Thursday, August 29, 2013

Having our backs

I recently received a couple of emails from a nurse concerned with a coworker who had been suspended pending an investigation.  I won't go into any details other than to say that the suspended nurse is well respected by his coworkers. The following is part of two emails between us.

Thank you for all you are doing to help our fellow co-worker, and by extension every nurse at Backus. I used to be against having a union but I think it has actually benefited us tremendously.  Thank you again for helping all of us and responding to my e-mail.  Hopefully everything will turn out okay.
Thank you to this nurse for her kind words.

I remember when we were organizing someone opposed to our efforts said, "They'll get tired of fighting management and in the end management will win anyway."
I thought, what a defeatist attitude, and I felt sorry for this person.
Sometimes it can be tiring for those of us most involved.
I know that not every member can invest the time that the officers and delegates do. Many of you have small children, elderly parents and other obligations and it can take a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Even the officers and delegates get tired.
It would be easier to sit back and let others direct our professional lives.

It just wouldn't be right.

Not right for us, and certainly not right for our patients.

So thank you again for these kind words. Your support is what get us up each morning to fight the good fight.
Knowing you have our backs makes all the difference in the world.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Water gave us life.
Stand at the edge of the ocean in your bare feet.
You know, that area that is in the water,
but not,
depending on whether the last wave has returned to the sea.
Slowly, your heals will begin to start sinking into the sand, each wave taking away a few grains of sand. In a short while, if you can keep your balance, you’ll find the arch of your foot in contact with the sand.  Stay there longer and your entire foot will sink down, enveloped by the beach.
It’s almost like Mother Nature knows you’re there, your bare feet in contact with her, your skin in direct contact with her ocean.  It’s almost like she wants to connect with as much of you as she can, and by pulling away the sand under your feet, she connects with every inch of you that she can, in a motherly hug.

Water can also teach us how to live.  The oriental philosopher, Lao Tzu, said that if you toss a rock into water it will make a big initial splash, but after quietly making way for the rock, the water will begin a slow process of erosion, until at last, the rock is reduced to a few grains of sand.
Water wins in the end because it is flexible and the rock is not.
One of my son's trauma surgeons  said that in school they were taught that the face was the shock absorber for the brain.
I wonder if Lao Tzu taught that class.

I have always been amazed that the majority of this planet is salt water and so to is the majority of our bodies.  When I did a little reading, I found out that we have within our veins, sodium, potassium, and calcium in almost the same proportions as the oceans, and that the “sea” within us has the same saltiness as the Precambrian seas of three billion years ago!
It seems that when we left the sea we took a part of it with us.

No wonder we are drawn to the sea.  No wonder Mother Nature seems to want to envelope us when we stand in it’s edge. No wonder water is such a good teacher.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Turn the other cheek

The phase, “a slap in the face” is both interesting and informative.

Mathew wrote on the Sermon on the Mount, 
"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

I always thought this meant to be passive, to not fight back.  Then I heard it explained in another way by a priest.
At the time it was written, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class was done with the back of the hand. (backhanding someone) It was used to assert authority and dominance. 
If the persecuted person "turned the other cheek," the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. 
The left hand was used for unclean purposes and could not be used to strike someone under any circumstances. The only way to use the right hand to strike an other's left cheek, was to slap with the open hand or a punch, both of which were seen as a statement of equality. 

So, yes, turning the other cheek is a nonviolent response, but it is also a response that demands respect.
Strike me if you wish, but do so as an equal.

Forming a union and standing up for yourself, does not mean you will never again take a backhand to the face. 
It means that now you can offer the other cheek.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Grateful Gifts

My son was moved out of ICU today!
One week ago he had a bad accident which required a 5 hour surgery by two teams of surgeons. He faces a long recovery which will have it's challenges, to be sure, but he will recover.

Two days ago he was waking from a medication induced 5 day sleep, yesterday morning he tried to write and it looked like chicken scratch, today he was writing clearly, and just now he said goodnight and love you to his son over the phone, wired jaw and all.

 I think of what might have been.

I can only think that he must have a purpose to fulfill, hence the second chance.
I think back to his grandfather, my dad, burned so bad in World War II that he spent a year in the hospital. He not only survived, he went on to raise 6 children.  Surely we children owe something to God or the universe for the gift of our father's survival, because except for that we would not have been born.

But haven't we all been given that gift?  Even if we have not come close to death, we were given the gift of life when we were born.  What do we do with that gift?

Each of us also has talents, which are gifts, freely given to us.  Sure, hard work has in many cases been necessary to develop those talents, but the natural ability was given to us.

