The Fourth Floor

15 Apr

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About a week and a half ago, I got a phone call from my educator telling me that I was being moved from the ER to a makeshift Covid floor that they had installed on the fourth floor above the emergency room. I knew something like this was likely coming as most of my other nursing friends around New York City have also been shifted around to units that exclusively treat Coronavirus patients, but I was still nevertheless heartbroken. I had been training for 8 months to be an ER nurse, and in the matter of a day, all of my hard work felt like it was pulled from me. I was to be given one day of training into a whole different type of nursing. Oh, and I was being moved to the night shift.

It’s grim. It’s bleak. There are moments of light that I grasp onto and try to repeat over and over to myself in my mind, but the image of watching people struggle for air as they slip closer to death without family or friends by their side is haunting. On my first night, a couple of hours into my shift, I was given a transfer patient who was DNR (do no resuscitate) and was completely unresponsive. Her head was contorted backwards with her mouth open as she gasped for air. As I was instructed to do for a new admission, I took vital signs on her and listened to her lung sounds, roiling with the sounds of fluid as she slowly drowned.

I remember thinking, “How do I process this? How do I deal with this and with all that is still to come?” And I realized I can’t. I just have to do my job, and I’ll work through the trauma at a later date. Neither me nor any of my fellow healthcare workers have the luxury right now to take a mental health day or to see a therapist. It’s the first time that this whole pandemic felt like actual war to me. What it must be like to be on a battlefield, surrounded by death and the only option is to keep going, to keep fighting, because that’s the only way through. No end date. No idea when the resolution will come. Just keep fighting.

I love being a nurse, but right now, I dread my job. I never wanted to be an inpatient nurse (which is what I am now), especially not dealing with hospice care. I have a deep well of respect for those nurses, but I always knew it was not the type of cloth that I was cut from, that my heart was not built to endure or sustain this kind of work. But I’ve been drafted, and I don’t have a choice. I ride the lonely subway to work. I put on layer after layer of protective gear. Masks that make me gasp for air throughout my shift, gowns that trap heat and make me sweat, face shields that cut into my forehead. I try to do the best job I can and offer as much compassion as I have stored within me to each patient, then I go home to my lonely apartment and try to sleep through the daylight until the night comes, and I have to go back again.

Moments of light, though. Brief, beautiful, savory moments of light. My schizophrenic patient who is often confused and disoriented and asks me repeatedly if she can stay in bed (she’s homeless and used to being kicked out of places.)
“I’d be very happy if you stayed in this bed until you feel better,” I told her.
“Oh good,” she replied, relaxing a little. “Then I’m going to go back to sleep, and I wish you luck doing whatever you have to do in all that gear. Good night. I love you.”
“I love you too.”

An elderly dementia patient who asked another exhausted nurse to put on a ballgame for him. She explained there is no baseball and that it was the middle of the night. I got one of our iPads for him and pulled up the 1986 world series games for him on Youtube. I set it up on the table in front of him.
“I just wish I could bring you a hot dog,” I told him.
“Oh, I miss hot dogs so much.” He looked at me. “I know I keep asking you, but I’m waiting for your answer on my marriage proposal.”
I laughed awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
“It’s just that you are the most beautiful woman in the world,” he continued. Remember that I am wearing two masks, goggles, face shield, bouffant, gown, gloves.
“You can’t see me under all this gear!” I remind him.
“But darling, you look beautiful no matter what outfit you’re wearing.”

Moments of light. Moments of light. Long 12-hour night shifts with brief moments of light before I walk out into the early morning sunlight and head home to try and sleep.

March 30, 2020

30 Mar

Working in healthcare right now is full of a lot of highs and lows. I feel lucky that I’m working in a facility in Manhattan that hasn’t been overwhelmed and that my healthcare organization has been able to provide us personal protective equipment thus far. But we still work with the stress of the situation we are in and for what is coming. My nursing union sent an email yesterday to tell us that projections look like we are at “the beginning of the middle” with patient numbers growing rapidly and reaching their apex in about 10 days from now. The hospitals are already overwhelmed, and we don’t know what life will be like in 10 days. We do expect to run out of the supplies that protect us. We are currently required to reuse our mask for 5 shifts. But even as the rubber bands of the mask carve sores into the tops of my ears and cause bruising on the top of my nose and cheeks, I’m grateful for my little mask, because I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to have one.

