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Filling in my MSF application / ebola

November 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Completed most of my online application to volunteer for MSF tonight.

They asked details about work and qualifications but also about travel experience. Was weird. Never had a job application which brought in so much of my life. Where the me that loves to travel is a plus that makes me *better* suited for the job, rather than something I need to try to disguise or minimise. I even felt safe talking about my activism where it asked for details about “experience in organising”[0] Felt like my life up til now has given me the perfect CV for the job, for once!

Randomly started doing the MSF application whilst with my family and they were all watching telly earlier. Just went onto the website to look again, and thought well I’ll start and see what they ask, and ended up finishing everything apart from my “motivations” – but that’ll be relatively easy as, again for once, it’ll be coming from the heart instead of the usual bullshit you need to come up with when a potential employer asks you why you want to work there!

Talked with my family about going too; my mum is pretty worried. I think I was able to give her some reassurance. Though its all a bit moot. Yes, I am going into a more dangerous situation than if I was nursing in UK. I get she’s scared, as are my main squeeze and my best friend. I mean they did (mum and best friend) go through shit when I was in Gaza and Rachel and Tom were killed. That must have been hard and scary for them.

But it’s like, how much more hard and scary is it for those living in Sierra Leone, with their families there?

I’m only going for 5 weeks! Almost certainly I’ll survive. Folks there are dying! Civil society is breaking down and that’s negatively affecting every aspect of life, from childbirth to schooling to growing food. Not to mention human rights.

It doesn’t feel right for someone with my skills and knowledge and experience (and lack of commitments etc) to not go!

I feel excited and a bit scared now, though now about going. I feel scared because I feel on the brink of a really important stage in my life. I feel like there’s a mark that I’ve spent years preparing for, and its almost time to step up to it.

I know it probably sounds silly, but it felt unreal to be writing in my travel history into where it asked for that in the application form, and realise how well suited my life experience til now is for the role. Feels like I’ve been accidentally preparing myself for this incredible opportunity and challenge. My life up til now sort of slotting into place.

I was initially only applying to go help with ebola, but that’s partly because in my mind I didn’t think MSF would take me as I don’t have the nursing specialties that they state they prefer. But maybe I could go with them in the future too. In general though I hate being a part of an organisation with human resources and management. I like being a solo agent. But MSF are awesome, though not perfect. And going out on a placement with MSF eg next year doesn’t preclude me also going alone to other places in future – in fact it would make the latter better as I’d have more skills and experiences. And maybe I’ll love it and that’ll be me… but 9 months for each mission sounds a bit much for me though. I’d always thought I would spend at least half of every year in Glasgow/UK and keep connected to people and communities and activism here. Just doesn’t sound as longterm sustainable as my current plan of going away every year, November-April.

I’m glad I’ve started blogging about it now. It will be interesting to read back in the future, wherever I end up. I’ve started a new category on here ebola and my intention is to keep using that as my journey unfolds. Because I tend to write about whatever I’m thinking about at the time, and still planning on returning to India before I go help with ebola, though now thinking I’ll go from straight after my course ends, and just stay for 3 weeks. Can’t imagine that will make much difference to my ability to contribute in West Africa, but will still give me a holiday and to reconnect with people and places in India first. And get used to being in a hot climate again.

 

[0] In case you’re interested I wrote :

Community organiser – have helped run tenants and residents groups, LGBTq events, social centres and a solidarity network.
Anticuts and antiwar campaigning – have organised speaking tours, meetings, demonstrations etc.
All have included building and maintaining social media presence.

Finally spoke to MSF about going to volunteer to help with Ebola (personal, not really about ebola, but more for my own processing and to reflect back on later)

November 27, 2014 4 comments

Yesterday was a very positive day. As well as it being submission day for our essay (all over!), and socialising with coursemates, and a proper conversation with someone’s who’s an army nurse, there was a careers fair on at uni. So I had good chance to chat with different NGO’s who I might want to volunteer for. Top of the list for me is MSF, but I hadn’t thought that my nursing experience would be sufficient for them as, though I’ve been nursing for 6 years my specialty is being a bank nurse rather than A&E or ITU which is what they prefer. Anyway, actually they were really positive when I said I wanted to go and help with Ebola.

As seems to be the norm, they’re sending volunteers out for 4-5 weeks. There’s a induction/training/acclimatising bit beforehand, and then a 3 week quarantine afterwards as well. I’m thinking of going for April, though that feels weird/uncomfortable because my course finished end of January, so I could go in February, but had been planning for months to go back to India for 6 weeks straight after the course for a holiday and to catch up with people there. Going to India later is not feasible. Seems really selfish to be not going as soon as I could, and at odds with my strong desire to go over and help rightaway. It will mean the heat in Sierra Leone won’t hit me as hard though!

