29 September 2009

More on the strike

Today, the nurses took their "final vote" on whether to strike. As they came back from their meetings (there was a series of meetings throughout the day to accommodate various shifts), everyone came back with a different story - they're definitely striking, they're definitely NOT striking, they're striking but only for three days, they're striking but not until mid-October, etc.

I don't know if THEY know what the fuck is going on. Or, as Mom pointed out, maybe THEIR marching orders from the union were to come back and have different stories to confuse us.

At any rate, we got another edict from the hospital today. We are to use the "buddy system" when crossing the picket line. If any demonstrators try to detain us, we are to try to get their name, note the time, how long we are detained, etc. For those of us who take the subway to work, the hospital has now made arrangements that SEPTA (that's the public transit people, for you non-locals) Police will be at the intersections where people come to street level from the subway to assist us to the hospital.

Until today, I have been trying to have a very "these negotiations have nothing to do with me" attitude about everything. But it's been difficult. I worry for the patients because we'll be losing nurses, social workers, physician assistants, physical therapists, medical technicians, pharmacy technicians... the list goes on and on. All at once. Hospital administration assures us that patient care will not be compromised, because they have made arrangements and contingency plans, etc. And while I believe them, I still have concerns for the patients.

However, information that came to light today has made it exceedingly difficult for me to retain the attitude that this has nothing to do with me and everyone is just doing their job and trying to make their way in the world. Here's what I found out:

Average hourly wage of nurses: $39.80
47% of nurses at work make between $75,000-100,000/year.
23% of nurses at work make between $150,000-206,000/year.

Now, a few things. That hourly wage is a BASE. So that doesn't include shift differential (shift-diff), hourly bonus for being charge nurse, or overtime. We did some maths today and figured that a charge nurse on an evening weekend shift could pull in about $54/hour. Also note that the those figures for the annual salary only account for 70% of the nurses. But there's also a gap from $100,000-150,000. So some of those 30% are in that gap. But the rest are in that under %75,000, and we figured they're the nurses right out of nursing school.

One of the nurses today approached one of my co-workers. She said that she was upset because the hospital wanted her to give things back. My co-worker asked her what she meant. She said, "Well, they aren't giving me any more money, AND I have to give up more money for my health insurance." My co-worker said, "That's what we had to do."

"And you don't see that as a step backwards?"

"Well, I figured I have a job. I have a job I LIKE. The hospital doesn't have any money right now, and when it does, they'll pass it along to us again when they can."

And the nurse huffed off.

Sorry, no sympathy here.

28 September 2009

Impending Strike?

For months now, there has been talk of a possible strike at the hospital. The union that may strike represents the nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and many of the technicians who work there. Their contact ends on 30 September, and negotiations began months ago in hopes of avoiding a strike.

Basically, the union wants the same thing most unions want in these situations - more pay, more benefits, etc. And the hospital insists it isn't there. While I can't speak for the hospital, I can speak for myself and the rest of us non-union members. NONE of us got raises this year. ALL of us had to pay more for our health care coverage this year (in my case, it was approximately $25 more per pay period), and we ALL took hits to the educational benefits package.

Earlier this year, there were two MASSIVE rounds of lay-offs because the hospital was $34 million in debt as of February 2009. We closed one of our satellite hospitals, and we closed the corporate office. Folks, this is NOT a health system that is sitting on a bunch of extra money.

Today, there was a pre-strike rally. Part of Broad Street was closed so the ralliers could march from one part of the campus to another while chanting "HEY [HOSPITAL], YOU CAN'T HIDE." Police cars, news vans, bull horns. We had orders to remain inside the building until the rally was over, which didn't take long, as there were maybe only 100-150 people involved.

While the pre-strike rally was only mildly annoying (while simultaneously somewhat amusing), the actual strike is what has me apprehensive. On the first day of the strike, anyone whose shift begins from 7:00 a.m. to noon, must report to the hospital by 6:00 a.m. People who drive to work (not me, thankfully) have to park in a special lot and will be shuttled to a particular entrance, which will have a police presence. Extra security will guard the parking lot so the cars of those crossing the picket line will be protected. Hospital administrators will be parking in an undisclosed location. It is expected that the picketers will be blocking hospital entrances, and that it will take up to 12 hours to get an injunction to stop this.

