NZ Year One. Day 3

I’ve been driving as long as I legally could in the States. On my 16th birthday I went to our local DMV, took the written and practical exams and took that first horrific ID photo. Since that day I have owned 12 different cars/SUVs, been in 3 accidents and lets not start on speeding tickets. My cars have had 8 track players, cassette players, DVD players and Bluetooth connections for MP3 and wireless streaming. My first car held a bag phone with the glow-in-the-dark keypad that you only had for emergencies. My latest car has hands-free text replies through my wireless phone using voice command. I have taken countless roadtrips, travelled across state to see family and commuted to work in my cars. Family trips, ski days, hiking 14ers…..all made possible via my cars. I enjoy driving and cars have been good to me.

I come from a long line of gear heads and race enthusiasts. I have several cousins that restore classic cars or own garages. I have several cousins that race, either drag or stock car. I spent weekends watching Nascar, Indy car or Rally car races (unless the Broncos were playing football, of course). We went to car shows to see my families restorations. And I married a car geek/Nascar fan as well. I like cars. Until recently, I really had no idea how crazy American drivers are.

I know there are some that would disagree, but drivers in New Zealand are so much more civilized (generally) than in the US. I admit, I was disappointed by the low speed limits on the motorways (100 kph/62 mph) vs speeds I was used to on I-25 (75 mph/120 kph). And the tiny cars. And the expensive gas (currently at 1.80 NZD per litre or about 5 USD per gallon). However, we don’t drive nearly as much as we used to, there is little space for mid-size cars here and we don’t really use the motorways. We actually spend half what we used to monthly for gas now. And, we don’t spend half our day commuting separately anymore.

Oh yeah, New Zealand drives on the left side of the road. Did I not mention? That was a big adjustment also. But not as scary as I imagined it would be. And a big reason for that, other than reduced speeds, were the polite drivers on the roads.

One of the best pieces of advice we received from another American immigrant we talked with when we first drove here was to “just follow a car and do what they do.” Sounds a little strange, but it helped a lot in the city. Driving on the other side of the road was weird, but road signage was even more confusing. Lighted intersections have turning arrows and you can only turn on an arrow. Pedestrian crossings are marked by these black and white barbershop-striped poles with big red light-up lollipops on top. And they use weird arrows to indicate what side of the road you should be on and who has the right-of-way when 2 lane roads randommly narrow to a single lane. And roundabouts everywhere. With all these weird road rules and tons of different immigrant groups cycling through, one of two things were bound to happen: lots of road rage or hyper-vigilance. Kiwi culture is fairly passive and polite, so hyper-vigilance has won out for the most part.

At intersections, people stop and wave people in. You know those times when you try to turn across a busy street and have to wait forever for an opening? Not a problem here: drivers constantly look out for sidestreet traffic and leave them openings. And when someone lets you in, you feel the need to pass on the love. So the drive becomes one overwhelming love fest. I was shocked the first time I drove. I felt like a ginormous asshole for how I’ve been driving my whole life.

The even bigger shock? When we traveled back to the States for a wedding and we had to drive, I was honestly scared of the speeds and the massive sizes of the highways. I was panicking most of the time on the roads. We ended up using Uber as much as possible to avoid the stress. I hadn’t realized how conditioned I was to the craziness before. It was very eye-opening.

But back to Kiwi kind drivers. Not long ago, I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a young girl that wasn’t paying attention. She pushed me in to the car in front of me. I hit my head on the wheel, lost my sunglasses and was completely shaken up. We all pulled over and everyone’s main concern immediately focused on how everyone was doing. When they saw I was so shaken, both of the other drivers insisted on calling for help, helped me sit down and even ran into the grocery and grabbed me a drink. We all exchanged information and drove our cars to our next stops….the man I had been pushed into insisted on following me and made sure I got inside OK. Both drivers called that night and texted the next day to insist I get checked out for whiplash.

It was weird. But nice.

Why was it weird? I have literally had the same incident occur on Colorado twice and both times all parties involved were pissed off (one time I had to jump back in my car, lock doors and call the police). I expected people to be mean. But they weren’t. I suspect this is because insurance and healthcare are an expectation and widely socialized in New Zealand. Your premium doesn’t change because of an accident. I don’t have to pay for healthcare related to an accident. So, when people have an accident they don’t immediately freak out about unexpected costs. They make sure everyone is OK.

I don’t necessarily want to have any more accidents, but it’s good to know that if I do I won’t be punished for it financially. And that systems are in place to help me heal faster that aren’t based solely on my ability to pay.


