The Top Five Myths in Nursing

In this blog entry, Lisa Ruchti, author of Catheters, Slurs, and Pickup Lines  debunks assumptions about intimacy, race, gender and caring in the nursing industry.

With popular television shows about nursing today, e.g. Nurse Jackie and HawthoRNe, one might think that we know all we need to know about nursing. Even if we don’t watch television, we probably think we understand nursing when we consider how often we or our loved ones find ourselves under nursing care. The truth of the matter is that we couldn’t possibly understand nursing the way a nurse does simply because nurses hide many aspects of their work as part of their job. They know that patients and family members don’t need to be bothered with the specifics of nursing when patients are really interested in their own illness and recovery.

In my research for writing Catheters, Slurs and Pickup Lines, I found that most people did not understand nursing. Even the president of the hospital I studied said, “I don’t care how they do it; I’m just glad they do!” But after years of intensive study of nursing and eight months in a hospital setting, I can honestly say I understand some of the ins and outs of nursing. 

 Check these out. You might be surprised.

 One:  Patients are too weak to want sex.

 I know it is hard to imagine a patient sexually grabbing a nurse, making lewd comments, or even having sex with their visitors. We don’t tend to think of patients as anything other than needy so it might be hard to imagine that patients can exhibit sexual desire. Yet, in an eight month study I conducted, nurses consistently reported these behaviors to me. I found that if nurses were successful at gaining trust of patients, patients sometimes felt entitled to service, attention, or even sex. Interestingly, when patients engaged in sexual behaviors toward nurses, many of which were legally defined as sexual harassment, most nurses did not define these acts as sexual harassment. While new nurses were surprised at sexual behaviors from patients, experienced nurses negotiated them as part of their daily work.

Two:   Patients are never mean.

The majority of the 45 nurses I interviewed avoided describing patient care as involving conflict. They used words like nurture, kindness, and compassion to make it seem like nurses “being caring” was a natural personality characteristic characterized by goodness. Feminist philosopher Eva Kittay discusses this in her work: patients are not usually described as anything other than “needy,” and we don’t tend to think of needy people as causing conflicts for those who provide their care. In my study, however, I found that patients – “ordinary” patients, not “psychiatric” patients – yelled at nurses and even hit them. My focus on identifying conflict is as much about seeing patients clearly as it is about seeing the work of nurses clearly.

Three: Race does not matter in the provision of care.

Women of color nurses worked harder to negotiate racism and xenophobia from patients.  For example, sexual harassment of women of color nurses incorporated multiple aspects of their identities. It is one thing for nurses to manage sexually explicit language or touches; it is quite another when those are combined with racial slurs and epithets.  Imagine that a nurse not only walks in to check on a patient and sees him masturbating, but she is also called a “dirty foreigner.” Or, a nurse is giving a patient a bath, and the patient says you remind him of his mammy.

Four:  Male nurses aren’t as caring as female nurses.

My study shows that men feel called to care and also care well. All the male nurses I interviewed were in the job because they cared. I watched male nurses take great care with their patients. I also observed male nurses have what seems like a “knack” for care, but is actually simply skilled expertise. My findings on men challenge the idea that men don’t want to care or can’t care just because they are men.

Five:    You can’t teach someone how to be caring.

A lot of people, including nurses, think that the quality of care cannot be taught in nursing school. My study maps how experienced nurses care so that it can be taught in nursing school. When I first began the study I was not sure if and how a nursing student could be taught what is typically seen as a “caring quality”. But after the study I am convinced that if new nurses know to expect conflict on the floor and learn how they can negotiate those conflicts they will be better able to care.

The Cycles of the Haitian Vodou Ceremony

In this blog entry, Benjamin Hebblethwaite, author of Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English, describes a recent vodou ceremony he attended at Société Linto Roi in Miami.

In this blog I want to tell you about the gorgeous beauty of Vodou, a systematic Haitian religion with roots in the Vodun of West and Central Africa. The ceremony and its rituals, music, dance, and possession events are key expressions of the Vodou religious and cultural system. The periodic Vodou ceremonies I have attended at Société Linto Roi in Miami, most recently on the eve of January 2nd and morning of January 3rd, 2012, are riveting experiences that start at 9 p.m. and go beyond 6 a.m. The ceremonies are literally founded on continuous drumming, singing, dancing, and ritualizing that leads to short and long possession events.

