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January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Patricia A. Kelly

Though it comes every year, the New Year’s beginning always provides a unique opportunity. One can pause, takes a quick look back, and then take that big step forward.


Or, one can become stone blind drunk, lie on one’s face on the sidewalk, and pretend to have sex with the celebrity whose picture is painted there, as I once observed a television host do. Hopefully, she then threw up, as she was definitely carrying a toxic load.


I asked my family the other night what would make things better, and my son-in-law said: “Come to see your children every 30 days, and stay a month.” I was moved, touched and inspired, honestly. How many sons-in-law would say that to their “moms?” The fact that he wanted me to bring a mortgage payment with me just demonstrated his enlightened self-interest.


My daughter offered some very thoughtful comments on the power of the individual to effect change in the world.


It’s not always easy to look back. A filmed recap of the highlights of 2014, for example, would be X-rated for violence, at least. The Frederick community experienced the same, on a smaller, less physically bloody scale.


Fortunately for me, I missed the local battles, spending much of December in the country, watching a good man provide care for his ailing wife, helping when I could, and being nurtured myself.


I intended, thinking of the capacity of the individual, to quote Gandhi for this piece, as he said so powerfully: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Today, I would say: “You can be the change you wish to see in the world.”


I’d like to share a story from my nursing career to illustrate this.


You might not agree, but in my considered opinion as a nurse, the general nursing population is exploited. Really, nurses could contribute so much more to the world of health than they do, and, in the hospital setting, they experience the role of enlisted marines in a war setting. They are cannon fodder, sucked dry for the perceived benefit of the system.


The 100,000 annual deaths in hospitals from mistakes are not considered important enough to change the constant pressure on nurses to do more with less. Nurses believe they can do nothing about this but work themselves to death until they find a way out.


One night, though, when I worked in an emergency department, a nurse changed it all for me. We were slammed; the hospital was slammed; it was winter; the world was sick. We were admitting patient after patient as fast as we could from the emergency department, when an evening charge nurse on a medical-surgical unit said: “No more admissions will be taken on my unit tonight.” “We cannot provide safe care for any more than we have now.”


The nursing supervisor went up to the unit and said to her: “You can go home now. I’ll take over for the rest of the shift.” The life-changing nurse said: “No! I’m staying.”


To make a long story short, the outcome was that the entire admission policy of the hospital changed to a safer and more equitable one after that night. Although the nurse had to quit her job, before leaving, she changed everything.


All that night, as we struggled to care for the patients who could not be admitted to her unit, I silently cheered, raising my fist in the air in an imitation Black Power salute, and doing a little happy dance around the stretchers.


She changed my life. As she went, carrying her vision and courage, so could I go for the rest of my life, if I chose. And so could you, and you and you.


We have no idea of our own power in the world. If every individual in the United States wanted, for example, a flat tax, and stood up at the same moment to insist on it, we would get one.


For those who say you can’t change anything, that people are no damn good, and that you can’t make a difference, I quote Mahatma Gandhi again. “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”


Go out and create your own Happy New Year. I wish you the very best.


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