Open 25 hours

There is a store I encountered as I walked Saturday in Buenos Aires, a pharmacy that is open all the time. Usually we see an “open 24 hours” sign. But what is the meaning of 25 hours?

It got my attention attention right away. I only have 24 hours in a day, how can they give us 25?

open25hs.jpg
Chain of drugstores in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I started contemplating time, and that fact that we only have 24 hours in a day. What if we could manufacture another hour, and we had an extra hour? Those of us who cope with twice annual time changes, may experience this once a year, when we gain that extra hour in the fall. But we trade that hour in the Spring, when we lose it, and mess up our circadian rhythms… They don’t do that shit here. Enlightened, perhaps. Not sure, I am biased on that one.

So why 25 hours? I think the underlying message is: we strive to go beyond. We strive to give you more than your “share” of what you expect. Or at least that is how I choose to interpret it.

I love this beautiful ambition of the Argentinian people, a quintessential American trait, to dare to try for more. They want to go beyond, and they push the boundaries of what is possible right now, they want to achieve more than your expectations. There is a sense of ambition, creativity and magic that I feel when I visit South America. I also feel this in Mexico, but it is distinctly different, I realize. Perhaps because Mexico sits in the shadow of the United States, and many people aspire to go to “el norte” there is a different sense of expectation of one’s lot in life.

cafe and croissant
Cafe con leche y medialuna – brunch on Saturday.

Y’all know that I have an ongoing romance with Mexico. She is part of me, that nation. But I feel similar love for the people of Argentina as well. Sure, they can be a little snobby about their wine, their steak and their coffee. They are not wrong! They are delicious!

A colleague/physician and his wife took me out for dinner on Friday. I’m embarrassed to admit I am never this generous with my personal time on “date night” with work-related guests. That’s a part of the Latino culture, generous hospitality, and I am deeply grateful to have been “embedded” here since I started traveling for work ~9 years ago. We had a marvelous time, and despite my introvert self sometimes balking at these sorts of invitations, I am so glad I accepted.

Maybe it was a “hail mary” pass to me, since I have already confessed to that colleague that I plan to leave the team in 3-6 months. Or maybe it was a joy to invite me into his “family,” since we have known each other for over 10 years. He and his wife had their first grandchild almost a year ago, and they recently reunited after a 6-year separation. He has always treated me as a daughter figure. Even though he has made decisions that resulted in bad consequences for our team at times, I know he meant no harm.

olympics obelisk
Isn’t it funny how many cities have their phallic symbols? This obelisk was taken near the symbol of the Youth Olympic Games which will take place here in October 2018.

His team is sometimes afraid to say no to him, or to tell the whole truth of a situation. They may fear the consequence of standing up for themselves, or maybe since he is a physician, there is extra deference. I get it. This takes courage! A lot of courage, especially when it is your boss who doesn’t get it. I practice this myself also.

We may try to manufacture an extra hour to get something done, but the optimism is not enough. It is at best a valiant attempt to meet the challenge, do our best under the circumstances. At worst, it is a cover for what is lacking in our skills, intentions or capacity. Then the best thing to do is surrender to the truth of the situation, and find a way out.

It is not easy, to stop meeting those demands, striving for more. But we must wake up to the reality that human beings have limits, and that striving must be balanced with rest. Yang (active) energy requires yin (restful) energy to regenerate.

There are only 24 hours in a day. A third of them I will sleep, and the rest I will spend on what is important to me, including time to recharge and reflect. 25 hours is a nice fantasy, but we have enough hours every day to do what is necessary. If we stay present to our life, we have exactly what we need.

 

 

 

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Virtual vs in person meetings

Yesterday I arrived in Buenos Aires and attended meetings in the afternoon with a relatively new contractor who started with us in January to cover for the maternity leave of another employee. We started things off with a meeting at one of our clinical research sites, a well-known cardiovascular specialty center that is also a teaching hospital. Two prominent physicians met with us, along with their medical fellow (who does most of the actual work of entering patient data).

When I make an appearance now and then and travel here from far away, these physicians like to “talk research” with me and present ideas they have about new therapies and studies in which they enroll patients. It is an engaging and interesting discussion and I really enjoy the enthusiasm of these fellow researchers. They ask hard questions! Fortunately I was on my game, even after only 4 hours of sleep on the plane the previous night.

