22 December 2010

Turkey, ham or carp?

When I was growing up in Texas, our family tradition was to have turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas. That might have been related to my mother’s Ohio upbringing, since most of my friends had turkey for both holidays, except for my friend Kathy.

Kathy’s grandmother was Mexican, and their family's Christmas tradition was tamales. The grandmother, who could never say my name and always called me Beulah, would prepare a hog’s head and keep it in a big tub in the pantry. She would spend hours in the kitchen making the masa to go on the cornhusks, and then chop off meat from the hog’s head to fill the tamales. I always looked forward to Christmas visits to Kathy’s house, and tamales are still one of my favorite foods.

My mother was, at best, an adequate cook, and she passed on to me her lack of interest in spending time in the kitchen. So our Christmas ham was usually a canned ham, which, as I remember, was just a rung or two above Spam. When I married and had a family to feed on Christmas Day, I discovered spiral-cut honey hams and continued the tradition until the last little Pruett had left the nest. I don’t believe I’ve had a ham in my house since.

Czechs have a traditional Christmas meal, too. If I asked you to guess what it is, you couldn’t, unless you happen to be Czech, as it is carp soup and roasted duck. I’m not a fan of duck, but I would eat it if it were on the table. But carp? I just haven’t been brave enough to try that yet. I do like fish and I especially like catfish, and they are pretty ugly creatures, so I’ve surprised myself that my reluctance to try carp is based on how unattractive they are. That, plus I know that goldfish are carp, and it just doesn’t seem right to eat a family pet.

But Czechs are all about Christmas carp and, a few days before Christmas, you will find vendors on most streets with big vats of water and live carp swimming in them. A buyer will indicate the carp he or she wants, and the vendor catches and prepares it right there on the street. The poor carp, who was chatting with his tub buddies just a moment ago, is now on a chopping block with a cleaver aimed at beheading him. The blood literally runs in the street, and it is quite unappetizing for me.

I will be spending Christmas in Prague this year but, perhaps, it is time to look for a ham.

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

16 December 2010

You’re going where?

I've asked my colleague, Mary E. "Betty" Ulrich, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, FNP, to write a guest posting for today's blog entry. Betty, also a member of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, is a retired U.S. Army major who wasn’t through with public service and brought her considerable experience and expertise to the U.S. Foreign Service. — Judie

I don’t know how folks functioned in the U.S. Foreign Service before the advent of the personal computer. Every year, about a third to half of embassy staff members prepare to rotate to the next blue horizon. That goes for the medical crew, as well. We bid on a job list that is anxiously awaited every year and then get down to the business of learning geography all over again. Not every U.S. embassy has a health unit, so we are not in tune to every country, but we don’t do too badly.

I was working for the State Department about a year before it dawned on me that we don’t bid on country assignments but capitals. So, when you are looking at a list and it says, Yaoundé, you’d better look it up before you put it on your list. Many of you will know Berlin, Rome, Frankfurt and Beijing, but what about Lilongwe, Antananarivo, Ulaanbaatar, Chisinau, Quito or Cartagena? Okay, you may know Cartagena, if you are a Michael Douglas “Romancing the Stone” movie fan.

So, every year, the medical folks help those who are bidding on jobs—sometimes on the other side of the world—to assure that medical assets required by the bidder’s family are available at the new posting. Easier said than done! Over the years, a system of evaluating and writing down medical contacts and sources of excellent care has evolved into a massive worldwide I’ve-got-you-covered list. So Jamie, who has asthma and wants to go to an air-polluted environment, will need a very good pulmonologist who, by the way, speaks English well enough so that her mother, whose native tongue is French, will understand.

This whole topic evolved as a patient—and friend—walked into the office the other day and said her husband had gotten the job of his dreams in Lusaka.

“Great!” I said. “Hmmm,” I was thinking quietly, “where in the world? Okinawa? Japan? Southeast Asia?” No, my friends, none of the above. It’s the lovely country previously known as Zambia.

Now, what part of Africa is that in? Get out the maps, which a seasoned Foreign Service officer has bookmarked on the desktop. The usual thoughts race through the old gray cells: Malaria? Yellow fever? Diarrhea? Food sources? Typhoid? Etc, etc.

Well, this is going to take some education to pull off the medical-advice portion of a briefing for Lusaka. Like I said, I don’t know what medical providers did before the computer!

— Betty Ulrich, U.S. Foreign Service NP, medical rover, Washington, D.C. (for now)

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

01 December 2010

Thanks, Jim!

I rarely get to go to the United States for holidays and this Thanksgiving was no exception. But don’t feel too sorry for me because, while there was no turkey and dressing, I spent my holiday playing with friends in Paris. Three other Foreign Service ladies and I met in Paris for the long weekend, arriving on Wednesday and returning to our respective posts on Sunday.

I’ve been to Paris previously but this was an opportunity to see things I had not seen before and to do something I’ve long thought about. I spent seven hours one day at the Louvre, even eating lunch there. For those of you who have been to the Louvre, you know that seven hours isn’t enough time to see all of even one section—and there are three sections! But I was alone, and that meant I did not have to compromise. I saw exactly what I wanted and spent as much time as I needed to thoroughly check out my interests. I didn’t even go by the Mona Lisa. Heresy!

But what I did do, something that had been lurking in the back of my mind for some time, only took a few minutes and still has me smiling—and singing—days later. My friend Judy and I found our way to the Père Lachaise Cemetery, a veritable maze of tombs, monuments and cobblestone paths leading to hidden treasures of history, some a millennium old, and the very nondescript grave of James Douglas Morrison, better known as Jim Morrison of the Doors.

A small group of gawkers was there, very quiet and respectful. I was seized with an uncontrollable desire to sing “Come on baby, light my fire,” and most of the others joined in. Truthfully, I went there with this plan in mind but almost chickened out when I saw other people. But there I was, standing at the feet of Jim, and breaking into song seemed appropriate, even necessary. It was a great, if short, moment and the memory is still tickling my fancy days later.

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