Kongo-style Vodou drum (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

The ason rattles hang from the center post (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

 The white attire worn by the initiates, the temple’s most active members, indicated that the Rada rite of Dahomian origin, with its regimented line of Dahomian lwa (spirits), would begin the evening’s worship. Later in the evening, when the focus shifted to the Petwo-Kongo rite, the participants changed and wore multicolored attire. The oungenikon (the choir leader) led the songs and shook the sacred rattle and bells (ason ak klochèt) while the ounsi (initiated choir members) responded in song and dance. Four drummers thundered taught rhythms, intensifying their beating to heighten spiritual energy and urgency. The ountogi (drummers) are central as they pound the lwa into the heads of the Vodouists. As the music filled the temple with its cathartic power, the priests and priestesses—there are usually several working in tandem—began cycles of ritualizingthat endured throughout the ceremony.

A vèvè symbol consecrates the ceremony (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

Each lwa in the Rada or Petwo-Kongo pantheon receives a handful of songs. As each spirit receives her or his allotted songs and praise, priests and priestesses skillfully wield their rattles and bells as they salute and honor the major stations of the Vodou temple: the drummers and drums, the center post (potomitan) which is the conduit of the lwa, the altar, and the audience. The salutation of each station—renewed with each new cycle of songs to a specific lwa—entails the synchronized dancing and ason-work of the priests and priestesses. The rattle and bells are held forward and shaken in unison; the priests or priestesses gracefully twirl, dance, dip and bow as they approach each station. At the station, the ason is shaken and touches the parts of the station, rum or water libations are poured out, gulps of rum are vaporized into a fine mist, candles are lit, and, in the case of the drummers, bowing takes place in which the head touches the ground.

The colorful attire indicates the Petwo-Kongo rite; the manbo salutes the drums (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

The manbo salute the center post on which the serpent lwa Danbala and Ayida Wèdo are painted (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

The Vodou ceremony is cyclical ritualizing and dancing. For each lwa called upon—for example, Legba, Marasa, Ayizan, Loko, Danbala, Agawou, Agwe, Azaka and so forth—a series of songs are sung and the stations of the temple are saluted with renewed vigor. Although the lwa, the songs, and the rhythms change throughout the ceremony, the salutation of the stations in the Vodou temple remains constant. Cutting through the cyclical nature of the ceremony is the cyclical nature of Vodou songs which are condensed statements on the lwa and the Vodou universe expressed in 4-8 lines. The songs are cyclical as the lines are repeated; at the same time the lines of the songs can be slightly embellished as they recur. The salutation of the stations of the Vodou temple cycle from lwa to lwa; however, unique ritual elements specific to the honored lwa are expressed in each cycle. For example, candy is presented to the audience during the cycle for the Marasa (the Divine Twins) and a sword is presented during the one for Ogou. Another important cycle in Vodou is the dancing and worship that moves counterclockwise around the center post (potomitan).

The cyclical structure of the ceremony, of the songs and rhythms, and of the dancing around the center post all serve Vodou’s primary objective: to be the launch pad for possession by the Vodou lwa (spirits). They often appear in the sequence of ritual in which they are heralded, and they dance in the heads of those they ride, expressing their traits, traditions, wisdom and energies. Atibon Legba, the ancient one, comes stooped over a crutch, blessing worshippers who bow before him; the wide-eyed Èzili Dantò, exuding power, pain and strength, tightly grasps daggers at each side; Danbala Wèdo, the serpent lwa, writhes silently on the ground and is covered with a white sheet by worshipers. The appearance of the lwa is a sacred narrative that inserts itself into the course of worship. The various forms of cyclicity in Vodou ceremonies serve to insistently call upon the appearance of sacred narrative—possession.

The white attire indicates the Rada rite; Danbala has possessed a worshiper (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

Danbala is covered with a white sheet as he writhes toward the altar room (photograph by Hebblethwaite)

Our book, Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English, is a diverse collection of texts that stem from Haitian Creole Vodou worship. The songs span Haitian and pre-Haitian history and preserve the sacred traditions from the African nations that Haitians descend from. As the Vodou ceremony is grounded in song, including during possession events, they are literally the main body of the religion’s sacred literature. The mythologies, histories, epistles, prophesies, and commandments of religions like Islam, Christianity or Judaism are not found in Vodou sacred literature; instead, songs and prayers dominate the religion’s literary output. To know Vodou theology, mythology, history, culture, and language and to grasp Vodou ceremonies, one should read, listen to, and sing Vodou songs. The songs repetitively cycle in order to heighten trance states of mind and open the way for possession performance. Vodou ceremonies and songs are beautifully preserved illustrations of the African wing of humanity—the cyclical structure of Vodou worship is a unique dimension of this sublime World Religion.

