Our friends recently started out on their own gypsy adventure last week. As it happens, they made the drive from North Carolina to the San Francisco Bay area and arrived just a few days ago. In anticipation of their future wanderings, I began compiling my own Spotify playlist titled “Gypsy Life” to share with them on their journey. You can check it out here:
When we started out a year and a half ago, Rilo Kiley’s “Pictures of Success” always seemed to be the quintessential song for my professional track, but there is one line that has actually gained a completely different meaning for me now. Right at the culmination and build up during the bridge, the lyrics are as follows,
“They say California is a recipe for a black hole. I say I’ve got my best shoes on. I’m ready to go.”
A year ago, I heard that line and thought “Yeah, I’m ready to go to California.” Now that we’ve lived here for a culmination of 9 months, I see it completely differently. When I listened to that line recently I thought “Yeah, I’m ready to leave California now” but I surprised even myself with that irony. California has an abundance of opportunity, but I see how easy it is to get stuck here. Really, it’s not just California, but ANY place. The truth is, you really can find good people, happiness and meaning anywhere.
I remember when I first started living in North Carolina, family and friends in Colorado would ask how long I expected to be living there. I always vaguely answered “Oh, probably no more than 3-4 years.” If I’m honest, I didn’t see myself settling down there in the beginning. I mean, I was sure I was only going to stay in North Carolina for a max of 5 years. 9 years later I found it really hard to leave because our roots were so deep.
There are so many things to love about California- it is, without a doubt, a beautiful state with some truly remarkable landscapes. The bay area is brimming with diversity and culture. But we just could not reconcile how expensive it is to live here and now, those lyrics take on new meaning. We’ve had our fill of California. We’re ready to go.
Where to next, you ask? What is the next adventure? This is where the twist comes in. We’re not talking M. Night Shyamalan caliber, but some people may find it a surprise that we have decided to end this chapter of our lives and settle down. Amazing as it has been to see so many different places, the frequent moving has taken a toll on all of us- cats included.
In January, I interviewed for a permanent position with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, working with their Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant team. This is an outpatient position focusing on post transplant care and (most importantly) education and support for patients and families. The Skype interview went really well, and I got that great, “Kristen Ammon” feel from the manager (I will always look for that vibe). Not to mention, their nursing satisfaction surveys have been in the 95th percentile the last few years. After some deliberation, I decided to hang up my gypsy shoes and take the job. I hesitate to call it a permanent location, because the only thing constant in life is change, but, for now, we’re making Seattle our home.
I know originally I said we were doing this whole traveling thing to figure out where we wanted to settle down and we haven’t even lived in Seattle, but recently I realized that every place we’ve lived will feel a bit like home to us now. We were recently visiting friends in Phoenix while on our way back from a wedding in Tucson and I felt some hard core nostalgia- mainly for Phoenix Children’s, OHSO and Dan and Erin- but I was shocked at how wistful I was. Every place will have a piece of my heart and if I’ve learned anything from our travels, it’s that good people are everywhere. Here’s to finding our home. It’s been a wild ride.
P.S.- for those of you keeping track, here is my quick scoring of California life:
Outdoors: 10; Redwoods, Highway 1, Half Moon Bay, Yosemite, Monterrey.
Food: 9; Thai, Indian, SUSHI…expensive
Libations: 10; Wine and beer country! Mainly wine…but also beer. \
Transportation: 7; Caltrain, BART, Muni….traffic.
Job: 8; Coworkers- amazing, Doctors- amazing, hospital ruled by the bottom line.
It’s been a busy couple of months for us. For those of you dying to know, Stanford Nurses did NOT, in fact, go on strike, much to my relief. They were able to reach an agreement that seems to please everyone for now, and I am happy for them. In the meantime, we had quite a few exciting opportunities come our way, including the opportunity to move to OREGON!!!!! I ended up getting an assignment in an adult oncology infusion center in Corvallis, Oregon, which we hear is very much like Ft. Collins.
Looking at our next drive, however, I’m dreading another day in the car with the cats. This goes beyond the usual “Tobi won’t shut up” bit and I’ll tell you why.
