Aug 6, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Flashback Friday | Anglesey Sea Zoo

The Anglesey Sea Zoo is one of the coolest aquariums I have ever been to.  And the fact that it is called a sea zoo instead of an aquarium just makes it that much cooler.  Let’s just go with awesome.  It’s awesome.

There is a very striking stained glass window in the entrance.

asz-6

As you walk in, there are open ponds which contain fish and mollusks.  These first pond contain all fish and such from cold seas like these wolf eels.

asz-7

Wolf eels are not, how shall we say it nicely, cute.  They are quite hideous; only their mothers love them.  Mama wolf eels and their future mates.  We humans could learn a lot from wolf eels. Wolf eels mate for life, and the pair takes special care of its eggs as they develop. Beginning around age seven, the female lays up to 10,000 eggs at a time, then coils around them and uses her body to shape the eggs into a neat sphere roughly the size of a grapefruit.When she’s settled, the male coils around her as an added layer of protection. The female continues massaging the eggs periodically as they develop, helping to circulate water around the eggs to keep them supplied with oxygen. Eggs take about four months to hatch.

Males and Females. Together  for life. Working together to ensure a successful outcome for their children.  All 10,000 of them.  Good thing they don’t have to send the kids to college.

And these well camouflaged flounders merging with the bottom of the tank.

asz-8

These flounders are masters of disguise, able to blend into a variety of backgrounds. Their skin can imitate the different colors and textures found on the seafloor. They can look like sand one minute, and a rocky bottom the next.  The can change colors in 2-8 seconds.  The color of the little fishy can also indicated their mood; threatened little fishes are usually pale.  Just like me.  When I’m threatened all the color drains out of my face.  The flounder is an ambush predator. He lays motionless and waits for potential prey to appear and grabs it in a blink of an eye. Little shrimpies have no chance.

The next room contains tanks set into the wall where some striking sea anemones call home.

asz anenomes

And some very fine looking starfish.

asz starfish

Clownfish–made famous in the movie Finding Nemo—I found him…
Anglesey Sea Zoo

In the next room there is a dogfish

And Seahorse-ies.
asz seahorse

Anglesey Sea Zoo was the first aquarium I ever visited. Even now it is still one of the coolest aquariums I have ever seen.

Aug 2, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures of DJ and M | part 1

This adventure has been a long time in the making and it’s nearly polar opposite from what I usually do or how I normally travel.

More than a year ago, my work mate DJ said “I want to go to Europe with you” and like everyone who says that I say OK and figure absolutely nothing will happen. Because nothing ever does. So I was somewhat surprised when she brought it up again, and this time my response was ‘where do you want to go?’ because if someone only wants to go to Rome or Paris, I’m not the person they should go with.

Her response “I don’t know… I’ve never been to Europe…”  Great… I have got a geographically challenged person with no idea of what they might like to do.  Europe is pretty big, I say.  It include Istanbul, Greece, London, Moscow, Stockholm, Barcelona, and many places in between.  I begin to think that this may not be happening.

Over time, DJ and I become good friends.  She cons me into running a 5k at home and a 10K in Charleston; I con her into staying in a hostel while running said 10K.  And driving. It was a wash. Eventually we decide on summer 2015 as when we should  go. My vote was May or September (shoulder season and not 1000 degrees); her vote was July or August, based on kid’s school schedules (hers, obvs).  We finally decide on last week of August and first week of September.  I should mention that I’ve never been to Europe in the summer and what I know I know from reading and talking to others.

We probably did about 50 trip combinations before settling on out actual route.  She wanted to go to the beach; I wanted to go somewhere I haven’t been before. Croatia, Italy, and Spain were some of the finalists, but in the end, the planes, trains, and boats just wouldn’t work out financially. DJ really wanted to go to Barcelona, Paris, and London; I explained that those cities were probably the most expensive and with the budget were were working with, we could do one, maybe two, but not all three.

Paris and I are not friends

I got an email alert for a really good price on a flight to Budapest. Normally, I fly into one city and out of another, but this time, we did a round trip for <$700 in August/September. I call that a win.

Now from Budapest, we could go south, or north. I was pushing for South… Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece. DJ was deterred by the lack of tourist infrastructure and the Cyrillic alphabet so we went North.  We eventually settled on Budapest–>Vienna–>Prague–>Berlin–>Copenhagen–>London–>Budapest circuit over three weeks.