NZ Year One. Day 2

To continue my self imposed challenge to post daily about my first year living in New Zealand, I have no further to look than my mirror. My frizzy hair is getting pulled up into the high bun again today. I have no control over my hair since moving. It drives me nuts.

I hear plenty of advice on what to do to care for my hair. Keep it natural. Layer it so its not heavy. Don’t layer it because it makes it frizz more. Wash with a vegan shampoo. Don’t ever use shampoo. Use essential oils. Use coconut oil. Use Moroccan oil. Don’t use oils, you produce all you need. Air dry. Blow dry. Use a t-shirt to dry.

I wanted to cry most days after right after getting here because I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hair. Colorado is an arid mountain region and I’m used to dry weather. And my hair was only ever slightly wavy: never curly. Suddenly I can’t get my hair to straigten to save my life and I have no idea what to do.

I know that many people will read this and say “oh poor baby, boo hoo”. I know this sounds like such a small thing. But when we first arrived in New Zealand I didn’t have much else to do. We came over with 8 suitcases, mostly packed with clothes and sleeping bags. For the first 3 months we were here, we didn’t have furniture or any of our creature comforts. And 3 weeks after arriving, my kids were in school and my husband was at work full time. I was alone, sitting around in a poorly insulated house during a rainy winter trying to occupy my time before my nursing license was approved. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my hair.

A year later I haven’t really figured it out. I mostly rinse with lavendar water, but I went to a new hairdresser a few weeks ago that blow dried my hair straight and I’ve been fighting this insane frizz ever since. *sigh* 

On the plus side, I have finally figured out how to braid my hair.

NZ Life Posting Self Challenge

June 16 marked my one-year anniversary of arriving in New Zealand from Colorado.  I have been wanting to do a write-up of my thoughts and experiences over the past year, but I’ve been having a hard time focusing on what to write about. Once I start writing about one thought it seems to lead to another then a random tangent pops in and I’m left with a scary map of my thoughts that no one really needs to be subjected to.

So rather than try to fit it all in one post, I am going to challenge myself to something different. A post a day for four weeks; each day a post about my thoughts on life in New Zealand after living in Colorado for 36 years. I’m not saying that each post will be monumental, but I hope to get a lot of my pent-up thoughts out and give you an idea of how it feels to immigrate from the States.

Day 1

I don’t honestly know how to answer someone in New Zealand when they ask me “How do you like living here?” The short answer: it’s different and I’m still adapting. Long answer: I’m not completely sure and my feelings about it change daily. I don’t like not knowing an answer to something when asked and honestly, this question stresses me out more than I’d like to admit right now. I feel like I should be able to say quickly and definitively “I love it” (like my kids and my husband do) or “I can’t wait to leave”, but neither seems true. I’m getting comfortable with telling people “I’m still not sure” and being OK with giving that kind of non-commital response.

Of course once I give the response, I am then faced with how to field reactions to my response. Most people expect an easy positive response when they ask this question and are using it as an opening lead question to go in to another discussion entirely. And by giving my honest response, they are suddenly shoved into a more in-depth discussion than they expected. I have presented them with conversational anxiety. They look surprised, get flustered and try to avoid probing too much, but ultimately probe a bit to understand better. Which is fine. I didn’t exactly give them much to go on. Ultimately, though, I feel that I’ve somehow insulted them or their choice to live where they do. So the whole encounter ends awkwardly.

I will honestly say when I was asked this question when we first moved here I responded with “I love it” or “people are so nice” or “glad we don’t have to deal with this Trump mess”. But my initial joy at jumping in to something new has settled into the day-to-day survival we all fall in to at times. And, while most people are still very kind and nice (Kiwis give Canadians a run for their money), I’ve run into rude and mean people as well. Enough to jade me from quickly responding with this reply. And as for “not dealing with Trump”: because I am one of the few Americans around (only about 3% of immigrants to NZ are from the US annually), I am seen as the local expert to ask about American politics. Which means I end up researching more about the electoral college or impeachment laws then I ever would have back in Colorado because I get asked about it regularly. I actually carry a description of the damn electoral college system in one of my notebooks at work. I feel like I’m more of a patriot now than ever before.

We decided to move as a family because we were looking for a big change in our lives. My husband hated his job and needed to get into another pool of engineers to mix things up. I was spending too much time at my job as a nurse educator and not enough time at home. On top of that, schools in our area were focusing more and more on test scores and taking away extra curriculars like music and art. I finally snapped when the kid’s school announced they were cutting an entire recess period and lunch time down to 15 minutes so the kids had more time in the classroom and my 11 year old son was having anxiety attacks related to testing. We discussed at length what we could do and started looking at other schools in the area. Then we broadened our search to private schools and other states. And we came to the conclusion that most schools are so focused on raising young children’s test scores to gain funding that this trend was pretty much the same everywhere. And we don’t make near enough money for private school tuition.

