Friday, May 31, 2013

Mother Jones

Mary Harris Jones was born in Cork, Ireland, emigrated to America, lost her husband and children to Yellow Fever, served as a nurse, owned her own dress shop, lost that shop to the great Chicago Fire, fought for the rights of workers and to end child labor, was jailed for her beliefs, was freed by the US Senate, stood with and against Presidents, and is one of the greatest heroins of U S History. 
During the Yellow Fever Epidemic that took the lives of her husband and children, she served as a volunteer nurse 
I read about Vanderbilt, Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and the other "Titans of industry" in school.  How come I never read in school about Mother Jones, Cesar ChavezSamuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, or Walter Reuther?

Many quotes are attributed to Mother Jones, one of my favorites is this:
 "Our job is to comfort the afflicted,
and afflict the comfortable."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finding Forest Gump

While mowing the lawn tonight, I was thinking of Forest Gump.

Come on, you know the scene.  Forest has finished his "shrimp boat captain" days and gets a job mowing the local football field and "cause I was a gazillionaire, and I liked doin it so much, I cut that grass for free." 

Riding my mower gives me time to think.  No cell phone, no one telling me what to do because I can't hear them, get the picture?

I believe that Forest Gump is one of the great philosophers of our time.
He may be simple, but he is open minded, kind, and thoughtful.
At the end of the movie, Forest is reflecting, and he sums up the movie and I think, perhaps, life in general.

He's thinking about what his Mama said and what Lieutenant Dan said, and he summarizes it like this,
  1. I don't know if Mama was right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."

If You had told me 20 years ago that I would be working as a nurse, blogging and involved in union business I would have had a hard time imagining it.  But here we are.
Life truly is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get, and yet, sometimes looking back, I can see that events in my life led me to exactly where I am.

Like Forest, I am a rich man, not in the material sense, but in other more important ways.
I hope that we can all find our inner Forest Gump.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Quite a Ride

"I'm conflicted about public speaking.  I still get nervous......but I enjoy the attention."
So began my talk to about 30 nurse leaders of the National Federation of Nurses in Washington this week.  Their laughter told me that they could identify with my statement.
I find that my unplanned, off the cuff statements usually end up being my best received, and my most truthful.

I spoke Thursday to this group as part of their orientation to the American Federation of Teachers. I told them the story of the Backus Hospital Nurse's successful campaign to organize and obtain a first contract, about the effort mounted against us, and about the help and support we received from the labor community, the public and politicians, and AFT Connecticut and AFT Washington.

Later, AFT president Randi Weingarten spent some time with us.  She's president of 1.5 million AFT members and had just flown in from a trip to South America, but she came to spend some time and have an informal conversation with us.
I've met and had my picture taken with her before.
It's not like she could pick me out of a crowd at the market, but she remembers the nurses of Backus and I've heard her refer to us and our struggle more than once in speeches.

Friday morning I was back at work, answering call bells, giving meds and emptying bedpans, and going home to a list of chores.
This year I've been to Washington twice and Baltimore once on Union business, I've toured the hospital with a US Senator, had cheese and crackers with the Governor and our executive board at our office, been on conference calls about the state budget with other AFT Local leaders, and conversed with state politicians on bills and issues important to us.  I serve on a Department of Public Health advisory committee, the AFT Connecticut health care council and convention credentialing committee, and been on the radio for the United Way.

With all of that, you want to know what my grandchildren ask me.........Grandpa, can you take us to McDonalds?
Some people remember who I am, but most just remember who I represent, the nurses of Backus.
THAT is what is is important to them.

It's a bit overwhelming at times.
It certainly feeds the part of me that enjoys the attention.
Mostly though, I'm just the guy medicating the patients, doing the chores, taking the grand kids to McDonalds, and having the privilege of representing the nurses of Backus, who care for the sick day in and day out.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Welcome National Federation of Nurses

It will be my honor to speak today to the members of the National Federation of Nurses.
They are in Washington, DC for an orientation because they have voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers. 
AFT asked me to come to Washington to tell them the story of how we organized Backus, against great odds.
The NFN and the AFT affiliation brings together two of the prominent nurse's unions.  NFN and AFT together represent 82,000 RNs and many more LPNs, Technicians, and other health care professionals.  
Together, the entire Healthcare Division is a voice in the ever changing world of health care reform, backed by our bothers and sisters in education and public service.
It is an honor to come to know these fine nurses, to spend some time with them, and to tell them, on behalf of the Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Connecticut, and the American Federation of Teachers..... we are bothers and sisters in the struggle to provide care for our patients, our students,and the public.
It is, of course, always an honor to represent the my fellow nurses of Backus.
I will tell them how we struggled, how we won, and how we are now learning to use your voice.
I will tell them that when cutbacks started to effect our patients, we stood tall and said ENOUGH!
I will tell them that we were successful because we worked hard and had the support of the community, labor, politicians, and others, and the expert guidance of the leadership and staff of AFT, AFT Connecticut, and our sister Locals.
Most important, I will tell them that we in Connecticut, stand with our brothers and sisters in Montana, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington.
Injury to one is injury to all.
Welcome my brothers and sisters of the National Federation of Nurses.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

EMS week

I don't know how the call came in over their pagers the morning of December 15 or what ran thorough their heads as they neared the school.
I can't begin to imagine how they felt when they encountered all those injured first graders and educators, most of them from their own neighborhoods.