What are my fears/hopes?

Stupidly, I’m actually most worried about how I’ll cope in the PPE suit! I seem to be more sensitive than a lot of folks to physical irritants. Wearing the suits makes you very hot and sweaty – described as being in a sauna fully dressed. I don’t want to be a wuss, as we’ll all be going through the same thing, and I want to be strong and cope.

The prolonged time without physical touch, especially hugs, sounds rough. I already know that I don’t do well without that. Even after just a few days in solitary confinement (pre deportation from Israel for being a human rights volunteer in Gaza) meant that I broke down when I got a hug from a supportive stranger when I got moved to a main prison. And its always the hardest thing for me about travelling too. I really felt that in Malawi. Impossible to feel that in India though as the women there often gave me affectionate touch :) However this is only for 5 weeks. It will be tough, but obviously so much easier for me to go through than someone living there who has that all the time right now :(

My hopes are that I’ll be able to make a concrete contribution to some humans that are going through hell just now. I hope I’ll use the skills and knowledge that I was able to acquire through virtue of having the privilege to be born in UK, as this is exactly why I did my nurse training. I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position to be able to potentially do something about such a horrific situation.

I’m not afraid of dying. I mean, I don’t want to! Partly I picked MSF because I trust their experience and will to have the on-the-ground organisation in place that will minimise the risks we will face. But, what is my life for if not for this? What’s the point of being so careful to protect my life that my life is without meaning? I’m definitely not talking about taking uncalculated risks. I’m talking about using this one shot I get at existing, this single most precious gift I’ve been given, and making the most of it. I was talking with a loved one about going and he said “you’ll make a very direct and positive impact on people’s lives” and I felt it through my whole being that this is what my life is for, and to not use it for that, because I’m frightened of dying, is like keeping special food until past its edible lifespan so as to keep it for a special occasion, and in the process wasting it. Or not riding your fancy bike because you’re afraid of damage. Don’t do something stupid with it, but at least enjoy it and make the most of it, otherwise what’s the point in it?

A couple of times I’ve been in situations where I had to concretely look at possibility that I might be killed. And I’ve thought about it, and sometimes have decided that if I am killed doing this thing, that’s ok because that thing is so important. I don’t know if that sounds horrible, but the thing is that the only thing I can be damn sure of is that in 100 years I’ll be dead anyway. I don’t want that to come quickly – there’s so much I still want to see and do. My life is mostly very sweet, filled with incredibly wonderful people and experiences and I don’t want it to ever end! One of the frightening things about ageing for me is losing the ability to live a life as full as mine is. No longer able to go to new places, or learn, or feel the wind or waves throw themselves at me, or challenge myself on a mountain and feel my body stretch and overcome it. Having older friends who do all those things too reduces that fear :)

But anyway, perhaps that explains why death isn’t top of my fears. I don’t think its very likely, but if I do catch ebola, and don’t survive, well, I’d still rather that was the story of my life than that I spent so long protecting my life that it was empty and meaningless and not worth protecting.

 

 

Other stuff about yesterday

It was submission day for the DTN essay – ended up pulling an allnighter as Thus-Sun had been a right-off, characterised by sleepness nights and panicky dreadfilled days, and so only actually started writing on Monday! I’m sure there’s a pun to be made with “instead of a write-on” or something, but anyway. Got the bloody thing done in the end, and though its def not the best essay I’ve written, I’m confident it will pass, which is all that really matters. Other good things that happened – had the longest, most personal conversation I’ve ever had with a current military person (an army medic), who’s on the course. I want to get over my kneejerk distress at being around folks in the army, as what I object to is the militarisation of society and the war machine. So taking advantage of being in a setting where I have army reservists as my peers to connect as humans.  Then in the evening a bunch of us from the course went to the pub to celebrate handing our essays in. Really enjoyed socialising with my classmates, and chatted with a few who I’ve not had much contact with before. We’ll all be in different places after the course, many heading to volunteer around the world, and it will be great to have this friendship network of others who are doing same sorts of things as me, and who I can keep up with, and maybe meet up with if we happen to be on the field in the same country. Feels very bonding to be going through this course together – most nurses I meet have very different lifestyles and priorities than me, whereas with these guys I feel very connected. I enjoyed how easy we all found it to slip into the familiar nurse camaraderie and black humour and mutual support and gruesome tales, which seems to be international! Several are also looking to volunteer in West Africa after the course, so they may be a valuable source of (phone) support during the inevitable homecoming crash.

