International Work 1969-1975 (5.4.5 cont.)

Regional Nursing Body of Caribbean Commonwealth, 1969 – 1971

I had asked Mr Chadwick (position?) for financial assistance to bring principal nursing officers from 40 Commonwealth countries to the ICN Congress in Montreal in 1969. There were four requirements attached to CNA’s acceptance of the Commonwealth Foundation Grant:

1. CNA would conduct a two-week educational seminar. (This seminar was organized by Hallie Sloan and was held in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.)

2. CNA would host a meeting of nurse delegates from all Commonwealth countries to discuss formation of a Commonwealth Nurses Association. Mary Hall (U.K.) and I, with the support of Australia and New Zealand, agreed that another international nurses association was needed.

The Commonwealth meeting was held during the ICN Congress with the CNA President as Chair. The Executive Director of the Commonwealth Legal Association (Mr. Merrian) attended as a consultant from a previously-organized Commonwealth group. I was secretary. Lo and behold, the chief nurses from developing countries were in agreement that such an association should be formed. An Ad Hoc Committee was struck to investigate further. We left Montreal and the ICN Congress with plans to develop a Commonwealth-wide Nurses Association –which later became the Commonwealth Nurses Federation. It has survived for 25 years, working for Commonwealth nurses and their associations.

3. Three nurses from the U.K. and three from Canada would travel throughout the Caribbean conducting discussions with nurses in the Islands. As a WHO Consultant to the Commonwealth Caribbean, I was already aware of the important and identified need for Principal Nursing Officers from the Commonwealth Caribbean countries to communicate face-to-face to share, compare and set goals for nursing education and service in the English-speaking Caribbean area. I persuaded Mr. Chadwick that the grant should be used to explore establishing a Caribbean nurse’s organization. A man of exceptional perception, Mr. Chadwick acceded to all our requests. In 1971, after extensive planning, the meeting was held and the Regional Nursing Body became a reality.

Verna Huffman Splane (Canada’s Principal Nursing Officer) had been asked to join the group set up to explore the possibility of establishing a regional nursing body. She left to return to Canada prior to my departure. She asked if I would pick up, and bring home with me, a dress her dressmaker had not yet completed. I agreed. On the last day prior to my departure, I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and walk to the dressmaker’s establishment. I had, I thought, explicit directions. Soon, under the blazing sun, I began to wonder if I was really on the right road. Seeing a young boy across the road, I shouted, “Will this road take me to Mrs. King?” He answered –puzzled. “No man, no. You has to walk. The road won’t take you there.” I have never forgotten that response.

Caribbean Nursing Body

Montevideo, 1973

“Where you go last night?” said Dean Soledad Sanchez (School of Nursing, University of Uruguay) in her best English. “Oh, I went out for dinner.” She blanched and quivered. “You not know radio say, stay off all streets?’ ”

“No, I could not understand the Spanish on the radio.”

Still white and shaking she said, “They (the military) were ordered to shoot.”

“But, ah” I said,” they would not touch me. I was carrying my United Nations Laissez Passer”

“Put that away!” she shrieked. “They will think you American and shoot you! Carry CanadianPassport only!”

Montevideo. How did I ever get there? What was I doing there? I remember well the summer of 1973. Mother had died at her (our) home in Haney on June 22nd, and I was full of grief. She was such a very special person and a remarkable woman. Having written acknowledgement of condolence letters for two weeks, I returned to Ottawa and was acutely aware that I would never see her again—her lovely face as she sat in the green chair looking out the window at the never-ending traffic—her laughter that was like a thousand bells peeling out—her caring for all her family and everyone who needed her. Ottawa never seemed the same. I looked out of my apartment on the 12th floor at Cooper near Elgin and saw, once again, the entire sweep of the Parliament Building and the Gatineau Hills. But I could never say “home again.” Ottawa was my duty post, Vancouver was my home. Friends and staff at CNA were superb in their support and their attempt to share the load. But in the end, one has to get on with one’s own life–alone. My special friend was between assignments in Ottawa but family commitments and visits from his daughter left little time for comforting. And then the phone rang and my life took another twist.

Secretary to HKM: “Urgent call on line 2 from Olga Verderesse, Chief Nurse, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).”

“Wow, what now’?” Olga revealed that I “had been chosen to carry out a PAHO/WHO project in Montevideo.” I never knew I was in the running… such is the approach of PAHO.

“What is the project about?”

“One that only you can do” replied Olga.

“And where is Montevideo?”

“In South America … South, south.”

I hadn’t a clue but asked about the project. Olga assured me that I could do it very well. Somehow colleagues seemed to think I could do almost anything on a broad spectrum of health issues. But this is far from the truth. What is the truth is that I do commit myself to the task at hand, often denying myself some of the small pleasures of life.

“The University wants you to help the research office develop a longitudinal study on the graduates of the School of Nursing,” noted Olga. “You will come to Washington and I will tell you all about it.” As with many PAHO/WHO projects all the facts are not known at headquarters … but it did intrigue me.