After the site visit, my contractor and I sat to have a late lunch, since I had skipped that in favor of getting to the site visit on time. We had time to visit and get to know each other in a casual environment. I learned more about her career path in this field. We have both been in clinical research for 11 years, and we both entered though a “side door” not knowing the field existed prior to entering.

Puerto Madero - view from hotel
View from my hotel in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

I work with an international team, with all of my direct reports living in other countries. We spend a lot of time on conference calls, corresponding via email and doing a lot of what I think of as virtual, rather than real-time communication. It is nice that electronic tools give us the flexibility to work remotely when necessary, and to come together as a team for our monthly operations meetings, for example.

I believe there is NO substitute for some old-fashioned, face-to-face, trust-building time with your coworkers. None at all. Video-conferencing can be helpful, and I am glad it exists. Looking people in the eye, and getting to absorb their gestures and body language is simply irreplaceable, especially when there may be language barriers.

My Spanish has improved greatly in the 11 years I have worked in a Latin American division, without question. But it still is my second language, not my first. Being able to know with real-time feedback whether communication is understood, or whether there is a gap, is SO much easier in person. It is also more relaxing, and you may not feel like you are “on stage” the way I sometimes do when I’m on video-conference.

For this reason, as well as many other cultural factors that are probably relevant to trust-building in Latino cultures, it is very important for me to have in person meetings to set the foundation for trust. There is something irreplaceable about real human contact, and there are certain messages that are easier to deliver in person. For this reason, even though travel makes me a bit weary, it is always worthwhile to make the journey.

Cheers, peeps! Happy Friday!

 

Take me to Regions Hospital

When I arrived home from my trip on Thursday night I started having abdominal pain and nausea. I attributed it to something I may have eaten in Mexico, and did not think much of it until the next morning when I still felt crappy. Hubby texted me in the morning to tell me I should see a doctor. I had canceled my calls and meetings for the day, and just collapsed on the couch to rest. By noon I was thinking: this is not good.

Regions Hospital

I have a fairly high pain tolerance but not wanting to get up off the couch because of the pain and because I still felt nauseated was a warning sign. I texted hubby and asked if he could drive me to the doctor. He left work immediately and drive me to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. From the moment I walked into the emergency room (around 2:15 in the afternoon) until I checked out an hour ago, the care was excellent.

Every nurse, physician, surgeon, PCA, CT tech and all other staff who attended to us were friendly, professional and kind. They explained everything they were doing, the tests, what they indicated, and how long things would take. Once a diagnosis of appendicitis was confirmed, they explained the procedure to me, and asked if I had questions.

Later, when I was scheduled for surgery that same night, other residents, and health care professionals (HCPs in my world of clinical research) asked me to explain what I understood would happen in my own words. As someone who reviews informed consent documents as part of my work as a clinical researcher, I really appreciated how much they checked my understanding at various points in the process.

I was prepped for surgery starting around 8:15 and then taken in around 9 p.m. My husband tells me the surgeon came out a little before 10 p.m. to let him know the status of the surgery. Fortunately it was a laparoscopic appendectomy with only three small incisions (about an inch long each). The appendix was intact, so the procedure was standard and without complications.

regions waiting room

I woke up around 11 p.m. and the people around me told me everything went well. They planned to keep me overnight for observation, so my husband said goodbye and let me know he would return in the morning. A couple of times during the night a nurse checked my vitals and blood pressure, but for the most part I was able to rest and sleep. I woke up around 7:30 a.m. as the hospital staff were switching shifts, and my care team introduced themselves.

I was able to order coffee, which I had not wanted the day before (another sign something was off for sure – I love my coffee first thing). Around 9:30 I had some breakfast which I was able to order from the patient menu (like room service!).  Having fasted for ~40 hours, I was happy to feel hungry again, a sign of healing.

I am so grateful to have high quality healthcare and good health insurance coverage so I did not worry about that during the process. Also, the entire health care team was amazing, without exception. There must have been 15-20 people who interacted with us over the course of the ~21 hour period we were at the hospital. If you are in the St. Paul, Minnesota area, and you have a choice of hospitals I recommend Regions without exception.