I was a little bummed to be missing out on Spain… yet again, but London for the 5th time was an acceptable substitute.

London is awesome

Because London is awesome, and no matter how many visits I have, there will always be more things to do.  And Berlin is awesome too. So I knew that at least those two cities were going to be OK. The other cities were a toss-up. Even more interesting would be the accommodations. I’ve always stayed in hostels and if I am really feeling flush, I’ll get a private room.  DJ was a hotel girl.  We settled on guesthouses and apartments plus a hostel in London with two beds and a bathroom.

Different styles… different expectations… let’s hope the friendship survives.

 

 

How to travel in any kind of weather

Keeping in contact with the weather Gods

Whenever I plan a trip especially a short one, I always check the weather forecast, and plan accordingly.  However, when traveling longer term and in varying climates what’s a girl to do.  Have a sense of humor of course; the weather gods most certainly do.

I’ve traveled in the rain, snow, heat, and cold, and it’s all been completely wonderful!

Varying weather makes the stories and memories from travel even more rich. Sure, unbelievably gorgeous skies are nice and make for fabulous photos [but it’s also hard to photograph sometimes… overcast skies are amazing], but how often do you find yourself recounting your stories tears of laughter a story from a picturesque day where nothing went wrong as opposed to that time you tried to wander a city in a torrential downpour when you’d completely lost your way? 

Despite the fantastic memories that can come from times like these, it’s still better to be a bit more prepared than not, so here’s what you can do to be ready without feeling like you’re hauling your parka, umbrella, bug repellant, and sunscreen with you at all times: 

    • Read up on what the usual weather patterns are for where you’re going. London’s reputation is pretty much a city beneath a giant water spout? Maybe it’s a good idea to pack some waterproof shoes even if meteorologists are predicting a sunny day.
    • Keep an eye out for stores carrying what you may need. You don’t have to buy everything at home and carry it with you.  Nearly every location in the world has exactly what you will need. Don’t be a paranoid lunatic glancing with crazed eyes from one shop to the next jotting down addresses for where umbrellas are being sold, but be aware. Make a tiny mental note if you see a place selling basic knit gloves, or ponchos, or sunscreen. That way, if a rumble of thunder shakes the area, you already know of a few places that might have what you need.

      Target and Primark are my favorite stores for travel goods.

    • Layers are your friend. If the place you’re traveling to has varying weather, and really, even if it doesn’t, try planning to layer. It’s easy to shed a button-up or add a light sweater if needed. It’s so much better to roll up a layer and stick it in a bag than to be hot wearing that now-too-warm shirt you’d picked in the cold morning once the afternoon heat has arrived.
    • Embrace rain or snow. It’s a beautiful thing and can add a whole new dimension to the way you see a place  [Paris’ lights reflecting on wet cobblestones, anyone?  Snow covered tombstones?]. Rather than putting the camera dejectedly away, why not embrace the wet and love it too? And what about snow falling softly in a town in the evening? Ahhh, cozy bliss.

      camellia in winter

    • Always have a bag for camera or other sensitive items that is water proof. You just never know and for these kinds of things it’s just not worth the risk.
    • Most importantly: keep an open attitude. You never know what weather your will get on a trip, but don’t ever let something like a gray sky ruin your experience. Roll with it, and try to make it a part of everything by exploring cozy cafes… or searching for shady woods to escape the heat rather than laying on the beach burning all day… or build snowmen when life gives you a blizzard.

The romance and wonder of travel comes from embracing whatever comes your way. Quirks and kinks are how you know your on adventure! Don’t shy away from having an epic story to tell when you get home.

Jul 24, 2015 - Life    No Comments

Advice from an [almost] nurse

Nursing school is done, and I for one am grateful. Yes, there are things I wish I would have known prior to starting.  If I would have known all these things, would I have still gone to nursing school?  Yes, I would have.  I may not have chosen this path or this time to do it, but I absolutely would have gone to nursing school.  It is still my #1 desire to become a nurse practitioner, and there are no schools around me that have a Direct Entry Nurse Practitioner program.

My nursing school journey looks like this: [yours may be different].

pre-nursing… I worked for 10 years in an allied health career. 8 of the 10 years were spent primarily in pediatrics with some dabbling in adult and emergency care.

phase 1:  I’ll finish up this part in a few weeks.  I’ll get my ADN.  I’ll be able to take the licensing exam and [in theory] I can begin working as a nurse.

phase 2:  I’ll be working on my BSN.  It’s 99% on line, and the classes are relevant with no extras thrown in.

phase 3:  the NP phase…of which I am undecided as of yet.