But I do know that they responded.

I know that they responded in Boston, in Texas, in Superstorm Sandy, on Sept 11, and most recently at the Metro North train crash.

They ALWAYS respond.

They are the men and women of our EMS system.

How do you say thank you to those who respond to danger and tragedy while others flee from it?
How do you say thank you to those who awaken in the middle of the night and go out into the cold, the rain, the heat, to serve their neighbors?

I have no adequate answer to this, and they ask no thanks.
But we should say thanks, we must say thanks.
This week is EMS week, it's a good time to stop, reflect, and say thank you to the neighbor you know is part of EMS, to the Cop or Firefighter you see on the street or store, to all of our brave and dedicated neighbors who our angles, always looking out for us.

Happy EMS week, and thank you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


C/O   N/V/D
(complains of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea)
Without this chief complaint there would be little need for Emergency Rooms.
The causes are varied.
Bad food, too much eating or drinking, IBS, and the most usual, a stomach bug.
When people start to ask the question, "Is there something going around?", the answer is always the same, "Yes."
There is always something going around.
The biggest problem is that N/V/D can be caused by so many things and occasionally they are serious.
Appendicitis, colitis, obstruction, diverticulitis, etc.
So everyone gets a workup, because to miss something serious would be bad.
So, blood work, urine analysis, IV fluid, nausea medication and sometimes pain meds.

Many times it's hard to come up with a definitive diagnosis.
You, the public, can help.

We will ask a series of questions and your answers will guide us.

The following is not helpful:
"How many times did you vomit?"
"Is there any blood in your diarrhea?"
"I don't know, I didn't look."
OK, people, you gotta work with me here.

It's not that I don't care, I really do.
You wanta know what the worst case of N/V/D I ever saw was?
It's when I had it.
I am NOT a good patient, I don't do "sick" well.

So, if you ever have N/V/D, stop on down, we'll take a look and help you feel better and if there is something serious, we'll try and fix it.
Because having N/V/D really makes for a crappy day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Just Culture"

There is a saying in carpentry, "measure twice, cut once."
It would apply to nursing as well. That's exactly why there is a "time out" before surgery. Once it's done, it's done.
Human beings are, well, "human."
That's why we have so many protocols and why we try to build safeguards into our systems.

It's also why I believe strongly in developing a "Just Culture" in the workplace.

In a "Just Culture" workplace, human nature is recognized and accepted.  Mistakes happen, and the emphasis isn't on fixing the blame, it's on fixing the problem.

It was noted that in the airline industry, "near misses", or 2 planes coming within 1 mile of each other, were under reported due to the fear of discipline.  However, when discipline was taken out of the equation, reports increased, systems were improved, and the flying became safer.

The same needs to happen in health care.

The ANA supports the development of "Just Culture" in nursing, more information is contained in the link

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning to follow

"I had been sitting under the tree for a long time, talking to God, when I heard God speak to me."  said the commencement speaker.
He was a minister and had gone to help at the rehab center because these men had been beaten down by their disease and had learned to rely on the God of their understanding for their very life.
"God spoke to my heart and told me that I had put my ministry ahead of my mission."

He wept.

He said we all have a ministry, be it as a parent, grandparent, nurse, teacher, clergy, business person or grocery clerk.
More important, we all have a mission.
That mission is the same for all of us.
It is to listen and follow the will of our Higher Power.
Our ministry my be wonderful. We may help many people. But if we impose our will, instead of listening and following the will of God, then we are not fulfilling our mission.

I have many ministries.
Father, grandpa, husband, son, nurse, union president, writer.
When I am not listening, when I am not following, then I am not fulfilling my mission.
If I try to do it my way, if I believe I have the answers, then my ministry has become more important than my mission.
None of us can lead if we are not willing to listen and follow.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A time for everything

To everything there is a season....
So it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes and in the song written by Pete Seeger and made popular by the Byrds.
In many cultures its call finding one's balance or being centered.
I struggle with this.
I tend to go all in when I go, to become consumed.
It's how I got through nursing school.
That's one reason why it's important for me to get away from time to time.
I can't paint the bathroom, mow the lawn, or meet for a grievance when I'm away.
My wife and my executive board are in agreement on this.
"Go", they say, " spend some time with your wife. Relax."
They are more than qualified to watch the shop, that's not the problem. The problem is me.
Anyway, it's good to be in Florida for a few days for my niece's graduation. Good to get away.
I could go on and on about the values of a vacation, but that would kind of defeat the purpose, wouldn't it.
Instead, I think I'll go for breakfast.