Friday, September 23, 2011

Bits, Bites [including bran] and Big Thank You's... and Reconstruction - Erv's Nose and the Hospital Plant

Joy! Joy! Joy!   
I remember many years ago one of my children was having a terrible time with Genetics in university and had to wait for the final mark to arrive in the mail.  There was a Happy Happy Joy Dance on the kitchen floor after reading the report card.   Well, the first year students were equally excited about their new laptops!

It has taken a while to get everything organized, so the students could use the computers immediately.  Most of the setting-up, modifying, adapting, etc. [for example we loaded a free virus software and Open Office] was done by Dr. Tony.   I knew he was in charge because he was always yelling at me about something, e.g., "Now you have really screwed it up."   He did praise me, though, as being an excellent "dummy" to discover the problems...

On Tuesday morning, we borrowed the morgue trolley to transport the computers to the classroom.  Earlier we had distributed and explained the contract.  Basically, the hospital owns the laptops until the student graduates in 3 plus years with an RN and then the computer belongs to them.  There was no student who owned their own computer, though several had home access through a parental one.

Tony showing muted amazement that we were ready to distribute the netbooks
John handing out the computer boxes
The computers [netbooks] that many of you donated some dollars towards are from a company in China, Hongkong Fortruth Technology Co., Limited.   They are 10" netbooks in five colors, 1 Gg Ram, 250 GB Hard DD, Wifi card, etc... The costs per unit were approximately $210 US, including shipping.  All the computers are working satisfactorily ..... Amazing!

It was Christmas in September when we arrived at 11 am.   As we distributed the boxes, there was so much expectation in the room it was electric.   We tackled the most important task first ..... Choosing a color!  If you wanted a different colour you had to swap with someone who wanted yours ..... and the next miracle of the day was everyone got the colour that they had wanted!

Tony and I had spent the previous afternoon setting up and locking the router and extension cords in the classroom.  Now they could take it out of the box and record the serial number on the contract.  Then, Tony led them in a step by step process in a way that only a true obsessive can achieve...  Small problems, but no major difficulties; all the students were soon online with their own accounts.
Red, Yellow, Black, Pink, White
"Yours looks exactly like mine."
"Do you think Dr. Tony and Rev. John will know we are on Facebook?"
I have written many times before about the gratitude of the Guyanese students and on Tuesday it was overflowing.  They wanted to write THANK YOU! notes to everyone...  It meant that I had to find snail mail addresses.  So they are writing as I write this.  I don't think I missed anyone, but if you do not get a note within a month tell me and I'll get another one written to you.

Speaking of "Thank You"s, we cannot forget a couple more:   Guyana Christian Charities Canada through whom the overseas purchase was completed, and who along with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas issued tax receipts to all who wanted them; and, finally,  Mr. Taju Olaleye who shared his shipping company as well as his living space to store all the computers till we arrived. 
Also, we have furnished the Internet Cafe at the School/Hospital with three large laptops for student and staff use.   The computers that we [I use the "royal we", as it was Tony mostly] had rebuilt, did not fare well in the humidity and heat even though the cafe is air-conditioned in the daytime.  The three new ones will be enough along with a few that had been donated from other sources.
Peace Corps Grant Computer

Anonymous #1

Anonymous #2
Two were received anonymously from Canada and one was from a grant by the FROG group of the Peace Corps.  They are present and past Peace Corps volunteers who had made the grant available.
The future work/study that these students will do will be the judge of the benefit of your sacrifice to make these donations possible.  I know that as their teachers, Tony and I are very grateful.

Speaking of Tony:  there is now a bran shortage in Guyana; major supermarkets have reported barren shelves where there were various packages of bran cereal.    The papers have indicated that it may be speculators in bran futures, drug cartels hiding the merchandise in boxes no one actually uses, or someone has been building a two story home made entirely of bran.   The answer is  -  it's Tony!
Morning Mound [for perspective:  that is a serving spoon and platter].