I was accepted to an accelerated BSN program, but I chose not to attend it for financial reasons. 4 semesters of full time school at $6500 = $30,000… not including books/supplies/ect… the way I am doing it will take me 27 calendar months [instead of 16].   The ADN will cost me <$2000 total, and my BSN program is ~$500/class so 10 classes x $500=~$5000… so maybe $7500 for the two programs  together.  So while I will be in school an extra 10-12 months [and some of that is time not is school due to calendars no meshing well], I’ll save at least $+20,000 AND I will be able to work and make $$$ and continue to gain experience.

My nursing school journey started in Summer 2014 and if all goes according to plans should end in July 2017.  I didn’t count on breaking my wrist and ankle and graduating a semester late, and while I was accepted into my BSN program in January 2016, I didn’t start until May 2016.  But that’s life for ya.

Helpful [or not] advice for getting in, and through nursing school

  1. Although it was a royal pain in the ass, getting into the program really was the easy part.
  2. You will spend a small fortune on textbooks, coffee, and gas driving back and forth to clinical sites.
  3. Before you even start your program, friends and family will be asking you to make medical diagnoses of their problems. [I’m lucky.  I already work in health care, most of my friends are in medical school, physician assistant school, or health care professionals, and my boyfriend is a MD, but I STILL have some people ask about drugs…  It’s always the drugs.]
  4. You are going to see a lot of naked people. Most of them you would never want to see naked.  The naked human body quickly loses its appeal.
  5. You will meet some of the most amazing people you have ever met. You will also meet some complete assholes.  Some of those are surgeons.
  6. You are going to talk about poop. A lot. Yeah. It’s gross but get used to it now.
  7. You’ll ask complete strangers about their poop. And have them describe it to you. In detail.
  8.  Several people from your class [or school… we have really small classes] will sleep with each other. If you are of the male and attending nursing school, your chances of getting laid go up by about 1000%.
  9. If by some miracle no one hooks up in your class, SOMEONE will hook up with someone they met at a clinical site [full disclosure:  in my previous program, I dated one of the someone from one of those clinical sites while I was in school. Yes, I was that person.  We dated for a year or so of the two year program.  I still had to see him after we broke up.  I still had to LEARN from him.]  Hell, I occasionally STILL have to see him now.  Hooking up with classmates and clinical instructors = your life just becomes much more difficult.
  10. For all the reasons listed above it is a fucking HORRIBLE idea to hook up with one of your classmates or someone from your clinical site.  Just trust me on this one.
  11. It is next to impossible to concentrate in class, perform a physical exam, or do your job in a CODE when you know what the person next to you looks like when they have an orgasm. And if you are at all paranoid, they know what you look like when you come too.  This does not make for the basis of professional relationships.
  12.  Rumors [about you, your classmates, your professors] are like a snowball rolling down a mountain … as it rolls it picks up speed and more and more snow. Soon it creates an avalanche destroying people or places and then there is no going back.
  13. Do not wear scrubs to lecture… It makes you look like a tool. If you must wear scrubs to class, go for the khaki or navy blue pants…those can at least pass for regular pants.  And ALWAYS take off the scrub top… t-shirt and scrub bottoms are much more passable than straight scrubs.
  14. Pick your coping method very, VERY carefully.  Alcohol is a bad idea…Once again, trust me on this one.
  15. Nurses are notorious partiers.  It’s OK to have one drink (unless, of course you are like me) with coworkers after work.  But limit it to one.  And if you can’t, zero is your number.  (Zero is MY number) No one wants hungover nurses.  Not patients, not your coworkers, and take it from me, being hungover at work, is a terrible, terrible  idea.  Once again, trust me on this one.
  16. Nurses are notoriously hard partiers. Keep that in mind at the “End of Semester” bash. And if someone suggests calling the evil med-surg instructor that made everyone miserable all semester to tell her what ya’ll really think of her while you are all drunk, for the love of God, don’t do it. [also, don’t take a group photo of you all flipping off the camera and text it to her]
  17. Everyone in your program will start out with a plan to go on and become a nurse practitioner or a nurse anesthetist. By the end of the second class, those same people will just be glad to just finish the program.
  18. You will most likely fail an exam. I didn’t, but I came mighty close a time lot two.  (I also have a lot to prove since I graduated from college the first time with a whopping 2.13 GPA, and have spent most of  my adult life trying  overcome that) If/when it does, cry about it (if that’s your thing…my thing is much more destructive than crying) and then move on. You really DON’T have time to dwell on it.  Get over it, move on, and just know one failing grade (even if it’s on a final) does not mean you have flunked out of nursing school.