The woman in the bed next to me while I was in recovery did not speak English, but the nurses and doctors accessed their on-call translation service, which was a little box like a phone where the translator could speak and listen to the patient in Spanish. Later, when her family arrived, someone in the family helped to translate, but I really liked knowing that service was available to remove any barriers to excellent care.

Now I shall stay home and take it very easy over the next few days. My hubby is already off to the grocery store and pharmacy to pick up a few things. He is a good man. I am glad I finally listened to him when he said ” you can’t mess with this shit” and drove me directly to a hospital. While I was waiting for surgery, I let my sister know the situation. She is an RN, and she explained to my parents what was going on.

My father almost died from a burst appendix about 45 years ago. While my case was less severe, it was an excellent reminder that good health and access to excellent care are so important, and such blessings. I realize the privilege of having good care comes from an employer that pays for ~80% of the cost of premiums, and a philosophy that employees deserve good benefits.

I will write more on my views of health care policy in the future. For now, I will put the laptop away, get out some books, sit and drink so tea with my kitties and give thanks. The healing journey continues.

 

 

Beatriz at dinner

I am about to write a movie review. I have not yet done this, so why not? It’s a Friday post and Fridays are for fun.

Actually the movie is fairly serious, and it explores the relationships between different cultures, classes, and the nature of healing. I watched it once on my way to Mexico this week and three days later on the way back, because I was fascinated by the Latina archetype and also the male “planet rape” archetype.

I encourage you to see this movie. It was released at Sundance and premiered in the U.S. on June 9, 2017. In November it won acclaim from the National Board of Review as a Top Ten Independent Film. It is a shorter film, only about 83 minutes, and most of it takes place on one day of Beatriz’ life.

Beatriz

Salma Hayek is of course brilliant in the role, though I kept on seeing her as “Frida Kahlo” in my mind. No harm of course. Frida was also an “old soul.” Her thesis in the movie is that “the earth is very sick and it needs old souls to help her heal.” I cannot argue with that as an apt metaphor for the kind of environmental disaster we are courting now.

I do not want to give you any spoilers, but John Lithgow plays an excellent greedy and voracious business man. He is a little reminiscent of Trump, narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. But there is a more nuanced look at what may have been pain in his past, which Beatriz can access in her very unique way. In a visceral way, this film demonstrates to us that greed is a cancer. It is a cancer that is destroying the planet.

The film was beautiful visually and the characters each played very convincingly in their roles. I am glad there are films like this being made. Though it will probably make a quiet splash, as a movie lacking in violence and sex, I hope it makes an impact. Our psyches need to be touched and healed by such films. It is how we will eventually heal the planet, by waking up to all the ways in which we have abused it.

Namaste, amigos y amigas! Enjoy your weekend!

How do you show up?

How do you show up every day?

I was in Mexico this week to interview candidates for an open position on my team. The first candidate showed up a few minutes early, presented well, and I liked him. My colleague was assisting me on the interviews. We conducted the first half of the hour in Spanish and then, as my colleague had to excuse herself for another meeting, we spoke mostly in English. The candidate kept up and was very engaged in the discussion. I liked him right away and could visualize him being successful in the role.

Delusional kitty

The second candidate did not show up. Fifteen minutes after the interview was scheduled to begin, I asked HR if they had confirmed she would attend. When they tried to call her to find out if there was an emergency or she was running late, she did not answer. I found myself annoyed, but since I had some extra time to work, I finished up a few pending items on my laptop.

The third candidate was not due until 3:30 p.m. and since lunches tend to be on the later side here, I walked outside to lunch with 2 colleagues and were away from the office from about 1:15-2:30. I had a chance to visit with my local CRS and the clinical quality person for a while and finished more work.

At 3:25 HR dropped by to tell me the candidate had called to say she was in a meeting that ran over, but she could be at the interview 30 minutes late if I was still open to receive her. I told her yes. I appreciated the courtesy of the call. True, she probably should have scheduled more time between meetings or scheduled a later interview. But I am human, and I sometimes over-schedule my calendar. I appreciated at least her call and the option to reschedule or to meet her same day.

