Catching Up

I naively thought that I could write a daily post once the International Council of Nurses 2017 Congress began. Instead, I found myself falling asleep, fingers on my laptop, my hotel light the only one piercing the black Barcelona sky (which is saying a lot, considering early bird dinner specials start at around 9PM). After the second night of this routine, I learned my lesson and decided to be present in the experience, to write later. It has taken me some time to catch up and collect my reflections on this rich experience. Photos help, of course.

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Me, with my press pass, during the ICN 2017 Opening Ceremony at the Palau Sant Jordi

For the gritty details of the Congress, I wrote and co-wrote three posts for AJN with Editor-in-chief Shawn Kennedy, and contributed to an article for their August issue, too:

Pre:          Nursing as an International Profession

Recap:     Talking Nursing in Many Languages

Post:        International Health, Nurse Staffing, the Power of Social Media

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Shawn Kennedy, AJN Editor-in-chief, and I, the day before ICN Congress began

I continue to struggle to succinctly describe my own personal experiences during the nonstop plenary sessions, breakout sessions, policy cafes, networking hours and receptions of each Congress day, evening and night. The sheer experience of knowing that the thousands of attendees shared the same life work as mine was nothing short of thrilling. I found myself smiling as I spotted ICN bags and ID tags on my metro ride home, and took in more speeches, panel sessions and notes than my brain sometimes felt it was able to master.

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A group of nurses take a group photo on the opening morning of ICN 2017 Congress
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A policy cafe moderated by ICN Nursing Director Howard Catton with international nursing leaders including Dr. Linda Aiken from University of Pennsylvania

It was particularly thrilling to act as a “member of the press” running from session to press conference to interview, and I felt especially motivated by my double identity as both nurse and hopeful journalist. From daily entry into the press room, to the ability to stand a few unrestricted feet away from the starting point of the famous Parade of Nations, I couldn’t help but pinch myself from time to time as my favorite things – nursing and writing – blended together each day. As I experienced more and more, my desire to help other nurses have similar experiences grew.

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On the way to the press room, where I worked each day of Congress
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My first ever press pass!
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My view as ´Prensa´ for the Parade of Nations at ICN 2017 Congress opening ceremony

Along with inspiration and an endless stream of new ideas, the Congress brought me so much professional clarity. It helped me see that there are thousands of other nurses like me – nerdy, passionated, button-pushers – doing important work that deserves to be globally known and understood. Being around this body of inspiration, meeting people credited with shaping our profession, tweeting alongside our academic and professional leaders, put so much into perspective for me.

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Incoming ICN President, Annette Kennedy, being interviewed by AJN EIC Shawn Kennedy

I loved Barcelona, too. In the tiny pockets of time I had to explore, I marveled at the friendliness of the streets and the city´s sunny energy. The presence of Gaudi all around the city became a kind of treasure hunt, and I picked up on his influence in tiny details everywhere.

Gaudiś Casa Batlló
Me, in Gaudiś famous Sagrada Família
The front of Gaudi´s Sagrada Família
A view of Sagrada Família from Hospital de Sant Pau
Gaudiś Park Güell

I especially loved the routine I fell into in Barcelona, waking to the breeze in the balcony of my hotel room, the colorful patio where I took my first coffee of the day, my quick walk to the subway stopping for a roll and orange juice in a tiny plastic bag. I loved the ease and efficiency of the trains, with doors that opened only when you pushed a round button and summoned them to, clean stations and quick arrivals. On my free days, I walked for hours, with few destinations in mind except those I found along the way.

My hotel patio – Praktik Garden – I highly recommend!
Flowers in the Gràcia neighborhood
The most photogenic meal I ate, in Plaça Reial

It was difficult to return home. On other travels, I’ve longed for home before my departure date, but this one was different. I wished for additional days to sit and think over what I had just experienced. I wanted more time to talk and connect with the nurses I met. I wanted to meet more nurses! I wanted to see more hours of art than the fast-paced glances I had crammed into my last days. I knew that when I arrived home, I’d be back at work, deep in the pettiness of daily struggles, daydreaming of the inspiration I had just seen and lived.

Fundació Joan Miró, my favorite museum experience this trip
A work in the collection of Fundació Joan Miró

In the days that have followed, my time at ICN serves as a kind of secret motivating experience that I can pull out of the back pocket of my mind whenever daily life gets me frustrated. Processing it took quite some time, and the month of June sped by with work and other projects, but the memories and insights grown in all that I saw and did in Barcelona encourage me to continue toward the ideas and goals I set for myself there.

¨Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit.¨ – Gaudi

Barcelona Day 3: Elections & Opening Ceremonies

Saturday, 27 May 23:00

Before I was approved to attend and cover the International Nurses Council (ICN) Congress this week, I had no clue about many of the things I’ve been writing about for the last few days. Apart from a few friends in college who were into medical missions, nursing, to me, as I mentioned in my blog post of last week for AJN Off the Charts, was solely a local, American concern.

