Writing with Humor

“It’s not what happens in your life but how you write about it.”

                                                —David Sedaris, Master Class: Storytelling and Humor

I watched David Sedaris talk on Master Class the other night. I got hooked right away when he said that everything is funny—eventually.

Lately, I’ve been feeling preoccupied with the complexity of life, and I am also feeling less chipper. This is perhaps due to a restricted social life secondary to Covid. Not to mention the fact, I’m indeed getting older. So, when David Sedaris, sitting in a chair and looking directly at me from the TV screen, said that when we get older more and more “stuff” happens, “like you fall down.” Write about it. Of course, if I fall, I only hope I don’t break a leg. It would take a great effort to find humor in that scenario. 

I’ve written in the past about my confusion on how to handle getting older. Never mind that I’ve been a geriatric nurse practitioner most of my professional life. All I’ve learned about getting older seems useless when I apply it to myself. In fact, I wrote a post called:  How to handle this age issue in which I describe a scene where I had walked into a Weight Watchers’ storefront on a rainy day to sign up to lose the ten pounds that has ebbed and flowed across my midriff for the past twenty years. The sales lady, encouraging me to enroll in the program, mentioned that WW had helpful information on the internet. In fact, she authored an informative Blog. Then she hesitated, eyed me up and down, and asked if I knew what a Blog was? I immediately took offense thinking that she saw me as an older woman (of course I was) who, obviously, had to be ignorant of all technology. I pulled myself up stiffly and in a snooty voice told her I had my own Blog. I stormed out of the store.

At the end of my post, I mentioned that I regretted I had reacted so poorly. There could have been a teachable moment for the sales lady had I casually told her about my Blog. And laughed at the thought that I was computer illiterate just because I was older.

David Sedaris wouldn’t have been so understanding and forgiving. He wouldn’t look for teachable moments. He wouldn’t have taken umbrage either. He would’ve let the story play out—knowing the scene will become humorous—later. He thinks it’s fascinating to show peoples’ prejudices. Plus, it’s important to add the author’s own fallibilities.

Will David Sedaris’ suggestions be helpful in tweaking my attitude toward my own aging? Will showing the humor in the inevitable and enjoying the irony in what life hands me make me a better writer? And help me better handle this age issue?

Public Health Nursing Needs Recognition

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the field of public health into the spotlight. Yet nurses, who often work most closely with the community, have somehow remained largely in the background. (Stories from the Field) 

In the following article: Stories from the Field, public health nurses Susan Blue and Maureen Cava capture the essence of public health nursing. The six podcasts they developed showcase actual public health nurses telling their stories in order to recruit nurses and educate the general public. Canadian public health nursing shares a similar goal with their American counterparts: . . . putting energy and rescores into disease prevention instead of waiting until people get sick to spring into action. As a public health nurse, that means reaching the entire population to maintain and improve people’s health and quality of life. (Susan Blue)

*****************************

University of Toronto

September 30, 2021

Stories from the Field: Podcast on public health nursing launched with U of T support 

by Rebecca Biason

Susan Blue and Maureen Cava, both retired public health nurses, created the Stories from the Field podcast to shine a light on the important role public health nursing plays in the health-care system. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the field of public health into the spotlight. Yet nurses, who often work most closely with the community, have somehow remained largely in the background.

It’s an oversight Susan Blue, an alumna of the University of Toronto’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, and Maureen Cava, who was cross-appointed to the faculty and taught community health nursing, are hoping to rectify.

Both retired public health nurses, the pair decided to create a podcast called Stories from the Field to amplify nursing voices and help students and the wider public learn more about what public health nurses do – perhaps even consider it as a career. 

Stories from the Field’s six episodes (takes) listeners on a journey across Ontario as co-hosts Blue and Cava speak with public health nurses about everything from harm reduction and the opioid crisis to nursing leadership and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve worked in public health for almost 40 years, and I still get asked what hospital I work in,” (emphasis mine) says Cava, who is also the former president of the Ontario Association of Public Health Nursing Leaders. 

