A Nurse’s Conundrum

You graduate from nursing school. You pass the board exams. After all those long hard years of toiling away, studying and cramming, sleepless nights and the lack of a proper social life, this is it… you are now officially an RN!!!

You can’t wait to work in a hospital. You get hired and all the paperwork that comes with it. Hospital orientation comes and goes. You start on the floor wearing brand new scrubs, squeaky clean nursing shoes and a Littman around your neck. Fresh from your books, you think you know everything. You are ready to conquer the day!

This is harder than you thought.

But first, a couple of months of floor orientation is required before they let you off by yourself to take care of patients. So you shadow a more experienced nurse for the meantime, learning the tricks of the trade, getting the know-how and the lowdown of the unit and hospital, the ins and outs of dealing with five to six patients and demanding doctors, the feel of not being able to eat lunch on time or holding your pee for six hours. This is different than you first thought. Harder.

Once you are done with orientation, you are good to go. Finally, you are free from your preceptor’s clutches and can now independently take care of patients. That doesn’t mean your nursing life is a breeze though. Three months does not give you enough experience to know the subtle differences between a patient who is in true pain and one who is merely drug seeking. Or if it’s okay to call the doctor at 2 AM for anti fungal powder or wait until the morning. Or who do you attend to first, the patient who is mad because she is hungry and in pain, the family member who has a question, the pharmacy on hold, or that bed alarm ringing from a patient that is trying to get out of bed. That’s why it is good to have a mentor around, one that you can trust and feel comfortable with, for moral and emotional support and back up. And even more better, good teamwork from staff. Much, much harder than you thought. 

On becoming a mature nurse.

As the years pass, your skills grow and your confidence develops. You’re definitely more knowledgeable now than when you first started. Your scrubs are wrinkled and have that distinct hospital smell. Your nursing shoes have all sorts of stains known to man and have probably stepped on various bodily fluids that you wouldn’t even want to know. Your original expensive stethoscope, if it didn’t get lost or stolen, is now replaced by those cheap yellow disposable ones. You have dealt with emergency situations but can never find it easy to let family know that their loved one has passed away. But you are more wiser now. More organized, more efficient.

And so with being a staff nurse comes the numerous meetings and hospital politics. First, you don’t seem to mind. You try to help and get involved as much as you can without sacrificing your precious day off. Of course you want to be a part of the team. More and more changes and policies come. Managers and assistant supervisors come and go. Instead of being beneficial to the staff to make the workload easier, it gets more and more ridiculous and time consuming. They demand more and more from you. They don’t seem to listen to your needs. You get frustrated. You start to get jaded. It’s not about the patient anymore. It’s about scores and reimbursements.

Burnout.

To add to that, the acuity of patients being admitted get more and more severe, the patient to nurse ratios get higher and higher (except in states with mandated nurse-patient ratios like California) and some people just repeatedly abuse the healthcare system with staff receiving little to no support at all from administration leading to increased burnout and high turnover. All these lead to huge nursing shortages in most parts of the country. Nurses are leaving the bedside to either work in clinics or a non-hospital setting or to simply stay away from nursing. With this exodus, the already worn out staff gets stuck with more and more patients. More patients mean sub par care. It’s a vicious cycle.

Travel Nursing.

Some nurses leave their full time jobs to do travel nursing. That seemingly “glamorous” world where nurses work for 13 weeks (more or less) at any state of their choosing, where they play and explore on their days off and then pack up their bags and move on to the next adventure. Free from staff meetings and hospital politics. Free to go wherever you want to go. Sounds easy? NOT!!!

Travel nursing isn’t for the faint at heart. It definitely is not for everyone. There is so much more into it from getting a good recruiter to negotiating for your pay packages to looking for safe and affordable housing close enough to the hospital to packing light (or not) to traveling to your assignment to adjusting to your new environment. At the end of your contract, you have to do it all over again, either extend in same hospital or elsewhere. Or you can take a month long vacation overseas, how cool is that! That my friends is travel nursing in a nutshell.

Conundrum.

So what is a poor tired nurse to do? Stay as hospital staff and just pretend to ignore all the BS involved? Have job security but no freedom to go on longer vacations? Or jump into the exciting but uncertain world of travel nursing where hospital politics are not your concern, and contract cancellations may happen any time? Where everyday is an ongoing adventure?

Dreams or reality?

What would you do?

