Tribute

A little bit late for Mother Nurses Week but oh well!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mother’s Day often coincides with Nurse’s Week. At least, not for me. For many mothers, exhibiting the caring aspects of nursing comes naturally. What makes a good nurse, however, is grit, organization and a desire to always be bettering yourself. The signs were all there for me, even in childhood. So many memories to choose- playing with the empty syringes you would bring home for me; listening to my heart with your stethoscope; dissecting the organs of the chicken that was roasting in the oven for our dinner.

So many times I thought you were pushing me to be something else. I accused you of putting too much pressure on me to perform- projection, all of it. In retrospect, I know you saw so many possibilities for me that you never had and you only hoped I would find something I felt as passionately about as you did nursing. I get it now. How hard it must have been to watch me blunder along, not wanting to force me to follow in your footsteps. Despite all your best efforts to guide me along other paths I might take, I doggedly wove my steps in and out of your own, eventually ending at the same destination.

What I appreciate the most is how my love for you is now inextricably linked with my love of nursing. You brought me to this place and I feel so much of your presence with me every day. Each time I make a good catch that prevents patient harm, every time I question or explain or make a mistake. You walked this walk, you fought this fight, and you (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not) guided me to one of the most meaningful life choices I’ve made thus far. I only hope I become half as tenacious and brilliant as you are.

 

Happy Nurse Mother Week, Mom. I love you.

Denver Report Card

It’s been a month since we left Denver so I think it’s about time to release the infamous “Report Card” for Colorado. In reality, neither Jason nor I have lived in Colorado for over 8 years, not to mention the last time we were living in Colorado, it was with our parents. So, needless to say, we were excited for the opportunity to see what it was like to live in Denver…on our own…as adults.

And I just can't hide it!
And I just can’t hide it!

Some aspects-beer, for instance- proved plentiful and delicious. We also enjoyed the food scene immensely. But there were things I expected to be better established- like public transportation or bike lanes. I know we technically lived in Aurora, which is very different than Denver proper, but I still feel that certain aspects about Denver were not what I expected at all. So, let’s delve a bit deeper, shall we?

Food: 9

Don't judge
Don’t judge

During my first month of work, I got into a discussion with one of my coworkers about food in the Denver area. She and her husband-huge foodies- frequent the Denver food scene, so she bequeathed a list of recommendations that, along with our own discoveries, blew us away. We truly enjoyed all that the Denver (and Aurora!) food scene offered. Some of our favorites included Il Posto a classic, upscale Italian restaurant, The Yak and Yeti for Indian food and beer and The French Press for breakfast. There was Kirk’s Soul Kitchen- they make the best fried okra, even though it hurts the Carolina half of my heart to admit it. Their fried chicken was also pretty damn incredible. Our neighbors, Eric and Jennifer, took us out to their favorite Korean restaurant where I fawned over my spicy Kimchi soup and we stuffed ourselves with all sorts of unique and flavorful dishes. Eric also shared his cooking expertise with us by making Japanese curry- words fail to express how delicious that was. We enjoyed some tasty thin crust pizza at The Walnut Room with my cousin Carmen and her husband CW. We didn’t try Tacos Seline until a few weeks before we left, which is unfortunate because it was  just down the street from us and serves up some mean street tacos. But the ultimate experience, the cou de gras of our food exploration, was The Populist. A small plate themed restaurant with a unique assortment of ethnic and classic dishes. You know those mind blowing meals that leave such an imprint on your psyche that you remember every single succulent item that you ordered? Yeah, that happened. It’s happened only a handful of times for us, most notably at Nana’s in Durham but also at Nosh in Colorado Springs. After Jason and I left the restaurant and for weeks afterward, we kept talking about that meal. I eventually came to the conclusion that The Populist was best restaurant experience I ever had. (For the record, it is not the best meal I’ve ever had. That credit belongs to the notorious Mama Malone-chef, artist and Italian queen. Grazie!) The food in Denver, though, was remarkable, variable and thoroughly enjoyable! So why not a 10? Call me picky, but I was disappointed by the lack of farm to table fare. I am aware that Colorado doesn’t boast the same growing season as North Carolina, and I certainly can’t expect the same variety, that’s simply ecology. Still, I expected a lot more Colorado livestock offered in restaurants and I was kind of disappointed. I mean, isn’t that what Colorado is known for? Beef? Well….okay Colorado is known more for beer (and other vices). Speaking of beer…

Libations: 10

Why is anyone surprised by this? Colorado’s beer scene is incredible, and I’m not just talking about New Belgium and Oskar Blues. I’m talking about the small microbreweries that are everywhere. Everywhere. One of the first things we did in Colorado was venture to Jason’s favorite brewery in Ft Collins, O’Dell. We hit up Dry Dock in Aurora (delicious and creative), Left Hand (a classic favorite), and Lowdown (also delicious). We spent most of our time at Coda, and I am so very glad we did. Coda, a small brewery that opened only a year or two ago, happens to be located in a small apartment/condo area right behind the hospital. One of my favorite memories from working at Colorado Children’s involved a horrible day and a general invitation (by me) to drink beer at Coda after work. We gathered, drank beer, told stories, got to know one another a little bit better, and I hope they continue to gather there after work, because it is so, so incredible. One of the things I love about Coda is the variety and quality. Maybe one or two beers are constants on the menu (Sleepyhead and Dogcatcher are two all time favorites) but most of the time it constantly changes, and it is all really good. They don’t serve food, but you can order from the pub across the street and they will deliver it to you at the brewery. I can’t be the only one who thinks this idea is five shades of brilliant. Colorado just keeps surprising me with the beer scene. Cheers to the Rockies.

**While writing this blog post, I received a text from my friend informing me that Coda is no longer. I guess there was a founder “divorce” and now it is a new brewery with sub-par beer. RIP Coda, I hope we meet again someday…

Outdoors: 10

After spending 8 years in North Carolina, the people in Colorado seem a little cold by comparison. There is an exception to this. Example: while enjoying a picnic with our friend Jen, a lady walked by and immediately struck up a conversation about her son and her love of Japan. We had no idea who this lady was, but she was amazingly friendly. Something about the outdoors makes Coloradans super friendly. We are at our best when surrounded by nature. I have to say, there is undeniably something in the air in Colorado that makes you want to be outside- even in the snow. It’s just refreshing, almost cleansing.

Though we didn’t get up to the mountains as much as we would have liked, we did get to revisit some favorite hikes along with a few new experiences like a snow shoeing adventure in Grand Lake. I spent tons of time on the Highline Canal Trail which ran behind our apartment complex and connected with the myriad of trails in the Denver area. Even though that trail was surrounded by residential areas and highways, I still felt like I was far away and on most days you could see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I can’t help it, those mountains soothe my soul.

COLifeZones_Panorama

Transportation: 7

Let me start by saying that Denver’s bus system was so much better than Phoenix. Infinitely better. Light years ahead. That being said…snow can really mess up your commute and buses are no exception. Now, we lived right along a main bus line that took me straight to the hospital, which was beyond wonderful. Normally the bus ride took me about 15-20 min. What I didn’t realize is how little they plow the streets in Aurora. As in, they never plow them. Even buses need plowed roads to get anywhere. So to say that the bus system was sub par would be unfair because the only time the bus was unreliable was when it was snowing. Which, as it turns out, happens a lot in Colorado during the Winter months. I thought for sure Colorado would be one of the more bike friendly cities but biking- even on the nice days- was surprisingly challenging. In order to safely get to the hospital, I had to weave through neighborhood streets in a very roundabout way because none of the major roads have bike lanes. Construction was always impeding my route as well, so on several occasions I had to take a detour, sometimes taking me a half a mile out of the way. I eventually came to the conclusion that until the light rail is completed, Denver will be a difficult city to navigate by public transportation. We may just hold out until then.

This could be promising...
This could be promising…

Work: 8

Children’s Hospital of Colorado is beautiful and has some really cool features, like their very own blood bank. When you transfuse blood and platelets to children on an almost daily basis, there is something so powerful when you realize that they may be receiving your blood or platelets. It connects you to your work in a very concrete way. They also have their own radio studio that plays music through the television and hosts Bingo games for kids to play in their rooms.The hardest thing about the job was getting readjusted to being an outpatient nurse. When you work on an oncology floor (inpatient), patients and their families usually grow accustomed to having a different nurse every night. There is the occasional patient that spends so much time in the hospital they request their “favorites” but generally speaking, families are pretty cool about switching care providers every 12 hours. In outpatient, you don’t spend as many hours with these patients but you see them on such a regular basis that they grow very familiar with who the nurses are and they can sniff out a newbie very quickly. Pair that with the fact that this location hadn’t had a travel nurse in seven years. I was surprised by the amount of suspicion I was met with by many parents and patients. Understandable, as I am sticking your child with needles, but it is unnerving to walk into that, even with four years experience under my belt. My coworkers were wonderful, helpful, supportive and amazingly awesome. I just missed inpatient. I think that, while we don’t have children, working as a floor nurse might be more my style.

Yep, I totally just admitted that. Shocker.
Yep, I totally just admitted that. Shocker.

So the score is… 8.2

Not bad, Denver!! But we’re not done adventuring, yet.

Into the West…

Obviously time has flown by in the great state of Colorado. Jason and I finally made it up to the mountains again! I mentioned how disappointed I was about not getting extended at Colorado Children’s, but what I didn’t reveal (because I wanted to build some suspense) was that the very same day I learned my contract would not be extended, I received my official California Nursing License in the mail. Call it Fate, God or Chance, but that’s a coincidence that cannot be ignored.

A sign

Getting your California Nursing License takes FOREVER. Of course you have to forward your transcripts, but you also have to get fingerprints done on their approved fingerprint cards using their approved abbreviations for eye and hair color. Apparently, BRN and BRO do not mean the same thing in California.

Okay, California, just get over yourself...
Okay, California, just get over yourself…

You have to go through a website that verifies your current nursing license and pay for that verification, along with the processing of the application, and the processing of your fingerprints and background check. Well, suffice to say that, along with everything else in California, it’s expensive. But here is the kicker- the majority of travel nurse needs are there. California is a gold mine for nursing, and there is almost always a need for a pediatric hem/onc nurse, not to mention it has some great children’s hospitals.

I started the process of getting my license back in April of 2015 and completed it in late July. I really didn’t expect to get my license until April of 2016-that is how slow moving the process is. So imagine my surprise when, downtrodden and depressed, I open my mail to find my California nursing license, and the adventure bug strikes again! I immediately forwarded a picture of my license to my recruiter, Aaron, with an overabundance of exclamation points and, as only an amazing recruiter–sorry, agent–can do, he delivered a great job opportunity.

I have heard from both travel nurses and regular hires that Lucile Packard is a wonderful place to work. So, when an opportunity arose to work on their Hem/Onc unit, I jumped at the chance! It also doesn’t hurt that Palo Alto is about 45 minutes away from San Francisco. But as Jason and I prepare for yet another epic trek across the western states, I’ve had some time to reflect on what makes this experience both awesome and difficult.

 

Moving every three months makes you really think about the difference between “want” and “need.” Jason and I both harbour a few packrat mentalities and we come by it honestly. But when you’re moving every three months, and everything needs to fit inside a Ford Fiesta, you get a bit unsentimental. Have you ever done a really thorough spring cleaning? You know that cathartic feeling you get by just getting rid of all that extra crap you don’t need and giving it to someone who does? We get to experience that every three months. It’s pretty rad.

You're welcome, Macklemore...
You’re welcome, Macklemore…

Starting over new every few months has really stretched me professionally. Not just skills-wise but learning the nuances of different policies and procedures. You’d probably think that administering chemotherapy to children is pretty standardized, and in general, things are pretty much the same across the board, but different hospitals actually function quite differently in the details. So I’m learning. A LOT. But the best part is the way that this has stretched me by helping me not sweat the petty stuff. You certainly want to fit in and make friends quickly when you’re starting out, but I’ve noticed that I don’t worry myself with any of the usual workplace drama. In fact, I would argue that three months is the perfect amount of time, because right as you start to get a feel for the workplace drama, you leave.

Having the knowledge that you’re leaving in a few months is so empowering. It’s so much easier to write off a bad day as just that and to move on- for those that know me well, this is a HUGE deal! I don’t let go very easily but since I started traveling, letting go is getting easier. 

batman

That being said, what is NOT easy is letting go of patients. When I hear about patients that I cared for at Duke that pass away, I don’t have my coworkers to help me through. There were so many times (too many times, truth be told) when we would grieve together, sharing funny stories and raising a glass to a patient’s memory. In short, we supported each other through the loss of someone we grew to love when we couldn’t claim the same status as family or friends. When you are on your own, and far enough away that you cannot attend the memorials, you are simply left with an ache in your heart and a profound sense of loneliness in your grief. Sharing memories of these kids with those around you just makes people sad, because they didn’t know them. All they see is the loss of a young child or teenager, which is never an easy thing to stomach. It’s not the best description, but it’s the closest I can come to how I’ve felt as I’ve watched from afar while two patients that I cared for and loved very much were taken from this world. As supportive as Jason is through all of this, there is no way for him to fully relate to how I’m feeling. I have to face the fact that letting go of my patients will never, ever get easier. I sincerely hope it never does.

The other side of letting go of patients is about saying goodbye to the patients and coworkers that I connect with during my three months at each new spot. Let’s face it, there are some people you just instantly hit it off with and patients are no exception. So far, it’s been usually one or two patients that I connect with, and then have to say goodbye to at the end. One of my biggest regrets in Phoenix was not saying goodbye to my favorite patient. I said goodbye to his parents, but I never said goodbye to him. He was young enough that it would have been hard, but old enough that he deserved to know that he probably would never see me again. I think in a lot of ways I was trying to protect myself. Leaving Phoenix Children’s was already hard (just read my tribute here) and I felt like making a big thing out of it with this patient would have made it harder on my heart than I could handle. However, I found the same thing happened here in Colorado. I know that it is going to be hard to say goodbye, even though they know what’s coming (patient included, this time). But, as I said before, this is a part of my job that I don’t want to get easier. I never want to lose that desire to connect with patients and families, even if it makes the goodbye part harder.

So, as I sit here on my throne of cushions, with my laptop propped on a tupperware bin full of kitchen stuff, I am thankful. I’m thankful for the time we’ve had here. I’m thankful for the friends and family that we have been so lucky to spend our free days with. I’m thankful for the patients and coworkers that I have had the chance to get to know. But I’m also thankful for this next step- I’m thankful that I have my California license in my hand and the love of my life at my side. Now it’s time for a 19 hour drive with two cats. 

Let's do this
Preach it, Liz!

Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!

My sister and her husband made a bet over whether or not Jason and I would actually leave Colorado after I started this contract. I’ll admit, it was a fair assumption that we wouldn’t want to leave. However, I’ve realized that part of the reason I haven’t written a blog post in some time is that I’ve been trying to think of a way to express my feelings without seeming ungrateful or just plain pessimistic. There are some realities about living in Colorado that I enjoy immensely and some that I didn’t expect. For those who don’t want to waste their time with trudging through my pretentious monologue about first world problems, I included pictures to sum it up. 

You're welcome
You’re welcome

 

Let’s start with finding an apartment. We tried AirBnB (which is what we did in Phoenix), thinking that it would be a lot easier to just find a furnished place in Denver rather than haul our stuff up to an apartment from our “storage unit” in my parents basement. This proved harder than we initially thought. Apparently, finding a place to live anywhere near Denver is hard and overpriced.

We almost found a place near downtown but this woman was charging a pretty hefty price for an “apartment” that was more like a room in a boarding house. When we tried haggling with her, she acted personally affronted that we would even suggest such a thing!

What I expected:

They had the best apartment!!
They had the best apartment!!

What actually happened:

Awwww snap...
Awwww snap…

In the end, thanks to our friend Jen, we found a great apartment close to the hospital that I could either bike or take the bus to work. My in-laws generously let us use their guest bedroom furniture so we didn’t have to rent it, and we just hauled a bunch of our kitchen stuff up from my parents’ place. Really, Colorado was the best location for us to have problems with finding housing. I mean, it’s not like we have a shortage of people we know here. But still, that lady was kind of a jerk.

I guess we dodged a bullet there...
I guess we dodged a bullet there…

 

Being back in Colorado means MOUNTAINS and I have been so happy to see them on the horizon, but once we started approaching Thanksgiving, spending time in the mountains was quickly replaced by spending time wistfully looking at the mountains and wishing I were spending more time there. What we really spent a lot of time dong on our weekends was driving. Usually to Colorado Springs….but at least the mountains were closer to look at there.

What I expected:

Sound of Music

What actually happened:

You speak truth, Bob Ross
You speak truth, Bob Ross

I was also disappointed to find that I didn’t love the job at Colorado Childrens. Please don’t misinterpret- everyone is welcoming, I still love what I do, and I feel very appreciated. But I started travel nursing to really challenge myself and expand my skills. Initially, this job did just that. I learned a lot about how different hospitals treat different types of cancer, sedation recovery, and how sickle cell is managed for patients at altitude. Then, something totally unexpected  happened….I got bored. I thought for sure I would love being back in an outpatient setting and feel more in my element, but I surprised even myself when I started watching the clock day by day. Granted, the flow is completely unpredictable in a way that it rarely is in the inpatient world. Some days I start by watching the clock and finish my day running around like a crazy person, but I couldn’t believe how slow some days went and how much I missed having an extra day off during the week. Working four days a week is HARD! I think Phoenix Children’s may have converted me to an inpatient nurse!

What I expected:

Boom! Let's do this...
Boom! Let’s do this…

What actually happened:

Oh my gerd it's only noon???
Oh my geeerrrddd it’s only noon???

I was super excited to be living so close to our families during the holidays, but what I didn’t expect was the amount of time we would be spending every weekend (and sometimes weekdays) at a family function. I always get a little stressed out during the holidays. Since our families live so close to one another, it’s important to me that our time is equally split. In the past, this stress is usually concentrated over 1-2 weeks. It never occurred to me that this stress would start at Thanksgiving and extend into Christmas. It also never occurred to me that the effects of it might turn me into Scrooge. Me. Buddy the Elf.

What I expected:

Buddy

What actually happened:

HUMBUG!!
HUMBUG!!

Let me perfectly clear- I don’t want it to seem like our families put any kind of pressure on us. I take full responsibility for stressing myself out. They were just excited that we were here, and we certainly didn’t want to say no to the opportunity to hang out with them. After all, we were finally close enough to visit every weekend!!  So that is what we did. From Thanksgiving to Christmas. Every weekend. 

So much driving
So much driving

I did try to extend my contract here at Colorado Children’s. I wanted to extend because I thought we could use another month to see if things settled into a normal routine after the holidays. I honestly can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to get bored in my job, but I do suspect that it happened right around the time I found out my they couldn’t extend me. Not getting my contract extended kind of threw me for a loop. It was hard for me to extract my feelings about my job performance from the fact that they simply did not need another traveler past the end of my contract.  I felt as though I was doing a good job and I wanted to believe that this would influence their decision. The reality is that hiring a travel nurse is expensive, and there is no point in keeping me if I’m not needed. The people that work there have been there for a while with no plans of leaving any time soon. The nurses that are on maternity leave will be coming back to work by the time my contract is up. Really, it’s a testament to the unit that everyone stays there as long as they do. 
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. For all the stress of the holidays, we have really enjoyed living in Colorado. We just wanted more time to do all the things and see everyone. But…if there is anything I’ve learned this year is that all things must change in some way, shape or form. It’s time for us to move on to the next exciting location (more on that later)! As much as I wanted to do Christmas cards this year, I thought it more appropriate to do a picture montage of all the exciting changes we experienced and adventures we had in 2015. Interestingly enough, I found my feelings of gratitude, joy and love to be more profound during the New Year holiday than any other this season. Thank you to all who have been a part of this exciting year!

 

So much thanks

 

We’ve been in Colorado for about a month and though I would love to admit that we have spent all of our free time reveling in the beauty of the snow capped mountains, the truth is…well…we haven’t. Admittedly we did get a lot of good hiking in before the weather got cold but I have to hand it to my fellow travel nurse, Julia. She probably goes on a hike every single weekend and on most of her days off. That girl loves these mountains. I love them, too. I just also like to be warm.

Yep...I'm gonna pass on that hike...
Yep…I’m gonna pass on that hike…

The reality is, Julia’s family is back in Georgia and most of our family is here, which, as predicted, has the propensity to eat up a lot of our free time. I say “eat up” in the best possible way- as one might relish a particularly rich piece of chocolate cake. Not to mention, a lot of this free time has circulated around the holidays so obviously family takes precedence at those times. This has been the first day that I haven’t had something planned with friends or family so I am using my time as wisely as I can- to update other friends and family.

Our parents and siblings have been so happy to have us in the same state and they have capitalized on every moment they can. I can’t really tell if this is what life would be like if we lived here, but I really have to hand it to our family, they drive a hard bargain. Here’s just a few examples of the wonderful things we’ve been able to share with our family…

 

Hiking Stanley Canyon, which I haven’t done for at least 9 years and is my absolute favorite hike in Colorado Springs.

IMG_20151012_131627849_HDR

 

Celebrating my nephew’s birthday for the FIRST TIME,  which happens to be Halloween…which means we had to dress up as Batman villains to go with the costume theme…which also means we got to go trick or treating together.

Because a Batman party isn't complete without TWO Riddlers...
Because a Batman party isn’t complete without TWO Riddlers…

Spending some quality time with my niece who is so cute it hurts. Just try not to fall in love with her. I dare you…    

Ahh! That face! I just can't...
Ahh! That face! I just can’t…

 

Taking my nephew to see The Lion King on stage at The Buell Theatre (birthday present). AMAZING!

IMG_20151128_152652343

 

Of course we haven’t been without some quality time with our friends!  We’ve had so much fun with Adam and Jen who are expecting in January, you can tell Adam really enjoys our bonding time:

The sun! It burnses!!
The sun! It burnses!!

I also got the chance to see my roommate from senior year at Gonzaga, whom I have not seen for at least 5 years! She happened to be in town for a conference and we were able to get together at the oh so famous Rio Grande for margaritas and revelry. It was as if no time had past at all and yet life had changed us both so profoundly. I love it when that happens.

Good times..good times
Good times..good times

 I haven’t even mentioned the job! I was lucky enough to be included in the Halloween festivities at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Colorado Children’s holds a costume competition every year and apparently it is serious business Check out the pics from our Candyland theme!

One of MANY reasons I love pediatrics...
One of MANY reasons I love pediatrics…

Needless to say, the last month has been busy, but so, so fun. Full of joy, family, friends and GREAT beer. We have so much to be thankful for.