“We are passionate about public health and committed to ensuring the public, as well as other nurses, know what public health nursing means.”

“As a public health nurse, you are taking a preventative approach to the health and wellbeing of the community at large, as well as individuals,” adds Blue, “It’s why we hope to see more nurses in the field.”

The podcast is proudly sponsored by the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing’s Verna Huffman Splane Fund, an endowed award named after Verna Splane, a public health nurse who graduated from U of T in 1939 and enjoyed an illustrious career in nursing and health care.

“Maureen and Susan have captured the essence of what makes public health nursing essential and have shone a much-needed light on the work of our public health nurses,” says Linda Johnston, dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “This podcast will be an important tool for future nurses to see the breadth of expertise that this particular field of nursing has to offer.”

Writer Rebecca Biason recently spoke with Blue and Cava about the importance of giving nurses a voice and what they are hoping the podcast’s listeners will learn.

What is the role of the public health nurse?

Blue: To me, public health nursing means putting energy and resources into disease prevention instead of waiting until people get sick to spring into action. As a public health nurse, that means reaching the entire population to maintain and improve people’s health and quality of life.

The community is our client and that’s something I’m very passionate about. Keeping people out of hospitals can make a real difference in their health.

Cava: Public health nurses play a significant role in policy development – things like food security, basic income, housing and other social determinants of health. That kind of preventative upstream approach is what we focus on to ensure people are healthy, physically fit, have harm reduction strategies and have the resources they need so they don’t end up in emergency rooms or hospitalized for things that are preventable.

It makes sense to put money into prevention, but there has been a chronic lack of funding since we’ve been in the field. Public health gets a small piece of the pie to do an inordinate amount of work in preventing people from getting sick. It is why we are so committed to our work, as we see the value in public health nursing as an investment in the future of society.

What led to the creation of Stories from the Field?

Cava: Public health nursing is not well understood – by nurses, by politicians, by the public. When I was the president of the Ontario public health nursing leaders association, it was one of my goals to ensure people knew about what public health nurses do and the impact they have.

When I worked at Toronto Public Health, many of the student nurses I encountered had no idea about the scope and breadth of all that is involved as a public health nurse. It was such an eye-opening experience for them, as I hope this podcast will be for other nursing students.

Blue: Maureen and I met in 1990 working for the former North York Public Health Department (now Toronto Public Health). So, having known each for other for 30 years, it wasn’t a huge leap to consider embarking on this project together. We both share a drive to ensure public health nursing is understood and valued as a key part of the health care sector and wanting public health nursing to be brought to the forefront.

What were some of the unforeseen challenges in creating the podcast?

Blue: Well, we are novice podcast hosts. We had listened to a few podcasts, but certainly hadn’t developed one. Maureen came across a podcast camp offered through Ryerson University, and we thought it would be a good way to get some knowledge under our belts.

Cava: Following that camp, we thought, “Oh, for sure we could do this!” But it turns out we were a bit naive about the whole process. We had some initial challenges getting funding for the podcast, but eventually after speaking with Dean Johnston of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, her support and that of the Verna Huffman Splane fund helped get our project off the ground.

Blue: COVID threw a wrench into everything. We thought we would be recording in a studio together, but soon we were met with a steep learning curve of having to set-up equipment and software on our own. We were grateful to the producers at Vocal Fry Studios for assisting us along the way, but it was very tough in the beginning.

Cava: COVID also meant that many of our nursing colleagues who we planned to have as guests were working full tilt, and that took precedence over everything. We were lucky to be able to eventually meet and interview many experienced public health nurses to share their stories. It just goes to show how involved public health nurses are across the health-care spectrum.

Do you have a favourite episode?

Cava: For me, “Episode Three: Frontline in a Pandemic” stands out. It tells a captivating story about the early stages of the pandemic and the work nurses do behind the scenes to get those shots into arms. It shines a light on the role they had across Ontario in a way that hasn’t really been shown throughout the pandemic. Public health nurses were front and centre since the beginning of the pandemic and are continuing to lead in their roles as things are evolving.