One of our bran shelves in the kitchen.

Finally, and probably most importantly...our colleagues, Dr, Malika Mootoo, a Mercy Pediatrician; a nurse, Dianne Daly, just starting to teach a critical care certificate course, and Dr. Erv Janssen, the senior statesmen of volunteers to Guyana, were involved in a car accident on Tuesday night.  They are all recovering; Dr, Erv took the worst of the collision and has been a patient at Mercy Hospital since then.  He has had some bruising and a broken nose that refused to stop bleeding, so required surgery early Wednesday morning to pack his nose. 

Who is this Masked Man?
 And then on Thursday, to cheer him up, we gave him the opportunity of teaching all the first year students in his room.  I had spent some time with them to get a couple of questions, but there was no need!  Erv was in good form and might still be teaching except that the students had to go home.
Always a teacher...even when on the "other side".
In the picture above, there is a sculpture on the wall - coloured balls.  Tony bet me I couldn't make up a story: So  just so you know, it is The Three-Eighteen Helix, a human gene that is responsible for human caring and it is commonly known as the Dr. Erv Janssen Gene...  The students were in awe of such a great man; however, Erv being a Good Lutheran and  overwhelmed with the need to tell the truth, said, "No, none of that is true!"  At least it was a good story.
Yippee! The CEO's new office
May I have a "finally" finally?  The shack above is a most welcome site at the hospital as it signifies the start of the rebuilding after the Fire of May 2010.  Much more in following blogs.

More than enough; thanks for coming with me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jam-packed with Old Friends and New Students

"Not as funny" last week?  What happened?   I have sat and thought about that at least as long as I have sat and thought about nothing.   And I have concluded that Guyana is now so familiar that there is nothing that jumps out at me as strange or different.  Minibuses, canals, puri, noises, cold showers, clean-ups, heat, school: they all blend in to my awareness -- though our shower does have an orgasmic tendency as it starts and spurts, and I am developing some sensitivity about how a cervix must feel .....  They are all just a part of my normal living like a Cape Sable accent, Sterling's golf swing or a Pubnico Fog at the Creamy Treat.   Maybe it just means that I am getting old, or/and maybe all the differences we see when we first encounter a stranger or another culture are really not important, or at least not as important as the people who become like us as we become like them.

It is a good thing that I still have Tony to provide material!   Tony has slowly been introducing "rules" -- really, more like personal commandments that will guarantee good health.  For example, we now have two communal towels: a bath towel in the bathroom that is for hands only, not bathing; and a hand towel in the kitchen that is never for hands.  The ritual purity of these will no doubt offer a comforting aura to the germ phobias one of us has.   Given that there is mould all over, on every surface in the country which has not seen a detergent/antiseptic near it for a decade, we will have no fears.   This commandment is not without difficulty as I have run into a real quandary:  I have not figured out how to dry the dishes without touching the hand-towel-that-is-not-for-hands with my hands.   I had thought of buying a carton of sterile gloves, but that does seem a little over the top.   I have, however, been very careful only to use the shared bath towel for my hands, as I think Tony sends samples to the lab.

All joking aside, Tony and I have lived and functioned well together so far with way more pleasure than frustration.   We both share a desire and commitment to make our students the best that they can be.     And we both look past the strangeness of the other to achieve our goals.  

The first two weeks have been filled with "Hello Again".   There are old students - and their children, staff (present and past), members of Lutheran churches here, acquaintances in all parts of Guyana.   I could have spent the last  two weeks visiting, eating and liming with them all.  ("Liming" is roughly to casually relax with a group of close friends or family, and it sometimes occurs in the presence of alcoholic beverages.)    This would have been the case, except that I have also been meeting and liming with new people.  Claudette has introduced us to her circle of friends and we have been upscale-liming.
Helen Browman, Ian Donnelly, Nikki demonstrate advanced liming techniques at Claudette's home.
Speaking of old friends: I miss my companion/colleague of the last eight years. Pastor Richard Young - "Dick".  He left last year and wanted to retire to his farm in Oregon and serve the church part-time; however, there is no longer room for old missionaries, so he packed his bags and headed to Africa.    It is just not the same here without him.  Be well in Africa, my friend!