I showed up to my ER the other day to find a giant truck parked along the side of the building, about the size of the back of a long-haul semi. It’s a refrigerated space to hold dead bodies, and it sits outside of the building as a reminder of how dire things are becoming. Also, outside the ER, scribbled on our sidewalk, are messages of encouragement and love from the neighborhood. I’ve seen videos of people cheering for healthcare workers out their windows. News of the deaths of nurses and doctors in New York City have stricken us with a cruel uncertainty of our own fates. My co-workers and I talk in somber tones about the 28-year-old who had to be intubated in our ER. One of our doctors who had the Coronavirus is recovered and visited us yesterday, warming our hearts to see how healthy he looks after 2 weeks of being home and now Covid negative. We gathered around him like children at story time. Tell us what it’s like. Tell us you’re okay. “Every single breath I took was painful and burned my lungs,” he told us.

It’s dizzying highs and crushing lows. Historically, there is animosity between ER nurses and med/surg nurses. They don’t like us, because we send them our sick patients, and we get frustrated when they give us push back. Calling report to a floor nurse is usually a snarky experience with a lot of sass thrown back and forth. All that is gone. When I call to give a floor nurse report the conversation now starts with sincere “how are you guys doing?” and sharing of compassion and care for one another. My friends from nursing school keep checking in on each other since we all feel so lost to be caught in this storm during our first year of nursing.

I woke up at 3AM t a couple of nights ago with my heart pounding, and I started crying, heavy long sobs born out of anxiety. I’m frustrated that I can’t do more. I’m angry that we are running out of protective equipment. I’m scared for myself, my friends, and my family. I’m nervous about what the next couple of weeks are going to look like and what I’ll be asked to do. And it all hit me in the middle of the night, because my days are spent trying to help people stay calm so that they can breathe a little easier.

Governor Cuomo put a quote on Instagram that struck me.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Healthcare workers are just as scared as everyone else, if not more so, because we first hand know what it looks like to not be able to breathe. But we have to keep going. That’s just all there is to it.

A Post from the Frontlines

23 Mar

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The world is a different place from the last time I was able to write a post. That is an understatement and obvious enough. It’s a time when we are all reaching out more than ever to the people we love and care about to check in. But I find myself reminded that I am in a different position in this global pandemic than most. I’m a registered nurse working in an emergency room in the heart of one of the most affected places on Earth, New York City.

It’s humbling and encouraging and strange to receive messages from family members and friends saying how grateful they are and how “heroic” me and other medical professionals are. I think it’s an odd thing for us to comprehend, because our worlds are still operating. I still go to work, clock in, do my job, eat my lunch, clock out, go home, and rest up for my next day of work. I understand the curiosity and interest in life at the frontlines, and I hope to give some insight into it.

I was told that the first year of being a nurse is the worst and the most difficult. I was obviously not expecting this on top of everything. My biggest frustration at the moment is the very fact that I’m still considered a “new grad” nurse with under a year of experience. I’m technically still in the training phase of my fellowship, and I’m not supposed to pick up shifts. I asked management if maybe we could work around that since these are extraordinary circumstances. They are still on the fence and leaning toward no. So even though I have a nursing license and 8 months of experience, I’m not allowed to pick up shifts within my hospital system. I’m not sure if that will change, but I’ve been in talks with other hospital systems and the state of New York about being on emergency surge lists. Right now I’m trying to use the days off that I have to rest, eat healthy, and exercise. Working on getting my immune system in the best shape it can possibly be in.

When I think about how this thing has unfolded over the last couple of weeks, I know that everything changed for me when I started hearing the stories coming out of Italy. Like most Americans, I had heard of Covid-19 and didn’t want to buy into the panic of it. The panic didn’t make sense. There’s only a 2% mortality rate, so why are we so nervous? I’m a part of a couple of different nursing forums online, and I started to see desperate pleas from Italian nurses. Their healthcare system was collapsing beneath the weight of this virus. Doctors were having to choose which patients could live or die due to the lack of resources, and cities were unable to find space for the dead bodies that were piling up. From across the globe, nurses were begging us to take this seriously, to prepare for what was coming, to avoid their mistakes. It was the first time I realized this was going to get bad and fast.

The cases started to pile up at my ER. Not confirmed cases, of course due to the unconscionable lack of testing, but patients were showing up with tell-tale stories. “My chest just feels tight.” “I felt better for a couple of days, then everything got worse.” “I just can’t seem to get better.” The news articles I read on my phone began speaking of social distancing and working from home. In Italy, people were locked down in their homes, and I wondered if it would come to that. About a week ago, on my lunch break, I left the chaos of the ER to grab some food and saw the park across the street teeming with people. Everyone was smiling and laughing and enjoying the warmer weather. I stared in disbelief. After an exhausting shift, when I got on the subway to go home around 8pm, the train was packed with people in their 20s, most already a few drinks deep. Their laughter caused them to throw their heads back and whoop. I thought of the petri dish of a train car we were sitting in.