The flight to Montevideo in Economy Glass was horrendous. I thought it would never end. When we flew over the Amazon I thought my final hour had come. The plane was packed and most of the passengers were screaming and praying in Spanish or Portuguese. I knew God was multilingual but I am not sure that our situation was capable of deliverance. Buenos Aires never looked so good!

Full of fatigue, with eyes three-quarters closed from no sleep, I had to negotiate through customs and immigration in Spanish. My U.N. Laissez Passer did not make anything easier. But, ah, on arrival in Montevideo there was the U.N. car and driver.

“¿Habla usted inglés?”

“Non.”’ said my driver.

“No hablo mucho español.”

Oh, well we found the bags and I was relieved I didn’t have to talk. I was wiped out. But after a short sleep, I found night had fallen and I was hungry. So out into the night I went down the glorious main street to Independence Square. It was a beautiful night. The full moon hung over the Parliament Buildings. Then a barrage of mounted horses swept past me. The soldiers had their rifles slung “on the ready”. A magnificent sight. Dashing close by me was this captivating sight of charging, helmeted soldiers on horseback silhouetted against a black sky and a full moon. I emerged from my little corner and went into el restaurante complete with my diccionario. There was no one in the classy restaurante and I had a gourmet meal of Argentinean beef and little square puffy potatoes. Then I walked back, there was not a person on the main street except me. I did not know until the next morning that I had broken a curfew and could have been shot on sight. This was only the beginning of events in that troubled country.

The work on the project was difficult, intensive, but rewarding. There were some well qualified faculty with whom I worked, so that once I left the project would continue. It was a longitudinal study of the graduates of the last five years, i.e. all the students who have graduated from the University School of Nursing. There is only one other hospital school of nursing which I found out much later was supported by the military.

The “Military” was a very important part of life when I was in Montevideo. There had been a coup exactly one week before I had arrived. According to my colleagues, “informers” were planted everywhere and one had to be careful about what one said. About ten days after I arrived, the Dean of Medicine and the Dean of the School of Nursing called an assembly of all the students. In no uncertain terms, they roared at the students about the evils of the coup. My translator said there was a spy at the back of the room. I could not tell. One week later, to the day, the dean of medicine was whisked away and shot.

The school went on. The facilities were unbelievably awful. No lights, no running water, no soap, no toilet paper. To flush the toilet you walked down two flights of stairs for a bucket of water. When you came up it was used for flushing the toilet and washing the hands. If anyone went to Buenos Aires they were given a long list of what to buy, usually toilet paper, Kotex, and cosmetics. There were no hidden “goodies” as one sometimes finds in the international community. WHO/PAHO asked me to go to Santiago, Chile, half way through my assignment. They wanted me to help with the planning of a Seminar on Legal Aspects of Nursing. I thought, perhaps, I could bring back some comforts for my colleagues. It was even worse in Santiago.

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. A week later there was a revolution and Allende, as we all know, was shot. The city was in a state of cruel devastation. I was happy to leave at the end of three days for Montevideo. When I arrived there it looked good… Almost like home.

The project was on time according to our original schedule. When I left the faculty was prepared to carry on with the information gathering, analysis and recording. But I kept wondering how they would continue under such strain. They were able to take time off and show me something of the country. I remember well seeing large fields of amatysta… great, large round stones that they broke for me, and gave me chunks of this beautiful purple stone. In the market I tried to buy more but each time I saw something I liked I was told to say “caro.” The merchants were ready to bargain but I was afraid to buy with my colleagues not too far away. They were all so friendly but a cloud seemed to be hanging over their heads.

One night I was invited to my part-time translator’s home ( I was able to get along without her after about 10 days), and we had a high caloric dinner. The next day when I arrived, my translator looked haggard. Apparently, that night, her sister who worked in a bank was taken away at 3.a.m. There were no traces of her. They all carried a needle and thread and every once in a while I could see them checking up on each other to make sure they still had this important tool. As I write this, and look back, I wonder how the nurses and doctors made out.

How they rejoiced at the fate of the CIA trainer. How they tried to make life seem normal under such conditions. How are the vendors on the street doing? You can imagine my delight when last September, Soleded Sanchez was in Mexico and she sent a letter with a Canadian diplomat in her poor English to tell me, “All good now. Project good now. Please come Montevideo.” At least I know she is alive. Perhaps one day… ?

King’s Fund Summit Seminars, 1974

One day, Eleanor Lambertson telephoned to tell me she was negotiating with King’s Fund College in the U.K. to hold a seminar in London. Eleanor was an M.A. classmate of mine from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, who later became head of the Nursing Department, Teachers College and Dean of Nursing at New York University. The proposed seminar was to he composed of 10 senior nurses in key positions in the U.K. and 10 from the U.S. Eleanor, however, believed it would be advantageous to have three nurses from Canada, leaving seven to be selected from the U.S.