Our PBL experiment [The Sequel] has been going better than expected in that we seem to have generated some interest in the approach beyond Tony and me.  Claudette and Marysia have brought a Guyanese and Nursing perspective to the small groups.   And our "guinea pigs" from last year asked me if they could actually sit in to help the new students in their groups some day!    Strike while the iron is hot I say ..... always a good thing considering my memory, too.    So in less than a flash they were added to the first year groups that afternoon.   Supportive upper class students ..... I almost fainted!  

The second-year students in my group were great imitators of Tony and me.  They asked questions and supported the first year students' wonderings, and even asked new questions for themselves about the story they had explored last year.  This is another clear violation of the purist PBL rules, but it worked out great.  (I will now have to concoct a descriptive rationale so it seems planned rather than just "a good idea at the time".)

Speaking of changes, we had our students go to the wards to spend 30 minutes with a patient - just chatting and understanding what the world of a patient was like.   When I went to the wards to arrange this, I figured that I'd get the "overworked, too busy" stuff and I did -- AND I got "Sure, Rev"!  So on the following day, Tony and I led out 20 students to be thrown alive in front of patients and upper classes and staff... No one died - at least, not right away.   The working nurses greeted the students and took them to the best talkative patients on their floor and guided them with respect and interest.     Amazing!  No hazing, no intimidation; I figured that I would wake up at any moment.   Nope, it was really happening.

I took some pictures during that time and had them ready by the next day's class, in which the students had written individual thank you notes as a homework assignment and were giving them to "their" patients.   One or two patients had been discharged home and one had received the "Ultimate Discharge" and died.
Our student was devastated to find out her patient had died; and, she with her thank you note and picture in hand.   The first person who dies in our careers sometimes leaves significant marks on us.  (The first for me was William C. Rae... not bad 40 years later for someone who can't remember a name 10 seconds later.  I guess it was important.)

I chatted with the student, and her batchmates supported her, and with some encouragement she shared her experience and personal feelings with the whole class.  And she went back to the ward to get the address of his family to write a second thank you note.   She had almost not talked to him as he was very sick, but Tony sent her back to be with him.   She had held his hand and smiled at him and asked him lots of questions to which he nodded.  I guess having a beautiful young girl pay attention to you and hold your hand is not too bad a way to die ... but he was only 26 .....  And so the first scar appears on her nursing soul... She will remember him and herself... as I remember Rae and my own journey.  

We have added a new student, Zaheeda, who was a Mercy Graduate before my time even.  She is doing her Masters through St. Joseph College in Connecticut. (This is an unpaid announcement:  the nursing school/faculty at St Joe's College has been extremely supportive for Nursing in Guyana.)  Zaheeda has been asking us all sorts of theoretical questions -- I usually send her to Tony.   In true McMaster style, she moved from observer (actually, she hadn't even got to observe a group yet) to tutor, in order to gain a better perspective.  ( It may have also been that we were short a tutor .....)   She survived and is returning, even though she has filled the requirements of her course.   

You know this succeeding is so un-Guyanese... I should be worried, but hey, I can be depressed another day... Today we are winning.

I didn't get to write about my girls at St. Ann's, my Elmer Gantry impersonation, the gratitude for (and use of) the donated computers,  my "sons" Julian and Rashleigh - who always find me ..... but enough for this time.