When we started out talking about living the gypsy lifestyle, Jason and I had some pretty frank discussions about whether or not we should bring our fuzzy pals, Tobi and Monk, with us. For starters, Tobi is a holy terror when confined anywhere and this behavior is magnified by eleventy-billion when he is confined within his carrier in a moving vehicle. Our other cat, Monk, pouted for two days and would not eat after we moved a mere 15 minutes down the road in Durham, so we wondered how he would handle moving every three months. In the end, our hearts overruled our heads and we decided to take them both with us.
I discussed our impending trek to Colorado with our vet. She suggested testing out an artificial hormone called Feloway. Science is pretty amazing, so please allow me to take a moment and describe the awesome concept of Feloway. They have managed to artificially design the facial pheromone that cats use to mark their surroundings. You see cats do this quite a bit in the home, or on your hand. The scent tells them that wherever they are is safe and they should be there. A great concept for travel, we tried out the wipes provided by our vet prior to our drive from North Carolina to Colorado.
IIIIIIIIII don’t think it worked one bit. I think it’s a fabulous concept, but we seemed to be plagued with delays that added to an already stressful situation, and no amount of fake facial pheromone was going to help us. Since May of 2015, we have traveled from North Carolina to Colorado to Arizona, back to Colorado, then to California. Along the way we have learned some very important lessons.
Losing your keys down the rabbit hole…
I have been wanting to share this story and this is the best segue I will ever get. The day we left North Carolina for Colorado may have been the single worst day of my life. Obviously we were sad to be leaving but here is an account of all the crap that went south on that fateful day...**cue memory sequence**
Jason and I had planned to be on the road by about 5pm, with a goal of reaching West Virginia by the evening. We started the morning cleaning, only to discover that our water was shut off by 10am. This was our error, as we had accidentally asked them to shut the water off on the day we were leaving, not the day after. So we utilized our neighbors garden hose for buckets of water. We started packing the car at about 2pm. This took all our Tetris skills combined, and I discovered that my work running a food pantry and packing as much as I could into a small van really payed off. We managed to get the car packed, got the bike rack on the car, locked the bikes to the bike rack, and started the air conditioner. We loaded the kitties into their carriers, and hit the road about 5:30pm. Not bad, by all accounts and we were congratulating ourselves on sticking to our timeline when we stopped for gas about an hour outside of Durham and noticed that the open trunk light was on. This was the point that I realized I didn’t have my keys on me. My keychain not only held my keys to our car, but also my bike lock keys, with which I had locked our bikes to the bike rack. I searched everywhere I feasibly could in our packed vehicle; I called our landlord who had to unlock the house and look for my keys, all with no success. We decided to turn around and head back to Durham. We spent the next hour rummaging through trash, recycling, and leaves, only to conclude that I had NO idea where my keys were. The cats were freaking out and overheated, Monk was assaulted by our neighbors curious dog while trapped in the carrier, and then it started to rain. We decided to call it, and started back on the road by 7pm.
We only made it to a small town in the Virginia mountains called Wytheville. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not. Neither had we. But I did get to explore the Emergency Room. As it turns out, not a lot happens in Wytheville, VA, even in the ER. Either way, my problem was not traumatic, just urgent, and seeing as it was the middle of nowhere Virginia at 10:30 PM, there were no open urgent cares to be found. What a blessing that I still had health insurance! If anything good came out of that day, it was the fact that I was in an out of the ER in 45 minutes. Trust me, I know how amazing that sounds. Forty…five…minutes.
After that first day, our other days seemed mild by comparison! But that still didn’t mean they weren’t annoying. Tobi only STOPPED meowing for about 2 hours the entire car trip. All three days. 2 hours. I counted like I was counting the seconds until his demise. The end was nearer at hand than he realized. We landed in Colorado just happy that we all made it out alive.
Yes, I misspelled sedative, and if you don’t know why, I want you stop reading this blog and go watch Young Frankenstein. Right now.
