Friday, 23 July 2010

Scotland, Sunshine, and a Good Shiraz

Today I am going on holiday for two weeks, and for the first time in two years I will be completely inaccessible in terms of email, texts, phone, TV and so on. A strange place to be, especially as this week I delivered a key note paper at the International Librarian Conference held in Salford that in part looked at how we might use new technology to communicate, create and share knowledge and how to manage the emotionality of 24 hour accessibility. In part my paper also explored what it was like to work and learn at the edge of knowledge and not knowing, and how we might encourage students to inhabit this place. This is work that Sue McAndrew and I have been developing over the last 10 years. It was an interesting experience, for everyone. Thankfully I was emailed by a colleague at lunchtime to tell me that unprompted, other delegates had said how much they enjoyed the presentation and it was good to have something very different to think about. As for me, I intend not to think about anything work wise starting from now. Speak to you soon.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

[Un]Tangled up in blue, the new Libertarians, Alligators and Umbrellas

Well Tuesday the 13th of July 2010 dawned bright and warm. The BBC promised blue skies. But I didn’t really believe it would happen as it was our Graduation Day. This was my third year presenting students and every year it has rained on Graduation Day, and usually rained hard. Hard Rain is the title of Bob Dylan’s album produced in 1990 which has those two great songs Maggie’s Farm and Lay Lady Lay on it. It is however, Bob Dylan song ‘A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall’ written in the summer of 1962 and released in 1963 for his second album the Freewheeling Bob Dylan possibly resonates more with a certain generation. It was the song most associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which followed US President JF Kennedy’s announcement that Soviet missiles had been discovered on the island of Cuba. I was, of course only 8 years old at the time, and it wouldn’t be for another 7 years before I learnt to play the few chords that make up the melody for ‘Blowing in the Wind’, the other famous and these days a somewhat ubiquitous protest song from this album.

I don’t know if it was my state of high anxiety on Tuesday morning or just a general sense of feeling sorry for myself, but as I drove into Manchester City centre, I found myself singing over and over again the chorus line from a hard rain’s a-gonna fall. For those of you who play the guitar, it is one of those songs were you can deliver a pounding rhythm as you get to the chorus:

here black is the colour, where none is the number
And I'll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinking
But I'll know my songs well before I start singing
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

As it turned out, this year’s Graduation ceremony was a triumph for all who participated. We had a great turn out of staff on the stage to support and celebrate the students’ successes. Irene Khan our new Chancellor proved to be highly effective in ensuring that all felt included. The students gave all my colleagues a standing ovation. My worse fear – pronouncing the students names correctly, faded, as standing in my wonderfully blue and red robes, my tongue mysteriously became untangled, and out came all the names more or less as intended – and there were lots of them. Over 500 nurses and midwives graduated between the two ceremonies. I wondered what the next few years would bring these newly qualified nurses as the NHS is to be re-organised yet again, and this proposed reorganisation will also include how nurse education and training will be organised, commissioned and managed.

This week saw the White Paper Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS published. The document, which outlines the most radical reforms to the NHS for more than 10 years, puts the power to commission patient services back in the hands of GPs who will take control of around two-thirds of the NHS budget. Health secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged to give frontline nurses more control over decisions about patient care. However, the role of the nurse in these reforms is only mentioned twice in the 61-page document.

Whilst I think the lack of detail is worrying, I did hear that Anne Milton, currently parliamentary under-secretary of state for health in the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has expressed an opinion that there is no desire to change the way in which Nurse and Medical education and training is currently commissioned (this despite the fact that SHA’s, the main commissioning body, are likely to disappear come 2012). Interestingly Anne trained as a Nurse at St Bartholmews Hospital in London, and worked for the NHS for 25 years as a District Nurse. Dr Graham Henderson, whom she married in February 2000 in Surrey, also works in the NHS in the field of community medicine, and is Director of Public Health for East Surry PCT (another body also destined to disappear). As Bob would say, a hard rain’s a-gonna fall…

…and it did on Graduation Day, and again later on in the week just as I was walking across the Lowery Piazza on way to the Honorary Graduates Dinner. My hair was of course, completely ruined. And dinner wasn’t anything to write home about, but the conversation around the table more than made up for it. The topics were fascinating and very interesting. From clinical trials looking at a chemical compound developed from the blood of Alligators that apparently prevents scarring as wounds heal – clearly good for cosmetic reasons, but if the drug works, internally as well as externally, the possibilities are endless and very exciting – to the value of CBT for those people who have a diagnosis of Bi-polar Disorder, and why the oppressed and vulnerable need a champion. As I sit and write this on Sunday morning, the rain continues to pound down, although I do have a very big strong umbrella!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Tuesday the 13th looms and I am having a hell of a time – phonetically speaking

Next week brings with it Tuesday the 13th and our School Graduation Ceremony. We have two ceremonies planned and over 500 students are likely to graduate. But fantastic as this celebration might be, regular readers of this blog will know it also heralds the start of my worst nightmare; that is being on the stage and unable to pronounce the names of the students correctly.

Having spent two days this week in the company of my Head of School colleagues in the improbably named Renascence Hotel (yes we all remember it as the Ramada) I have found out that I am not alone in having this fear.