In the meantime, traveller nurses have been hired to cross the picket line. Traveller nurses are GOOD nurses; they have to be. However, they don't have the same rapport with our doctors that our regular nurses do. They don't know our patient population, or our long-term patients (and we have a LOT of long-termers). They don't know our policies, procedures, etc. They all flew in today for three days of intensive training, but as of Friday, the hospital will have a whole house of all new nurses, for all intents and purposes.

Wish us luck.

(Have I mentioned that I'm glad I'll be out of town for the first part of this mess???)

26 September 2009

The Story of Hoa: Please help her

Some of you met my friend Sara when she came to Philadelphia to visit this past spring. Her friends Dan and Hoa are going through something at once so painful and so ludicrous that I'm having trouble writing coherently and cogently about it. But I will because Hoa and Dan need your help. URGENTLY.

Ten years ago, Hoa came to the U.S.A. from Vietnam to study at Luther College in Iowa. There, she met and fell in love with Dan. In 2008, they got married (in Minnesota, where they then now reside) and eagerly looked forward to starting their lives together. In the meantime, Hoa finished her Master's degree in French Literature, and Dan started his own construction business.

Two months after their marriage in Minnesota, they travelled to Vietnam to celebrate the union again. However, at that time, the status of Hoa's visa became unclear. Upon returning to the country, Hoa discussed the situation with immigration officials. Eventually, she received notice to appear in court on 13 August 2009. Unfortunately, she confused and missed the court date. As a result, she was taken into custody the very next day and has been incarcerated since then.

On 22 September 2009, Hoa's family and friends received the news that Hoa's case will NOT be reopened. She is scheduled for immediate deportation and is barred from re-entering the U.S.A. for five years.

PLEASE consider helping Hoa. You can go here to find sample letters that you can print out and mail (or email/fax) to Minnesota legislators. Please also consider contacting YOUR local state legislators for help. This page also features a link to help you figure out who your legislator is and what her/his contact info is.

While I believe that immigration laws serve an important function in our country, I do not believe that they exist to punish people like Dan and Hoa.

Thank you.

Please visit FreeHoa.org.

22 September 2009

Health Update

I've mentioned it on Twitter, in some Ravelry forums, and in passing to some friends, but I guess I should officially blog about it, too.

On Saturday, 12 September, I woke up with what I thought was the beginning of a cold. Well, technically, I thought I just had a bit of a sore throat from sleeping in a dry house. See, I had stayed at Brook's house since we were waking up at 5:30 a.m. to go set up her booth at New Jersey Sheep & Wool festival. But unfortunately, it turned into what I thought was a cold.

It was bad enough that I called out sick on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, I decided to go to work, because we had our monthly Big-Ass meeting on Thursday. And I'm responsible for doing a lot of prep work for said meeting. Once I got to work, however, my coughing got REALLY bad (I don't know if was due to the subway air quality or office air quality), and I threw up. As soon as Peter (the doctor who covers our department) got in, I called him and asked if he would see me. He did, and once he heard my symptoms, he suspected H1N1 flu, did an NP culture (which feels like a lobotomy done via big-ass Q-tip up the nose), and sent me home with orders to NOT return on Thursday, possible return on Friday depending on flu test results.

He started me on Tamiflu and Compazine, which is what I usually take for nausea. In case I couldn't keep the Compazine down, he also included a script for Compazine suppositories. Yay (happily, they were NOT needed). He also gave me strict instructions to call and check in with him every day.

Thursday, because my coughing was so bad, he added a script for guiafenesin with codeine (my med of choice for a bad cough). He also called in a script for an antibiotic, in case I needed it but I wasn't to start it unless he directed me to. But the thought was that I'd have it on hand and wouldn't have to make another trip to the pharmacy. Since I was still extremely nauseous with Compazine, he called in a script for Zofran, which is what they give people taking chemotherapy; it's the strongest anti-nausea drug out there. Even with Zofran I'm still nauseous, but at least I don't constantly feel like horking up anything I eat.

Friday, after I'd been on Tamiflu for three days and NO sign of improvement. He had me start the antibiotic. The rapid flu test was negative, so they sent the culture off for the more sensitive test to see if I really had H1N1. Peter and I also discussed the possibility of me coming in for chest x-rays to see if I had pneumonia. But we ultimately decided not to. He said if I did, he'd basically put me on the same antibiotic he had me on anyway, and he'd only admit me if I needed IV antibiotics and fluids because I couldn't keep anything down. Since I was keeping things down (albeit just barely), I elected to not go in for x-rays.