Blue: “Episode Two: Harm Reduction Approaches to Opioid Use” is a favourite. Our guest Rhonda Lovell spoke from a personal perspective about being a young mum and how her interactions with public health nurses during that time in her life motivated her to consider this field of practice and move into public health nursing. She shared such great insights and knowledge.

What are you hoping students and the public will take away from this podcast?

Cava: It goes back to why we started the podcast. We want students to be inspired and think about public health as a career choice. We want them to hear from public health nurses who are passionate and excited about what they do, so that they can see the depth and variety of opportunities there are to work with people and communities. And if they do choose public health, or have chosen it already, I hope this also inspires them to advocate and to give back to the field.

Blue: It’s a career where nurses have considerable variety and can move to other areas of practice. Public health nursing offers lots of flexibility, learning and growth opportunities. For the general public, I think just hearing these human-interest stories will change their viewpoints about public health. Hopefully anyone, whether they are a nurse or not, can relate to this content and be informed.

Cava: These are true stories from the field. We hope students, nursing colleagues and those in other disciplines will listen and consider the impact of public health nursing.

Photos of the Patients I wrote about in my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers

This past Saturday, I received a box in the mail filled with old photos. The nurse practitioner who took my place when I left the Senior Center sent this delightful surprise. “Rita Wisniewski” (I changed all names in my book except for my immediate family) said in her note that sending me the pictures of the patients we both took care of was “long overdue.” Rita had read my book but due to illness was unable to come to the various venues in Chicago where I promoted the book 2019. Between ill health and the pandemic, Rita had forgotten about contacting me. 

Rita read my book and recognized many of the patients I wrote about. Thanks to Rita, now I have pictures of those who appeared in my book. 

Molly, a wiry, eighty-year-old woman with an Irish brogue, lived next door to Ms. Henry. She often dropped into the clinic to socialize rather than to seek care. She didn’t take medication, and rarely complained of aches or pains.  P 103

Jerry Johnson, mildly retarded, wiggled between us, (on the dance floor) gyrating and twisting with abandon. It was a raucous moment that transcended age and ability.  (At a retirement party) P 117

Lilly Parks, a strikingly attractive woman in her seventies, stuffed her shawl down the front of her dress, and staggered about the dance floor on her matchstick legs as if she was going into labor. I had heard she kept a silver handgun in her sock but that evening she must have left it at home since her slim ankles were surrounded only by her rolled-down stockings. She waddled around in the center of the room clutching her belly to hoots from an enthusiastic audience (same retirement party) P 117

Stella Bukowski: (Sitting in a wheelchair) A dirty blond wig sat askew on her head. Only one leg, which was covered with a wrinkled cotton stocking, extended past the skirt of her housedress, and her foot was encased in a heavy black orthopedic shoe.  She reeked of a sharp ammonia smell. Urine? P 144

A picture of me that I have never seen before. However, I remember the poster, which was one of my favorites. I don’t remember where the picture was taken. The picture is too faded to read the citation on the bottom of the poster. Maybe one of you older nurses will recognize the poster and get back to me with the answer. 

Health care today is changing

Today we need someone who can help us manage our health care needs in the hospital, the home, the HMO, the school, the workplace, in long term care and in the community. 

Today we need a provider who can teach us how to stay physically and mentally healthy and how to prevent illness and disease. 

Today we need access to specialty practitioners who can provide expert heath care for individuals and their families. 

Today more than ever we need an advocate who can deliver quality cost-effective care throughout all the stages of our lives.

Today, we need a Nurse

Looking for a Good Woman

https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/margaret-donat

“Old Friends are the Best Friends,” Watercolors by Margaret Donat

My husband and I moved from the home where we raised our two children. We left them behind. They were excited to start their new lives, new jobs and independent lifestyles. While I was excited for our new adventure, the reality that we were 700 miles away from our adult children caught me off guard. How could I not know how much I would miss them? 

My world had narrowed. Not only did I miss my children, but my good friends: other women that I could call on whenever I need a shoulder to cry on, laugh or commiserate with about any topic.

