Nurses to Extinction

The old woman coughs hoarsely into a handkerchief, pulling the mask from her face. We use morphine to keep her free of the agitation of respiratory distress, and nebulized drugs to keep her airway open, as well as make the cough productive. Eating and drinking are hard to do when you are constantly on an oxygen mask. Even with the oxygen off your mouth, there is oxygen flowing into your nose. This is not really helping her to live, merely setting trails to her dying with tubes and wires.

The webpage London Air gives you very measured and description of how air pollution can affect conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). It does however not give any insights into the emotions of those suffering from the disease, often caused by our bad air quality, nor of those who care for them – London’s many fine nurses, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals, and doctors. We do the best we can with people panicked and traumatised at their own bodies’ failure. The ravages of COPD are quite ghastly to behold. Many patients bounce back into hospital a short time after their admission with the same problem, but with a poorer prognosis. Our treatment of them has only been a sticking plaster, placed over the cracks. We do our best to keep people happy and enjoying that bare, reduced life they lead in hospital. Back out in the polluted streets and modern slums of London we do not see or hear them – they are invisible – save when they re-emerge from this “illspring.”

The “sticking plaster” seems for me symbolic here, as it mirrors our government’s attitude to dealing with climate change. For a small cut, a “sticking plaster” is ideal, but climate chaos is a huge, scarifying wound – capable of destroying communities, dwellings, lives and –as time may tell – societies. Nothing small or temporary will do. I did not want to be a “sticking plaster” in the battle against extinction and the poisoning of our environment. Nurses have long been patient advocates. But that advocacy remains locked to our clinical area for the most part. We should remember the bravery of some of the first modern nurses such as Mary Seacole, who, derided and scorned, journeyed into battles to take injured soldiers away from harm’s reach or tend to their injuries.

But long before the Crimean War, women, and occasionally men, provided help to their communities when it was not always safe and went against the authorities’ wishes. What were the state-sanctioned Stuart witch trials of England other than an attack on local “healers” and “pellars”. Most of these people did the best they could with a lack of science and scant resources. It was in some sense a power grab enacted by James I – drawing influence away from local knowledge and talent and making the country ready for the Age of Reason, which was all too keen to throw the kernel of medical wisdom away with the chaff for being folksy. The 17th century Stuart regime was faced with a crisis, in the form of the 1665 plague, a terror that took the lives of 100,000 people. The clinical heirs to the folk wisdom of ill health, the plague doctors, were not able to offer good remedies. The rich fled London. Industrialisation and human misery helped to spread the damage. This history offers us a smaller scale parallel of our modern situation. The difference is that we can stop extinction with our knowledge and tactics, whereas early modern clinicians had little hope of stopping Bubonic epidemics. Not to detract from their humanity and human sensitivities, but nurses are made for crisis situations, whether that be widespread disease or climate change.

Nurses should feel empowered by being trusted figures in the community, the inheritance of a job that is a vocation nor a career. We can speak about climate chaos, as well as report from the frontline of pollution and degradation’s effects on our nation’s health. We have the social connections of those wise women of times forgotten, but with a deeper pool of knowledge and more possibilities of working together within our networks.  We can relay the suffering of those in poverty and lingering in chronic illness and give voices to the voiceless. We can be more than mere “sticking plasters” in sum. Which is why, as your fellow nurse, I would passionately urge all of you to join Extinction Rebellion.

Tom Lennard @tomlennard

You can get involved with the Extinction Rebellion health workers group at “XR Health Workers”.

 

 

 

 

Eyewitness Account from Declaration Day

From small groups of people rallying up to fight against the profitable eviction racket (known as bailiffs) to a full-blown protest in Parliament Square demanding our oil-lobbied politician rethink about their response to climate change, people are rising and demanding change across the UK. On Wednesday the 31st of October, Extinctions Rebellion peacefully took over London’s busiest intersection to purposely disrupt the mindless routine of the city. 24 hours prior to the organised rebellion, scientists stated that since the 1970’s, humanity has made extinct 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. By the time our grandparents will turn 90, that number will have risen to almost 80% unless immediate action is taken.

A pool of different eclectics, faiths, and ages poured into the event projecting a heartfelt and welcoming communal vibe. Like a spell, people would fall silent cradled by the melodic pagan-like hymns sung while their smiles and shining eyes spoke more than a thousand words could. The palpable energy pulsating from the drumming and chanting crowd showed the love for our blue earth, and their cry for action was fierce. Amplified by the microphone, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato stated: “We are not here because we understand the importance that our planet has to our survival, rather because we all feel a deep energetic connection with mother Gaia”.

Out of the many speakers, Greta Thunberg, a 14-year-old who has been school striking for climate change, stood in front of thousands to share her message of action. With the latest UN reports stating that we have no more than 12 years before climate catastrophe, the teenager’s perspective of “climate crisis has never been treated as a crisis” deeply contrasted with the child-like inaptitude of our leaders.

Families shed tears of pain for the conditions in which they were inevitably going to leave the future to their younger loved ones. “It is painful for me to accept that the youth of today will never be able to experience the life that I had growing up because we wiped it out”, expressed one grandparent.

In the two and a half hours of public highway obstruction, police officers mingled and conversed with protestors. One officer paid personal attention to the well-being of certain protestors who had locked their arms and laid down on the road.  The mood seemed cheerful and friendly between protestors and law enforcement, giving off the illusion of a festival rather than a protest. A touching moment was briefly captured when Tom, a steward for Extinction Rebellion, approached the yellow-jacketed men and women with “Save Our Children” stickers. The momentary hesitation from their part was replaced by a handful of officers gingerly huddling in with outstretched hands to accept the stickers with prideful smiles. However, the harmonious atmosphere quickly came to an end when a false emergency ambulance was called in by the police to break the crowd apart. Within minutes, new stern faces populated the area shouting, pushing, and intimidating the crowd off the road.

The tug of war between civil disobedience and law enforcement created a divide amongst the activist. With most of the protesters dancing and singing on Parliament Square, the police swarmed the protestors locked to the gates of the Parliament. To create an aversion, a member of “Grandparents for a Safe Earth” decided to lie down with the activists despite having been pushed away by the police several times. The commitment of these individuals being ruthlessly arrested for asking for an emergency response to our polluted laws shocked many bystanders.

But we are not easily intimidated. Extinction Rebellion will take over Parliament Square again from the 12th till the 17th of November to demand carbon neutral strategies from our elected representatives.