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Travel Nursing Made Me Appreciate My Marriage More

So many days have passed since I last slept on my own bed, so many hours have lapsed since we drove back to Asheville, so many minutes have gone by since I last posted an update. I feel the need to purge myself again through writing.

It’s been busy the past couple of days. Since we extended our contract, we were in Florida for only six short sweet days, then back on the road for ten hours with another carload full of stuff, and with only two days to settle in to our new apartment (which we both love by the way!) after which we had to work for three straight nights in a row. Phew, that was pretty hectic!

Last night as I tried to think and come up with something, there were too many distractions for me to even stare at the screen long enough without getting annoyed at the little outside noises my hubby was making as he was watching TV and doing his own thing. Totally, not his fault. He was in his own zone as I was desperately trying to be in mine.

I realized in order to write, in peace, he needs to be out of the apartment. My brain just works better that way.

And today, he went on a bike ride. Finally, some me time!

It was the first week of October when we finished our first travel contract together as husband and wife. It was not without any difficulties and challenges to say the least. From adjusting to the new hospital environment to the hundreds of creepy crawlies in our little rental by the woods, to the financial stress of learning how everything travel nurse related works, to something as simple as going to the laundromat. But, the lessons we learned and the rewards we reaped I think are so much greater than all the issues combined.

Travel Nursing made us stronger individuals.

Sure it is nice being comfortable in your own little world, in your nice cozy home with all the gadgets and gizmos you need, in your same old exciting job doing the same thing over and over again. Some people would die to have that. No stress. Easy peasy.

I, on the other hand, would die from that stress-free comfy life!

Maybe it’s just me. The way I was biologically and cosmically made. The tiny cells in my body would just go crazy once I stay in one place long enough or be in the same situation day in day out. I crave for change. I long for adventure. Stress makes me alive. I may not be the extreme adrenaline junkie or the restless nomad who wanders the earth forever like some are but I have this wanderlust’s spirit that shows up every few months or so, rattling my bones and whispering to me it’s time to go explore. I can’t help it if I have itchy feet.

So off I go, dragging along my hubby, willingly this time. New environment, new set of problems. And what do you do when you are faced with such? Simple. Just face it head on. One problem at a time. Trust that we both can handle it and like they say, what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. Sure its cliche as hell but it’s true. Next time you come across the same problem, you now know how to handle it.

It made us more resourceful and less wasteful.

Travel for work or leisure, always brings out the best (or worst) in us. Because we aren’t in our usual safe environment, we have a tendency to become a better (or worse) version than our usual safe selves. Out goes the couch potato lackadaisical person, in comes the energizer bunny slash MacGyver wannabe slash Green Peace lover. A little exaggerated on that one, but you know what I mean.

Coming into this work extension in our new company provided housing, we found out we needed a bigger waste basket. But we couldn’t afford to be buying any more stuff, specially bulky ones, because we can no longer fit everything else into our trusty ol’ CRV! We could either just use plastic bags (ugh, so environmentally friendly eh? I just contradicted my previous statement) or wait, hubby found a solution, a folding one at that. One that would easily be stuffed in a tiny space once we move out. A pop up laundry hamper! Perfect size for a ten gallon waste basket, just stick in a recyclable garbage liner, hold it down with chip clips and you’re good to go. Pop it open to use (for garbage or for laundry) and then simply fold it in place to go. How genius of him!

He never would have thought of that if we were just at home with all our modern convenient day to day stuff. But travel nurse living is different. You can’t bring everything with you to all the places you go (unless you travel in an RV, then that is another story). You just have to learn to live with what you have or don’t have. Or get double or triple purpose items. Or buy one that can easily be packed away and learn to be a better organizer.

We learned to appreciate more the things we already have back home.

That huge 62 inch flat screen TV. That working washer and dryer. Two vehicles. Climate controlled heating and AC. Those pretty hard wood floors. That insect-free living space. Super fast wifi. Our relaxing serene backyard with the lake view. And good trustworthy friends.

‘Nuff said.

It also taught us to declutter.

While we learned to appreciate the things we have back home, we have also learned how to simplify our life. My hubby, most especially, and I am quite surprised and proud of him for surviving thirteen weeks without his big TV. He did bring along a laptop and watched his Netflix from there, spotty wifi reception regardless. After this assignment, he admitted he can do without his 898 channels on cable and only survive on Netflix. Wahoo!

We learned what mattered to us the most and what doesn’t, which material things we needed and used the most and what we didn’t.

Less is more. I love this lifestyle!