Whilst not quite an example of onomatophobhia, this collective reluctance to become engaged in an activity that seriously challenges one’s ability to respect the name of a other by pronouncing it correctly is more wide spread than I first imagined. Many colleagues really find the process difficult and anxiety provoking. However such anxiety is perhaps not as wide spread as:

Anatidaephobia – the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you


Luposlipaphobia – the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly-waxed floor.

(both were made up by Gary Larson for his The Far Side cartoons).

In a somewhat oxymoronic sense, my Father worries that I suffer from the long term condition: hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism, which, as everyone knows, is the art of using VERY long words to confuse people. It comes from the root sesquipedalian, meaning a person who uses long words which can confuse people. Of course in my cognitively challenged but somewhat introverted postmodernist personal phenomenological zeitgeist that is, in a Wittgenstein sense, my meagre existence, I couldn’t possibly begin to offer an explanation, existential or otherwise.

My choice of ‘meagre existence’ as a way of describing where I am possibly reflects those I very much admire in terms of their personhood and what they have been able to achieve in their lives. The title of this blog reflects such a person. Virginia Henderson (1897 – 1996) has been called by many ‘the first lady of nursing’. Her definition of nursing remains unchallenged today:

"The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he/she would perform unaided if he/she had the necessary strength, will or knowledge"

Her writing, presentations and research have profoundly affected nursing and impacted on the recipients of nursing care throughout the world – and this definitely includes me! Like other mental health nurses, Virginia will always have a special place in our hearts – it was Virginia, of course who in 1929 (!), was one of the earliest advocates for the inclusion of psychiatric nursing into the wider nurse curriculum. Her revision of Bertha Harmer's textbook the Principles and Practice of Nursing in 1939 remains a seminal text, and her book, Nature of Nursing, published in 1966 expressed her belief about the essence of nursing and influenced the hearts and minds of all those who have read it.

As a person and a nurse she was radical, witty and above all else, compassionate.

However, would you know how to pronounce her middle name – Avenel? To me it sounds like aving ell. On Tuesday I will try and do better!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Red or Black Clogs to Remain Secured by Obscurity

This week I received the very sad news that my colleague and friend from Kingston University and St Georges Hospital, Professor Paul Wainwright had unexpectedly died whilst I was in Pakistan. Paul was passionate about everything nursing and like myself had a real interest in the education and development of practitioners. Three years ago he started a very successful nursing research conference which enabled nurses at all stages of development to present and disseminate their work. His other passion was in exploring the relationship between the humanities and health care practice.

Ironically, I returned from Pakistan on Tuesday night and by 6am Wednesday morning I was well and truly right back in to the hurly burly world of University life, preparing to run the first of our joint Workshop Conferences aimed at bringing together the humanities and mental health nursing care in explicating Mental Health and Well-Being.

Along with colleagues from our School of English, Sociology, Politics & Contemporary History, and colleagues from University of Nottingham, University of Liverpool and University of Dundee, we had a great day exploring notions of madness, the Gothic in English Literature, tensions between psychiatry and mental health, and the works of Thomas Szasz and Peter Morrell.

My good friend Phil Barker came and gave a great key note presentation. Amongst Phil’s many claims to fame is the fact that he was the UK's first Professor of Psychiatric Nursing Practice, and at present, he is Visiting Professor at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and Honorary Professor at the University of Dundee. In 1995 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, UK and remains one of the very few mental health nurses to have achieved this. He is a prolific author and still travels the world presenting his work (on recovery and personhood). As some of my mental health nurse educator colleagues will know, Google Scholar has him down as the most cited living psychiatric nurse theorist. I have been fortunate enough to write with and for him and he has contributed to the last book Sue McAndrew and I wrote. Over the last few years we have run into each other at mental health conferences all over the world.

Phil also has a penchant for wearing black, but not in my exclusive sense, has a long ponytail, ZZ top beard, wears silver jewellery, and red, not black clogs. Some have made comparisons between us and wondered if one was emulating the other. We are of course individuals in our own right.

All in all it was a great day, although it started badly. Just 24 hours previously I had been sitting in the Sheraton Hotel reception with a cup of coffee, and turning on my lap top it had taken 30 seconds to connect to the University of Salford home page. Now 24 hours later, and just 60 feet from my office it took 40 minutes and the help of a very obliging technician to connect to the very same home page!

It also appeared that I was not the only one dogged by technology problems this week. I noted that Anna Kushchenko, one of the 10 people arrested as being a possible Russian spy, aaccording to the FBI, was dogged by persistent trouble trying to get the computer issued by her Russian handlers to wirelessly transmit her weekly intelligence reports. She suffered trying to make the connection work, and it was only when she purchased a Mac that such problems were sorted out.

The story also gave me a new word to use: steganography. I had not come across this term before although it has been in use since Johannes Trithemius used it in his work Stegabographis in 1499. This was a book that appeared to be about magic, but was actually a treatise on cryptography and steganography. Stegangraphy is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message. It creates a form of security through obscurity. Generally, messages will appear to be something else, and its use includes the concealment of information within computer files. Media files are ideal for steganographic transmission because of their large size. A sender might start with an innocuous image file and adjust the color of every 100th pixel so it corresponds to a letter in the alphabet, a change so subtle that someone not specifically looking for it is unlikely to notice it.

This was not only the way Anna and her colleagues were using to exchange information, but it was the way they lived their lives. They appeared ordinary, normal, part of the background and therefore did not attract any attention at all. As the more astute amongst you will have realized, this is rather like Phil and I.