20 July 2010

Fans, fountains and fruit

Prague is in the middle of a heat wave. The temperatures have been in the mid 80s for a week and, for a city with an average summer temperature of 74 degrees, I guess that is a bit warm. Air conditioning is virtually unknown in Prague. The few establishments that have it proudly display large, bold “Air-Conditioned!” signs to draw in wilting visitors. Fans and open windows are the methods most used to cool businesses and homes, and most restaurant dining is done alfresco, on any patch of outdoor space available.

Just across from my apartment is a very nice fountain. As I walked home from work a few nights ago, I saw many people in bathing suits—adults, not children—sitting in the fountain basin and lying around on the surrounding grass. I had to look twice to be sure I was really seeing that. Odd, I thought. The next day, same thing, and it has continued.

I can think of no water fountain that I’ve seen in the southern United States where citizens are allowed to frolic in the basin. To be fair, these Czechs weren’t frolicking, either. They were either sitting in the water, or dipping in and then going back to the grass. It was purely a method to cool down.

In thinking back over the many countries I have worked in and those that had fountains, I could only recall one other country where I’ve seen people inside a fountain. In Mexico City, the U.S. Embassy is just down Reforma Avenue from the fountain of Diana the Huntress. This is a quite large and very beautiful fountain and, for reasons I never understood, protesters for various causes would frequently come to the fountain, completely disrobe and splash around as a form of civil defiance. We would receive notices the day before these planned demonstrations and be advised to stay away from the fountain area, but there was never any violence or police action—just a bunch of nude people cavorting around Diana’s statue. Perhaps municipal fountains should be open to citizens to enjoy the cooling waters on a hot summer day, just not in the nude.

Strawberries, cherries and peaches. Oh, my! Summer has enveloped the local market with wonderful fruit. I returned to the United States in May for several weeks and left behind in Prague the sweetest, most succulent strawberries it had ever been my pleasure to enjoy. Sad was I that they would be gone on my return, as I assumed a short strawberry season as in the United States. Surprised was I when I realized there were still scads of strawberries to be had upon arriving back in Prague. So I asked, “When does the strawberry season end?” September! Because the Czech Republic has a cooler clime, strawberries grow all summer long. Yeah! I’m in paradise. The cherries are abundant right now, as are plums and peaches. Those, of course, do have a finite season, so I’m eating all I can while I can. Just one more reason to love living in Czech land!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

13 July 2010

Disabled doesn’t mean unable

I work with a young Czech RN who, because of an equestrian accident, is a paraplegic. She is an excellent nurse, still honing her craft, but with a zeal for knowledge and new skills that puts most professionals to shame. She is everything a nurse should be: compassionate, intelligent, skilled, astute and amiable. Her patients like her, but more importantly, they respect and trust her.

She drives a hand-gear vehicle, kayaks, snow skis and hand bicycles. She always was, and remains, a jock, adapting every sport she can to the constraints of her physical capacity. I know of no one at our embassy that views her as unable. Of course, she has some limitations, but don’t we all, one way or another? I think Americans have made significant progress in overcoming bias or stigma toward people who are different. The Czechs need to work on that, too.

Unfortunately for my colleague, the Czech Republic is a difficult place for people with physical limitations. To be sure, a large part of the problem is that buildings are very old here and, because of laws that prevent destruction of these precious structures, most can’t be adapted for improved handicapped access.

A law is in place that ensures adequate access for new buildings, but there just aren’t that many new buildings and the law doesn’t address problems in getting to them. Parking places for handicapped are woefully inadequate and, in many of the most popular spots, absent. Sidewalks are rough and don’t have ramps for wheelchair traffic. Bathroom doors aren’t wide enough, stalls aren’t wheelchair accessible, and there are often no elevators. The excellent public transportation system provides only minimal access for wheelchairs, making them virtually useless.

The worst insult to my very capable colleague is the prevalent public opinion that she is somehow less because she doesn’t walk. She often recounts the disbelief she gets when she meets someone new and says she is a practicing registered nurse. “But how?” they respond, as if all nursing duties require functioning legs! Yes, our clinic has made some accommodation, but truly little was required. And all those things I mentioned above that a good nurse should be are managed just fine from a sitting position.

I know that this situation will be cured with time. America started working on this issue decades ago. The Czechs will address it as well. In the meantime, my colleague is employed in an American clinic where she is treated with respect and equality and granted the opportunity to continue the work she loves.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.