Plus, although I love Peter to death and trust being under HIS care immensely, I didn't want to be admitted to my own hospital. I'd have to divulge ALL of my health conditions to people I work with on a daily basis, my hospital is NOT close to my closest friends, and Peter was leaving for the weekend and wouldn't be able to closely supervise my care anyway.

On Saturday and Sunday, I tried home nebuliser treatments for my coughing. Peter kept asking me if my cough was flu cough or asthma. Early in the illness, I KNEW it wasn't asthma, but at this point it was getting hard to tell. I didn't THINK I was wheezing, but the cough WAS different. OTOH, albuterol and the nebuliser weren't seeming to help.

On Monday, I went to work not knowing if I'd be sent home again since I was still coughing. Technically, if I had H1N1, I'd not be contagious any more after Saturday evening. But the final culture wouldn't be done until Monday evening at the very earliest. If it WASN'T H1N1, then the contagious-window could be different. I was hoping that Peter would listen to my lungs, hear a lot of wheezing, declare that I was having a lot of asthma, and we'd proceed accordingly.

Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, he couldn't get me to wheeze at all either yesterday or today. So yesterday he added Tessalon pearls to the mix. I'm not sure when I didn't think of that, since I used those last year when my doctor thought I had whooping cough and they worked well. Today, I was still coughing every time someone looked at me, so he added prednisone, which is generally a last-ditch effort with me.

So, we're at the end of the line folks.

I've been on: an anti-viral, an antibiotic, two anti-nausea meds, a cough syrup, a cough pill, and now a steroid. And I'm still lethargic, cranky, and coughing like crazy.

One of the most difficult parts was telling Mom about it all. She and I are really close, so I've been telling her everything, but it's hard because I know she worries. OTOH, there's no way I'd NOT tell her and then suddenly call her and go "Oh, btw, I'm in hospital with pneumonia."

On the flip side, I called Orin (my adoptive father) tonight to say, "I was really sick last week. They think it was H1N1, but they aren't sure. What's shaking in your world?" and he told me about the 23-pound catfish he caught that wouldn't fit in his sink.

So, that tells you pretty much all you need to know about my relationship with my parents. lol

PS. Apparently my lab doesn't read flu cultures every day. So we still don't know.

16 September 2009

All about the Turtlegirl...

I owe Cristi (turtlegirl76 to you Ravelers) a MUCH belated thank you and shout-out. Remember the Turkish Stitch Scarf I gave to my doctor? The reason it was so nicely blocked (at the very last minute the night before) was because it was steam blocked. I have never steam blocked anything and had no idea how to go about it.

But Cristi walked me through it step-by-step via IM. And she didn't even laugh at me when I misunderstood her original instructions and thought I was supposed to somehow have enough hands to push the steam button on the iron AND stretch the scarf into shape all at the same time.

Or maybe she DIED laughing at me, but was polite enough to do it behind her computer monitor and didn't type it all to me. "ROFLMAO No, you dumbass! You put the effing iron down first, you moron!" She didn't say that at all. Well done to her.

And while I'm singing her praises, I'd also like to take this opportunity to mention that you can vote on her "Calvin and Ripple" sock pattern here. This is the poll for the Q4 Socks the Rock KAL. So vote for her kick-ass pattern AND join a great KAL!

10 September 2009

You take the good, you take the bad...

So you know how all summer EVERY blog entry was about how I was sick? Then EVERY entry was about MJ? Well, now you have to suffer through EVERY entry being about PhD applications. Sorry.

So... the update thus far.

There aren't many schools that offer PhDs in Health Services Research. Of those that do, I immediately eliminated UCLA, UC-Berkeley, Texas A&M, U of North Texas (never even knew they existed), U of Minnesota, and SLU. After a little more consideration, I eliminated U of Alabama at Birmingham, U of Iowa, U of Florida, U of Arkansas, and Ohio State. Which leaves me applying to: U of Washington, BU, and Pittsburgh.

But I found out that Pittburgh's programme is REALLY new. The SPH (School of Public Health - us public healthers are REALLY fond of abbreviations, acronymns, and backronyms) is well-established, but the HSR PhD programme is BRAND NEW. As in, if I were to be admitted next year, I'd be in their second admitted class. And that makes me really leery. Especially after being at Drexel for two years and hearing "you're the biggest class we've ever had and we don't know what to do with all of you" for two solid years.