Thanks for remembering me...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Continuity and Change

I seem to ask myself similar questions at the beginning of every encounter with new students.   It isn't "How will they be?", it is more "How will I be?"   While not as old as Tony, I am getting there.  And it is not just the annoyances of age, like arthritis in my knees; it is my "staleness" academically.   I still read some material in areas of ethics and PBL, but it is not with the passions of old.   At home in Nova Scotia, I sit in my breakfast nook and watch the sea and if not distracted too often, get a couple of the article's pages read before I finish my coffee.   Seems enough "work" for the day.   Maybe I should hang up my spikes?  But then I console myself with my own wisdom... If you don't know more than a first year student, you are probably dead!   Well, I am not dead, so 20 first year students get me again.

Besides me, there is my trusty side-kick, Tony Carr.  Not only are we teaching together, but we are living together and (surprise, surprise), we are both enjoying it...  This may just be the honeymoon - figuratively speaking.     He did come into my room and demand to see the bottoms of my feet, like a referee checking my spikes, to see if I had any warts because (as you know?) we are at risk for them.   I didn't know that, but if it keeps him big deal.   And I know which towels are for hands and which ones are never for hands, plus the natural and proper order of items in a refrigerator.  

This is our second time through the course we designed and wrote, so we are smoother and wiser.  
We did learn from last year's students and have made a few changes; the most beneficial for us (always the primary concern!) is to have the "Homework Questions" not be taken home, as some of the more verbose would write small epistles for each answer while others had just enough time to copy a sentence from another's sheet.   Scoring them was either a long or painful process -- and sometimes both.   So we have added 15 minutes to their time with us and the same sheet is given as an in-class exam.   This has limited the words of the first group and definitely "opened the minds" of the second.

If you think that we are making the course up as we go, you'd be right.  However, we are supposedly experts, so our making up stuff has credibility.   For example, we are trying to show that with well-designed problems, the tutors do not necessarily need to be experts in the subject matter.   So when one of our tutors was not able to be present, we recruited two former nursing students; and another time, a restaurateur and ice-cream king; and finally, a graduate student who was coming to the class just to observe -- we promoted her to tutor!

We are really fortunate this year with our regular co-tutors; they have added some rich flavours to the class.  Marysia and Claudette's participation has allowed us to keep the groups small - five in each.    Their experiences and difference in style have brought more blessings than burdens.   There are times, though, that I can see them shake their heads and almost say out-loud, "Did Tony really say/do that?"    For example, we needed to divide the class into groups, and as we have four men Tony chose the men to be the leaders in organizing the groups... a question of mathematics for Tony, but not for others ....

Claudette and Marysia have been helpful in asking questions where we didn't see any.   They challenge our assumptions and have already strengthened the programme... and they seem to be enjoying it as well.
My problem remembering names continues.  I have forgotten almost all the names of the Seniors that I memorized last year... And they have confronted my grunting!  They want me to take another "names" exam - of course for a pizza reward.  I am having enough of a problem trying to remember the names of the 20 new students .  With one week left before my Seniors exam, I think that I may end up buying pizza this year.  In my next lifetime I'll be better; it isn't happening this time round.

My impressions of Guyana this time are conflicted:  there definitely seems to be more construction of big buildings while the roads are worse and the same bridges that were fixed recently are being fixed again; the variety of food items seems less and Fogarty's shelves are really half-filled; an election is coming and no one expects it to bring any changes either to the governing party or the average person; all the third parties [non-racial] can't seem to get their coalitions together; Mercy hasn't started to rebuild.  I found that last fact kind of depressing; however, they have just awarded the contract for some of the reconstruction [I'll try and have more on that next time].  Many of the old timers have moved on - staff, nurses, doctors and new ones have come...such is life.

This has been a week primarily geared to getting our nursing programme going.  And yes, the computers:  we have the three added ones, locked and working in the Computer Cafe.    We are sorting out how to distribute "justly"... and "responsibly" the individual laptops, to which so many of you made a donation.  There are some students who have a laptop already and/or computer access at home.  We have drawn up a loan contract that goes something like, "Get your RN - Keep the Laptop"/ "Leave Mercy - Give it Back". 