Maybe we have a wonderful voice, maybe a quick analytical mind, maybe a skillful hand, maybe the ability to see something beautiful in a block of stone and to bring it to life. Maybe we can lead people, or listen, or care for and heal.
I believe that we have an obligation to take the gifts we have been given and not hoard them for our own gain, but freely give them to others.  Our purpose may not be to surgically stitch together the facial bones of a young man.  Our purpose may be to tenderly clean his face of dried blood so that he and his family feels better.
In doing these things,both the surgeon and the emergency room tech gave back the gifts that they had been given.
Both actions were marvelous examples of the best of human endeavors, caring for each other with the gifts we have received.  The surgeon and the tech were equally skilled at their task, and each task was equally important.

I am feeling very grateful tonight, for my family, for the health care workers caring for my son, for his continued improvement, and for all the gifts I have been given.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

There is no I in Union

There is no I in Union.
Well, OK, there is.......... but it starts with U (you).

With my son in the hospital I emailed the delegates to tell them that I wouldn't be able to be at their meeting tonight.
Our treasurer, Donna, sent me this...
"John, I am so very happy that you won't be at the meeting tonight!" 

Wait a minute.....

She followed it with this....
"You need to be with your family and as much as we will miss you I am happy to know you have faith in us."

Oh, OK then.

I truly believe that the best way to manage is to surround yourself with good people, give them the support and tools they need, and then let them do their thing.  Being Local President is like that.
However, I do have a tendency to say YES to everything.  I think I can do all.  My friend Stephanie believes I have a Chuck Norris Complex.  I think all nurses have a little of that.

When I bowed out of the meeting, our Vice President, Melissa, echoed Donna's sentiments.  She said, "We got this."  Then she twisted her ankle at work and had to head home.  In stepped the Donna 1 and Donna 2, our Treasurer and Secretary.  "We got this."  

And you know what, they and our delegates do have it, because Union may have an I, but it starts with U.
You know what else has a U?

And our Union nurses do "have it", day in and day out, at Backus, and all the other hospitals, including UMass, where my son is in their fine care.

One of my Nursing School Instructors told me that I would make a good nurse but that no one would ever realize it if I didn't improve my spelling.
But I think that as long as I remember the correct placement of U and I, 
I'll be OK..

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What really matters

My first born is in surgery as I write this.  That little boy whom I once could hold in one hand is now in the hands of the doctors, techs and nurses of UMass Medical Center.  They say it'll take 4-5 hours.
They've been great.
He fell 20 feet yesterday while working on a roof, and needs wrist and extensive facial repair.  I have to remember that it could have been worse, much, much worse.
They'll patch him up and in time he'll recover.

Years go, his brother fell out of a tree. Now they have both been helicoptered to a trauma centers.
I told them we have a new family rule.....keep your feet on the ground!

The outpouring of support, prayers and offers of help has been overwhelming.  I means a lot.  It really helps.
I don't know what to say about how I feel, there are so many emotions.
Tim McGraw has a song, "What would you do?"
It starts,
                                  He said I was in my early 40's, 
with a lot of life before me,
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.

We all have things happen to us or someone we love that makes us stop on a dime.
Suddenly the grass not getting mowed, the house not being cleaned, the difficulty of losing those extra pounds, etc, doesn't seem so important.  We remember what truly is important, our relationships.

The phone rang as I was writing. The OR nurse calling with an update, surgery going well, still an hour or two to go. 

It's hard to remember to live each day as when you faced that thing that made your life "stop on a dime," but I think we should try.
Do me a favor, OK?
Sit with someone you love.
Have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
Watch the sunset, listen to the waves, watch the birds or the wind blow through the trees.
Give your loved ones a big hug.

In the end, "people" is what matters.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

True leadership means service to others

Why does one become a nurse?
A respiratory therapist?
An X ray tech?
Why does one chose to clean the floors of a hospital, or cook the food for patients, instead of working in another industry?
Because they care about their fellow man.

Why does one become a CEO?

My AFT brothers and sisters at L+M Hospital in New London are being squeezed.  They have been forced to work short handed in the name of tight budgets, and when the hospital squeezed all they could out of that, they moved work out of the hospital to other buildings they own, claimed the workers had no rights under the contract, and squeezed them some more.
The hospital blames the governor, but the CEO continues to make a million dollars a year, the hospital is one of the most profitable in the state, and they just bought another hospital (Westerly).

But my AFT brothers and sisters are standing up for themselves and their patients, and the United States government agrees with them.  The National Labor Relations Board has issued a "complaint" and an October 21 trial will be held.
The Government of the United States v L+M Hospital.
The charge, a violation of United States Labor Law.

It's one thing to take a million dollars a year from insurance companies and tax payers, it's another to jeopardize patient care.