We had tried out the Feloway spray in North Carolina and took Tobi and Monk on a little “tour” around town to see how they did. We didn’t notice a huge difference, but we were hesitant to try sedating him. We reconsidered after our drive to Colorado, but ended up waiting it out again, thinking that two days couldn’t be worse than three.
Then, we drove down to Phoenix. Tobi, admittedly, did much better, but he also tried to scratch and bite his way out of his carrier so aggressively that he rubbed his nose raw on the netting. Like I said, holy terror. I cannot tell you the number of times I actually considered leaving him on the side of the road. We finally secured some sedatives for him and thought all our kitty travel problems were solved. How wrong we were.
We were driving back to Colorado from Phoenix. We had checked out of our AirBnB at 10 AM, the doors were locked with no way of returning. Tobi was sufficiently drugged and we were 20 minutes into our highway travel, when Jason (who was driving) noticed a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. Apparently we failed to secure the door to Tobi’s cat carrier and he was now drunkenly stumbling all over our belongings with his third eyelid activated because of the sedatives giving him the “Zombie Cat” appearance and though he wasn’t meowing with the same gusto, he certainly wanted us to know that he was displeased with this situation. After some bouts of yelling and freaking out, we pulled over, secured Tobi, and continued on our way.
A mere 5 minutes later, Monk began to holler in a panic, something that was so out of character for him we were taken aback, until the smell of feces wafted to the front of the car and we realized we would have to pull over, yet again. Luckily I kept some baby wipes and paper towels in the car, and after doing a very rough cleaning of Monk’s carrier, proceeded to wipe him down on the side of the road in the blistering Phoenix sun. When we finally arrived at our hotel in Sante Fe, we gave Monk a bath, took his carrier mat to the coin laundry, ordered pizza and popped open a bottle of prosecco. I felt we deserved a pat on the back for surviving all that and nothing says “celebrate” like pizza and prosecco in plastic cups.
Puke Skywalker and Dookie Howser
Since then, Tobi has started to puke in his carrier while Monk has consistently defecated approximately 30-45 minutes into our trip (only on the first day, thank goodness). On our drive out to California, I once again wiped Monk down, this time in the snowbanks of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, with a windchill of probably 20 degrees. This has brought them the good fortune of some pretty classic nicknames such as Puke Skywalker and Dookie Howser. Others have included: Barf Simpson, Spew Jackman, Puke of Hurl, Dumpfrey Bogart, Upchuck Norris, Vladimir Pooten (complements of The Inbetweeners), Joseph Stoolin, Crappy Gilmore, and Bradley Pooper.
We’re still open for suggestions. Feel free to comment.
I’ve always felt a little weird about nurses getting an entire week of recognition. In many ways, nurses are overworked, and often unappreciated, but so are a lot of professionals in this country. I mean, I feel the same way about the hospital housekeeping staff and they don’t get a week of appreciation.
But there is a lot of pride in the nursing profession, and also a lot of humor. I love every minute of my job for a lot of emotional reasons, and some logical. I have found that nursing is best expressed in the multitude of hilarious memes that pepper the interwebs. So, in honor of nurses week, I’m foregoing all the feels and opting for the giggles. Here’s to all my nursing peeps, and those who know and love nursing peeps.
Sometimes our family is so happy to see us when we get home…
All we can think about is the variety of patient’s bodily fluids with which we are covered….
Healthcare brings out some interesting personalities- from parents and family members to surgeons and residents, you can count on having some choice encounters.
Of course the patients themselves can make or break your shift
Documentation, coming to work during a blizzard, malfunctioning machines- it’s what we signed up for…
And without a doubt, our family and friends can have a tough time shocking or impressing us…
In the end, we all know that the little things make this job worth it…
Happy Nurses Week!!!
Check out the following for some more belly laughs:
Everything I ever knew about strikes I learned from Newsies. From the spontaneous musical numbers to the violent fistfights, I’ve been preparing myself. That’s right, people. Stanford Nurses maybe going on strike. I’m not officially a scab….yet. But I was led to believe otherwise by a staff nurse one night during change of shift. Maybe I was reading into it, but she kept referring to travel nurses as “scabs” and asked if I was thinking about taking a bonus from the hospital for working the strike, subtly implying that I would burn in hell for doing so. First off, none of your business, second, why would you call the people covering you while you strike a nasty name?? I’m making your strike possible, so how ‘bout you be a little more careful with your choice of words and tone of voice.