And lastly,

Travel Nursing made our marriage stronger.

We argue, we disagree (no, we don’t do loud verbal fights), we sulk. But we always manage to get it resolved and talk it out, some more. We may not always look at things the same way but we try to reach common ground. We have learned so much from each other in the past three months.

Because we are both out of our element and away from our comfort zones, we tend to stick together more and be there for each other. Not that we don’t do that when we are at home but sometimes, familiarity makes us not appreciate each other. It is safer hence, you’ll be okay, you can handle it. Out here in the travel nursing world, we both are walking the same walk and talking the same talk. We are wearing one another’s shoes. So, I got your back babe and you got mine.

I  have also learned that my hubby really does love me and just wants me to be happy. And I have learned to accept that.

He also taught me to love and appreciate my (sour) beers.

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Week Fourteen: Don’t Rain on my Parade!

Our last week in Asheville. And it’s raining.

Looking back when we first started out here, we have definitely come a long way, both professionally and individually. After all the initial stress and adjustments we had to do, I can’t believe we made it all the way still standing strong and with our sanity intact. And its not even officially the end of this contract yet because we like it here so much that we are extending for seven more weeks!

That’s right. Seven more glorious weeks in Asheville. In Autumn. Do you see where I’m going next?

The Leaves. The North Carolina mountains are famous for the fall leaf color show that they turned it into a whole different kind of science with leaf forecasts and predictions, which area goes first and which one goes last. Oh, the photos I will take!

Here is a sneak preview of what is soon to come. It is only September and the leaves are already changing.

In the meantime, we drive back home to Florida next week for a couple of days. Packing has already commenced and our cozy little rental is already a mess of luggages, clothes, boxes, books, paperwork, kitchen stuff.

We were supposed to have our last hike last week but then it started to rain. And rain and rain. And it never stopped raining and weather forecasts predict rain until next week. No outdoor activities for this nurse! What a bummer! So I was stuck at home for three days on my day off doing nothing. Not really, but you know what I mean. I was never a rain and cloud kinda girl. It gets me depressed and lethargic and moody. Gloomy weather never did me any good. My hubby thinks I have seasonal affective disorder, whatever, so what, I need my sun and blue skies. Going home is the perfect remedy.

Our last week in Asheville and it rained.

Week Thirteen: We are on our final stretch!

We have been in Asheville since July and now, our work-vacation is almost over. Technically, our travel nurse contract is only for 13 weeks. But for purposes of blogging our travel nurse (mis)adventures, I started posting weekly updates a week before our contract actually started so it will be 14 weeks total (and that means next week will be the last!) of working, living and playing in Asheville.

I do this to force myself to write and keep up with the blogosphere. Sometimes, it is so nice to just forget about “That Traveling Nurse” and go on with the real world but I have invested so much time and effort into this blog that to leave my baby is unthinkable as of the moment. Not saying that this isn’t my real world too because my stories and photographs are all a part of my experiences, of my existence. Without my real world, there wouldn’t be this blog to begin with.

But I digress. Yes, our 14 weeks in Asheville is now coming to an end. We are ready to head back home to Florida and have some beach time!!! I really do miss Florida’s crazy warm weather with the 30 minute afternoon thunderstorms, the (shark infested) beaches, the fresh seafood and most of all, my bed. And the dishwasher. And dare I say it, cable TV. Ack!

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You really don’t know what you’re missing until you go away. The little insignificant things you take for granted become such a big deal for you now. The feel of sand in between your toes, the easy access of having two vehicles, working washing machines, super fast wifi, bug-free homes, the list is endless.

But you know what? All these seemingly minor inconveniences bring out the best (or worst) in us. It brought us together and our marriage closer. We learned how to live simply for less with all our belongings that we needed for three months squished into the back of our Honda CRV. We learned how to improvise, how to make do with what is available. We learned how to entertain ourselves on our days off without involving electronics and gadgets. We learned some more on how to work with our differences, that you can still love each other even if you are annoyed to no end.

Professionally, we both grew as nurses. Travel nursing is a whole different kind of nursing. We still take care of sick people but we have to learn to be independent almost right away and be expected to hit the ground running. If you’re lucky, the staff will like you. If you’re not, then be prepared to work alone for 13 weeks. Every facility, every place is different. And you are expected to adapt otherwise you drown. It pushes you to your limits sometimes and then you question why. Why did I leave my comfortable job back home? Why did I leave my safe bubble? Why did I leave everything familiar?