I needed a sympathetic ear. I needed a good woman.

I wrote this lament back in 1993, two months after the move. 

Looking for a Good Woman

I need a good woman. She can be any age, although closer to my own is best. Any color, religion. She can be short or tall, thin or fat. Just so she’s sympathetic. But then most women are. 

We will meet by chance and she will look at me and cluck her tongue for she will see my need. Yes, I know for I was there too, she will think. She won’t be patronizing or condescending. She will listen to my woes silently, shaking her head in recognition of universal longing and grief. She will recognize herself: her own past yearning, her own departure into another realm of existence—not without sorrow or pain. She’s been through it. She empathizes. 

“No, you are not silly to cry, even at inappropriate times. Best to grieve, it will help with the letting go.” 

She will not be like him who sternly gazes at me while I cry bitterly over multiple losses, while at the same time, I list the numerous merits of our move. “Can’t you get your emotions under control?” 

“But at what cost?” I ask. Finding a ragged teddy bear, an old baby sweater, a second grade poem to mom brings the tightness to my throat and tears spring up but dare not spill over.

 But the good woman will know there is a need to grieve for all that is gone. She will know it isn’t a weakness to miss what once was and can be no more. She will know the tears will dry in good time and life will move forward. And she knows as I do, that loss makes for strength and change turns into opportunities. 

As I cry, she will remain silent until my breathing slows and my tears cease. Then she will take my hand and lead me to her kitchen. “Let’s have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”  

My Special Place

There is a small, narrow park not far from my home. A road with palatial houses and wide front porches frames this strip of green. In certain places, I can walk into the park and the magnolias and beech trees block out the homes so that I feel I’m in a secluded woodland. 

Halfway down the park is a path that leads to the other side of the park: a road and more large homes. One needs to walk over the concrete bridge. Under the bridge babbles a brook. Recently, we had a lot of rain, so this morning, as I leaned on the wooden railing, the water bubbled over the rocks and swirled under the bridge. Surprisingly few cars drove by so I could clearly hear the brook and the birds. A sweet moment of contemplation.  

The Bridge
To the right
To the left

After my recent trip to New York City, where my friend, Lois, and I spent a whole day wandering through the sprawling landscape in Central Park, I cherish my spot of grass, trees and brook. A patch of nature to refresh my soul. 

Olden Days of Nursing: Travel Adventures

Life of adventures: Former nurse tells stories from medical flights to world travels

  • The Daily Sentinel, May 30, 2021 

The wings of the small plane were icing up and the pilot was nervous.“I’d just as soon have someone up here,” he told Fern DuBose, a flight nurse whose patient was thankfully sleeping at the moment.She joined the pilot for a bit, anxious herself about the plane and her patient. There were so many times like that, DuBose said.

“It was riskier to be involved with that, but the patients needed it,” DuBose said, recalling her days as a flight nurse as story after story from her life spilled out in the safety of her East Orchard Mesa kitchen.

DuBose has had a lot of adventures around the world in her 81 years.

She has visited more than 30 countries, toured hospitals and castles, and walked the Great Wall of China.

She has shared a number of those stories with Doris Burton, a woman she met at church. The two have spoken often over the phone during this past year of the pandemic, as DuBose has checked regularly on Burton.

“She is super energetic, optimistic. She is daring and she knows herself for sure. She is very confident, and she loves the Lord. She’s just been a good friend to me through all this pandemic and everything,” Burton said. “It’s like every time I talk to her, she’s got another story to tell me.”

Those stories, to some extent, began for DuBose in earnest when she became a nurse.

Her two daughters were busy in school and her husband, Earl DuBose, had his work with Colorado West Dairies. Earl’s mother was a nurse, as was a neighbor. DuBose thought it was a fine occupation, so she decided to become a nurse, too.

DuBose got her associate’s degree and then bachelor’s degrees from Mesa College, later receiving her master’s degree in nursing from Central Michigan University.