  19. All the guys will want to do surgery, cardiac care, or ER. All the girls will want to do L&D or pediatric nursing. I’m crazy one…I want to psych/ER/forensic nursing.
  20. Hospitals smell bad.  I think the stuff they use to clean them smells just as bad.  If you’ve ever been in  a biology lab, especially a dissection, you know how even after you leave for the day, it feels like that smell is clinging to you. Plan to shower frequently.  I like to use the swimming pool as a giant disinfecting tank.
  21. A lot of your time during clinical rotation will be wasted. Thrown away. Down the drain. You will feel useless. [You are] It’s sucks especially if you have an instructor who will not let you work on care plans or other other nursing stuff.  Mostly likely the instructor is busy checking and rechecking all your work so that you don’t kill anyone.
  22. Most likely, you won’t kill anyone.  [Although I did have a classmate who did an assessment on dead person and this person charted breath sounds, heart sounds, heart rate, ect.  *This person had already been pronounced dead, but wasn’t covered up or bagged up.]
  23. Patients can be grumpy, mean, or uncooperative. They have earned that right because they are in the hospital. It does not give them the right to abuse the people who are trying to help them get better.
  24. NEVER ask a professor “Is this going to be on the test?” Most likely is wasn’t going to be, but now everything is going to be on the test… no multiple choice…. all essay questions with diagrams that have to be answered in either Latin or Sanskrit.
  25. Haggling over points on an exam rarely works. As a matter of fact, it usually just pisses the instructor off. [And often times your classmates too]
  26. If you piss off your instructor, he or she can make your life hell [and not just for the length of that class]
  27. Some nursing instructors are bullies.
  28. Some nursing instructors who seem like bullies aren’t. They just want you to be the best nurse you possibly can be…because you could be taking care of one of their family members one day. [Jones, I’m talking about you]
  29. Be able to talk about something other than nursing school because “normal people” don’t always want to hear about it. [But be able to have something interesting–not just complaints about the workload–to say in case someone does ask.]
  30. You’ll work with at least one nurse who hates you just because you are a student.
  31. You’ll work with at least one nurse who you wouldn’t trust to watch your cat much less an actual human you care about. [Nicole, I’m talking about you]
  32. You’ll work with at least one nurse who reminds you of the kind of nurse you want to be when you graduate. Tell him or her that. Because people need to hear it.
  33. There will be days when you wake up and ask yourself is this really what you want out of life.
  34. There will be days when you wake up and want nothing more than to quit school and become a barista at Starbucks.
  35. Always offer to help a fellow student with a difficult patient. What goes around comes around and people *do* [eventually] notice.
  36. As per pain scale protocol, you’ll start measuring everything on a scale from 1-10.
  37.  You’ll probably change your desired specialty at least 4 times, depending on your current rotation.
  38. Sleep when you can, where you can.  Don’t feel bad about making your car into a makeshift camping trailer and nap between classes. Don’t feel bad about 4 hour naps on Tuesday afternoons when you don’t have class.
  39. All sounds sound the same when you are learning them.  I still have a hard time with S1 and S2 heart sounds.  They still sound the same to me.
  40. A lot of things that seems scary in the beginning really aren’t.  It’s the things that seem easy that you need to worry about.
  41. Psych patients aren’t the ones you have to worry about. Generally, they are medicated and usually stable. It is the family members of the patient on the med-surg floor that need restrains and a heavy dose of Valium.
  42. Learn anatomy & physiology the first time around because it sucks to have to relearn it.
  43. There will be one person in your class who’s most laid back guy or chick you’ve ever met. They will sit in the back row of the class, listen to their ipod during lecture, never seem to study and then get a 99.99% on the cumulative exam at the end of the semester. You would hate this person except for they are the coolest person you have ever met.
  44. In the beginning, everyone is going to talk about how cool it’s going to be to help patients. At the end, everybody will talk about how cool it’s going to be to actually be making real money. Finally.
  45. You’ll study more than you ever have in your life and it still won’t feel like enough.
  46. You will learn the joys of being questioned according to the Socratic method. It is like the nursing school version of “pimping” that medical students go through. [I had this the other day when I had to be an anatomical dummy and point parts out on myself.  It sucks if you don’t know the answer]
  47. By the end of nursing school, you will most likely hate most of your classmates.  There are several reasons you may dislike them…from the real–they are scary in clinic, you had a group project with them and they slacked off to the petty–their voice is annoying.