However, I spoke to a woman at BU yesterday and she told me that they have a grand total of... THREE seats to offer to applicants for next year's class. THREE. They normally seat four, but one of this year's acceptees deferred to next year. She mentioned that while she knows I have a Master's degree already, I might want to consider applying for their MSc programme in HSR. People who do their MSc programme and go on to apply to their PhD programme in HSR are "typically pretty successful applicants." Of course, the downside to that is that I'd have to come up with my own funding if I was a Master's-level student again.

BUT, she did say that most of those students don't complete the Master's and they transition to the PhD programme after the first semester. The courses taken during the Master's programme count toward the PhD. AND, it doesn't cost any more to apply to both programmes. So I am considering it.

But after being in shock from hearing her say "three seats available..." It just echoed in my head all evening... like an effect from a bad horror movie. So I started giving Seattle a really hard look. And I really liked what I saw. I'd pick an area of concentration, and I easily selected mine last night.

But applying to only three schools when I know that one is BRAND NEW (and thus probably not accepting many students) and another is only taking three students makes me really nervous. So now I'm looking at some of the schools I had rejected after a lot of thought. Maybe I could stand Ohio State...? or Minnesota...?



The former Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Drexel's SPH (he left Drexel the fall after I graduated) answered my email to him earlier this morning. Apparently, he is "more than happy" to write a letter of recommendation for me for my PhD applications.

02 September 2009

On Michael Vick

I've got a lot going on in my life. I've decided to transition my career path, I've decided to start applying to grad schools for Fall 2010 admission, I've been dating for the first time in three years (I mean, those three dates in the past three years really weren't meaningful attempts). The schools that I'm applying to are not in Philly, which means that I will be moving in less than a year (unless all three schools reject me), so I'm already looking around at my books and thinking about a massive yard/book sale.

So given the upcoming stress in my life (most of it eustress, but stress nonetheless), it makes total sense that some of my most recent therapy session was centred around none other than Michael Vick.

The issue of Vick has been weighing heavily on my mind. I am known for being a completely leftist, bleeding-heart liberal. I took a lot of heat on my blog from total strangers for defending Ben Appleby, a death row inmate (and high school friend of mine). I won't go into that issue again on this blog post, but you can about it here. What I've been turning over (and over and over) in my head is how I can go to the mat over cases like Ben, but I've felt so ready to nail Vick's ass to the wall. I've felt so ready to join the Vick protests and refer to his return to the NFL with derision.

But where was my compassion? I've had so much compassion for Ben and other criminals. I've always tried to focus on society's responsibility (which I do NOT believe takes away from an individual's responsibility) to a person, whether in rehabilitation, assistance, fostering community, etc.

But with Vick, it's been different. And it's been bothering me. Is it because he hurt defenceless animals who had no voice? Is it because I knew Ben but didn't Vick? But I've also defended and advocated for others with whom I had no personal connection, so that didn't make sense. And this is why I went to my therapist with it.

And she helped me untangle it. It's still a little hazy for me, and I'm not sure why this is so difficult for me to wrap my head around. I'm hoping that my blogging about it and getting some feedback, it'll help me. But basically, here's how Nancy broke it down:

With Ben, if one believes that he committed the crimes for which he is in prison (he had told me he didn't, but testified in court that he did), then justice is being served. The injustice and compassion comes in because it is my belief that society failed Ben in a major way and that had society NOT failed him, he wouldn't be there in the first place. At one point as a young adult, Ben DID ask (in court, no less) for help and none was given to him.

With Vick, he absolutely committed the crimes (he admitted his guilt), but seems to show little remorse. Although dog-fighting was part of his culture growing up, at some point in his life, he must have realised that this mass cruelty was wrong and that bringing other neighbourhood children into this culture was all kinds of wrongity wrong wrong. When he made it big in the NFL, he had plenty of opportunities to pursue other hobbies, but instead kept on with dog-fighting - never tried to change. And now that he's out of prison, has anyone seen him in a shelter? Has anyone heard of him donating money to the SPCA? He's spent plenty of time at the Eagles compound - has anyone seen him at a pound? Didn't think so.

Nancy said she heard that one of the local SPCA shelters is using a Vick jersey to scrub the floors.

Still... part of my brain says, "But doesn't he, too, deserve his second chance? Is any less deserving of my compassion than someone who is accused of murdering and attempting to rape a 19-year-old young woman?"

This is what keeps me awake at night.

Damn you, Michael Vick.

(For more on this issue, please read the Philadelphia Weekly's cover story, Pit Bulls in Pain, which is on Philadelphia's weak history of punishing dogfighters.)