I am proud of my L + M brothers and sisters.  Once again they show us what true leadership is, having a mindset of service to others.

I am also proud of my brothers and sisters at Danbury and New Milford Hospitals, who are standing up to their hospital administrators and saying, don't cut staff and hurt patient care, don't blame the governor or the legislators.
Look in the mirror.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Agreeing to disagree

When did we become so arrogant that we believe we are correct and everyone else is wrong?
This phenomenon in our society is at an all time high.  Congress gets nothing done, mostly, because we have elected people with views far to the left or right.  Then we blame congress but lets be honest, we elected them, and we make it pretty clear that if they give an inch we will not reelect them.
So congress get little done and we all suffer.
There was a time when we could disagree, but agree to disagree. We could accept others having opinions that differed from ours.
We were even proud of it.
Remember, "I disagree with your position, but I will defend to the death your right to express it?"
When's the last time you heard that line?
There are evil people, there are corrupt people, but the majority of us are not.  Why have we resorted to demonizing those with opinions different from ourselves?
No one is innocent of this, not the right, not the left, not you, not me. I don't know why or how we have gotten here.
I do know, we need to find our way back, back to a belief that others can have a different opinion, can be just as sure of that opinion as we are, just as convinced, just as convicted, and just as well intentioned.
We need to get back to the ability to have civil discussions with those who think differently than we.
We need to be able to admit that maybe, just maybe, they could have some legitimate point of view.
We need to be able to look for areas of compromise, so that instead of stagnation which hinders us all, maybe we can all benefit.
We need to agree at times to disagree.
That's my opinion, I'll listen to yours.

Friday, August 2, 2013

38 years of making tea

38 years ago today Michelle and I were married.
38 years.
38  years of joint bank accounts, of struggling to pay bills, of raising kids, of grocery shopping, of family gatherings, of births and deaths, weddings and funeral, sickness scares and health.
And it was just yesterday.
We've been busy.
What happened to make 38 years go by so fast?
Life happened.
I've been extremely lucky that it's been a life with Michelle.
Not that every day or every moment is bliss.  We have our disagreements, and it may take some time, but for 38 years we've always kissed and made up.
We've had some grand times too.  Some of them exciting, like fancy vacations, some of them simple, like sitting with our sons and their children, and realizing that although we have all had struggles, our sons have grown into loving and caring men, who struggle now to raise their children as we struggled to raise them.
After 38 years, Michelle is as much a part of me as my right arm.  I would be as devastated to lose her as I would my arm.  Yet, I often take her for granted, precisely because she is always there.
Each passing year brings new challenges, and she is always there going through them with me.
The past few years has brought the challenges of the death of 2 brother in laws and both her parents and the challenges for finding the faith, strength and time to deal with that and at the same time stand with my fellow nurses and help build a union.
Like all our challenges over the years, we have faced them together, as we have for 38 years, as we will continue to.
We could not if we did not have each other.
What do you say to someone to express your love after 38 years?  What can you get them?
It's all been said, you've already given everything they want (that you could afford).
The best you can do is to get up before them, be quiet so they can sleep, and have the tea ready when they do wake up.
Gotta go, it's the start of another day, and the tea kettle is starting it's quiet whistle.
Love you Michelle, happy anniversary.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The tide knows what time it is

Being at the beach magnifies the difference between our modern way of life and our more primitive selves.
For eons, we have lived our lives governed by the sun, the moon, the seasons, the tides, and the waves.  Our internal clocks and our biorhythms are attuned to this.
At the beach, we start to regain some of that.  The sun, the clouds and the wild influence us.  The waves and the tide become part of our day.  We nap when we are tired, not when our favorite TV show is over.  Our skin is warmed by the sun, the hair on our arms moving with the wind.  Our feet feel the earth, become buried in it, one with it.  We enter the water and are enveloped by mother nature, surrounded by the water that gave us life, rising and falling with the waves, the tide, and the currents.

And yet, as I look about the beach, I see smart phones everywhere, people talking, texting, emailing. Nature and family about them, yet they are pulled by technology to Face Book.  We struggle in our return to our natural roots because it has become foreign to us.  It sets up a conflict inside us.

I feel the conflict inside me.  I love my smart phone at the same time I hate it.  The convenience of instant communication, of my calender always being there, is undeniable.  But the convenience also means interruptions at inopportune times.
It means a preoccupation with time itself.
McDonald's workers are judged by the time ticking on the drive through window clock.  Hospital workers are held accountable, not for being at work on time and caring for patients well, but on not being even one minute late or staying a few minutes late to finish up charting, or taking too long to move a patient from the ED to the floor or discharge them to home.
That conflict, that pressure, leads to so many of our modern problems.

The tides know no such time pressure, and yet they keep perfect time.