The Summit Seminar on Nursing took place in King’s Fund College, 2 Palace Court, London. Residence accommodation was close by hut minimal. My room was so tiny that standing in the center, I was able to touch both walls. Bathroom facilities were shared by many. The College’s dining facilities, on the other hand, were absolutely elegant. The wood- panelled walls, refectory tables, sterling silver and fine china provided a cordial setting for meeting and eating.

The Seminar was rich in content and, at the end of the week, I was asked to summarize deliberations. This is not my forte but, somehow I got something together. My real task, however was still to come.

I was told, not asked, by the U.S. U.K. and Canadian members of the Seminar to give the speech of thanks to Lord Taylor (head of King’s College) after the large and “full of pomp” final dinner. Not a little extra pressure was added when they suggested to me that the continuation of these seminars would depend on the effectiveness of my speech. With trepidation I prepared my notes and, to boost my morale, I wore a favourite green caftan to the dinner.

At dinner, I was seated on Lord Taylor’s right. Even the sips of wine I took did nothing to neither overcome my shyness nor help me to carry on an intelligent or lively conversation with him. Half-way through the meal, the other seminar participants sent me, secretly, a note which said, “It all depends on you!” I was paralyzed with fear!

Following royal toasts, introduction of very special persons, and despite my fervent prayers for deliverance, it was my turn to give the speech upon which all future seminars could depend. Horrors! So nervous was I that I couldn’t find my reading glasses. With trembling knees, I stood up, unreadable notes in hand, and addressed the Lords and Ladies.

When, with great relief, I resumed my seat, the applause was music to my ears. At dinner’s end, Lord Taylor arose. He took me by the arm and led me out of the dining room. “Well done,” he said. I wanted to ask if the Seminars would continue but, of course, did not dare. Later, the chief manager of the King College Seminars told me that Lord Taylor was pleased and there would be another seminar in two years time!

The content of this and succeeding seminars was well planned. Discussions were always lively and the trans-oceanic differences fascinating. It was a period of massive reorganization of the U.K. National Health Service (NHS). Nurses should have been key players in the implementation of these changes but this was not generally the case –as I perceived it, anyway.

I was particularly interested, when visiting a hospital, to learn how these changes were affecting nurses at the primary care level. The effects were many. One difference which was mentioned frequently was the dramatic change in the nurse’s uniform. Gone were the impressive uniforms of old – frilly caps, large, stiff bibs and aprons, etc. — which identified the training school of the graduate and her rank. In most hospitals, the new uniform was a simple white dress similar to those worn by nurses in Canada. The identifying “sister belt”, however, remained. I asked several nurses in various settings how they felt about such a drastic change in uniforms. To my surprise, many responded, “I feel almost naked. I will have to become accustomed to it.” All appreciated the savings in laundry costs, etc., but it was a difficult leap from the past for many. Even the doctors I talked with felt saddened by the sudden change in uniform and felt savings could have been made in other “extravagancies”.

Australia, 1975

During my lectureship, sponsored by the Royal Australian Nurses Association, I gave major speeches in several metropolitan centers -Melbourne,Hobart (Tasmania), Adelaide (Southern Australia) and I vividly recall my trip from Ottawa to Melbourne. It took 36 hours from the time I left Ottawa until I arrived at Melbourne Airport on Sunday morning -exhausted!

There were many stops where one could only try to grab some snatches of sleep in noisy, confused airports. Impossible! All I could think of was the long, long sleep I would have when I arrived. I was met at my lodgings, The Presidents Motor Inn, by my Australian counterpart, Mary Patten. She gleefully announced that I would be free until my first meeting at 4 P.M. that very day. I was allowed four whole hours to recover from my trip! Fatigued, but enthusiastic, I met with the Committee planning mammoth events to rally the governmental and nursing personnel on the new “Goals of Nursing” (Canadian experience).

During my Australian travels, I encountered a number of “whimsies” along the way. I remember being told in Hobart, Tasmania, that winter had set in. I saw only one ice crystal on the road the entire time I was there but, I guess, a hardy Canadian’s perceptions are different! As we approached Hobart, I saw an immense span bridge with the entire centre section missing. I was told the whole sad story. One night, a freighter hit one of the bridge supports and the centre section fell away. Motorists on the bridge simply fell through as did other motorists travelling along unaware of the missing section. A doctor, returning from hospital where his seriously ill wife had begun to show signs of recovery, was so anxious to tell his children the good news that he refused to be stopped by men frantically waving to keep him from danger. He drove onto the bridge and, next day, his prescription pad was found floating at the water’s edge.

On to Adelaide. The moment I arrived, tired from several days of lecturing and being entertained, I was told by three elegantly-dressed women to hurry and change for dinner. I quickly unpacked, showered and dressed in my ankle-length dinner dress. When I came downstairs, the largest, matronly woman said, “Oh you must change into a formal dress! This is a formal occasion.” Back up the stairs I rushed to put on my long skirt and sparkly top brought for formal occasions. (The CNR meeting was in Singapore that year and I had, luckily, brought along dresses for the two or three formal CNR events.) My companions had offered good advice, however, because when we arrived at the city’s “poshest” establishment everyone was in formal dress. Some men even wore white tie and tails!