The interview itself started at 4 p.m. I was pretty tired at that point, and since I had not slept so well the night before (early morning insomnia) I was a lot less focused and engaged overall. My colleague who was helping had skipped lunch and was pretty tired, so we did not present or ask questions in an organized way. I liked this candidate. She was conversational and friendly, but I really was much less focused and present at that hour of the day. So I was less attentive to her answers.

Muerte con colores

The next morning, reflecting on the day yesterday, I was disappointed in how I showed up for that second candidate. True, she was late. And I shifted my schedule for her and my colleague had to stay later than she had planned as well. But I wish I had been able to give her the energy I had for the first candidate of the day. In my own mind, when I compare the two he stood out. But I was fresh then, and I was engaged in carefully understanding his answers to questions (especially since the first half was in Spanish so I had to listen closely).

I started considering what it means to truly “show up” for the work we do every day. How do we show up at our best for what we do? I know for me, I am better when I have had adequate rest, some quiet time in the morning for reflection, meditation and perhaps writing in my journal. Sometimes I have had time for a quick 20-30 minute run. Other times sleep beckons more than my need for exercise.

By the the end of the day, typically after about 3 or 4 p.m. my attention wanes. On a typical day, I make my list of tasks I will tackle in the morning when I am fresh and full of energy. I know this about myself, that I have always been a morning person.  From the time I was a baby my Mom told me that I was all smiles in the morning, happy to greet the day. This has carried over into my adulthood. My husband knows after about 8 or 9 p.m. I am “toast” in terms of brain power.

I am trying to make a decision on whether to extend an offer to one of the candidates that actually showed up for the interview yesterday. My own bias is toward the first one, but I am mistrustful of that bias. For one, I showed up fully for his interview in a way that I simply did not have the energy to do for the late-in-the-day appointment. Another: I am not sure he would be a great fit, he was just the best of the short-listed candidates HR had brought forward.

Rey at Target display

Clinical research is demanding and the medical device field requires a substantial amount of training before a CRS can be fully functioning in their role. It takes 12-18 months of focused training due to the contacts and networks you must develop to be effective. So every hiring decision is a serious one, and should not be taken casually.

I was first hired here as a contract employee. I worked for two years without benefits or paid vacation time. But there was value to figuring out whether I was a “fit” for this employer and for my department. It took me at least 3 months to figure that out as I was learning my role. I wish employers could more often have at least a 2-4 month period before making a longer term offer.

Once your employer sees you “showing up” day after day and getting the work done, actively learning and making contacts within the organization, it is easier to evaluate  long term fit. Interviews are typically 1-2 hours when you can put your best foot forward. While they are an important first step, they are an incomplete view at best. I will make a decision after thinking through the needs of the office, and my other employee already in Mexico.

You might consider asking yourself now and then:

How do you show up (at your best) in your interactions with people? Are there ways you can be more fully present in what you do? What difference would that make?

connection

 

 

(W)oh… Mexico

Do you know the James Taylor song “Mexico”?

You can look it up on You-Tube if you have not heard it in a while. I looked it up recently because I could not remember all the lyrics.

I don’t like the line about “sleepy señorita” with eyes on fire.  That feeds into a cultural stereotype that rings dissonant and untrue to all the non-sleepy Mexicanas I know, that work harder than 99% of the Americanos I know. But other than that, Taylor’s song is a dreamy fantasy on his idea of what Mexico must be like:

Woh, down in Mexico, I’ve never really been so I don’t really know.

Woh, Mexico, I guess I’ll have to go.

Muerte con colores
Muerte con colores (taken on Isla Holbox, Mexico – Sept 2017)

Next week I will travel to Mexico to interview some clinical research specialist candidates for an open position on my team. I always enjoy visiting, even though I prefer the country-side and the beach to the big city. I feel at home in Mexico in a way, even though my skin is lighter than most people (thanks to my Swedish grandmother) and I am also taller than most people there, at nearly 5’8″.

