Thursday, July 1, 2010

Into the Whitewater

As a nurses’ strike appears all but inevitable, I find myself in both unfamiliar, but also strangely familiar territory.

This is the first time I’ve worked at a unionized hospital, and the first time I’ll be participating in an open-ended strike. All this is new and unfamiliar. Yet what I feel as I approach the strike date feels oddly familiar.

Once again, I’m heading into the whitewater.

I’m hardly an expert whitewater rafter. I’ve been on a few two- to six-hour trips, on rivers that were wild and dangerous enough to be fun and keep me on my toes, but not so much as to be truly frightening. Unless something extraordinary happened, I had reasonable confidence I’d come out the other side soggy, but unscathed.
I don’t expect the strike to be fun. It will be turbulent, and I’ll need to pay attention, but I expect to come out the other side more-or-less unscathed. Still, some of the lessons from riding the real whitewater seems relevant to what we will likely be facing in the days and weeks that come:

  • Pay attention: There will be a lot going on, so pay attention. There will be things you need to do and instructions you’ll need to follow. I know I have a bad habit of retreating into my own head (hey, it’s an interesting place), but it’s unwise, and at least occasionally dangerous in situations like this. Stay alert, and be “present.”
  • Listen to your guide: Some people have been down this “river” before; they know how to read it and know what the hazards are. Listening to and following their instructions is the most reliable way to both get the boat down the river safely and keep from going for an unscheduled swim.
  • Row: You aren’t a tourist here, you’re a participant. Do your part and participate!
  • Don’t pass up any lines thrown to you: Should you end up taking that unscheduled swim, people will yell to you, “Swimmer (that’s your name now)! Throwing line!” A rope will land coming over your shoulder. Get a tight hold, hold it tight to your chest, and let yourself be pulled to the boat or shore. “No, thanks…I’ll be alright” is both unnecessary and inappropriate. Whitewater swimming can become whitewater drowning all too easily.

In the whitewater ahead, there will be a lot going on, so pay attention and stay informed. Many of our union leadership has been down this river before, so listen up and follow instructions. Walk the line and speak up when asked; we’re all spokespeople for our cause. Don’t pass up any assistance that comes your way. The links on the MNA web site and Facebook page list ropes that have already been thrown to you. It’s up to you to grab them.
Few people will find the river ahead to be an enjoyable adventure. That’s okay. Being paralyzed with fear isn’t an option, either. Be present and participate, and you may find the ride more fun than you expected. At the very least, once we reach the calm on the other side of the rapids, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you made it through.

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