The next day was when they began shutting bars and restaurants down. I felt as sad as anyone to watch my vibrant city be shuttered, but I also knew it was the only way. Something horrible is coming. Or more accurately, it’s here. It’s likely on most surfaces, in most bodies, in thousands of homes, and it has the capability of crumbling everything down. I still look to Italy and hope we’ve done enough to avoid the horrors they are seeing, but only time will tell. As I write this, the country of Italy has 63,927 confirmed cases. My city has 12,305.

The spirits among my co-workers are mixed. Some are in a panic, frustrated and stressed about our lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and dizzy from the hourly protocol changes from the CDC. Some of my co-workers shrug their shoulders and say that we have to keep going and just get through this, and we will be okay. Regardless of reaction, everyone still shows up every day and puts on the masks that we have, the gowns, the gloves, the goggles, and we do what we can. It’s not an ideal position to be in, but it is our job. I think of my professors from nursing school who talked about working through the AIDS epidemic. I think of nurses of the past that treated typhoid fever, tuberculosis. I think of the mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, who founded nursing as profession by volunteering to go to Crimea and help treat the wounded soldiers in a war zone. It’s the legacy of our profession, and I’ve always felt deeply honored to get to do it, especially at a time like this.

I fear for my city. I fear for my fellow nurses. I fear for my friends that no longer have jobs. I fear for all the small businesses that I love in my neighborhood who now have an uncertain future. I fear for what my life will be like in the coming weeks, the uncertainty of what I’ll be asked to do. While I know things are going to continue to get worse, I also know that things will eventually get better. I’m looking at Italy as a worse case scenario of what comes next, but I’m also looking to China as to how to get through. The number of new cases there has dramatically dropped off, and they’ve begun to close their emergency hospital facilities. Our time for that will come too.

 

Where are they now?

1 Oct
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Oh, hi!

Early last week, one of my good friends from nursing school sent me a text that read, “I miss having a life.”

I stared at the text with a mixture of anger and confusion. I knew what she was referring to. She had started her second week of training as an RN. She was lucky enough to not work through nursing school and had the summer off to travel and spend time with her friends and family. Working 40 hours a week was feeling overwhelming to her.

I, however, was in my ninth week of working as a nurse, after only one week between quitting my job as a vet tech and staring as a nurse. I was confused by her message, because for the first time in years, I feel like I have time, like I’m able to have a life.

It’s only dawning on me now just how much I put myself through to become a nurse. For three years (1.5 of prerequisites and 1.5 of nursing school), I managed to hold down a job, manage many pet sitting clients, and work hard enough in school to become my class’s valedictorian. None of this was easy. There were moments of breaking down in exhaustion, feeling frustrated, and questioning whether it was all worth it and would ever come to an end.

I wanted to post about my different clinicals (Psych, Maternity, Pediatrics, Community) and the impact they each had on me. I wanted to write about graduation, studying for the boards, the job hunt. But everything happened so fast, and I’m still having a hard time believing that I get to be where I am today.

From the outset, I wanted to be in the emergency room. Fast paced emergency situations were always my favorite at the veterinary hospital, and I loved the idea of seeing a wide variety of complaints. The ER is what I wanted, and just about everybody told me it was impossible. I had professors tell me that I wasn’t meant for the ER. I had classmates tell me that the ER was for the heartless. Advisors and recruiters told me it was a pipe dream, and I should settle for less. In New York State, there are very limited programs that allow new graduates into the emergency room. In New York City, only six positions were made available in 2019. Five at the hospital I work at, and one at the only other hospital that hires new grads into the ER.

I feel lucky. I feel grateful. When I spend time in the ER now, running around feeling dumb and useless, I also feel excited and incredulous that I’m one of the lucky few. By a simple twist of fate, one of the families that I used to cat sit for had connections at my hospital and were able to instruct HR to consider my resume for the ER fellowship. This leaves me with mixed feelings of being undeserving and embarrassed that cat sitting is what landed me my dream job. But I’ve decided that it comes down to what I do from here and how valuable a nurse I become with this opportunity that I’ve been given.

So now, I’ve bequeathed my cat sitting clients to co-workers from the vet clinic, and I’m working a healthy 37.5 hours a week. On my days off and in my evenings, I come home without anything to study (sometimes I briefly review things I encountered during the day), without any modules or homework assignments. I don’t have to run to an apartment in the Upper East Side to feed or medicate any animal. It’s like I’m learning how to be a person again.

I go for long runs in Astoria Park. I sip Guatemalan coffee while reading New York Times op-eds on my iPad. I binge watch all of “Fleabag” in two days. I make Shrimp Scampi over orzo with a side of steamed broccoli and a glass of white wine. I spend an ungodly amount of time looking at throw pillows and art for my new apartment (my first ever sans roommates). WHO AM I?

So when I think about getting back to my life and having all this free time, of course writing is at the top of my list. I’m so rusty at this point, though, that I’m having issues getting back into the groove. I always loved having this blog, because it always felt like a good warm up to keeping those writing muscles strong. I’ve just been conflicted about how or what to write.

