Retired nurse says she doesn’t get sad about her illness
Firebrand former Nurses Association president Edith Allwood Anderson strong as ever, despite loss of sightSunday, September 21, 2014
BY HG HELPS Editor-at-large firstname.lastname@example.org
Edith Allwood Anderson continues to fight even after the curtain of blindness was drawn across her face two years ago.
The firebrand woman who served as president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) for eight years overall, has not allowed the loss of her sight to silence her and continues to champion the cause of Jamaica's nurses.
"How it fi stop me sah?" was Allwood Anderson's throwback question after she was asked if her recently acquired disability would prevent her from continuing her mission of making life better for nurses.
"I don't allow the illness to get me down," she insisted, while revealing that she also has diabetes, hypertension and renal failure, which requires her to do kidney dialysis twice weekly.
Allwood Anderson, who was NAJ president from 1997 to 2000 and again from 2005 to 2010 before being succeeded by Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) registered nurse Antoinette Leana Patterson in October 2010, took up the job of director of nursing services (Matron) at the island's largest medical institution, the KPH, in 2009.
But in a dramatic twist three years into the job, Allwood Anderson, who once described herself as a mongrel who would keep nipping at your feet as she toiled for the nurses, was forced into early retirement.
She had spent 15 years in total working at Mandeville General Hospital and when the opportunity came for her to be the senior nurse at the KPH, she grabbed it tightly.
"I came to KPH in September 2009 because at that time I was at the maximum of my scale and I was not moving, I just kept going back to Mandeville to a level seven position, and for you to move to any other level, you had to move out of the (Type) B hospital. So I decided to move to the (Type) A hospital at KPH which was another resistance, because some of the older nurses didn't want me there. They had their political people who were pushing them in the post, but I was most qualified for the post," she told the Jamaica Observer in a midweek interview.
"I became ill in October 2012, I spent 13 weeks at KPH on my back, and came out in December of that year on Christmas Eve.
When I came out I realised that I was not seeing properly and from there it just deteriorated. They also had to put me on the machine, because I was having swollen limbs and they became very concerned that they would lose me. I was in crisis ... bad crisis," Allwood Anderson said.
Despite her mountain of health challenges, Allwood Anderson, who was named President Emeritus by the NAJ almost a decade ago, works daily at the NAJ Secretariat in Cross Roads, St Andrew, except for Wednesdays and Saturdays when she visits KPH for her four-hour kidney treatment.
She also attends meetings at the Nursing Council of Jamaica, the regulatory body for nursing, of which she is a member.
"I go every second Wednesday and take part," she said of her visits to the Nursing Council.
"If you are not with it with your brain, you can't manage, but I am with it with my brain, although I am not seeing. Once they read the minutes and start the discussion, I am into it. Some people would like not to have me around ... and when I start, people are wondering. But I am even more potent, because my hearing is very sharp and if I go like this (putting her hands across her face), my brain is clicking. And even if I am at home, I lie down there and listen to everything and analyse it, make my calls if I want to clarify things in the media, and only if you know that I am not well you would realise," she told the Sunday Observer.
Now 59, Allwood Anderson is still throwing verbal punches, because her work, she said, is far from finished.
"It's not over until it's done, so I'm not worried. Thank God I wasn't born blind, but I could have been, and when I see what other people have achieved, I feel good. I lived until I was over 50, before I had my challenge ... almost 57 and I remember speaking to the Lord long time ago, that I would want to stop doing work at 57. I did not say I want to become ill, but I became ill and had to stop working at 57. But I did it," she said, revealing that she had also targeted another mission closer to her planned retirement.
"I actually wanted to be an evangelist. I am a very deep moral and spiritual person ... a lot of people don't know that," the Giddy Hall, North West St Elizabeth native stated.
"There were days when I was going through the struggles and I had to fast and pray morning, noon and night. I really wanted to become a straight up evangelist. I serve as an elder in church. I go to Trinity Moravian Church now, and I now serve as first vice-president of the Women's Fellowship.
"Nothing stops me. My memory is always there, from as far back as two years old I could tell you what happening. I don't get sad about my illness and my home is very happy. I even adopted two boys who are now 19 and I have a caretaker who looks after me.