There you go just some of the things I’ve learned in journey to and through the hell that is nursing school.

graduation

 

Jul 22, 2015 - Life    No Comments

Dear Durham

2015 Michelle here:  I moved to Durham on Sunday, August 21, 2005 and started work the next day. While there were aspects of it I liked, living in Durham was hard.  I stayed for three years, but it never really had a chance.

Dear Durham,

It’s not working out between us. I think I may have known that from the beginning. It’s been three years, but I was never fully committed. You see, I never changed my residency. Or quit my PRN job. Or quit calling South Carolina ‘home’. I went into our relationship not really giving it a fair shot.

durham nc
a photo of a postcard

Part of it has to do with a boy. A boy I’ve known for a while but rather [in]conveniently didn’t start dating until nearly 9 months into our relationship. Boys complicate things because while I do want to be closer to him and  see where this thing goes, you are not without your charms either.

duke children's

  • 1. I absolutely love my job. I was a bit worried when I started if I’d be able to handle taking care of sick kids. I’ve never spent time with kids before, but it just seemed as if it was something I needed to do. And I loved it. And I learned so much from it. Children are not just tiny adults. They have their own needs…which adults sometimes seem to forget. Children need someone to look out for them…protect them sometimes…even from their own parents. Children believe in magic, the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus. We help them not to forget that they are people too. Working at Duke is by far the hardest thing to leave behind.

durham Home-run-Bulls

  • 2. Baseball. The Durham Bulls are an awesome team. Their stadium is awesome, and the atmosphere is awesome. I love baseball and Durham has found a way to market it well. Oh, and the movie is one of my all time favorites too.

durham bulls baseball

  • 3. Duke Lemur Center. I mean, come on, LEMURS!!! Quite possibly the cutest animals around [other than cats].  The Duke Lemur Center has the largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar.  I confess to having gone on the tour more than once. The guides *may* even know me by name.

duke lemur 1

duke lemur 3
How could you not love the lemurs?

  • 4. Proximity. The City of Durham may suck the life out of my soul; it may not be the nicest city around, but it’s close to a lot of places that are a lot nicer. Country life in Pittsboro. Coastal life in Wilmington, Elizabeth City, and Outer Banks.  And not too far from the mountains either.

oreo cow
Oreo cows from Pittsboro

 

elizabeth city harbor
The Elizabeth City harbor

ocarcoke lighthouse
The Ocracoke Lighthouse

But all that is not enough to keep me around. I’ve been accepted to Clemson University as an in-state student and I’ll be studying Microbiology. Whether I finish or not, is not the issue. I want to apply to graduate school. I’m thinking Physician Assistant, but who knows. I’ve got to get through Physics and Organic Chemistry first. Then we’ll see.

So Durham, I’m sorry to go, but in all honesty, you really never had a chance.

Michelle

Jul 13, 2015 - Life    No Comments

The makings of a nurse: part 1

A little introduction…

One of the nifty things about losing, then recovering snippets of a blog, is that I can look back on parts of my life with the voice-of-God narration.  ‘They’ say hindsight is 20/20 and I can definitely look back on this time with insight. And as I sit around patiently and wait for the school and the board of nursing to get their proverbial ducks in a row so that I can become an actual registered nurse instead of just a nursing school graduate, I thought now would be a good time to look back at how I got here.

I have always struggled with career direction.  I struggled with where to go for college (that decision was actually a non decision), what to major in (another non decision), what to do after college, and really, just about all adult life decisions.  I have a tremendous fear of commitment that manifests itself in me not being able to make a firm decision about much of anything.

I knew that when I took my career break back in 2010-2011, I wanted to change careers when I came back. But to what?  Ah…that is the question

So how’d I end up in nursing school anyway? Because let me tell you, becoming a RN was the last thing I had planned to do with my life.