In Nursing School, strikes and unions were commonly discussed and debated. Even then, I was of two minds on the issue. On one hand, it seems to go against the spirit of the nursing profession to abandon the care of your patients because of your working conditions. Yet, most nurses are striking because (and this is the most important point) the health and wellness of your nursing staff determines the outcome of your patients.
Pay is almost always one of the reasons for a strike, but it is usually the smaller point among some much larger issues, such as high ratios of patients to nurses, required overtime and unrealistic staffing demands. In the long game, changing these factors makes for better and safer patient care. Temporarily leaving your assignment for the betterment of patients down the road seems like a noble cause to me.
You can read up on the whole strike here. There are some things that aren’t really clear in the article so I’ve been talking to a lot of the staff nurses, trying to get an understanding of what the big issues are. Don’t feel obligated to read it, I just thought it prudent to provide the source material for fact checking, etc. Luckily, we have several union board members that work on our floor so I’ve been able to get a clearer picture over the last week.
I’ll try to sum it up as best I can. Stanford Hospital (which includes Lucile Packard) is currently in the process of expanding to a much larger building, slated to open in 2017. As part of their expansion, they will be hiring a large number of nurses. However, CRONA (the union) wants Stanford to fix the current issues that are already causing nurses to leave Stanford in droves. Issues like:
Pay: Cost of living is so astronomically high in Palo Alto and surrounding areas that nurses have been leaving Stanford to go work for other bay area hospitals like UCSF and Kaiser, where pay is far more competitive. The union has proposed a pay raise that is, admittedly, very high over the next three years. In theory, this pay raise would catch Stanford nurses’ salaries up to the surrounding hospitals and make it possible for them to live closer to Stanford. Which brings me to the next point.
On call hours: I’m not positive how “on call” works for OR nurses, but from my understanding, it is required for nurses to be on call for a certain amount of time every week and within a certain distance from the hospital. At Stanford, on call requirements are 24 hours and you must be within 30 minutes from the hospital. Combine that with the high cost of living and that means you have nurses sleeping in their cars because they can’t afford to live or stay 30 minutes from the hospital for that long a period of time. CRONA wants Stanford to reduce on call hours to 12 hours per week to make this more manageable.
Flexible working hours: One of the most important issues, according to staff I’ve talked with, is flexibility of hours. At Stanford, RNs do not have the option of working decreased hours. You’re either Full Time or PRN. There is no in between. I think this might be different for outpatient, but I’m not positive. So, say a nurse has small children, wants to continue working inpatient, but would rather work one or two shifts a week instead of three. Not an option, so that nurse goes to PRN. That means staffing can call that nurse in for 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts as needed, when their available. That also means that nurses are constantly being shuffled around the hospital throughout the day based on needs and handoffs are being made multiple times to multiple different nurses. I was literally called in one day for FOUR HOURS. 3pm to 7pm. I received report at 3pm, did my assessment of my patients, gave a few meds, then turned around and gave report to the night shift nurse. In the hospital, nursing care is a 24 hour job, and each time the next shift comes on, you have to report the patient’s progress (or lack of progress), the plan of care and pass along any duties that you weren’t able to get done on your shift. If you split the shift up too much, the effect is like the game Telephone- information gets misinterpreted, or missed altogether and patient care suffers, as a result. By giving more senior nurses the option to work 24 or even 12 hours a week, they might be able to retain nurses and save money, not to mention provide safer care and require less support from travel nurses.
As a travel nurse who has already extended my contract, I’m not sure what this means for me. Some people have suggested I cancel my contract and sign on to work the strike so I can make more money. Admittedly, if I continue working for the same pay while the strike nurses are making significantly more, I will be pretty pissed. On the other hand, it just feels ethically wrong for me to break my contract like that. They need nurses that know the patients, the floor and how to give chemotherapy. I expect to have some sort of compensation, don’t get me wrong, but I would rather keep my contract and get compensated accordingly. What scares me is the idea of having to be one of the “experts” while they call in reinforcements to staff the hospital. I’m scared for the patients and, to be honest, I’m pissed at the hospital for letting it come to this.
In the end, I called my recruiter, A-Aron, and he shared some stories he heard from other nurses working at Stanford that made me realize just how awesome this unit is. Some nurses are telling travelers that they will lose their contract if they work the strike, and some managers are requiring their travelers to strike with them. Aaron assured me that a) I will not lose my contract and b) I will likely be compensated in some way. Regardless, the message I continue to receive from my unit is “you have to do what is right by you.” So kudos to the nurses of the Bass Center at LPCH for being so amazing. For those of you who plan on participating in the strike, I leave you with this:
Most people are curious to know what Jason is up to during our travels, and I am ashamed to say that, until this point, I’ve failed to mention his endeavors. It’s easy to get caught up in my own experiences through all of this. If you would like to read up on his most recent musings, you can catch it on his blog here. I was a nurse for maybe six months before Jason started asking when we could start travel nursing. As a fledgling RN, when my hands still shook with every port access and IV start, I didn’t feel capable of venturing into a new environment every three months. I told him to give me some time to feel competent before I throw myself into that scenario. The biggest revelation I’ve had about myself is that I will always have areas to grow and learn. Originally, I would have said that I take a long time to learn new skills and feel comfortable, but with each assignment, I find I’m more at ease with hitting the ground running and learning as I go. That being said, I still show stress and frustration all over my face all the time…
Jason lacks the luxury of having everything in place for him upon arrival. He has to put himself out there with each new location in a way I never experience. I’ve seen him change his approach with each move, too. Now in our third locale, he hit the pavement right away and within two weeks, he secured two jobs teaching music through different schools/companies. As is the nature of all things extracurricular, they must fit around school and work, so although he doesn’t work many hours during the day, he teaches lessons every single day. Much like my experiences, some days are better than others and he is also learning the pros and cons of each company. Last week while I lounged by the pool enjoying my day off, he struggled through an afternoon of teaching only boys. Really, the text he sent me is too hilarious not to share and this is more for posterity than anything.
Of course this is all from my perspective, but it is obvious that after working manual labor and driving for Uber, Jason is much happier teaching on a regular basis. Some people are lucky enough that their talent and career seem to join together harmoniously. We should all be so lucky! I envy Jason that he started his career so much sooner than I did. That’s not to say teaching is the only thing he wants to do with his talents, but he clearly enjoys it- at least most of the time. He’s discovering new facets about his passion for music education with each new experience, just like I am. I was discussing the possibility of returning to school with my mother. I currently have no desire to return to school (the accelerated nursing program really took the ginger out of me there). Jason, however, would like to return to school, but he doesn’t know what he would return for. I realized that while I will likely need to return to school to further my career, Jason chose the school of hard knocks. He is learning, through trial and error. It doesn’t provide him with a masters degree, but it is shedding light on how he would or would not run his own business while perfecting his creative writing and building up his portfolio of compositions. He is a Renaissance Man through and through.
I started this post with the intent of writing about California and our experiences thus far. But I have gone too long without acknowledging how lucky I am to have Jason here, and how much more challenging this journey is for him. So I’ll give you the brief:
California is breathtaking
San Francisco is lots of fun and only an hour train ride away
There are bike lanes everywhere and lots of opportunities for outdoor adventure
Palo Alto is super expensive and kind of hoity toity but we have some great neighbors
Mandated 45 minute lunches are the bomb-diggity. Being scheduled nearly every weekend because I’m a traveler is not. So the jury is still out on Lucile Packard.
I tried to get to the Pacific Northwest but both jobs I applied for didn’t work out. Long story, but it’s the third time Portland has screwed me over. I’m pretty sure I’m cursed.
Finally, since nothing else really popped up for me this month and my contract was coming up in May, we decided to stay in Palo Alto until June! Come visit. It’s lovely here.