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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Community as a Potluck Dinner

Sometimes, analogies and metaphors help us understand better how things work, how little pieces and elements come together to form a functioning entity. When I think of a metaphor to explain how community works, I think of a potluck dinner. During a potluck dinner, each one or a group of the participants prepare a dish which is then shared by the members of the potluck as they gather for dinner or lunch. 

I like the metaphor of a potluck dinner for community for several reasons. First, just like the dishes prepared for the potluck reflect the diversity of its members, certain groups in a community reflect the diversity of the population of that community, where cultural diversity is only one of the aspects. Success of the potluck dinner stems from the variety of the dishes made, and from the ability of the dishes to complement each other. Savory Jamaican jerk chicken, spicy Thai salad, crunchy Sauerkraut, hearty baked potatoes, freshly baked bread with olive oil can tell you a lot about the people who prepared them,  about their cultural background and family traditions. Similarly, groups in a community can tell you a lot about its members. For example, taking a walk around Fresh Pond in Cambridge will introduce you to the dog-loving people of the city; a five-minute visit to Aarax store in Watertown will point out a large Armenian heritage presence in town; a brief stop at a playground will give you a general idea about an average town toddlers and theirs moms.
Second, just like no two potlucks are alike, the tables may boast the same dishes, but they are prepared differently, and new dishes are introduced each time; the communities may be similar, but no two communities are exactly the same. The novelty, originality, and constant change of the recipes reflect the dynamic processes that happen in the community. New members move, old timers pass away, new laws are introduced, buildings are erected – all the changes that have an effect on the composition of the community, its health, wellbeing, prosperity, and even diversity. 

Third, the potluck resembles community in the way the members contribute to it: some enjoy cooking and baking and bring elaborate culinary masterpieces, other, less fortunate or prosperous, rely on the rest of the members. Similarly, people with higher income pay more taxes, while disabled and poor rely on the resources that are hopefully available to them. In a good potluck, no one walks away hungry. In a healthy community, no one dies because they did not have a shelter to go to. It is the synergy, or parts working together that produce a functioning unit: just like a helpful lady cleans a coffee spill while another one helps you get a napkin, the fire department puts out a fire while doctors and nurses take care of burn victims. 

The effective community health nurse is aware of cultural differences in the community, an active member that ensures the community’s response to constantly changing environment, introduces innovations, continuously assesses and re-assesses factors that influence health and well-being of the population, informs the members about the availability of the resources.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In the News: Birthright

The routine of work – gym – classes – home does not leave much time for personal enrichment, and I have to make a conscious attempt to spare a minute for reading about current events. I do that not only to be able to carry an intelligent conversations with my Cambridge patients whose IQ, operating vocabulary, and knowledge of current events can intimidate the average population. I push myself to read the news to see how ever-changing world can affect my future as well as my evolving nursing career.
Once in a while, I am lucky to get my hands on an issue of a New Yorker, and if the issue contains an article that has even marginal relevance to healthcare, I consider myself even luckier. A couple of months ago, I read an article about Brooklyn-located Planned Parenthood Center, first birth control clinic in United States, its history that reflected the attitude of society to women’s rights, birth control and abortion. 

Not surprisingly, the history of the birth control clinic somewhat ran parallel with the history of community nursing. Just like Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement started as entrepreneurial women’s effort to provide the health care for the poor and working class residents of the city, Planned Parenthood launched from a three-employee office that fought a not-so liberal attitude of the population towards a woman’s right to control to give birth. Margaret Sanger, a thirty-seven-year-old nurse and mother was a founder of the clinic. The article talks how Sanger “began nursing poor immigrant women living in tenements on New York’s Lower East Side, and found that they were desperate for information about how to avoid pregnancy”. These “doomed women implored me to reveal the ‘secret’ rich people had”. Over the years, the organization grew at times at the cost of the workers’ own life: some of them had to spend time in jail for distributing contraceptives to the under-privileged population.
I don’t want to ruin the article for you by summarizing every detail. Instead, I highly recommend reading this passionate description of events, which, I am sure, will touch your deeply-rooted empathy and desire to help those in need. The article makes you re-examine your attitude towards abortion, and look at the legislative side of things. I found appalling, how archaic some of the attitudes are, and how low the education on pregnancy prevention subsists. The article mentions how in Idaho, “there is no sex education, except, sometimes, an abstinence program”.
Whether you chose to read the article or not, ask yourself, what you think about a woman’s right to have an abortion.