While the governing body of ICN announced elected board members this morning, I shamefully realized I knew little or nothing of many of the new, celebrated leaders or their respective member countries. When Pam Cipriano, President of our professional nursing organization was named elected member of the board, I wondered how many of my colleagues or nursing friends knew about her work, platform, or even of her name. As I feverishly Googled the emoji of the United Arab Emerites flag to send out a congratulatory tweet about AJN International Advisory Board Dr. Fatima Al Rifai’s similar election, I realized didn’t have the slightest idea about the UAE’s nursing population, leadership structure or professional progress. I had no clue how I would learn all of these new people and concepts, but knew, as I experienced more and more, that I now wanted to try.

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Later, after 8,00+ international attendees filled the Olympic Village that overlooks the city of Barcelona for the opening ceremonies, I watched country after country of National Nursing Association representatives (including American Nurses Association) take their places in the opening parade, and marveled at how many truly diverse cultures of care crossed the stage waving their countries’ flags into the spotlight.  My awe doubled when I, a member of the press and a nurse, was allowed backstage to the delegates VIP area, and then shorly after, to stand directly in front of the oncoming parade and honor delegates through my documentation of their participation.

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Most of all, I found it breathtaking to become a living mix of the things that inspire me daily – nursing and writing. To be a badged member of the press, but with insight and emotion about the goings on around me at the opening ceremonies, made me realize just how valuable diversification in nursing really is. If only we would start to realize that nursing is a foundation for every area of business, education, clinical practice and more, and that our true impact, as Judith Shamian, acting president of ICN, would say, is determined, not so much by who we are or who we work for, but how we choose to innovate our profession through our time and talents, not just our day jobs.

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And so, when one of my personal, early nursing heros, Dr. Linda Aiken, came to the stage to accept the “Nobel Prize of Nursing” (a description I’m not sure that I agree with, since nurses should also be winning the real Nobel Prize, no?), I clung to her words as not just a nurse, but as a nurse who is also a scientist of nursing. For the first time, I saw how important her work of science creation is, how the necessary, undeniable, extensive, replicable and global body of evidence that she led for the benefit of our profession stemmed not just from her initial clinical training, but from her passion to forward the profession as a whole, through actionable and quantifiable evidence.

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Of course, some of the nurse-centric entertainment after the awards ceremonies made this nurse cry and marvel at the magnitude of this profession that I so deeply love, but it was the presence of so many nurses communicating and celebrating together that touched me deepest. Likely for the first time in my ten year career, I connected with the need to actualize the massive, inherent value of the hard work that we must begin to do – with our voices, our written words, and our brains – together, and for each other’s future.

When I’d captured enough, I snuck out and walked to the metro with a group of international nurses that I met along the way, the city skyline closing the night in a dusky blue behind us.

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Barcelona Day 2: A Real Spanish Hospital + Art Walkathon

Friday, 26 May 23:00

The days seem endless here, in a good way. This sleepless, sun-filled city bestows enough hours of positive, brilliant energy in the day to stave off an entire season of winter blues. Right now, as I struggle to stay awake enough to keep my promise to myself to reflect and write at the end of each day, a ska band is playing a slow version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance  just half of a block from my balcony window. I’m officially enamored with Barcelona.

This morning, I met AJN Editor-in-chief  Shawn Kennedy at the Centre Convencions International Barcelona to observe the meetings of the Council of National Nursing Association Representatives (CNR), and check in as a member of the press. This is acting President Judith Shamian‘s final Congress, and I was sad that my jetlag kept me in bed past the opening presentation that commended her advocacy and celebrated her coined phrases – challenges to the global nursing community to act, have a voice, get involved in policy.

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After a sunny coffee break where Shawn and I caught up and made a plan for our coverage throughout the week, I met up with NYC colleages to tag along on a tour of Hospital Clinic Barcelona that Dr. Beth Oliver, Vice President of Cardiac Services for Mount Sinai Health System, had arranged for a handful of nurses through an international contact. We met with members of the nursing leadership team, who personally walked us through a presentation of the hospitals history, architecture, place in Spain’s universal health care structure, and current clinical offerings. After this, we headed to the floors, where we saw intensive care units that were higher tech and more sophisticated than any I had ever seen or worked for in New York. It wasn’t until after we finished and entered the noisy streets that Beth and I turned to each other and said, “Oh my goodness, did you notice how quiet it was in every floor?”

From there, I parted ways with my US friends and spent the rest of my day walking the city. I hiked up the hill (and stairs!) to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, watched the city behind eager tourists taking selfies, and perused their collection of international art, particularly enjoying a simple, small exhibit by a Barcelona native, Torné Esquius, called “Poetics of the Everyday.” The empty halls of the museum posed a stark contrast to the heavily trafficed museums back home, and I enjoyed taking my time to look at pieces, or taking no time at all.

While I love site seeing and art viewing, my favorite part of my second day in Barcelona was spending time learning from other nurses at the hospital. I most enjoyed hearing the details of the Spanish health care system, and the structured take the government has on educational levels, specializations, labor agreements, and advanced degrees. I marveled at the detail of the presentation materials given by these nurses who spoke of their many degrees and accomplishments, seemingly spurred on by the laws in place here in Spain that systematically move nurses through required educational minimums for practice; structure that we sorely lack in the US.

