President’s Letter
March 2022 

Every now and then, events in the world cause us to raise our heads, look around, and take stock of where we are as a nation, as a member of the world community, and as a civilization.  This is one of those moments.  Suddenly, the concerns of getting grades in by Spring Break or whether to wear a mask or not, seem small.  The events in the past 10 days in Ukraine have changed the world.  We no longer believe that the post-WWII world order that has served the globe for the past 80 years is a viable model going forward because it has been shattered not by the citizens of one country, but by the decisions of one man.  Russia and Ukraine will be changed by the war, but so will all of us.

I was in Russia in 2014. I went to participate in a conference sponsored by a Sigma chapter and Boston Children’s.  The conference began in St. Petersburg and ended in Moscow aboard a ship.  There was no escaping to go shopping downtown or sit out a session in a bar or restaurant to talk to old friends, unless you count the bar on the ship and it was still right there. I was struck by the differences in the Russian attendees.  The conference was also co-sponsored by the Russian Nurses’ Association and the Russian nurses who attended were hand-picked from around the country.  Most were administrators, but some were nurses who practiced at the bedside. About half of the attendees were Americans, but several Canadian nurses and one nurse from New Zealand who, was Russian by birth, were included in the group.

Observations from this trip are worth considering.  First, the older Russian nurses were guarded, less willing to share information, and less trusting than their younger counterparts.  The younger nurses were eager to learn, wanted an open exchange of ideas, and welcomed the international community with ease. The older Russian nurses admonished them for being so open and scolded them for saying anything negative about healthcare in their country.  Since we don’t speak Russian, I’m sure you’re wondering how we knew this. The nurse from New Zealand spoke Russian because she lived there until her early 20s. The translator told us what she thought we should hear, but our colleague from New Zealand told us what they actually said. The interpretations, not surprisingly, did not always match.  When the older nurses found out that we knew what they were actually saying, they were angry at first, but laughed it off.

At the end of the trip, we toured Moscow and visited GUM.  GUM is an upscale department store similar to Harrods.  Since it was a Saturday, we were not surprised at the festival atmosphere, music and crowds.  What did seem odd was a line of people snaking through the store, many holding a white t-shirt.  There was a main stage with people dressed in beach attire handing out cloth bags decorated with palm trees.  My colleagues and I stood on a railing above the stage watching as each person received their bag. The atmosphere was clearly celebratory and people were talking and laughing.  We were perplexed but intrigued.  At one point, however, we were able to read the message on the t-shirt and it said, “Welcome to Sunny Crimea!”. The shirt had a picture of a palm tree with a sandy beach across the front.  Russia had just occupied Crimea, declaring that it was Russian not Ukrainian territory and this was a public event designed to show enthusiastic acceptance and support.

This story is important, at least to me, because it reinforces the idea that we interpret events through our lived experience. Had we not had an interpreter who told us a different version of events than a native Russian speaker, who had no reason to change the narrative, we would have assumed we were actually communicating well with all of our Russian counterparts.  What we believed to be widely understood as an act of Russian aggression in Crimea was interpreted by some of the citizenry as a moment for celebration. As historians, it is important to remember that place matters.  Context matters. Examining our assumptions and challenging them is critical to understanding events and motivations of those we study.

This month, as I write this in the safety of my home, I think of those who have been forced to leave theirs.  I think about the first responders, the nurses, and doctors in Ukraine who are doing their best under impossible circumstances.  I think about the women and children hiding in underground subway stations without provisions.  The men who put their families on trains for Poland and other countries, unsure if they will ever see them again.  And I weep that one man can inflict this kind of misery on them and the world.  There are many reputable charities that are helping and if you can do so, I encourage you to contribute what you can. 

All the best,

Melissa Sherrod
President 2020-2022

“AAHN stands in support of all Ukrainians, but particularly the nurses on the frontlines of this invasion as they work to support the injured, the sick, mothers and their newborns, children and premature infants struggling to survive under conditions of war.”