November 2012– I was preparing for my one and only medical school interview.  I had had an interview for PA school in October, and found out I was wait listed.  [I violated every ‘rule’ about applying for graduate school possible including casting a wide net and knowing really why you want to go to this particular school.  I don’t want to move so I applied to PA school, medical school, an accelerated BSN school that also has NP program, and for good measure a Speech-Language Pathologist school.  I was accepted to 2 programs and wait listed to one and rejected to one.  I took the GRE and MCAT within the same week.  Yeah, that sucked].

The one question I was really having difficulty with was ‘Why do you want to be a physician?’ [or PA or SLP or NP for that matter] because my truthful answer probably isn’t the best answer.  The truthful answer is…’I love taking care of patients.  I love working in health care.  I don’t love my current job. I want to do something else…anything else…where I can use my brain cells so they don’t atrophy from non-use.’

I came up with something better for the actual interview and on December 5, 2012 I received my acceptance letter to medical school.  A week later, I received an acceptance to the AccelBSN program and at the end of February, I was notified that I was accepted off the wait-list for PA school.  And all the schools had the same deadline of Friday, March 15, 2013 [Beware of the Ides of March and all].  I had hoped to get into ONE school and be on my merry way.  This decision caused major stress in my world which I dealt with by working ALL. THE. TIME. [Really. 18 12-hour shifts in a row…one day off, then 17 more]  Around the time I was working every day, I caught fifths disease [most likely from a patient].  While fifths disease itself isn’t all that serious, for me, it led to some pretty severe complications.

I put in a deposit at the medical college and the PA school.  That extended my time to make a decision as it was refundable until May 15 and PA school started May 27.

On May 11, 2013, while at work dealing with a patient that required my hands to be physically on her for 3+ hours and after the ambulance picked her up, I very nearly passed out.  I’m not squeamish so I knew it wasn’t due to I was up to my elbows in my patient’s blood.

Long story made short, I had developed a blood disorder as a complication to the fifths disease.  It needed serious and immediate treatment.  I called up the PA school and explained my circumstances.  They gave me my deposit back, but in exchange I had to give up my space.  I also called up medical school to explain the circumstances and was granted a one year deferment.  During my medical treatment I had a lot of time to think.  I decided that I didn’t want to do critical care anymore.  Or at least not now.  While I love medicine, I really couldn’t see spending the next ten years studying medicine and doing a residency. [I really, really wanted to do Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, a 3+3 residency, but life is short and time is precious and all].

And so that is how I ended up in nursing school.  They had a seat.  I accepted. My health cooperated. Classes start in May.

Jul 8, 2015 - Life    No Comments

Flashback Friday | Reality

Reality is the first night on the job.

I have had a license to practice respiratory care in South Carolina for a whopping 8 days, and here I sit, at the hospital on a Saturday night, working.  I am the only respiratory therapist in the building.  God help us all if there in an EMERGENCY tonight. I am working with my favorite hospitalist, so that helps.

anmed-photo

one of the best thing about peds–getting to wear Oscar the Grouch to work

You know, I have never moved. I’ve done a lot of shuffling back and forth between here and there, but I have spent my entire life essentially within a 50 mile radius. (You know, other than when I lived in Mexico or spent the summer in UK) I am beyond nervous, somewhat excited, and generally hopeful that I haven’t committed a major fuck-up. My biggest fear is that I won’t be good enough or smart enough to handle taking care of actual sick people.

Here’s the thing…even though I worked at Hillcrest almost the entire time I was in school, spent time in ER and ICU, I can still count on my fingers the number of bona-fide emergencies I’ve been involved in because Hillcrest is a place for the  not-well or those recovering from surgery.  It is not a place for the actually dying or people in actual emergencies.  There just not the equipment or sheer number of people needed to participated in a real life-or-death situation.

And I am going to work in a hospital with a Level 1 trauma center, a level 3 NICU, and very large PICU, and while I don’t know where I’ll eventually end up, I chose, I chose, PICU, NICU, and ER as my top 3 choices of where I’d like to work.

The reality of what I’ve done is starting to set in.  I’ve packed up a month’s worth of clothes, a few books, my laptop, a sleeping bag, my kick-ass stereo that goes with me everywhere, and a sense of adventure. In the morning, after working a 12-hour shift, I’m moving to Durham, North Carolina where for a least the next year, I’ll be participating in a pilot residency program for newly graduated respiratory therapists.  I’ve left Shadow, Spot, all my friends, and all the bad memories of the last few months behind.