"So I don't have that problem. I don't go into a sad mood about losing my sight and I don't ask the Lord why. I know my Bible. I read my Bible to my grandmother over and over when I was eight years old," the flamboyant Allwood Anderson said,
Biological mother of two sons, Allwood Anderson sees among her major achievements, while navigating the NAJ ship in choppy waters, the building of a strong succession line within the organisation that allows for smoother leadership transition.
"I have built a good succession line with young people, even though the older ones were saying 'no, no', I said we must put in the young people and we would guide them.
"Many nurses got scholarships to do their Master's degrees. Now, about 20 nurses who are trained to the Master's level are prepared for leadership in the NAJ.
"The other thing is the benefits nurses got from 1999. During that time we had a hundred per cent increase and the NAJ has become more vocal and visible. Even my older ones were upset with me for standing up so much, but I was standing up for truth and so on."
Buying a property on behalf of the NAJ at 24 _ Seymour Avenue which is now being used as a home for retired persons, and earning a new dispensation and respect from the Ministry of Labour through sustained, tough negotiations over the years, are also listed among her achievements.
Among her standout public statements are the protest in front of the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Central Kingston, in July 2006 while seeking a reclassification and salary increases for nurses; and the showdown with then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Finance Minister Audley Shaw, and Health Minister Ruddy Spencer.
The widowed Allwood Anderson led a protest outside the Jamaican Parliament in 2009, two years into the new Jamaica Labour Party Administration and did not hold back.
It was triggered by a promise made by Shaw, who, while campaigning for the 2007 general election, pledged to double nurses' salaries should his party win the national vote. He did not deliver.
Shaw, who was appointed minister of finance shortly after, denied making the claim, only for Allwood Anderson to refer to a tape recording of the promise by Shaw.
During the protest, a short distance from the entrance to Gordon House, Golding addressed the nurses, saying that the matter ought to be resolved away from the streets.
Spencer told Allwood Anderson that the matter should go before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), to which Allwood Anderson replied: "We nuh have nuh money fi go a IDT, so a him one a go a IDT go talk."
The justice of the peace and holder of national honour, the Order of Distinction, also led a demonstration in front of the Kingston School of Nursing along Half-Way-Tree Road when then Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies stopped on his way to Parliament, and danced with the nurses in the street.
"I came into nursing administration at a watershed time, because nurses were only to be seen and not heard. So I came in with a style similar to that of Dr Mary Seiveright (who was president in 1974, 1975 and 1980), coming out of the civil service and stood her ground, followed by Syringa Marshall Burnett, who later became a senator.
"So when this little woman from Giddy Hall came in, people didn't understand," said Allwood Anderson, who was also referred to by a detractor as [Mikhail] Gorbachev, the former president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the major section of which is now Russia.
"I remember meeting with Omar Davies when he was minister of finance and we brought the young nurses and showed him what they were getting and he couldn't believe it," she told the Sunday Observer.
"At that time the salary for young nurses was about $25,000 a month and he moved it to about $30-odd thousand. Right now I think that the nurses are still getting a little $40-odd thousand a month for beginners. Nurses are not getting a million dollars a year and they are degree people, some are getting $900-odd thousand a year.
"I even remember after meeting with Omar we met with Horace Dalley (former minister of health) at Knutsford Court [hotel] and among the things we asked for was a bus to transport the nurses, because nurses needed transportation. We were promised a bus, but we still haven't got it, because they took them over in the hospitals. All that amounted to a betrayal of trust," she said.
Even while her vision was declining, Allwood Anderson was hell bent on representing nurses internationally and after serving on the board of the 136-member nation International Council of Nurses (ICN) for eight years, she decided to vie for the presidency of the organisation last year.
However, she lost her bid to be in charge for four years when she went down 52-35 to Canadian Judith Shamian in Melbourne, Australia in May 2013, largely because several of the Caribbean's delegates who would have voted for her did not make the trip, primarily due to the cost.
Even after that, for Edith Allwood Anderson, the struggle continues.
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