So, we started looking at living in another country. I have a nursing license and most counties have nursing shortages, so me getting a job wasn’t a big deal. My husband had to check around regarding his work qualifications, but engineers are fairly universal as well. So, we decided we’d look for a mainly English speaking country with a warm climate to immigrate to and that pretty much narrowed down our choices to Australia or New Zealand. My husband got a job offer in New Zealand and now here we are.

Is my husband liking his job? It’s the happiest I’ve seen him at work in more than 10 years. Do I spend less time at work? Absolutely. I’ve never had better time management. And I feel less stressed and more in tune with my family. Are schools better? No. There are massive teacher shortages in Auckland and low funding for schools from the government (see the July/August edition of Metro magazine for a full discussion of issues being faced). But my kids are happier, less stressed and are enjoying school again. Both of them are experimenting with instruments right now and love the emphasis on culture and the arts that has strong support in their school.

So, do I like living in Auckland? Yes I do. I also liked living in Castle Rock, Colorado. The problems in some areas are shared in others. There is no perfect place to live, just better ways to live. And I’m still trying to figure out the best way to live my life. I just happen to be working on it in the South Pacific now.

My Wonder Woman moment

Ever taken your kids to a movie? For some of us, it can be anything but relaxing and fun. I spend most of the time making sure they really are behaving, sitting still and not disturbing other people at the show. My son is really no problem: he has always vegged and zoned out like a champ when a movie is on. My daughter, however, is a movie-goer of another breed.

She cannot sit in one position for a long time. At home, it’s not a big deal: she doesn’t bother anyone. In a theatre, she spends her time draping herself from side to side, stretching her arms forward and back and standing up in the chair. She doesn’t seem to even notice she does it. And she asks questions and makes comments constantly. She is at that age where one begins to unravel the complexities of subtext in cinema. So she asks for clarification a lot. I must admit, even at home this tends to get on my nerves. And we’ve been shushed enough to make me panic a little everytime she does it. I admit: parenting has given me a weird combination of the most banal PTSD issues I never imagined.

I went through my normal paranoia while the movie started. Make sure drink bottles are open and next to the right kid. Open up packages during the opening ads so it doesn’t happen during a crucial scene. Turn off our devices. We were all good. Movie started and it was just like most we go to. Some shifting about, a few stage whispers. But, when the scenes on the Amazon island started and little Diana ran out to watch the warriors train, the cutest thing ever happened. A group of 5 girls close to the front (about 4-5 years old) stood up in their seats and gave this crazed war-cry. I braced myself for those poor girls and their poor mom about to get yelled at.

No yelling happened.

Almost the entire theatre giggled or cheered approvingly. I felt so much love in that one moment that I admit I was a little overwhelmed. Those girls cheered for a strong female character that they loved and an entire theatre approved. Let them be kids and geek out.

Other kiddos started cheering and clapping throughout the movie. It wasn’t annoying: it added to the experience. My daughter joined in. Hell, I joined in a few times. I saw a few other random adults doing the same. There was also one particularly cute time when the 5 year olds in front got very expressively grossed out by the kissing scene in the movie. I’ve never heard so much laughter during a kissing scene.

Yes, this movie is good. Yes, I’m glad a strong female lead from comics got her own movie. Most importantly to me, it is the first time in quite a while that I fully relaxed at the theatre with my kids. It’s rare that you feel a moment of bonding with everyone in the theatre at once. I love that this movie gave us that moment.

We don’t see you enough…….

I am a Clinical Nurse Educator. Most people outside of healthcare hear that and assume I am some kind of teacher for nurses. Fair enough: at times I am. But I don’t teach in a school. I teach in a clinical setting: I work for a hospital. I am not focused on training people to become a nurse. By the time I meet someone in my role they are already a nurse. They know how to care for and assess patients. They don’t need me to critique their practice. I help them understand their job role when they first start a job and then support them in learning any changes their role may experience after that. Sounds so much easier than it really is.

Want to hear what I spend most of my time doing? Talking to people. I talk to managers so that they can give me updates on changes in the wards. I talk to staff members to find out what’s going well or badly in their job. I talk to C-suite (CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.) executives to tell them what staff and managers need educational support with and ask them for money. After I’ve used that money, I keep meeting with everyone to explain how the money was spent and quantify that all the work I’ve done made an impact.