************************************************

And later that day…after driving 272 miles, crashing for a few hours in my sleeping bag in a hammock on the screened-in porch, and unpacking my paltry amount of possessions…

I’m living in a roughly 8 x 15 cement cinder block room in the basement of a rather large house. It’s double the size of a jail cell, slightly smaller than a dorm room. I have a minuscule closet, a wall full of wooden built-ins, and an old parquet floor.  It looks like a hallway and furniture arrangement is going to take some, um, creativity.  Lighting is awful; I have those old, tube fluorescent lights, and the tiniest of windows which I can’t even open.    My guess is that it’s not a ‘legal’ bedroom, but whatevs, it’s cheap, and close to the hospital where I’ll be working.

The bathroom beside my room has clearly seen better days. It has a stand-up shower, a pedestal sink, and a toilet. The minimum. Rent is $282.50/month… which hopefully after a month or so of settling in, I can begin to save up money, pay off student loans, and finally take a vacation. I don’t even have a bed yet.  I report to work at promptly 8:30am.  It’s too late to turn back now. This is my new reality.

Jun 21, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Wandering around Lake Titicaca

I am known for being *somewhat* spontaneous at times.  Other times I suffer from an the lack of ability to make a decision as simple as what I want for dinner.  What can I say, I’m a study in contradictions

After a spontaneous 100 km trek to  Machu Picchu, I headed south towards Bolivia.  On my own once again for the first time since arriving in Peru, I wasn’t quite ready for solitude just yet.  Through the traveler grapevine, I’d heard of home-stays on Lake Titicaca, and thought that would be something worth checking out. Onward to Puno. 

 

Puno,  a small town in the southern Peru, is bordered by Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water. The town, at 12,500 feet above sea level is breathtakingly [and I mean that literally] beautiful. It is alive with bright colors and friendly people. Boats lined with neon colors and shops filled with alpaca sweaters and scarfs give color to the town. The Uros Islands, the man-made floating reed islands, can by spotted from the shoreline and people from all over visit to get a taste of the island traditions.

Puno is  a quiet, quaint town with all of the attractions located on the main plaza. Spanish is widely spoken as the town’s main source of income is tourism, but the town still has indigenous ties and as such, Aymara is spoken by most citizens.

Puno is small and as such most visitors only stay for a day or two. The main draw to the town is the opportunity to visit the islands and do an overnight tour with a local family. You can, of course,  visit the islands on a day trip, but as it is relatively  inexpensive to do an overnight home-stay, I recommend you do the overnight stay.

The overall experience is pretty touristy, but informative. We arrived to the first island and were greeted by the “Island President” who explained that each island only has room for 5-10 houses, so the families that reside on each island form small committees and work together to remain afloat.

The president demonstrated how each island is anchored down by heavy square blocks of reed roots so they stay in Peru and don’t float to Bolivia.  He also explained that the islands are made up of layers of reeds and a new layer has to be added to the ‘island’ every fortnight. Each island has a committee, and the committee divides the chore of laying out new reed layers between the residents.

How the Floating Islands are made Lake Titicaca Puno

The local economy consists of trout fishing, quinoa, yucca, and potato farming, tourism and artisan handiwork.  Most of the people who live on the islands also have a house in town where they stay during the week and travel to town by speed boat; island residents are not as segregated as they seem.

After a lesson in Uros culture and reed house construction, we were divided into groups and invited in the houses to see an example of island living. The construction was simple and each house is one giant room. Each house is powered by clean energy– an individual solar panel soaks up the bright mountain sun all day and is used to provide electricity to the house.  In the past candles were used, but you can imagine that the fire + straw combo was a bad idea…

The houses contained artisan work and the couple that was showing us around sat silently stitching in the corner.  I felt as there was some pressure to buy something but as I wasn’t headed home, and didn’t need anything, I resisted.  I got a few dirty looks, but I try not to buy things I don’t need just for the sake of buying it.  Maybe had I visited the Uros Islands prior to setting up my apartment in the north, I would have been in the marker, but as it was, I was going to be backpacking for at least six weeks and I like to keep my load to a minimum.