I also loved “collecting” the simple design solutions that this hospital had mastered: Huge numbers on each glass sliding door of each room. Buttons that made the lights in the ceiling mimic the pattern of the sun to decrease delirium. Basic, clear hand hygiene signs. Plastic, easily cleaned room-dividers instead of fabric curtains (brilliant!). A code cart with a compartment that had a clear, locked lid containing the intubation blade and battery pack in plain view, right next to the defibrillator. Even in rooms so small that bed rails touched each other, I didn’t hear a single call bell ring, and nurses seemed engaged and happy, even with patient rations higher than our own.

Perhaps I am just seeing everything with vacation eyes. I don’t know. Either way, the day brought me closer to the realization that there is so much to learn, so many perspectives to consider, so much to be open to. I can hardly wait for the day tomorrow, when thousands of motivated nurses will end their journeys together at the Congress’ opening ceremonies. Being here makes me remember why I love our profession so much, how unifying it is, how our common struggles, maybe not exactly the same, only bring us closer together and more apt to move in unison.

 

Day 1: Barcelona, ICN 2017

Thursday, 25 May 23:00

On my calculation, I’ve been in Barcelona for about 15 hours now. Minus the few winks I managed between backaches in my cramped coach class seat, I think I’ve been awake for going on 36. If that’s not any forwarning about the quality of this blog post, I’m not sure what to tell you.

All in all, I’m here, and had a great first day in this city that is new to me. I spent the day with nurse colleagues breakfasting on a rooftop overlooking the ocean, traipsing around tourist sites and hidden local shopping jems, drinking a glass of Cava, and talking nursing in preparation for the International Council of Nurses Congress, which starts Saturday. I’m here reporting for the American Journal of Nursing, and so far, I’m impressed with the city.

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Barcelona is clean, modern, accessible and easy to navigate. People are helpful and cordial, and the food is good. I have yet to encounter a Barcelonian who doesn’t speak English; I feel no shame (or impossibility) maneuvering my way through dinner-ordering and direction requests in my native tongue.

This Americentric mindset makes me reflect, always, when I travel in foreign lands. My recent international experience is mixed, albeit not that vast – in Brazil, the majority of people speak very litte or no English, and so speaking my preferred tongue is simply not an option. I must stumble through broken fragments of mispronunciations mixed with fervent body language. In contrast, when my husband and I visited Portugal last year, I was able to poke my way around in cautious, respectful English, for the most part. Here, there’s no hindrance, and I find myself not really even trying to inflect or attempt. The acceptance of English dominance is apparent, expected, perhaps even embraced, at this first glance.

It’s interesting, to start this week of covering an international meeting of nurses by thinking about the insecurities of inter-linguistic maneuverings. Should I assume, like I too often do with varying foreign language travel requirements, that my naturally dominant perspective is the best? The one to mimc? What can I learn from the culture here, the collective narrative of health? How is my own native perspective getting in the way? How can I, in preparation for talking with some of the most prominent and accomplished nursing leaders of the world, remove barriers to my own opennness and recognize the things I, as a member of a global community, need to start stretching myself to do and learn?

New Days, New Ways

img_1411A promotion at work started 2017 for me, dropping me into a tidal wave of new learning and stretch assignments that I continue to float within now.

Evenso, I was lucky enough to sneak up to Boston last week and complete my second residency week of the certificate program at the Center for Narrative Practice, which I have studied in since August. The faculty, largely led by Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine folks, led us through a hands-on curriculum, designed to equip us with the practical tools required to lead narrative exercises in our unique clinical settings.

I’ve been thinking about the class since returning to my new job this week, itching to test out my new learnings. With my title comes some freedom to fashion the meetings that I’m responsible for, and a group of bedside nurses selected to drive quality improvement across my organization seemed the perfect group.

Today’s meeting was our first together, and after some expected technical difficulties and “Why are we here?” questions, I posed the choice: Should we proceed with didactic training via a colorful powerpoint I have prepared, or take a more creative route to understanding quality by…reading a poem?

To my surprise, the group wholeheartedly embraced the literary choice, and together, we read, discussed and wrote reflections on George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I’m From.

Our rich discussion, which ranged from literary analysis to family history, ended with one nurse’s summary: by witnessing each other’s stories and recognizing our own, we see and remember that each of our patients comes from somewhere, too, and that asking them the simple question – “Where are you from?” – might lead to beautiful, unexpected findings.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – I couldn’t have dreamed for a better, more engaged synopsis and group response, and I am excited to find ways to create more and more space for this important, meaningful, new way of seeing into my new days.

My reflection to the reading:

Where I’m From (RN)
I’m from coffee tables &
journal lines, cold sun and
strange premonitions,
I’m from unknown motivation,
near failure & forgotten
Anatamoy & Physiology,
I’m from anxiety and
sepsis-training, Roto-prone
beds and hemorrhagic strokes,
I’m from long
nights & longer days,
doctors’ rounds and
curt comments,
I’m from plaits & shaving cream,
poop-stained shoes and
CPR,
I’m from a long ago test and
a daily drive,
I’m from the bedside
I’ll go to next.