Ebola – nothing more than my ramblings

August 28, 2014 4 comments

So the WHO have published a roadmap to stopping worldwide Ebola transmission in the next six months. $490m is all they’re estimating is needed! That’s about half of what we paid for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, or a third of the Edinburgh tram system. And its all relatively straight forward. That’s the thing. The public health nerd in me loves that this is so understood. That there is best practice waiting to be rolled out. And as a nurse, that I have a very limited knowledge of Ebola, yet the treatments that can make such a massive difference to patient outcomes are providing basic nursing care (I don’t mean the experimental antibody serum which has been given to four so far, but the hygiene measures and symptomatic treatment such as rehydration, pain control and coagulation support that is available locally).

My alarm bells went off reading about the metrics – obviously measuring ebola incidence is essential to evaluating the response, and that’s quite right. That is the only thing that matters. But achieving metrics and targets have a habit of damaging the actual thing to be improved. An easy example is how achieving the 4 hour wait in A&Es led to patients being kept in ambulances outside the unit, and I think have led to other stupidities within hospitals, such as non A&E units set up that are really nothing more than holding pens for patients, meaning they frequently end up in 3 different settings, including destination ward, leading to disorientation and chances for errors due to lack of continuity of care. In terms of Ebola I worry that the metrics could become localised as targets, as they’ll be passed down through chains of officials, each also wanting to individually look good, and then pressure put to not diagnose in order to reduce official transmission figures in that way.

So yes, as you might have guessed, I was doing some early feasibility research on going out to volunteer. In general, loose cannon volunteers are worse than useless in disaster areas. And due to the massive personal risks involved, I would only want to go with an organisation I trust to have sufficient capability and experience to keep healthcare workers as safe as possible. Anyway, the good news for my mum is that MSF are actively looking for medical staff to go out, but not nurses. And I’d be more useful after my tropical nursing diploma anyway, which is due to be completed end of January. So my existing plans for next 5 months aren’t changing at this time.

I’m glad that I chose to study nursing, that I got myself to capable general nurse status, have my public health masters, and am on track to have tropical nursing diploma within 6 months. I like it that I have found a way to make a meaningful difference in the world that fits well my nerdy/science brain, together with my other characteristics such as liking to have work that is physical as well as mental, and practically help people and problem solve. I haven’t the capability or temperament for counselling, or emotional trauma work, but I do like to help people. I like that I have made myself into a person that can be useful in crises because that is what I’ve wanted since watching M.A.S.H. as a kid :)

Yeah, ebola. So, probably 20 000 people will die because economic inequality and war and power and racism mean that this epidemic was able to get so horrific. But it is well within our human capabilities to bring it under control, and we probably will.

Equal marriage poses no threat to professionals “freedom of speech”

October 9, 2012 1 comment

I assume nurses are included in those whose free speech is being argued to be under threat by same-sex marriage :

Carey argued that teachers, doctors and other professionals might be forced out of their jobs if they refused to embrace the proposed change to the law, an intolerant restriction on free speech

http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/08/archbishop-canterbury-gay-marriage-tory?cat=society&type=article

When working as a nurse, I don’t have the same right to free speech I have the rest of the time. Society has entrusted me with power and responsibility to care for people at their most vulnerable. Were Carey or Widdecombe to be my patients, I would not consider I have the “right” to tell them what I think of their oppressive ideas. When I have patients in who have jobs that I consider abhorrent, I do not let them know that. I’ve even given a bedbath to someone covered in nazi insignia – I made a believable excuse and left his room briefly when I saw it to cover my shock and horror. Then I regained my professional mask, put my personal values and Jewish identity away, and I think treated him as well as I treat every other patient requiring my care. That is what I require of myself as a nurse – that I do not abuse the power that I have been given. Patients rights to autonomy, dignity and respect outweigh my rights to free speech. I would not carry out a procedure that I consider unethical, but I would not insist on doing something that I consider in the “patient’s best interests” if they have refused consent. Their rights outweigh mine – they are vulnerable and under my power and I have agreed to be tasked with looking after them. I am not there to push my own agenda; my patients require me to help them with their agenda. It would be an abuse of what I have been tasked to do to claim my right to free speech meant I could refuse to recognise a patients same-sex spouse.

Getting married currently could be considered to be oppressive, because those getting wedded are taking advantage of heterosexism and monogamous privilege* but that would not give me the right to refuse to recognise that my patients are married.