Visited St. Ann's Orphanage briefly to arrange my weekly visits; got some shopping done, including a case of Parbo.   And I'm now trying to hide so I do not have to lead a Revival Crusade at King of Glory Lutheran Church next week.   "Elmer Gantry" O'Connor, I think not.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On the Ground and Raring to Go

Tony and I arrived on Saturday morning after a few hours delay in leaving JFK.  They said it was because the International Airport in Guyana had fog .....  They have become cautious after last month's accident where the plane went off the runway and split in two.    Other than that, we arrived without incident at Mercy about 10 am, only about 4 hours late.  Kampta and Kavita greeted us and drove us back into Georgetown; Kavita is a very safe driver, so it took us 30 minutes longer than a minibus.

The big news this year is that Tony and I will be living together in the same flat.  [If you believe in prayer, now would be a good time to send a few to the gods about our mutual survival through this ordeal.]  Actually, we have been doing fine so far; at least, we have no open wounds.  We just returned from a Sunday Night's stroll on the seawall; Tony got some exercise and I had a beer.

As Tony was the senior resident in this flat from last year, he got the larger room.   I do have some bad news: my windows will not open... this makes the screens very effective against bugs, but there is no breeze...  However, the air-conditioner - yes air-conditioner - works adequately.    And Tony's AC machine does not.
And NOW nothing works thanks to Guyana Power and Light!  Hopefully, the power outage will be short lived.   

A few hours later:  back in that land of power. After eight years it is in some ways like coming home.   There are so many people - some I even remember the names for, and for some I am reduced to mumbling, though I have the same level of enthusiasm to see them.   On the other hand, it is not like coming home:  there is no real family, each flat takes some time to set up and make it feel homelike ... all in all, though, I do belong here and I have a purpose - that is enough.

We have all the computers with us.  We picked them up at Taju's Restaurant and, of course, we had to have an ice cream while we were there.  He had been storing them all for us as they arrived from China, US, Canada... You probably remember Taju from last year:  he is our colleague here who was refused a 5 day study visa by an unknown and non-appeal-able bureaucrat in Canada's Immigration Service who couldn't see a connection between being a nurse and selling ice cream!   Even my faithful, local member of Parliament has given up trying to do anything about it .....  maybe I should have voted for him.    Taju is less perturbed than I am, but hey -- it is my government.

Tony has taken the lead in setting up all the computers to work with the wireless system here.  Of course, that assumes that there is one wireless actually set up as requested over the last several months.   My money is on nothing having been done; Tony is more optimistic.  The individual laptops seem to be an excellent value - thank to everyone who donated to the cause.   I will continue to keep you informed on how they are working and appreciated.

We took out Marysia Donnelly, the nurse practitioner from McMaster and her husband Ian who is here with CUSO/VSO as an investment banker for Amerindian companies.   They are a great couple and Marysia already is trying to improve us!  [Actually, that really isn't too hard a challenge.]  We were also privileged to have Dr. Claudette Harry join us as a co-tutor.  She was the first Dean at University of Guyana Medical School and initiated Problem Based Learning there after studying at Maastricht University in The Netherlands.  She has worked with PAHO and the Ministry of Health.   In fact after dinner she found out the the Donnelly's had never been liming.  So she took us all out to a very well-to-do home near Ogle Airport... it was very upscale liming indeed.  I am more used to the plastic cups at the rum shop on the corner.  Anyway, it was a wonderful Guyanese welcome for all of us.

We start with students tomorrow -- I think.  We really have gotten no official notification, but that is par for the course.   It will be an interesting start... 

I feel that this is a little spastic and unremarkable, [Anne has had more excitement with the hot water tank conking out] but I did want to get it out.  It's only been 2 days:  I'll work on getting better for next week.

And if you like, you can put your email address on the blog and you won't miss a new post!  And it is free ..... what an offer!!

Take Care,

PS... If you still send "real" greeting cards consider sending some of my original ones at:   Any of my prints are availble and you can get an assortment of your choice for a discount.    All the money that I receive will go to Guyana Projects.