I guess you could say I have a romance with Mexico. It makes sense. Half of my blood ancestry is from there, and when I speak Spanish, it is with the same accent as my Dad, from whence my language skills arose as a young child. When I speak with my colleagues in Latin America, sometimes they ask me where I am from. I am sure they are thinking: “Her accent sounds authentic, but her grammar sucks! Where the heck did she learn her Spanish?”

Well, perhaps they judge me less harshly than I judge myself. But since it takes me about 48 hours down there to “flip on” the Spanish module in my brain, my grammar usually takes a little while to catch up with my communication intentions. My “lengua materna” – my “mother tongue” is English. Typically for children our mother tongue is our primary language, our base from which other languages can grow, if we speak more than one.

Early in my childhood, I visited Mexico. When I was 1, 3 and 7 we visited during the summers (my parents were teachers). I was “mariposa” and “reinecita” to my grandparents there, butterfly and little queen. Early photographs of me with them show their pride in me. They loved how I looked at my wrist as though there was a watch when people asked me “qué hora son?” (what’s the time?) even before I could really speak. They knew I understood.

Courtyard in Saltillo
Courtyard in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico

When I was 7 years old, my Dad his lost his Mom to cancer (the same year my Mom lost her Father to cancer) and after that, he did not have the heart to visit his home town of Saltillo again for decades. Dad is not fond of airplanes, and he prefers to drive down. I flew down in 2014 to meet him there, while he drove the long journey after a stop in Texas to visit with his sister and her family.

I spent about a week there, and I was fascinated to discover how musically talented my family is, and how beautifully they sing and play the guitar together. My Dad has been a musician for much of his life, playing on weekends and during the summer as a “side gig” even though his main profession was as a bilingual teacher. I wrote before about how my Mom first met him when she studied in Mexico after graduating from college in less than 4 years to teach Spanish.

I called Mom from Mexico during that trip, while I was staying in the duplex where my four of my aunties live. Two of my aunties are nuns, one of them is a widow and one is married with two beautiful children. Mom asked me if now I knew why she fell in love with Dad and his whole family. Indeed I did. They are lovely people, and their hospitality was amazing. I connected with aunts, uncles and cousins I had not known before. Some of us also connected on social media and still stay in touch that way.

Returning to my roots and knowing them better helped me know myself better. I have always been more connected to Minnesota and my Mom’s family. As I keep returning to Mexico periodically for work or vacations, I continue to experience a sense of re-connection within myself. I was born in Wisconsin, and identify myself now as a Minnesotan, having lived more than half my life here if you count summers in my youth.

Isla de pajaros
Isla de Pájaros  (Bird Island) near Holbox, Mexico

Yet Mexico continues to call to me, a siren song that enters my consciousness when I consider leaving my current job. I try to imagine what other kind of work would allow me to keep visiting there regularly. This is a kernel I need to keep in mind as I consider my alternatives.

I love exploring many countries, cultures and places. This is one aspect that keeps me in my current position, these precious international travel benefits. But I am especially interested in cultures that speak Spanish, since this is a part of my origin and ancestry as well. My husband and I have plans someday to honeymoon in Europe, but we are saving up for this. I do not like to go into debt now that I am in my 40’s. My husband has always wanted to visit the U.K., as have I (my grandfather on my mother’s side is from Cornwall). I also want to explore the Spanish countryside. Someday perhaps I will get to Sweden to see where my great-grandmother was born.

But a big part of my heart is in Mexico, and will never leave there. My feminist grounding tells me my role in empowering women (and men) I work with currently is a an important investment of my time. Then I consider other ways I can contribute to the country of my ancestors, while bridging the gap in understanding among the people I know here in Minnesota.

I am still figuring out what the next step on the path will look like for me. And some part of me tells me it will not be a well-worn path, but rather one in which I will need to bring a hatchet or some clearing tools to get through dense vegetation. It may need creativity and a clearer vision of what is possible.

I have been consulting mentors, teachers, peers and wise leaders on advice and thoughts about how to think about my future vocation. But ultimately, I will need to enter into the quiet wilderness of my soul to discover what she means to me, this Mexico that calls to me both in sleeping and waking hours.

Yum Balam protected island
Sign on a protected island we visited while on vacation – Holbox, Mexico (Sept 2017)