While my vet tech days were full of stories about the clinic, my experiences as a nurse are largely things I can’t write about. I have to maintain privacy for my patients, and I don’t want to get into any hot water with my employer. A lot of the nurses I follow on social media have anonymous accounts that are private. My employer hasn’t made any rules about that sort of thing, but I really don’t want to rock the boat or have any uncomfortable conversations with HR. So I’m trying to decide: do I want to write innocuous posts about nursing that have nothing to do with my employer (is that possible?!?)? Do I want to start an anonymous blog about nursing? Should I write about other things altogether and let this be a blog about all things non-nursing?

I don’t know. I’m not even sure who would read this or see this after it has been dormant and abandoned for so long. The people that come to this blog seem to want answers about Penn Foster or about life as a Vet Tech, two things I don’t want to talk about and don’t even feel qualified to talk about. But for me this is an exercise, a means to write. Maybe there won’t be another post for 10 months. I guess it just feels good to write again. I didn’t know how to break the ice on this long silence, so here is this imperfect, rambling post. I’m alive. I’m an ER nurse. Above all, I’m happy.

Paying for nursing school

28 Aug
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From the incredible and hilarious nursing.school Instagram.

A couple of my readers have wanted to know how I pay for nursing school and while I’m no financial adviser, I can offer some words of wisdom on how to make it work and at least share what I’ve done. So let’s get real uncomfortable and talk about our finances!

One of the main reasons I decided to make the transition from veterinary nursing to human nursing is that it’s a more secure profession. Much better pay, better benefits and plenty of opportunity for growth and even better salaries over time. But getting there is by no means cheap.

Probably the biggest piece of advise I can offer is to start saving right now. Like right this minute. Top priority. Top of the list. How are you going to make this work? Most likely the time between when you decide you want to go to nursing school and actually starting will be a while. I decided I wanted to go back to school in January 2016, and I actually started nursing school January 2018. Between that time was a lot of pre-requisites and applying periods. I made a commitment to myself back then that I would scrimp and save. I also agreed to pick up as many extra shifts at work as possible. I took on every pet sitting client that asked me. I also went through my monthly budget and eliminated a lot. No more shopping. Not a lot of traveling. Eating in more. Cancelled Hulu, Spotify, New Yorker magazine subscription, etc. It all felt like little things that would never add up to paying for nursing school, but it has helped make a dent.

I would also highly highly recommend community college for any and all prerequisites that you might need to take. When I first decided I was going back to school, I shopped around for post-baccalaureate programs. I was accepted at the University of Vermont’s program. I was so excited and wide-eyed. It was all starting to happen for me. How fun it would be to live in Burlington! But then they started notifying me of the cost. About 22K per semester for 3-4 semesters, coming to between 66K and 88K for prerequisites. Not to mention the cost of relocating to Vermont, buying a car, etc. I opted for Laguardia community college where I racked up around 10K of debt instead. Not. Bad. Nursing schools DO NOT CARE where you did your pre-requisites. They care what grades you got. So save the money and go to the cheapest community college options available.

I chose NYU because I’m an older student, and it was one of the few programs that had a January start instead of a September start for their accelerated program. For me starting the nine months earlier was worth the heftier price tag. I would become a nurse sooner, and NYU has a great reputation, and I felt I could get a higher-paying job faster. But there are cheaper options, such as Hunter college, if you are looking in New York City.  Many nurses start out with an associates degree, gain experience, and return for their Bachelor’s. It’s a totally viable option if that’s what you can afford.

I have been careful about balancing work and school, and I’m lucky that I work at a place that gives me the flexibility to do that. My first semester I only worked one day a week, and second semester I worked two days a week. And I pet sit a lot. It’s a great side hustle, even though the money isn’t reliable. Some months I’ve racked up a lot of pet sitting money, and other months I barely make anything at all. My savings, my part-time work, and the pet sitting have made it so I only needed to take out loans that would cover tuition. I’ll still owe between 80k-90k in loans when I’m done though. That includes private loans (the majority of the debt), federal loans, and the small loans I took out to pay for my pre-requisites. Even when I think about it though, I feel nauseous. But for me, I decided that I will make it work. I’ll be making good money, doing something I love, and I’ll pay that down eventually. I did meet a lot of students at NYU who continued to work full-time, but I must warn that the majority of them failed out that first semester. So I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk.

So that’s how I did it/am doing it. Everyone’s situation is a little different. A lot of my classmates are living with their parents to save money on rent (not an option for me), and a lot of my classmates have their parents paying for their living situation (also not an option for me), and some of my classmates aren’t working at all and taking out additional loans to cover living expenses (gratefully not what I needed to do). The best piece of advice I can give is really take a long weekend to sit down and work through it. Is this absolutely what you want to do? Do you have debt already hanging over you? Are there things you can do NOW to start making extra money? How can you cut back on your spending, and what are you willing to sacrifice? What nursing school options can you afford? It’s not going to be easy, but if it’s what you really feel called to do, it’ll be worth it.

Some small Nursing School tips to save money!

  • Don’t buy the textbooks! I was an eager beaver who bought the textbooks a week before school only to find out on day 2 of school that there were free pdfs of the textbooks going around which were VERY easy to get. I wasted about $700. So at least wait through the first week of school to make sure you really need to be buying those books.
  • Go to student group events! My friends make fun of me, because I attend so many lectures on different aspects of nursing. But the not-so-secret thing is that it comes with a free dinner. Usually it’s pizza. Sometimes it’s salad, sandwiches, potluck food made by students. Basically they give you free food to lecture you for an hour about a healthcare topic. It’s usually very interesting and also gives you a great way to meet other students in the program and network with professors and alumni. But, yeah, free meals. Do it.
  • Invest in a good coffee maker, travel mug, lunch pails, etc. Don’t waste too much money at school/hospital cafeterias. Pack your own snacks, brew your own coffee. It adds up fast, and professors get weirdly impressed when they see you eating healthy snack options.
  • Sign up for a credit card with cash back rewards. Just a general money-saving tip, but it has especially helped in nursing school. I have a chase card with amazon reward points. Again, these little things add up fast, and it’s helped mitigate some of my smaller expenses.
  • If you don’t already have a job like mine that you can mold to your school schedule, ask your professors if they know of any. A lot of my friends have gotten “Companion” positions at hospitals. I’m quite jealous of them, because they get a decent amount of money, and they get to know a lot of the nursing staff at hospitals and will have in-house references once we graduate.
  • Optimize what your school offers you. NYU allows us free admission to most NYC museums, along with free gym memberships, not to mention a ginormous library. That means I spend a lot less money on going out, working out, and buying books.

I hope this at least helps!

Second Semester of Nursing School

27 Aug

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Throughout the first semester of nursing school I was told by professors, advisers, nurses that after the first semester, things get a lot easier.

Liars.

Maybe not entirely a lie, but the second semester was definitely just as time consuming and stressful as the first. I will say that I comprehended material faster and everything does start to click. A lot of nursing school is truly about reshifting the way we think, and it was much easier to get into that mindset.

The roughest part was Pharmacology. So many medications. So many administration parameters. So many contraindications and adverse reactions and therapeutic ranges. It was painful and so so so overwhelming. But finally getting through pharmacology made a lot of other things in nursing make sense. Administering medications and treatments, after all, is one of the biggest responsibilities of a nurse. Doctors prescribe, pharmacists make the drugs, computers scan everything. There are checks and balances. But, still, medical errors (which are usually medication related) are the third leading cause of death in the United States. And nurses are the ones standing beside a patient with the drugs in their hands, the last ones to possibly say, “Huh, this might not be a good idea for this particular patient” or “This seems like too much” or more commonly “Was the doctor/pharmacist aware of XYZ about this patient that could cause an adverse reaction.” In summation, you better know your shit.

Despite spending the majority of my summer locked in an overly air conditioned building, I still love it. Especially as I gain more confidence in my skills and the knowledge I have. I had two professors this semester who I found so inspiring. One of which I really bonded with. A feisty ER nurse from Staten Island who is whip-smart and from my first class with her, all I could think was, “That’s the exact kind of nurse I want to be.” I attended all of her extra tutoring sessions and sat front and center. The day of our final, she came up to me after the exam and gave me a big hug, and we chatted a bit about the semester. It meant the world to me.

Then there was my “Acute Psychiatric Care” class. I went into nursing school thinking I wanted to focus on emergency medicine or even critical care medicine. But I loved my psych class so much. I only got to spend three weeks on the psych floor, and I was sad to leave each day. I also think it’s a great disservice to nursing students to only require the psych class for half a semester instead of for a whole semester. Psych patients don’t just exist on the psych floor. If something physically traumatic happens to them (which is very very common) that takes precedent, and they end up on a medical floor. It takes a special finesse and optimal communication skills to work well with these patients. I loved working with the patients on the floor, and they loved us (often). A lot of the time they just wanted someone to listen to them, to have a sounding board, to have encouragement without judgment. I’m seriously considering pursuing psychiatric nursing or even working in a psychiatric emergency room.

So much to tell and explore and write about. Thank you so much to the readers who have reached out with requests and questions. The semester was too busy to sit down and answer those questions, but I’m proactively setting aside time during this break to write. Really write. I’ll finally put down an update on what happened with the poodle nanny situation, how I pay my way through nursing school, some tips about just SURVIVING nursing school, maybe some stories I’ve picked up along the way, and just some general life lessons gained along the way. I’ve missed writing so much. I’ve been told the next two semesters will be easier, but I just don’t know what to believe any more. But I’ll be here to write. I promise!

