I have decided that I will be posting my fortnightly “thoughts” column in the blog. I have been thinking about implementing this where I work for a year, now, but I have only just gotten the time and space to really do it. While some of the issues maybe particular to the specific workplace, I imagine that many of them are universal. Also, I end each column with a quotation of a poem. I have just written the 3rd installment, but I’ll post one of the old columns a week until we are caught up with the present time. Here is the column from one month ago….
Some Thoughts From the Clinical Director
I know everyone always works hard at Buchanan (Psychiatric) Rehabilitation Centre, but this has been a particularly tough week. I appreciate everyone’s work and concern for the Buchanan community in which clients engage in rehabilitation and staff strive to create an environment conducive to rehabilitation.
I had the experience with working with many services outside Buchanan this week, some of which were very supportive and others which were actively unsupportive. It made me realize that it makes a tremendous difference for the difficult work we do if we feel supported or unsupported.
We are going through a time of many transitions and I realize my decision to move back to the States is one of several big changes at Buchanan. I will keep everyone updated on where I am at in the process of that move. I just returned from leave and had a couple of job interviews, but I am not at the point of signing any contracts, so my time at Buchanan is still 90 days plus the time it takes for either Mary Pat or me to have a solid job. Mary Pat is now staying in Seattle and will be taking some licensure exams and looking for jobs there.
Our clients at Buchanan are often very difficult and challenging on the best of days and I do not see the referrals for new clients we are getting as being any easier than those currently at Buchanan. The work is going to continue to be difficult and challenging. We are going to have to continue to hold the hope for clients who come to Buchanan without hope. Hope is a precious commodity and we have to be very careful with how we care for our own hope. We also have to be careful about how we speak and act with clients because our words and actions can build hope or destroy hope. We also have to be careful with how we treat our colleagues at Buchanan and to strive to build hope and to make sure we are not endangering hope. This does not mean we always have to agree with each other. I saw a number of great examples where staff disagreed with each other this week, but still overcame those differences to work together for the best interest of clients.
I also went to a conference while I was in the States, it was called “Integrity in Health Care: The Courage to Lead in a Changing Landscape,” put on by The Center for Courage & Renewal. I thought a lot about hope while I was there, as well as of the shadow of hope, despair. We work with both of these on a daily basis in rehabilitation and we are no different than the clients in BRC who also struggle with these two fundamentals on a daily basis. What can be done to build and foster hope? That is the question I continue to return to during my time working in psychiatric rehabilitation. I generally return to human connection as the answer to that and during my remaining time at Buchanan this will continue to be my goal: increasing connection between staff and staff, clients and clients, and staff and clients. That can be a pretty lofty goal and sometimes it is nice to have something concrete to focus on, so my other goal I set for myself was to try to build more poetry into my life. I find that poetry can create a space to pause and reflect, to connect to my feelings and to connect to hope.
I have been meaning for some time to send out regular email of “Thoughts From the Clinical Director.” But, there is always so much important work that I do not get to everyday, this has been on the back burner. Perhaps it is not too late, even as I am in a leaving process from Buchanan to start this project. I will also share some of the poetry that we used at the conference. If it is of value to you and brings you hope, that is wonderful, if not, please feel free to disregard these periodic emails. Here is the first poem, it is a long one, but it was my favourite (Albuquerque is a city in the state of New Mexico):
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate, I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress ,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly,
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly,
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used –
she stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late.
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
would ride next to her — southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag —
and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers —
non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice
and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands —
had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country tradition. Always
carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped
— has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye