Having now completed one year in the US ‘first year of firsts’behind me, I have been looking back on the transition from life as Chief Nurse at Addenbrookes Hospital (CUH) to life in the States. When Ciara suggested I write a blog post I wondered what I could possibly say that would be of interest to my busy peers still leading. I am regularly asked ‘what have you been doing with yourself all day long?’, and ‘do youmiss your old life?’. I thought I could use these questions as a guide, and hopefully offer a little encouragement if any of you are contemplating any big changes in your life.
So, what have I been doing with myself?
I finished at CUH in September 2019 and between then and the move to Florida on 10th November I packed in a few small tasks!! My husband John, had gone ahead of me by 6 months,and my regular 60-70 hour weeks combined with finalising a PhD thesis which had been following me around Addenbrookes for the previous 5 years, had left little time for any preparation. Consequently, I pretty much had 6 weeks to pack up a house, travel around the country sorting family things out and saying a few farewells … oh and the small challenge of submitting my post Viva amendments ahead of a graduation date of October 15th.
The week the house packers came I realised I had no idea of what I really needed to take to the US, what I should be leaving behind or what to buy (particularly with the drastic change in climate I was about to be faced with) and my 12 years as an executive director had evidently not skilled me enough to manage the army of professional packers that appeared on the doorstep. In the blink of an eye my entire house had been packed into boxes whilst I frantically tried to work out what was going into each box and whether it really needed to travel across the Atlantic with me!
With all our possessions in boxes and shipped off to sea, I undertook a final marathon tour of the country to say goodbye to family and friends, sort out my two amazing children and our octogenarian parents. On the final leg to Liverpool my car began a screaming, cranking sound on the M6; miraculously I managed to limp on to Liverpool where I was rescued by my brother, and the need to sell my faithful and well-loved car was replaced by another goodbye and an expensive rental car back home and to the airport.
Eventually the 10th of November arrived and move day was upon me, the house empty apart from a few basics for visits home. My son and I stayed in a hotel near Gatwick and he saw me off in an emotional goodbye and that was it, hello Florida! I arrived in the heat and warmth of November and to life in a modern condo in the middle of a gated community. I dropped my two very large cases at the apartment andfamiliarised myself with my new surroundings. I then slept for what felt like three days!
What happens to your mind, body and spirit when you go from the fast lane with all cylinders constantly firing to a standstill is quite a story and one too long for this occasion! Suffice to say ‘stuff happens’ physically, emotionally and psychologically!! Definitely a blog on its own.
Having established fairly early on that condo life with its close-knit neighbours was not going to work for us, I began the search for a house. Despite previous intentions to rent we went ahead and bought a house, more commonly named ‘home’, with a small garden commonly named ‘yard’, and lovely pool, in a nice bit of Tampa called Davis Islands. This in itself was an education; forget estate agents and lawyers, here is the land of the Realtor, beautiful smiles, door to door service and what feels like the personal mission of the said realtor to find you a home. Absolutely no changing your mind!
And so, several months of searching on my own began as John, was utterly consumed in his new job. I learned quickly about Florida laws, lanai, lot sizes, flooding, hurricane and bug insurance … oh and did I mention sink holes?approaching each scenario like a good old Board meeting, i.e. reading all I could the night before, aiming to look calm and in control and paddling like mad underneath!
In March we took the keys to the house and the next phase of what do I do all day began. Having been determined to find a house which would require minimal work, (we’d had enough of this with our old house in the UK), it was somewhat of asurprise as the next few weeks unfolded that many of the jobs we anticipated wouldn’t be too extensive turned into a new kitchen, a complete new set of hurricane proof windows, a new pool pump, a full paint and decorate, removal of a 60 foot oak that began to churn up the drive, and a new drive to finish it off. Alas, my project and budget management skills did come into some use, juggling a few builders here and there, prioritising and setting measurable outcomes and watching a budget run a little off piste!
Whilst I had anticipated some cultural challenges being in anew country I had not prepared for the language barrier I soon understood I had with Spanish being the common language of the majority of labourers. So, school girl Spanish revision and google translation became my evening homework.
In amongst the sea of activity I should also mention the sea of travel, over the year I made four return flights to and from Gatwick mostly to be with my children and check on the house; and when I was not in the UK, we had 16 sets of visitors. Yet another of my career skills put to test with endless bed changes, cleaning bathrooms and catering, thankgoodness I did my nurse training in the 80’s!!
A challenge I haven’t yet overcome is driving on the wrong side of the road especially when there are sometimes six lanes of traffic and traffic lights suspended from the sky! I have therefore become a slave to UBER with the exception of the unbelievably normal and common activity of riding around our little Island on a golf buggy.
I have joined the Davis Island Garden Club, average age ‘old’and average company outstanding, delightful elderly ladies who share Florida ‘yard’ stories, have steered me away from kitchen gardens in the flood zones and unpredictable winds,and opened my eyes to the most beautiful flowers, birds and trees of this part of the world. Sadly, along with the beauty are the beasts, and the bugs out here are truly hideous. I have managed to control my desires to scream and have also sadlymoved away from the gentle homeopathic approach to bugs and bites to anything legally purchasable that won’t kill a man but destroys anything that flies or crawls. I am now a pretty good source for information on palmetto bugs commonly known as flying cockroaches, termites, love bugs, silent mosquitos, ants that bite and nasty little bugs that you can’t see aptly named ‘no-seeums’!
In contrast to my gentle garden club ladies I have also joined a ladies networking group for career ladies. This has also been fabulous and informative and less about nature and more about strong women, making success from a whole range of businesses, from the beauty industry, (no surprises how big this is here) to candle making, sex counselling with hypnotism, children’s authors, travel agents and of course realtors!
Now being well into my second year of Floridian life, with my pattern of spending time with John here and time in the UK with my kids more settled, I thought I should take on some more formal work and I applied for a voluntary job on a Board of Directors for a charity which provides a home for abused girls aged 13-21. The home is in another beautiful place called St Pete, about 40 minutes from where we live. I began my new role gently, trying very hard to listen and observe and work out process (pronounced like goddess) from the systems in place. However soon after I arrived the long-standing Exec Director of the home decided to retire after 42 years and the Board needed a little help getting into the world of recruitment in this sector. So, I’ve been firing several cylinders again, sorting adverts and interviews, role profiles and contracts, all of which have different names and functions… and as for the Safeguarding world I have had to learn a whole new language. I thought the CQC and NHSI had been a regulatory challenge; I now found myself knee deep in local state and federal agencies, all with an army of regulations assessments and conditions of licence.
The good news is that much of what I had stored away over my 38 years in the NHS has been of use and transferable skills are something our roles and responsibilities give us, albeit a little tricky at times! I have never had time to do voluntary work before apart from my stint on the PTA and setting up an after-school club (largely for my own children) so it has been a strange and exciting experience.
It has humbled me so much meeting other Board members some still with huge jobs balancing this work, and others like me, happy to give their time and everyone keen to learn from each other and respect the very different attributes we all bring.
I struggle hugely at times with the language and words for things – we may very well speak the same language as our American friends but our cultural use of the English language is often very different.
The girls in this home have made an enormous impression on me; what they have experienced in life has shocked me to the core. All my years as Executive Safeguarding lead at Papworth and CUH has not prepared me for the lives some girls are dealt. I am thankful for my own life, for my children’s and their friends and for the fact that people care enough to try to help. I am therefore throwing myself into non-executive management getting way to hands on and I’m sure annoying the staff, despite frequently recalling the times I’ve been on the receiving end of eager non-executives trying to do the executive’s job for them! But in my defence, you can take the girl out of the Chief Nurse post……
The other great interest in my life has been observing the US health system first hand that John has come to work in. Having struggled with many black winters, bed shortages, elective surgical cancellations and social care deficiencies in the UK, I have taken great interest in acute versus elective care, and how this expensive but incredibly efficient health system works. I’ve busted a few myths witnessing the poorest of people get good care and meeting some amazing nurses who like those I have had the privilege of working with over many years in the UK are hands on kind and forward thinking for the profession. The best of our two systems combined would be a health service beyond our dreams.
Coming now to my second most frequently asked question,
Do I miss my old life?
It is a hard question to answer, I miss the nearness of my children however our time together now is fantastic quality time. I miss my friends but we are having wonderful times when they visit. I worry about both mine and john’s 83 year-old parents but they’ve both been here, my father for 6 weeks,and they are both planning this year’s return trip.
I miss the wonderful people I worked with and the responsibility and challenges my working life held but I can see how these skills will move into a new place here.
I absolutely do not miss doing my PhD but having it is a great thing here, and I am currently writing up some articles in the time that I now have.
But I do miss England, Cadbury’s chocolate and our home in the countryside free of bugs! I look forward to coming home eventually – which we will do. And meanwhile I will continue to embrace this exciting and fulfilling chapter of life in my 50’s.
If you are interested in Annemarie’s work at Brookwood follow this link: http://www.brookwoodflorida.org
If you would like to contact Annmarie her email is firstname.lastname@example.org