First Semester of Nursing School

14 May

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I have the month of May off from school. I’ve picked a couple of extra shifts at the vet clinic, but essentially I’m lazing around my apartment. Lots of late morning cuddles with my cat, staying out till one with friends, laying in parks reading, cooking healthy meals and grabbing unhealthy meals with friends I haven’t seen in months. I look back at my first semester of nursing school and wonder lazily to myself, “Did I imagine all that?”

It’s a shock to go from something being an all-consuming force in your life to having almost NO presence in your life. At orientation for my program back in January, multiple professors and deans emphasized that the first semester of nursing school is the hardest, the most intense, the one that some students struggle to survive. In just three months, the school strives to give you an entire medical foundation on which to build a nursing practice and reshape the way you approach patients and people in general.

I can honestly say that I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life. The weekend before finals, my classmate/friend Lauren and I camped out at NYU’s Bobst library and studied from about 10am till about 8pm both Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never studied like that for anything in my life. During my original undergrad, you would never find me studying for more than three maybe four hours on a given day, let alone 20 hours in a two day period.

For the last three months, pretty much everything in my life fell by the wayside. My life was school, clinical, and studying. And I loved it. Absolutely loved it. As every week of this grueling semester progressed, I became more and more certain that nursing is what I was born to do, and I am so excited for my career. It’s the perfect profession for me, and NYU was the right school for me to attend. I feel like I have so many stories, experiences, and revelations that I want to share that I’ve had a hard time even starting. It was three intense months that simply cannot be condensed down into five or six paragraphs. Perchance I will find some more time in my following weeks off to talk about some of the big topics that came up in nursing school and some of the major experiences. And if any of my dozen or so readers want to hear about anything in particular or have questions about nursing school, please feel free to let me know!

Until then, all I can say is that nursing school is absolutely fantastic, and I’m hoping if the next couple of semesters are easier, I can return to writing some more about it. But right now, it’s sunny and about 70 degrees outside, so I’m going to grab some books and a blanket and go lounge in Astoria Park and NOT think about diabetes or peripheral vascular diseases, or pressure ulcers.

John Oliver the Cat

30 Nov
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Dramatic reenactment of our first meeting.

Labor day weekend this year, I had plans to meet some friends for brunch in Chelsea. I woke up late and hung out in bed watching old episodes of Last Week Tonight.

As I lay there, I heard a clear, distinctive meowing which almost sounded like it was coming from my apartment. It took me a couple of minutes to realize it was coming from outside. Still in my pajamas, I put on my rain boots and rain coat (it was POURING) and headed outside to investigate. I stood at the side entrance to my building where my landlord parks his car and listened. I heard nothing. Maybe it was a stray cat passing by. Maybe one of my neighbors adopted a cat. As I turned to go back inside I heard it one more time. A tiny, little meow.

After looking around, I finally saw a little ball of fluff darting between the garbage cans. I didn’t think I’d be able to get to it, so I headed back inside to text Dr. L.

IMG_5136She guilted me into going back in the rain. Nothing in me wanted to, other than my sacred duty and pledge as a veterinary technician to help the furry creatures of the world. I grabbed an old beach towel and went back out. The cat did not want to be caught, but I kept following him around until I cornered him by the recycling bins and blocked his escape with a grate. Once he ran from me and hit the grate I grabbed him with the towel and swaddled him close to me. He didn’t fight, didn’t cry, he almost seemed to relax in my arms. I got him into my apartment and dumped him in my bathroom while I figured out what to do next.

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Scared little kitten hiding behind my toilet.

I made myself presentable and grabbed an old gym bag to put him in. I took an Uber into the city, and I kept peering into the bag to make sure he was okay. He was shaking and looking at me with those big eyes not sure to trust me or not.

“I got you,” I kept telling him. “I promise to not steer you wrong.”

My boss agreed to let us keep him at the hospital until we found a permanent home for him. I named him John Oliver, although most everyone just calls him Oliver. Within a couple of days, he was playful, friendly, exploring all over the hospital.

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Making friends at the hospital.

He quickly grew to love his little life. Steady supply of good food. Warm bed. Lots of attention. He was right at home at the hospital. We posted a couple of pictures of him on Facebook and immediately started getting responses from people who wanted him. I was happy for him, but so so sad for me. He felt like mine, like our lives were fated. He belonged with me. I had been told when I moved into my apartment that I couldn’t have pets, but I had to try. I had to ask again.