Somewhere in between meetings and the conversations, I get time to plan sessions for training. Other times I find specialists to provide training that I cannot: it’s not about me being the teacher all the time. It’s about knowing my staff and giving them what they need. It takes planning and research and taking chances. There aren’t nice and easy templates for what I do. It involves a lot of figure-it-out-as-you-go and requires adaptability and resilience. In all honesty, I probably spend a grand total of 10 days per year in a classroom teaching.

But the feedback I get from staff (nurses and managers) constantly? That I am not available enough for them and they don’t know what I do. They expect that I am there for their personal disposal at all times. And that I teach and teach constantly. Some managers even think my job should be to act as some kind of Catholic nun that catches you doing your job wrong and brings you to them for punishment. I can tell them over and over what I am doing to their face, in newsletters and on posters, but it never seems to be enough.

What don’t they see? In all the talking, people are telling me the things they are frustrated with, don’t understand, and what isn’t going well in their jobs. And if they are talking to me about it, it’s because they don’t know how to make it better. It is my job to help them make it better. I am a nurse: the hospital staff are now my patients.

I spend countless hours gathering information so that I can get to the root of our problems. When I identify the problem, I find a way to fix it and I work with staff to help them fix it. And, after training is complete, I trend the problem to see if it gets fixed or if we need to do more training or change our training. But there is never just one problem. And multiple wards I work with. And only one of me.

What don’t they see? My sleepless nights. My panic attacks in traffic. My hours in the office on weekends and overnight (less distraction that way). Me venting frustrations in kickboxing class. Or crying in yoga. I keep that from them because they are already stressed. They don’t need to worry about me. They see me when I have answers, when I can be supportive. The person they expect me to be. Need me to be.

Sometimes my schedule just doesn’t align with theirs.

Nurses Day

As a nurse, I can attest to the fact that nurses work hard and deserve a day to show them appreciation for the work they do.  And while the gestures that are provided us by upper management (cakes, cookies, cards, pizza cutters (I am not even joking, we got pizza cutters once)) are appreciated, many of us can’t help but be critical of the purpose of this day and of the state of healthcare in general.

I usually see at least one person on Facebook re-blog a comment regarding how we would appreciate safe staffing levels and better pay over cookies.  And I fully agree with that.  But from a leadership perspective, this comment tends to piss me off.  I work my butt off to advocate for safe staffing levels, proper orientation and training to provide quality care and support for staff in general. What exactly are they doing about it other than complaining on social media?

Who knows what drove them to post it, or much of what get’s posted and re-posted on Facebook. But I have talked with nurses that do not have lovely 3:1 or 4:1 ratios on their unit (for non-hospital/healthcare people out there, 3:1 is referred to as a “nurse to patient” ratio describing 3 patients to every 1 nurse).  Or ward, depending on what side of which pond you work in.

I go back to my own experience with nursing.  I grew up around a lot of nurses. My mother was a receptionist at a Family Practice in a small town.  So when I visited my mom at work, I hung out with nurses. And I was quick to understand that nurses were the glue that held the whole system together. I was well on my way to becoming a nurse until I worked as a Certified Nurses Aide in a Hospital in the early 2000’s.  I was the only aide working an overnight shift on a cardiac ward.  The ward held 32 patients, was typically full of post-procedure and post-surgical patients, and the ratios on that ward were 8:1.  As long as someone didn’t call in sick.  That experience was enough to tell me that I was not going to throw myself into a career if money drove the decisions and not doing what was best for patients.  I changed my major to Architecture and Design after working that job for 3 months.

Yes, I did eventually come back to nursing. But it was because I saw things change. I wasn’t the reason they changed.  There were brave souls out there that spoke up and advocated for themselves and for their patients.  And while not all healthcare facilities have made these changes, many have. I had no idea how to make those changes at the time.  But I now know change doesn’t simply come from complaining about things or running away from your problems.

Nurses make up the majority of the healthcare workforce. If you want to ask someone how something should be done or run in a healthcare setting, why don’t you involve the nurses? I can guarantee you they have an opinion or two to share on how to improve things if you give them the opportunity. We base our training and legacy on a woman who fought tooth and nail to provide safer environments for our patients as well as our staff. That hasn’t changed.  But how you involve nurses in healthcare should.

So, to the nurse that chooses to point out Nurses Day by complaining on social media, I would like to gently suggest that you do some reflection of your practice.  Most nursing standards in many countries support this practice as support that you are maintaining your certification. Is there something in your current environment that could be improved?  Are you doing anything to help improve it?  If not, why not?  Speak up, advocate and eventually you will be the change you’d like to see in the world.