One more week to go and I guess I can then completely answer those questions in my next post after some deep soul searching. Only until then can we both find out if this “gig” is truly for us.

See you next week!!!

“My 12 Hours as a Night Shift Nurse” ~ Week Twelve: Where is my doctor’s stethoscope?

This post is inspired from the recent controversy regarding certain TV hosts who made “brash” comments regarding a Miss USA candidate’s talent show performance. It so happened that this particular beauty representing Colorado is also nurse. Now, I don’t care much for beauty pageants and such but the context from which this whole post is about is personal to me.

As Miss Colorado stood on that glittering stage sticking out like a sore thumb in her nurse’s scrubs, she delivered a powerful monologue about nursing and how it impacted her life. I am not going to critique her as to her performance because I am no talent judge but her story and her words deeply touched me, maybe, because I am a nurse too.

The following day these talk show host ladies (I’m not even mentioning the show and their names because I think they’ve been overexposed already as a result of this ruckus) bashed this poor nurse’s performance saying she was “reading from her emails” and “what was she doing with that doctor’s stethoscope?”.

I believe that last statement was tactless and ignorant. They claim it was made all in jest and that “we” weren’t listening well – after they made a public “apology” on their show when they got blasted all over social media by at least 3 million nurses in America. I never knew we were that many!

Lesson of the day: Research first before opening your mouth and making opinions or comments about something specially when in the media. But then again, some people just love controversy, don’t they? Any kind of publicity is good publicity, right?

Lastly, don’t get the nurses mad. We decide what size foley catheter or IV catheter to put in you. Seriously speaking, we can help save your life. We don’t ask for much. We work long hours, get beaten up, kicked at, spat on by confused patients, clean up your mess and sometimes rarely get a pee break! We don’t steal doctor’s stethoscopes, we have OURS. In fact, it is the other way around. They steal ours (sometimes).

This is an old post that I am reviving for this week’s travel nursing weekly updates. It is somewhat lengthy but I am proud to show you a little bit of my world.

That Traveling Nurse

I’ve been blogging mostly about my travels and personal life but never really touched much about my work. Well aside from HIPAA* laws that prevent us from revealing and divulging our patients’ private health information, I haven’t really found the urge to write about it (my work, not my patient’s private health information, I don’t want to get fired, thank you!) until now.

Welcome to my boring nurse life!

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1600 – My alarm goes off. Time to wake up!

1630 – Done showering and changing into half my scrubs.

1630-1700 – Dinner with the hubby.

1700-1730 – Finishing up, getting ready for work. Top scrubs donned, after brushing my teeth (of course I do not want my top to be smeared with food or toothpaste).

1730-1745 – Getting my lunch food/snacks ready, and my hubby’s too, if he is also working. Playing around with Facebook, WordPress and/or emails while waiting.

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Week Four: Meeting New Friends

Now that we are starting to feel a little bit at home in our new temporary environment, work has become less stressful, our daily schedule is almost falling into place, and we’ve made friends with the bugs outside, the next step is to start socializing.

It helps a lot that the staff are friendly and warm as I mentioned in my previous post. They offer to help and ask if you are doing okay. They talk to you and tell you that they are glad you’re here to help them out. They include you in their Chinese food trip nights. And to a travel nurse, that is music to her ears. Makes the thirteen weeks so much more bearable (not that this is unbearable to me right now) and go by fast.

Due to the nature of the job, we are expected to hit the floor running on day one or two. We are expected to know a lot of things, do a lot of things and in some cases, are given the worst patients and worst schedules! We are supposed to be super flexible and tough. We are supposed to just grin it and bear it. You get paid more money anyway than the regular staff nurse. Huh?

Super nurse anyone?

But the truth is, travel nursing is so much more than that. I am not a seasoned travel nurse yet. This is only my second assignment. I have yet to learn so many things and have to undergo I’m sure a lot of trials and mistakes. My first travel experience had such a huge impact in my life that I am forever changed!

But I digress here. I was talking about my 4th week and socializing.

So, yes my husband had two invitations already from his ICU peeps to hang out and I had one. Might I keep score? Maybe. This is getting to be fun. I’ve encouraged my husband to go (without me) because he needs somebody else to talk to aside from just me. You know, guy stuff. I know he misses his old friends in Florida so he can always give this a shot, literally and figuratively. What has he got to lose?

Besides, there is always beer. In Asheville, you never run out of beer.

Cheers!!!

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