Turns out, both of my roommates really wanted to keep him and our landlord didn’t mind! John Oliver was coming home with me. The day I brought him home, he was so confused to be leaving his happy hospital. I took him back on the subway with me, and he kept looking up at me through the mesh of his carrier with that same worried look he had given me in the Uber a month earlier.

“I haven’t steered you wrong yet, have I?” I quietly said to him.

It took him a while to warm up to his new home, but now he owns the place. Even though I work with cats a lot, I’ve had to learn a lot about owning a cat, especially a rambunctious kitten. He still bites and gets what we call his “night crazies” where he runs laps around our living room nonstop from 1am-3am. But I love him. He’s my guy. My little John Oliver.

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My guy, all dressed up for the day he was neutered.

Guatemala

27 Nov
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Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

It had been a long time since I had gone on an adventure. When I decided to go back to school, I also made a decision to be frugal and work extra in order to save for nursing school. As summer approached, I noticed that even though I had cut my hours at work, my increased pet sitting volume meant I had saved a lot of money. So I googled “Best Places for Solo Travel,” and I picked the country with the cheapest/shortest flight from NYC: Guatemala.

I was so excited when I booked my trip, but I immediately became stressed once I began doing my research and noticed the state department had listed warnings for travelers to Guatemala. I read a story about a girl robbed at gunpoint, and most everyone I told about my trip told me I was insane and going to get kidnapped.

When my trip was over and I landed back in New York and made it back to my apartment, exhausted from a full day of flying, I collapsed in my bed, the experience of Guatemala still percolating through my synapses, I began to giggle. “I’m alive,” I said to myself, smiling.

SAFETY

To be honest, I was very careful in Guatemala. I think any person (especially a woman) solo-traveling the world at large has to take extra precautions. I never stayed out later than 10pm (I was usually exhausted by that time anyways), I avoided the more crime-ridden areas of the country and stuck to the extremely safe highlands, and I only carried the money I expected to spend per day with me. I was quick about taking pictures with my cell phone. I kept a copy of my passport with my luggage and one on my person, and I simply stayed aware. In the week I was there, I never felt unsafe.

What shocked me the most was how many other solo travelers (many female) I met in Guatemala as well. So many people in the US looked at me like I was insane, and I was happy to meet other people just as “crazed” as me. Everyone I met had nothing but good things to say about their experiences.

HIGHLIGHTS

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View from my room in Casa del Mundo in Lake Atitlan.

Lake Atitlan

My first two days in Guatemala I went on a hiking/kayaking trip with a company called Old Town Outfitters. I can’t recommend it enough. The tour was just me and one other girl who was solo-traveling from Colorado, Bridget. Our tour guide, Arnold was incredible. A local from Guatemala who made sure we had an incredible two days. He answered all our questions about Guatemala and went the extra mile for us at all times. Showing us places to jump off cliffs into water, helping us bargain in the market, explaining local politics. He was invaluable.

We had a guide drive us up into the mountains, then Bridget, Arnold, and I biked for a couple of hours down to Panajachel, a small lakeside town where he had a packed lunch and some Guatemalan beers. We then took a small water taxi to our incredible hotel, Casa del Mundo. Easily the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed at. That night we sat in a fire-heated hot tub and watched active volcanos across the lake erupt, their lava lighting the clouds in the distance. The next day, after breakfast, we kayaked across the lake and hiked back to the hotel.

It was my favorite part of my whole trip, and I wish I had booked the whole week with Old Town Outfitters as Bridget had. The two of us grabbed dinner in Antigua the night before she left, and her week with them was incredible. She booked her trip through a website called The Clymb. Based on her review of the trip, I’m considering my next international trip with them.

Antigua

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My time in Guatemala was based out of Antigua. Per suggestions I had read from other travelers, as soon as I landed in Guatemala City, I hired a car to take me to Antigua. It is the former capital of the country. A small, colorful village surrounded by active volcanos and full of beautiful abandoned churches, bustling markets and a decent population of ex-pats.

I stayed at an AirBNB, in a room I rented from an adorable Spanish couple, Ana Maria and Mario in a suburb of Antigua. Every morning, Ana Maria made me breakfast, and we chatted. I got big hugs when I came home and plenty of travel advice. They don’t speak any English, so we muddled through with my broken Spanish. I loved them both, and it was much better than staying in a hostel or a hotel.

I spent my days wandering the markets which are sprawling and full of everything imaginable, brought to town my Mayans that live in the neighboring villages. I took a chocolate making class at the Choco Museum, and I wandered the ruins of churches destroyed by earthquakes.

During the evenings, I hung out at two different ex-pat bars Snug and Cafe No Se. I was in Guatemala during the rainy season (I technically never saw a drop of rain though), so there were never a lot of tourists around. It was usually a handful of travelers in the bars that I would easily join in conversation. It felt nice to speak English and to get advice and swap stories with other travelers. One of the bartenders even invited me to her birthday party the following week and tried to convince me to just move to Guatemala and bartend with her. It was a tempting offer. Extremely tempting.