She started as a staff nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1974. She worked all over the hospital, eventually becoming the director of emergency services and a flight nurse in the days long before a helicopter could land on top of a 12-story tower at the medical center.

Fixed-wing planes were rented by the hospital to fly patients to and from Grand Junction — there wasn’t a cardiologist in the Grand Valley at the time, so “we had to be able to fly people,” DuBose said.

Among her memories from her medical flights is the time a patient needed to be picked up at the airstrip outside Moab, Utah.

It was night and there were no lights. Folks from Moab drove out to light up the runway with their vehicle headlights so the plane could land and take off, she said.

Another time, they picked up a patient who was larger than they expected, and they had to leave a paramedic behind in a mountain town to find his way home, she said.

And with winter, there was ice. Coming into the Grand Junction airport one time, “it was so, so icy that he (the pilot) just slowly edged into a snowbank,” DuBose said.

In 1980, DuBose began adding to her adventures by traveling internationally with Professional Seminar’s Healthcare exchange program. “St. Mary’s was very nice to me” in allowing her the time off to travel, she said.

Her first trip was to China, and she broke her leg during the first outing. Her leg was cast at the hotel using plaster and a bed sheet, and during other outings on that trip, she was taken around in a wooden wheelbarrow.

That wasn’t too fun, she said, but she got to see all kinds of surgeries with acupuncture that were interesting.

The first thing she did when she got back to Grand Junction was to go to the ER and get her leg checked out, she said.

Then she signed up to go to Kenya in 1981. Earl, who was a paramedic, decided to go with her.

They spent time at Kenyatta General Hospital in Nairobi where large rooms were filled with beds. “There were no private areas,” she said.

Patients sometimes had to share a bed, and some surgeries were performed outside.

But during that trip, Earl was bitten by the travel bug and went with her on every trip that followed.

They went to the Soviet Union in 1982 and toured a psychiatric hospital in Moscow among other things. Everyone on the trip was constantly monitored, she said.

They went to Spain with a pediatric group in 1983, and “I had my passport stolen there,” DuBose said.

They traveled so many different places and loved it, she said. They went to Japan and the Philippines and accompanied students and faculty from Wayland Baptist University to the United Kingdom.

However, India was difficult. The Taj Mahal was as beautiful as in pictures, but the poor and dead were just cast along the roads and burning dung filled the air with pollution and stench, she remembered.

Taj Mahal, Wikipedia

One member of their team had a stroke. “It was a very, very hard trip,” DuBose said.

In 1988, she transferred to Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver and was responsible for medical clinics in Granby and Parker.

But her traveling didn’t stop. She and Earl went to Belize to put together a medical clinic with a group from their church and traveled to other places as well.

When the couple retired in 1996, they decided to take their adventures to another level and began leading RV tours with Adventure Caravans. They eventually started their own RV travel business named DuBose Travel Co.

This took them on trips from the Alaska Highway down to Central America. They drove RVs across Europe, around New Zealand and Australia.

Probably the most frightening thing that happened during those RV years was the time she and Earl got locked in a Mexican jail at the border, she said.

They were leading a tour group and, for whatever reason, the Mexican border officials didn’t like their paperwork, she said.

DuBose made such a fuss that they let her out of jail after a couple hours. She thought she would go to the U.S. for help to get Earl out, but then realized she had no money.

She continued her fussing, people started gathering and eventually Earl was allowed to leave after being warned to never come back. Those officials likely were looking for a bribe, DuBose said.

Anyway, they reconnected with their RV group and they all returned to the border the next day where a different group of officials sent them through with no issues, she said.

The last tour the DuBoses led was a 92-day adventure through Mexico and down to Panama and back.

There were 25 RVs on that trip and all but one broke down at some point, she said, recalling mechanical issues as well as the medical situations she dealt with on that trip.

One day, while they were driving through Guatemala, the U.S. military showed up, incredulous that they were there, she said.

“You’re not safe!” they were told, so the DuBoses led their group a different way.

“It was just unbelievable,” she said.

Those were good years, and they met so many people from all over the world, DuBose said.