The anti equality crowd have decided to adopt the same language of “protecting rights” in order to try and paint their increasingly retrogressive views as in keeping with the language and stated values of the political class and modern society. It reminds me of an abuser trying to claim that they have the right to safe space too and to not be challenged on their abuse as it is upsetting for them. It is an attempt to defend oppression with rhetorical devices and twisting logic around to try to turn themselves into the victims. But they are not victims defending rights to free speech, they are oppressors trying to shore up a system of privilege. That the only way they can defend this is with weak and false appeals to the “right to free speech of professionals” shows how empty their case really is.

* I do not consider those getting married oppressive, but I do consider the system oppressive.

Paying more to care because of economic failure – history repeats itself

June 15, 2012 2 comments

The NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) is currently consulting on increasing the annual fee that we must pay to work as a nurse from £76 to £120! This is at a time when our pay packets are already suffering from a 2 year pay freeze, and April’s increase in pension contributions. We entered nursing to care for patients, but the enormous stress and financial pressure being put on us as individuals and at ward level is threatening our mental and emotional ability to do that.

Just 8 years ago NMC fees were £20, and then more than doubled to £48 in order to pay off debts accumulated in part because of … the stock market crash! Yes, history is repeating itself with nurses again being squeezed in exactly the same way because of our economic system!

Apparently there has been an increase in “fitness to practise” cases – that is nurses and midwifes being investigated and potentially removed from the NMC register due to poor care. The NMC states it exists “to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public” and a key way it does that is by investigating whether we are “fit to practise“. Now all this sounds good and well. But our ability to care for patients does not exist in a vacuum.

There are some nurses who shouldn’t be nursing, but the majority of us entered a profession where we spend 12 hour shifts wiping bottoms, juggling technical care with paperwork and get paid less than those with less qualifications such as firemen because WE CHOOSE TO CARE! If I was an arsehole there are a million other jobs where I could indulge a cruel or uncaring side to my nature – hell, I could be in finance! – but instead I chose to nurse because though the financial rewards are puny, they are outweighed by feeling like I’ve had the privilege to take care of another human being at their most vulnerable, in a way that respects and nurtures their autonomy and individuality, and hopefully made a positive difference to their day, and even life.

But all this requires me to be fully … human. Fully there, at the bedside; physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. Taking care of someone who is dying, and their loved ones, is not a rare occurrence for us, and doing it well is both rewarding and demanding, in every respect. And then there’s the time when I successfully got your granny back on her feet, caring for her through a urinary tract infection that had temporarily given her psychosis and vicious strength! It was hard, frustrating, tiring, to keep getting those antibiotics into her as she clawed away at me but she is a human being, with decades of life behind her that I will never know 1% of and it was an honour to treat her the way I’d like my mother to be treated if she were in that bed. There are quicker, less demanding ways I could “do my job” and just get through my shift – but they’re not the right ways to look after someone else. I am not a nurse to just survive a shift, though there have been plenty when survival was all I was begging for! No, I’m a nurse, 99.9% of us are nurses, because we choose to play our role in wider society by healing and caring for you and your loved ones at their most needy.

I’m not arguing against having a registration, because there are a minority of nurses who should not be nurses. But the rest of us – well we just want to be given the opportunity to be the best nurses we can. Because we can be awesome. We know how to be awesome nurses. But not when we are tired because we’re not sleeping properly because of financial worries. Not when we are stressed because hospitals have been squeezed way past breaking point and the only way that more patients aren’t dying is because healthcare workers, including nurses, are unsustainably pushing themselves to try to keep it all together.

By increasing our registration fees the NMC is putting yet more pressure and worry onto us, and states that it needs to do this because there has been an increase in “fitness to practise” cases that its needed to investigate in the past few years. Now I strongly doubt that this is because nurses have spontaneously become cruel and uncaring. No, I think its the unsustainability of our workload, combined with the stress of increasing costs but a frozen pay packet. I think these have conspired to take their toll on our ability to nurse. And increasing the registration fees is going to increase our stress, which will increase the numbers of good nurses unable to cope anymore, increasing yet further the number of those fitness to practise cases that are being blamed for this current registration fee hike…

NMC – do your job. Safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public by facilitating nurses to be all that we can be. Join us in the fight for proper staffing levels – at the moment we’re struggling to maintain “safe” levels of nurses on the wards, but how much better to aspire to a level where I could spend half an hour talking with the wee old lady who isn’t getting any visitors in the last weeks of her life? If I could be with my patients at every snack and mealtime to help them eat if they need it? Thats really not much but would make an incredible difference. NMC, help me to be the best nurse I can be because I’m paid adequately, so my rent and bills have been paid and I can focus fully on my patients. NMC, don’t squeeze me yet further by increasing the amount I have to pay to work, because its shortsighted and will increase the numbers of fitness to practise cases and the numbers of nurses forbidden from doing their job because of a crisis caused by the economic system we live in.