Challenging dominant stereotypes of young people of color

In this blog entry, Bindi Shah, author of Laotian Daughters, describes the impressions formed about an unlikely group of young Laotian girls who became advocates and leaders for social justice and community change.

In the late 1990s I began field work with Asian Youth Advocates, a youth program for second-generation Laotian girls in Richmond, California run by the environmental justice organization Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). This excerpt from field notes on one of my early research visits portrays them as ordinary inner-city American teenagers interested in fashion, music and boys:

It’s a cold, crisp but sunny Tuesday afternoon in February. As I walk in almost everyone looks and smiles or says “hi.” The front room of this small house in Richmond, which serves as LOP’s offices, is packed today. Twenty-one of the youth members are here, waiting for the Whole Group Training on campaign options to start. Bryanna and Huk are sitting close to the radio, tapping their feet to Eminem rapping “My Name Is…” Once the song ends Bryanna turns the dial to a station that plays alternative and R&B music. Two girls are sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, sharing thumsom, a green papaya salad. Others are sitting on the chairs placed in a circle, munching on nachos, burgers, burritos, and sipping on soda.

A lot of the girls are dressed in black today, black flared trousers, black tops and black jackets. Others sport blue or white flared jeans, short T-shirts or shirts that hug the body, and platform shoes or sneakers. This ‘70s retro style transports me back to my own dress preferences as a teenager, though I wore luminous pink crimplene trousers. In the 1990s, these girls are wearing muted colors, which often bear the logos of Tommy Hilfiger, The Gap, BeBe, Nautica, or The Old Navy. Bryanna wears an oversized orange rain jacket, nylon pants that bunch up around her ankles, and sneakers. Others resemble the style of the majority of their peers in the urban multicultural neighborhoods, blue jeans, long T-shirts and sneakers or high-tops.

Their conversations revolve around boys, school, and clothes. My by-now-trained ear picks up both Black English and standard English, with a smattering of Mien and Lao words that I don’t understand.

At first sight this group of teenage Laotian girls appear unlikely candidates as advocates and leaders for the Laotian community in west Contra Costa County, California. In Laotian Daughters, I unravel popular images of young people of color and draw attention to their engagement with political activism and community building.

Politicians and journalists have tended to portray young people, particularly those growing up in poor, urban neighborhoods as social problems and as experiencing moral decline. For example, a media report on a 2001 University of California study that found Laotian high-school girls had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in California and the highest number of teen births was ominously titled “Asian Teen Mothers, a quiet State of Crisis”. Despite a steady decline in youth crime and violence over the last few decades, we continued to hear from the media, politicians and other professionals that young people were “at risk”, with proclivities for teenage pregnancy, gang involvement, violence, drug addiction, and reliance on public assistance. Such constructions provided a rationale for increased surveillance of and intervention into young people’s lives by schools, police, health services, and the juvenile justice system. In April 2001 Governor Gray Davis of California approved $3.3 million for juvenile crime prevention in Contra Costa County. One of the programs that the funding financed was a program that places probation officers in selected high schools and middle school to provide supervision and services to youths with problems ranging from truancy to major criminal offenses.

It is important to examine youth programs with a social justice agenda because such programs can help challenge such representations of young people of color and reveal how citizenship is not just an adult experience. In a community that is linguistically isolated and lives in a region experiencing extensive environmental pollution, APEN hoped to empower and engage the bilingual second generation to act as advocates for the health of their community and to organize around environmental justice, reproductive health, and broader community issues such as inadequate academic counselling resources in schools and the political challenges to bilingual education. Asian Youth Advocates was a broad, integrated youth program that aimed to nurture a new generation of women leaders, in a community where authority is traditionally vested in elderly Laotian males, as well as address issues of adolescence and cultural identity experienced by the teenage Laotian girls.

In Laotian Daughters I show that if we dig beyond the dominant stereotypes of young people of color, particularly young women of color, we can unearth political engagement and the construction of active citizenship amongst this group. Through political mobilization around issues faced by a new immigrant community, these teenage Laotian girls both re-fashioned Laotian culture and demonstrated that young people can be a positive voice for change. In the process they forged a sense of belonging for Laotians in the American nation.

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