Earl died in 2014, and DuBose intensely misses her life and travel partner; however, her adventures have not stopped.

She and a best friend and fellow former nurse, whose spouse also had died, traveled together to Ireland in 2015 and then to Cuba a couple years later.

DuBose was planning a trip to Prague when COVID-19 hit and put travel on hold, but as soon as things are safe and open again, DuBose is ready to get back out there.

Prague is still a possibility, and there is plenty of Africa and South America that she hasn’t seen.

“I’d like to go someplace I haven’t been before,” DuBose said.

Alphabet Challenge: W

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

W: West Catchment Area

When I started my job as a nurse practitioner in home care at a Veteran’s hospital outside of Chicago, I had the choice of taking care of patients in the north or west region. The north region was deemed a safer catchment area. The west region, which surrounded Oak Park where I lived, had pockets of crime caused by rampant gang and drug activity. I wanted to be closer to home and stop off for lunch if I was in the neighborhood. I didn’t think twice before choosing the west side. Maybe I thought I was invincible, a city girl used to the gritty streets and boarded up homes. 

I tried to keep my senses sharp and stay alert when I drove through the neighborhoods making my home visits. I kept my distance from the car in front of me in case I needed to make a quick U-turn. I avoided groups of young males loitering on the street corners and always locked the car doors. 

In the long run, it wasn’t just the neighborhood that proved unsafe. Any home I went into could hold danger regardless how dilapidated the outside environs. My close calls, and there were some, depended on the character of those with whom I interacted. 

Still, to this day, I keep my handbag on the floor of the car and out of sight.

Alphabet Challenge: N

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

N: Number 2 Bus

When we moved six years ago, I discovered that the No. 2 bus passed our development twice an hour ending up in downtown Raleigh. I was delighted. I wouldn’t need a car. I wouldn’t worry about a parking space or deal with slow inner city traffic or forget where I eventually did park the car. I even wrote a post (Taking the Bus, December 7, 2014) about the No 2 bus. Furthermore, I wrote in my post that I had a long history of taking mass transportation. 

As a child, my friend, Carol and I would hop a bus in Jersey City for nine cents and get off at the end of the line. Then reboard the bus to retrace our route back home. I don’t remember how long this adventurous behavior lasted or how many bus lines we explored. Over the years, I have chosen busses and trains, when possible, rather than drive long distances. 

Even though I have picked No. 2 Bus as my N topic to fulfill my theme: Places I Have Been,  I must confess that after six years, I still haven’t been on the No. 2 bus. 

Alphabet Challenge

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

Starting Thursday, April 1, I’ll begin to blog about Places I Have Been and every day going forward, except on Sundays, I’ll write a new post using a consecutive letter of the alphabet. I’ll end on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. For A, I’ll write about Aunt Anna’s Apartment. 

It sounds like a fun challenge. I hope you’ll follow my efforts during the month of April.

For more information on the challenge, click here.

Through the Eyes of Nurses

On February 25th in the New York Times, two stories appeared about nurses. Both sobering. Both timely. Both essential.

In my last post, I celebrated the fact that although the pandemic is killing scores of people and putting a strain on resources, including health care personnel, nurses have been in the forefront of the media getting the recognition that they have long deserved. And more nurses are speaking out by telling their stories. Long overdue. 

However, the two stories in the NYT need to be read/viewed. One is by Theresa Brown who I have many times spot-lighted here because of her accurate assessment (my view) of nursing issues. A nurse herself, she has been calling attention to the nursing profession in the media and through her books. 

Brown’s piece: Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career,” is an exposé of what is terribly wrong in the profession and what should be done. She writes bravely and honestly about the precarious state of organized nursing. 

The second article, One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras, is written, not by a nurse, but by a photojournalist. He filmed a fifteen-minute video that is raw footage of two nurses working with dying Covid patients in the ICU. Unvarnished, compelling and poignant. It’s a must watch that shows exactly what nurses experience during their shifts.    

I’ve attached the links to both essays. The fifteen-minute video is imbedded in both. 

Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career 

One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras

%d bloggers like this: