Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I survived the three weeks of DTN

The last update was as we left for the DTN (Diploma Tropical Nursing) course in Liverpool and here I am a week home and working on my final paper so taking a break to post. Well…..actually, I'm having trouble motivating myself to get the darned thing done so I'm procrastinating but the blog is badly behind so…..  That there has been no blog posting for the pst three weeks of very intensive DTN course and a rushed Christmas celebration should come as no surprise. And since I am looking at a New Years holiday and submission of my paper by the first of January, things are not slowing down in the near future, so here goes. 

My travel buddy and I 'enjoyed' the overnight flight from Halifax to Heathrow and although she had enough sense to nap, I watched the movie Jersey Boys which I don't regret. Great music and I was going to be sleep deprived regardless. An early morning arrival in London, quick processing through Customs and my travel mate's friend was waiting for us as we exited. An efficient trip to the little village she lived in. The weekend was a whirlwind of sightseeing, shopping and tea shoppes in Ely and Cambridge. Lovely scenery, great food
Cambridge at dusk
and company. Sunday after a walk around the village and a proper British lunch at Poachers Pub we were off in the rental car for Liverpool. After an extended tour of the city from Albert Dock to downtown  while we were lost (Liverpool has really been fixed up a LOT since the 80s my travel mate decides) and eventually by asking for directions at the local bar we found our residence of Beacon Building. Straight up three steep stairs (no elevator) and we are settled in our rooms. We meet a classmate who is next door to our rooms and she helps with the settling in routine - internet, grocery stores and we'll head to class in the morning. 

About a two minute walk to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) for registration and the first day routine. Haven't brought my log in information, the online process is p-a-i-n-f-u-l (my sympathies to IT) and in a state of frustration we are finally herded into the lecture hall. A glance around tells me that 50/57 classmates are under age 30 and we are told 58% are Canadian, the rest mostly from USA or UK. Not what I'd envisioned when thinking of the demographics. I later learned that the DTN course is a requirement to work with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) so that explains the young average student age. After attending one of their information sessions a couple of years ago and realizing a nine month initial contract is required, I'd passed on that organization. A handful of international students from Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia, Australia, Norway and South Africa add to the depth of the attendees. We are asked to post a copy of our photo to two world maps - one where we live, one where we have worked and the visual is quite striking. 

The cultural immersion of living in England for over three weeks, studying in a British system with various accents as in "hello my name is Claire" which I can interpret as "hello my name is Cla hair" or scenario which translates to see nah ree o, or trying to figure out which coin was which at the grocery store - holding out my change in my palm so the clerk could help herself as if I was eight years old, was a bit of a learning curve. Although it was fairly mild and we had some nice days of sunshine, for the most part, it was as might be expected in Liverpool in December….kind of drizzly and grey, the travel umbrella didn't languish in the bag for sure. The description of the course was 'intensive' and it sure lived up to the name. Classes from 9am - 5pm daily with lectures, group work, labs and abbreviated breaks and lunch hours meant a LOT of information delivered. Although feeling overwhelmed, I thought how intense the experience would've been without the preceding ten years of being a tropical health groupie, attending three tropical medicine conferences, webinars, reading whatever I could my hands on for the topic etc. 

The first week also brought the intrusion of my paid employment life. A number of frustrations with my present employer as I have been wrangling since August with the other two regions in the territory to try and find a spot with attached housing. Yet to get my name on the casual list and I am already a GN employee - what a disorganized bunch! As I was on my way out the door for the airport I had received a call from the HR clerk in NWT regarding a phone interview for an 8 wk job share I'd applied for and I promised I would try to source a phone for the hour required. With the time zone differences the 1:15 pm interview slot translated to 8:15 pm and the caretaker very kindly gave me the door code to their office for the event. I was so distracted with the first few days of class, time change, travel etc. that when I discussed the interview a few minutes later with my travel mate asking "what would you do for a six month infant?" she immediately said "I'd do the weight, length and head circumference" and I sighed a huge sigh and said "well, I didn't even remember to say I'd weigh the baby!" I assume they thought I was nervous and not a complete idiot as I have since had a verbal offer for the position….more on that later. The first week flew by with great lecturers. One who is a runner spoke of the difficulty exercising in the tropics (the same but different as lack of exercise north of 60) in conflict zones - never mind the heat and dust, if someone sees you running….everyone may run. Several of the lectures were heard to say "I'll come on to that
St. Georges Hall
later" meaning "I'll get to that". We took an evening and shopped in the downtown which did give us a bit of the Christmas spirit. Lovely old buildings, some like the one on the left built on slave trade money. Before we knew it, we were shortly making plans to travel to Oxford for the second weekend. 

Blenheim Palace
Oxford was a scenic drive through beautiful British countryside as the Cotswolds are lovely. We met my travel mates nephew who is a lecturer at Oxford and entertained us in grand style. We walked the grounds at Christ Church seeing skulling on the Thames (Isis) River and enjoying the architecture. We toured Blenheim Palace which was stunning, decorated for the holidays and a wonderful way to spend the
Christ Church, Oxford
 afternoon. We dined at High Table in Christ Church (yes the prototype for Hogwarts if you're a Harry Potter fan) where our host 'presided' in his robes (Latin benediction) and had a wonderful meal prepared by the Michelin rated chef. I was seated next to an Irish mathematician (all of the academics were early 30s PhDs) who asked how I knew the host. I replied that I didn't, had only met him that day and in answer to "what brings you to England?" I explained about the LSTM - DTN program. "Are you lecturing?" the young fellow asked and with a grin I replied "no, I'm a student, do you think I'm too old?" which caused some stuttering on his part. When I realized on the final days of the course that I actually WAS the oldest student it caused me some angst but as a colleague reassured me "someone has to be the oldest". We stayed at
Alice in Wonderland 
Radcliffe Camera

Christ Church in lovely rooms, enjoyed breakfast and then a private tour with our host of such areas of the college as the garden where Alice in Wonderland was written about - the door through the wall and the tree where the Cheshire Cat sat. After a pub lunch with some friends of my classmate we headed back 'home' to Liverpool. 

The under 30 crowd had a relaxing weekend apparently too as one was exhibiting her new tattoo which she'd gotten in a bar after a number of tequila shots. The more sedate had travelled to Chester in Wales or explored Liverpool itself. The second week included a lecture and visit to
Green mamba
the venomous snakes laboratory, TB, anemia, maternal/child, learning about FBOs (faith based organizations) and various acronyms. Surprisingly, the younger set were most freaked out by the maternity aspect of the course. When the midwife lecturer questioned "who is a midwife? who worked maternity? who has seen a delivery? as we raised our hands in various patterns, then asked "who has never seen a delivery?" and a large number of hands were raised. I was gobsmacked - every one of us in that lecture hall writes RN after our names. I have been so lucky in my experience over the years to have had the opportunities I've had. 

Castle Howard
The third weekend of exploring took us to Yorkshire where the views are just out of a scene from the James Harriott novel All Creatures Great and Small with rolling hills, stone walls and sheep dotting the green hillsides. There we visited a friend of my classmate in Harrogate. It's a lovely little town and we travelled to Castle Howard for Saturday afternoon and then a walk on the grounds of Ripley Castle on Sunday. All three of the various castles we visited were privately owned and opened to the public with tea rooms and gift shops as a way of maintaining them. The brisk morning walk followed by tea and toasted teacake, some market shopping then some retail therapy in Harrogate on Sunday and a stop for lunch at Betty's tea room before heading back to Liverpool. By the third trip we were able to locate our residence with ease. 

The final week brought a lot of freaking out about the exam vs an overview of the content from the younger majority. One of our midst had celebrated her 23rd birthday (yes you read that correctly) meaning she was over two years younger than my last child. When we did a wrap up during the final class and shared some of our thoughts of the experience I stated that although I would do my best on the exam, I wasn't going to stress as no one knew what I was doing at LSTM anyway, I was going to tell folks I'd passed and have a big party to celebrate in February as I'd learned a great deal in a short time and it exceeded my expectations. The younger folks who were focused on the diploma to show to MSF were not reassured by my attitude. One of the class who had travelled/worked extensively for MSF, is a midwife, taught English overseas etc. asked what my plans were and I replied "something to do with maternal/child health as I have some talents to offer in that direction" and we discussed the length of contract as I explained about my northern job share, workaholic husband etc and she said "oh I forgot, you have a real life" as she and her husband live in Sicily sometimes, she goes home to Nebraska, they do MSF contracts etc. The final exam was a challenge as it's been over 20 years since I 'wrote' an examination as multiple choice is the North American way and writing non stop short answer questions for 90 minutes was not easy. There was very strict invigilating of the exam, immediate relief afterwards and a group photo, then a sponsored lunch with beer and wine served - you would NEVER see that at a Canadian university, even for a longer program. Lots of visiting and goodbyes before getting the luggage out by the door for the sherpas, I mean caretakers. 

A decision to reward ourselves with a trip to the Beatles Story and since it was sprinkling (and my travel mate isn't a hiker) we sprang for a cab. The Liverpudlian cab drivers are an entertaining lot and this one was chatty and very opinionated (not a fan of Princess Kate or various entertainers etc) but as we made our way to Albert Dock he explained that the traffic was heavy as it was 'Mad Friday' which is the final one before the Christmas holiday when all the students are out of class and employees heading out on days off to drink. As we stop at a light, he looks in the rear view mirror, pulls up on the emergency brake, jumps out of the cab and with his arm raised yells "you there 'ere put your finger down and get over yourself then" as we're trying to
Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
figure out what is going on. Apparently the guy behind us made a gesture at him after being cut off. Good thing he was on our side. The Beatles Story is well worth visiting and we spent at least 90 minutes having a major flashback with the music, photos and the backstory. The ferris wheel ride in the pouring rain and stiff winds was as exciting as the cab ride but with a wonderful night time view of the city. 

Back to pick up a classmate and head downtown for a final supper. We settled on Mowgli which is a Nepalese restaurant which had wonderful (and very different) food. As we arrived back at the residence we opted to sort out some last minute details before our trip to the bus depot and our classmate headed out to visit at CLV (which we believed to be a pub). As I was posting photos on FaceBook, my travel mate arrived at the door to my room with an ashen face to confess that she'd given the paper with the door code to access the office where the luggage was stored to our classmate as there was a phone number for a cab on the paper. I made a decision in my mind that I had my passport and the luggage could be shipped to me after the holidays as I was getting on the plane in Heathrow tomorrow morning with or without baggage. My travel mate tried frantic combinations of what she thought the number might be and I chuckled afterwards about the staff reviewing the closed circuit footage in the morning of her escapades. A search up and down the street for a pub named CLV was (no surprise) unsuccessful, but we noticed on our way back that an apartment building had CLV on the front and  questioned a smoker outside who admitted it was a student residence. A quick glance at the sign in log revealed her name and the creaky security guard quickly agreed to summons her. Whew, luggage freed, cab to the bus depot and we settled in to wait. There was entertainment in the form of an irate customer berating the night station clerk (who we interviewed to discover was from Gambia, had 3 children and a wife and a brother in North Carolina) repeatedly until the threat of calling 999 was made and he disappeared. A phone call from HR offering me the job share position and giving me 48 hrs to consider before deciding was a nice way to start my journey home. Details on the location when the start date is worked out after the holidays. 

I quickly settled into a nap on the midnight bus and completely missed the trip through the tunnel to Merseyside and across to Chester in Wales, waking only at Birmingham and completely out as we (so I was told) stopped in Oxford, arriving at Heathrow. A nice breakfast, some shopping in the duty free shops and then it was time to board. Lots of turbulence across the pond which didn't prevent me from sleeping (lots of practice), clearing customs in St. Johns and a wait then a short flight to Halifax. Met at the airport and a quick visit with the travel mates family then an uneventful trip home. Arrived to the smell of burnt lobsters and a sleeping spouse who couldn't be awakened to move to the other side of the bed. Welcome home!

Having only four days to prepare for the holidays was enough with the scaled down version we created this year. A family dinner on Saturday night at the in-laws, some house decorations (no tree) put up over the weekend, a trip for some groceries and last minute errands and some family visits. The gifts were downsized this year to donations according to the talents of each of the offspring CUSO (as I couldn't get the website for Electricians Without Borders to work for a donation - next yr.) Teachers Without Borders, Ecology Action Centre (sustainable fishing) and Operation Smile (facial repair surgery) for the nurse. The good feelings and the good work will last for longer than something they could provide for themselves as they're all functioning adults. 

The lobster season here is in full swing and the catches are record breaking - in the first week the shore captain had bought an equal amount of crustaceans as he'd done in the full six month season last year. The boy captain has had incredibly high landings and has purchased a new truck as did his hired man. The addition to the market of the Chinese importer has kept the price up as well as moving a perishable, luxury product. Fingers crossed. 

The shore captain has been up the past two nights at 3 am so is hoping to sleep through tonight. Saturday was a planned rendezvous to retrieve lobsters from a boat arriving during the night and would've gone smoothly except he left early forgetting to shut off the 3 am alarm so I had to pull the plug on the clock, hoping he hadn't woken our grand dog and his parents who were visiting. Last night was a frantic call from fishermen who noticed 'blue smoke' in the bait shed as they picked up their bait for the day and wondered if there was an ammonia leak. No ammonia there, but apparently someone had poured Javex-12 (double strength bleach) onto the floor. So another early morning and chance to go duck hunting by daylight. After a lengthy chat with the electrician brother-in-law who came to check on the heating system settings it was past the shore captains bedtime. They were both warned "it had best be fixed as I pay the power bill" and of the two of them the electrician was (as usual) the most compliant. 

Time to wrap this up and head to bed as I have my research completed and need to begin drafting my paper tomorrow. Plans are to take a short New Years Eve break in the city for supper, a movie and the show at the Grand Parade with fireworks at midnight - look for us on TV with the countdown. Times Square for midnight is on my bucket list but I've got to ease into such grand plans slowly. 


Catch you in 2015…..