De La Gente coffee tour

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On one of my days, I took a tuk-tuk (a small golf-cartish taxi thing) up into the mountains of San Miguel Escobar to take a tour of one of the coffee plantations. A guy I met at Cafe No Se recommended it to me, and I wanted to get some Guatemalan coffee.

De La Gente is a collective of coffee farmers that also gives tours to increase their revenue. I had a British tour guide who translated as a farmer (Gregorio) gave me and a traveling couple a tour of the fields, explaining the process of cultivating coffee from beginning to end. We then went back to his house in the village where his daughter showed us the rest of the coffee process. We roasted and ground our own beans and all shared a cup. Again my broken Spanish came into play as I chatted with the Gregorio family.

As a coffee lover and former barista, it was eye-opening to see the process. I had lunch with the family and bought an extra couple of bags from them. I actually ordered some more from them this morning. Their coffee is pretty exceptional. With shipping to the US, it is only $16 a bag. I’ve been making coffee at home and saving a lot of money, instead of buying a $2 cup of drip every day. And I know I’m helping support Gregorio!

Earth Lodge

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Volcán Fuego erupting on my last morning in Antigua

My last night in Guatemala, I spent at a hippie dippie place in the mountains called Earth Lodge. I had spent the week hiking a lot, biking a lot, kayaking a little, and just in general being really active. I wanted the end of my trip to be relaxing.

For a modest price, I had my own private cabana with my own swinging hammock. I could hear birds and celebrations from nearby villages ringing through the mountains. I mostly read in my hammock and napped. Read. Nap. Read. Nap. Eat. Drink. Read. Nap. Honestly, that’s what I wish my entire life could be.

They had a nice central area with a bar with a decent happy hour. Earth Lodge is actually an avocado farm, and they grow most of their food there. Dinner every night is communal, and it was delicious. Fresh, healthy, vegetarian fare (I think there was a meat option though) and another chance to get to know some fellow travelers. I had to leave early the next day to get back to Guatemala City in time for my flight. Looking back, I wish I had planned two nights there. That way I could have done the morning yoga, the birdwatching class or a hike.

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Just a girl who traveled to a “dangerous” country during the “rainy” season.

I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to travel to Central America. I loved Guatemala, and I can’t wait to visit other countries in the region. Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Finally being able to use my Spanish was a blast, and I found the people in Guatemala to be more open and friendly than any other place I’ve traveled. If you’re questioning about whether or not you want to go to Guatemala, and you stumbled upon my humble blog with this bare bones post, may I suggest that you book the trip and go. Go! Nowhere in the world is completely safe. It’s really about how aware and careful you are. But I didn’t find Guatemala dangerous at all. Do your research. Take a deep breath and take the risk.

The Poet is In

24 Nov

It’s become part of a punchline for me now when people ask me what my first Bachelor’s degree was in.

“I majored in poetry, but being a poet doesn’t pay like it used to.”

Always gets a moderate chuckle. But it’s jarring to me to think back to a time when that really was my life plan. I knew it was mostly crazy, and I think I was young and rebelling against growing up. I didn’t want some office job. Like most young people, I rejected the life I thought society was forcing on me. And while I’ve successfully avoided having a desk job for most of my adult life, I did bid farewell to my dream of being a poet laureate. It’s not the creative outlet I wanted to invest myself in. Yet poetry exists in my soul like a latent infection.

Back in April I saw a post on Instagram about a pop-up poetry event at Grand Central called “The Poet is In.” It was an all day event that had poets set up at booths writing personalized poems for people. I left work early and hopped a subway South. I had to be there.

I waited in line for about 45 minutes, not minding at all. I had a book to keep me occupied, and I was so excited. Which poet would I get? That hipster one over there? The wise old man over there? It was amazing to see so many people in line, excited about poetry. That’s what poetry is supposed to be. For the people. To connect with one another and, like all art, to share in a bigger human experience.

I think I would have been happy to get any of the poets, but I felt like fate brought me to Marie Howe. A warm presence with wild hair, it turns out she is actually the one who dreamed up the event when she was the New York State poet laureate. She asked me some questions about myself. About the classes I was taking in school. About what I wanted to grow up to be when I was a little girl. She took some notes as we chatted, then loaded up her typewriter and clacked away. When she was done, she read me my personalized poem.

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I almost cried. I loved it so much, and it felt like the perfect snapshot of that very moment in my life. I sniffled back my tears and profusely thanked her for my poem and for putting the lovely event together.

“You know, I didn’t start really writing my poetry until I was in my thirties,” she told me. “You have it in you for when the time is right.”

I needed to hear that.