Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Wizard is Back in Oz

I first went to Australia ten years ago to speak at a conference on service user involvement in mental health. The paper - The Being and Doing of Mental Health Nursing: Users Perceptions became the basis for a book entitled Using Patient Experience in Nurse Education. The book inspired the hugely successful service user, student and carer conference we ask all student to attend at the beginning of their nurse and midwifery education and training with us. And 10 years later I was on my way back to Australia and where this story started. Despite the long journey involved, I was looking forward to returning to Adelaide to present my current work at a mental health conference.

Ten years ago I flew directly to Singapore, had three hours in a transit lounge and then flew on to Australia. These days, and one DVT later, my body isn’t so resilient or so forgiving. So it was a six hour flight to Dubai, an overnight stop and then a twelve and half hour flight to Adelaide. On this occasion I flew with Emirates, who have the most amazing collection of films and music to entertain passengers on these long flights. Interestingly, their 100 best albums mirrored my personal Ipod collection, so it was almost home from home, not sure why Leonard Cohen didn’t feature, maybe people these days don’t like his music.

I found it amazing that I could be in a plane that is travelling at nearly 600 mph, 33000 feet off the ground and all I had to do was press a screen and gain access to thousands of songs from my youth. I must confess to leaving my computer in the overhead locker and being totally self-indulgent for the twelve hours and listening to song after song that for me evoked so many good memories. I bought my first LP when I was 13 (1968) – Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland – and there it was on the menu of cd’s. I am amazed at how quickly (over the last 10 years) airlines such as Emirates have embraced new technology for the benefit of their passengers. I am sure we need to being do the same with our approaches to education and health care practice.

It is still a long journey and tiring. However, you do get to meet some interesting people along the way. When I first went to Adelaide, one of the people I met was Julia who in a different life became the Director of our Postgraduate Directorate when I took over as Head of School. This time, In Dubai I met Alli, who trains fighter pilots for a living. He chained smoked (no smoking restrictions in UAE) his way through an evening’s conversation where we discussed politics, his love of all things British, the state of the world economy and of course my relationship with the ubiquitous Manchester United football team. I have lost count of the number of people over the years who I’ve told that I really don’t know Sir Alex personally.

One of the albums on offer was the remarkable What’s the Story Morning Glory (by Oasis). As well as being a great collection of music, the title track always reminds me of 5am in the morning. Wherever and whenever I travel I always wake up just before 5am – even on trips like this where you gain and lose time as you travel. Interestingly, on the first trip to Alidade, some of the people I met presented work on the impact of circadian rhythms on people’s mental health.

I am writing this blog on the eve of the conference, which promises to be a very interesting one. This time I am presenting some work on risk and control in society and the impact this can have for some people with mental health problems. One of the issues I explore is Jeremy Benthams concept of the panoptican, and how sometimes therapeutic relationships are felt to be compromised by the sometimes bounded nature of care and containment. My new found friend Alli didn’t have any such problems. In an account reminiscent of Michael Moores’ Fahrenheit 9/11, he talked about how they trained their fighter pilots not to think about the fact they are killing other humans beings when they fire their missiles at targets. Partly this involved reinforcing the fact that the targets were selected away from the battle field, and the missiles guided by information relayed through satellites. Not a good use of new technology and it was somewhat frightening stuff.