may be raising young children, struggling on single incomes or caring for aging parents. They care for people at the best and worst of times. Through birth, illness and even death, nurses are often the ones holding the patient’s hand. The holiday bonus was a small recognition of the contribution the staff makes to Backus’ success in caring for the community. The nurses look forward to this recognition as a way of helping with financial needs. With its coffers overflowing with more than $24 million, and the CEO and former CEO more than amply rewarded, Backus Hospital should acknowledge the work of the nurses and give the bonuses.

Thank you Mr Hayes, and well said.
His letter got us thinking.
Tonight a delegation from the Backus Federation of Nurses attended the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council meeting, a gathering of labor leaders from all the different southeastern Connecticut unions of the AFL-CIO. We approached the council for support.
I am happy to tell you that our brothers and sisters of labor unions across southeastern Connecticut stand in solidarity with us!
They have nominated Backus CEO David Whitehead as
The labor unions of of the area, the state and the nation stand with us.
Millions of people like John Hayes, people who care.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A call for laborers

A man named Matthew wrote, "At the site of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity. They were lying prostate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples : "the harvest is good but the laborers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest. "
We are the laborers.
There is much to do.
Many in this world suffer; from poverty, sickness, depression, addiction, spiritual emptiness.
There is no shortage of work for the laborers.
We all have a calling, it may take some time to find it, but if we continue to search, we will find it. It is our way of leaving the world better than we found it.
When we find our calling, we know. The urge to follow it is overwhelming. It is a "calling" because the harvest master calls out to us. Whatever it is, we are to perform it with love and respect for each other. There is dignity in all labor performed in this way.
The harvest master is known by many names, by all religions and all spiritual paths. He does not belong to any one and yet he belongs to all. He is love at it's purest.
And the best part?
He desires closeness to us -
His laborers!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Good Boss

It was a very busy second shift in the ED.  I was a brand new nurse, certainly less than a year into my practice.  I had worked in the ED for 5 years as a nursing assistant and was given the opportunity to start nursing there after a brief orientation on the Med Surg floor.  It was unusual at the time and I was grateful for the chance, now it is common practice.
On this night we had a trauma and the experienced nurses were handling that, leaving a few of us newer nurses to manage the rest of the floor.  One of my patients was having difficulty breathing, the ED doctor was concerned, I could see it in his face.  He ordered an IV drip of magnesium and I started to prepare it.  Back then we mixed most of our own drips, especially on 2nd and 3rd shift.  As I pulled out the vials of magnesium I felt uncomfortable, there seemed to be too many vials.  I ran it by one of the other new nurses and she thought it was OK.  Now I realize that she was as overwhelmed as I was.  My patient's condition deteriorated after we started the drip because I had overdosed him by a factor of 10.  I alerted the doctor that his condition was worse, we stopped the drip and the patient was intubated.  At this point I had no idea that I had made a mistake.  God was watching us all that night, the patient recovered. 
A little while later, while I was standing at the medication Pixis, a wave came over me.  I realized what I had done. 
I almost fell to the floor. 
By now, the experienced nurse who was precepting me was out of the trauma. I went to her and she said to tell the admitting doctor.  I walked over, sat near the hospitalist who was writing orders, took a deep breath and told her.  She had just written an order for an IV with magnesium in it.  She ran a pen line over the line, initialed it, put the pen down, turned to me and said, "It's going to be alright".

A couple of weeks later I was called to the office and Susan Davis, my boss, asked me if I realized what the mistake had been.  I said yes and we talked about it.  Sue said " I know you'll never make that mistake again".  That was the total of my disciplinary action.

Today, our Pixis machines are in rooms instead of on the open floor, with it's distractions while you are pulling and mixing meds. The confusion over labeling of electrolytes in both milligrams and milliequivalents is minimized.  We mix meds in the med room and are encouraged to  have the pharmacy mix meds whenever possible. 
That is what came of my mistake, because I had a boss who looked out for me and who corrected flaws in the process.  There are still things we need to work on, such as help for less experienced nurses and appropriate staffing ratios that take into account patient severity and nurse experience.
Sue was a good boss, an advocate for her patients and her nurses. She now teaches Nursing in Virgina and works part time in an ED.
She recently sent me an email about a trend toward criminalizing nursing mistakes:

Hey John!
This article made me think about patient-nurse staffing ratios at WWBH. Nurses are now more than ever, at risk for legal actions. I firmly believe that staffing ratios and nurse's complex assignments set us up to fail. Maybe there is some information here for you to blog about. Always thinking about my family at WWBH.

The Criminalization of Nursing Mistakes

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Don't piss off an Irishman

Can I tell you something?
I'm pissed.
I'm sorry, but I am.
We have been meeting with management for 5 months. They arrive late every session and they just don't seem prepared when they do get there. I wonder if they even talk with each other between sessions.
It's disrespectful.
Our committee has met for countless hours to prepare. Five months ago we gave them a complete contract proposal. They have only responded to about a third of it. I am told it is not unusual, management considers it part of the game, part of the negotiation dance.
I don't want to dance and to me it's not a game, this is my life, it is the lives of my coworkers, it is the lives of my patients and it is the financial life of my hospital.
We will do what we can to move things along but in the meantime remember that we ARE a union and we have to act like one.
We have stepped in and intervened for nurses in discipline/discharge proceedings, protecting their rights, making a bad situation better for them and the hospital.
We got an extension on filing for insurance for next year. Management had given ten days and with everyone's busy lives many people, nurses and others, missed the deadline. We got a one week extension.
Some nurses are being told that vacations past a certain date can't be approved. We have spoken to Human Resources and they have assured us that this is not the case. If you are told otherwise let us know and we will intervene for you as we already have for others.
Management denied nurses the bonus they earned from a year of hard work. We filed charges with the labor board and if needed we will take them to trial.
We had wanted to have negotiations at the hospital to make it more convenient for nurses to stop in during dinner breaks or after work and to save both union and hospital money but management refused. That is their right. So we applied for the use of the hospital conference rooms for negotiation update meetings and were tentatively approved and then denied. These rooms are used by all kinds of community groups so to deny us was discriminatory. We filed charges with the labor board and the hospital gave in. Our first meeting was well attended and people wanted to know what they could do to help.
Some people can't make negotiations for various reasons, we understand.
There are other things you can do to help.
Wear your union buttons, tell us if you need more.
Call David Whitehead at 860-889-8331 ext 2722.
Tell him to listen to the nurses and instruct his team to negotiate in good faith. His secretary will answer the phone, give her the message, or call at night and leave a voice mail. Call often.
There seems to be a feeling from management that this is their hospital to do with what they want. They have had complete control and they want to keep it that way.
Guess what, if we thought they were being good stewards of our community hospital we wouldn't have gone though all this trouble. It is the community's hospital and we all answer to them.
So, I'm angry, but I'm not discouraged.
You are my strength.
You are the entire committee's strength.
We will prevail, we will bring our hospital to where it should be.
The only question is this.
Will management help or be a hindrance?