And to the facilities and managers that are trying to figure out what to do for your staff to show them appreciation: ask them!  Every staff group is different, but acknowledge them and their feedback when you want to show them support. Keep an open mind and realize that what they want may not be as simple as doing an online gift search in 10 minutes and buying in bulk. Make the time and let them know you hear them.  Even if you do only end up buying them cookies, at least they know you care enough to ask.

Happy Nurses Day!

How did you become an Educator?

Nurse education is a growing field. It is no surprise to many that there is a world-wide shortage of nurses ill-prepared for the demands of an aging and ailing Boomer genderation. And while we would like to have a whole fleet of experienced nurses at our disposal, it just isn’t feasible. So what do we do?

One approach nursing has taken to prepare for the increasing demand is to create more nursing programs to pump more people through nursing school. But with increasing numbers of less-experienced nurses in the workforce, many facilities have started to invest in on-site educational support to help identify educational needs on the job, retain staff and meet increasing governmental requirements to prove competency of staff.

However, nursing was faced with the problem of defining how a person is qualified to teach and educate the next generations of nurses. Many areas are still working on this definition, but generally speaking, most hospitals require that Clinical Nurse Educators have or are working towards a Masters of Nursing degree with an Informatics or Education emphasis. My former and current facility required this. I do not have that degree. I’ve completed some courses in a Masters program, but haven’t completed it. And definitely didn’t start working on it until I was far into my first role as an Educator. So, I am often asked how I got my job. Here’s my story……

I have a lot of interests. I always have, always will. I like to know how things work and especially enjoy learning about what makes people tick. This curiosity has driven me to become what most people call a “jack of many trades, master of none”. Don’t get me wrong: I am a damn good nurse. I care about people and their well-being. I know how to restart your heart if it stops beating. I can ease your pain and make sure you keep breathing. I will clean up your pee, poop, vomit, snot or whatever else oozes out of you while not making you feel bad about it. But, after awhile, it didn’t feel like enough.

I started to see the dark side of nursing. Unsupported staff feeling overworked and taking it out on themselves or loved ones. Older nurses “eating their young”. Young nurses doing the job because “it’s guaranteed work”. Patients dying. Co-workers dying. Patients coming back again and again for the same problems. I tried to focus on the positive, but it was hard.

I didn’t want to leave nursing, so I looked at what else I could do to reignite my love of nursing. I got involved in precepting and committees. I became an unofficial leader on my unit, a co-chair of the hospital-wide Pain Committee. But I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. So, when we were going through massive managerial upheaval and reorganization, I applied for a Charge Nurse position. And I was told no.

Before I go too far, let me give some background for non-nurses. In nursing, there aren’t historically many ways to “move up”. There are a few nurses that move completely away from shift work into management or operational jobs, but most nurses shy away from that “advancement” because they want to keep up their skills. So, one of the ways we can advance is by becoming a Charge Nurse.

What exactly is a Charge Nurse? While duties and expectations can vary region to region, most Charge Nurses are seen as a formal leader on the unit. They typically decide patient assignments for each shift (while managing their own patient assignment as well), schedule staff, manage emergent or difficult issues and generally make sure the unit works day to day. So, when I was told no, I felt like our new manager was telling me I wasn’t a good leader. And for exactly 5 seconds I was devastated.

Then he told me why.

He told me I wasn’t a good fit for the Charge Nurse role because I was a good precepter. I liked to explain and teach and took my time helping staff feel comfortable. And he wanted to know if I’d change my mind and apply for the Clinical Educator job that was open instead.

I was floored. I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I didn’t have the credentials. But, he identified my strength, desire and drive, chose to overlook the credentials, and took a chance to support me. So, I did it. And, looking back on this later, I realized that this moment for me was a defining one. Not because it helped me “find my path”, but because it was the first time in a long time that I had witnessed something I didn’t realize was missing from my work area: a leader with a vision supporting staff to excel in a climate of change and overall negativity.

Much of my theory about adaptability and change management comes not only from researching and utilizing theories and concepts from literature but from good and bad experiences I’ve had. And that is what I will reflect upon as we go on.

How did I become an educator? I didn’t get a degree and just expect a job to fall into my lap. I got experience. I reached out and asked for every oportunity to advance that I could. I cried, got pissed off and even hated my job for awhile. Eventually I found someone that supported me and valued that expertise. It wasn’t quick and it didn’t happen when I expected it. But I sure as shit jumped on that opportunity when it landed in front of me. And I want to share what I’ve learned (and am still learning) with you.