Reed boat construction is rather fascinating.  The reeds are rather flimsy and they soak up water quickly so at first glance not the obvious first choice for a vessel to navigate the frigid waters of Lake Titicaca.  But someone had the truly genius idea of filling the frame of the reed boat with empty plastic water bottles.  Thus adding a layer of security to the reed frame and second, and just as important, finding a way to recycle some of the overwhelming number of plastic bottles in  Peru.
Best piece of advice during this tour… take minute, set down your camera, find a quiet corner of the island and just sit. Sit and appreciate the beauty of nature. Take time to appreciate the massiveness of the lake, the warm [almost hot] high, mountain sun, the bright blue water and the incredible floating island energy that surrounds you.

 

May 24, 2015 - Wanderlust    2 Comments

Cats, Hemingway, and Key West

I have a confession to make that will put me squarely in the literary hall of shame–I have never, not even once, read a book by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried…I just find them incredibly boring, but to have been Hemingway, to have lived a carefree life of travel, whisky, women [ok, not interested in that part],  and writing, that part is appealing to me. And a giant house full of cats.  The only thing that keeps me from adopting all the strays in the hood is the fact that I do like to pack my bags and head out for a bit.  I can find kitty-sitters for  Lucy and Christopher; if I had 10 or so, it might be a bit more difficult.  Anyway, I digress…

Key West is well known for it’s unique and historic houses, but I’d wager the Hemingway House is the most popular if for no other reason than its former [and current] occupant[s].

hemingway house

The Hemingway House

The house was originally owned by Asa Tift, a marine architect and captain, who built the house in 1851. The estate didn’t become Hemingway’s home until 1931. He purchased the property, which by then had been boarded up and abandoned, for $8,000 in back taxes owed to the city.

Hemingway, his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons lived together in the house until 1940, when Hemingway left for Cuba. In 1951, Pauline (now his ex-wife) died leaving the house vacant, apart from the caretaker that lived on the property.

For the next ten years, Hemingway used the house as a place to stay during his trips between Cuba and his home in Ketchum, Idaho. When Hemingway died in 1961, his sons agreed to sell the estate.

During his years in Key West, Hemingway completed about 70% of his works including A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. [of which, I’ve read none…hangs head in shame]

heminway study
I *might* could get some writing done in an office such as this.

After his death, the house sold at a silent auction for $80,000. A local business owner, Bernice Dixon purchased the house. She lived in the main home until 1964, when she moved into the guest house and turned Hemingway’s home into a museum. After Bernice’s death in the late 1980’s, the estate was passed onto her family who have kept the property open to visitors wanting to learn about the life of Ernest Hemingway.

My interest in visiting the Hemingway house was not because I’m a Hemingway fan , but because I love old architecture. I especially have a thing for buildings with wrap around porches and wooden shutters.

heminway house porch

Hemingway’s Cats

And the cats.  Oh yes, I knew all about the cats ahead of time. Any place that has cats roaming around is my kind of place. Each cat [and there are more than 40 fabulous felines roaming the house and grounds] has six toes or at least the genetic trait to pass on to future ancestors of Hemingway’s favorite pets. These polydactyl cats live all over the grounds. They were all born here and are completely used to camera wielding tourists. They can sleep through any shutter speeds, but occasionally want to be pet or scratched behind the ear.

During my walkabout the house, a cat pranced into the bedroom and clawed at the carpet. [just like Lucy does] She was permitted to do so [unlike Lucy]. She then plopped down at the feet a group of tourists … quite certain that no one would step on her [Much like Christopher. Cats really are the same no matter where you go]. Another cat was asleep on the master bed.

Hemingway cat 4

Legend goes that Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. Rumour has it six toed cats are good luck…kinda like cute little four leaf clovers. The gift-kitten was from a litter of the captain’s cat Snowball, who also had six toes.

Hemingway’s boys named their new kitten Snow White and as Hemingway once wrote, “one cat just leads to another”. Even today, some of the cats that live at Hemingway Home are descendants of the original Snow White.

hemingway-cat 3

Argghhhhh….I can’t even stand the cuteness of this guy.

There are so many cats at Hemingway’s house that the museum has its own veterinarian to care for them. How cool is that job. A Cat only veterinarian. Sign me up! Cats, unfortunately, do not live forever. However, there is Cat Cemetery behind the house where one can pay respects.

Hemingway House, cat 5
This guy looks just like my sweet Kaos.

Apr 17, 2015 - Trail Tales, Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures in Colca Canyon

Like many things I do, my trek to Colca Canyon was not carefully planned; it was more of a spontaneous impulse.

I arrived in Peru mid-March hell-bent on hiking Machu Picchu.  The universe was equally hell-bent on making sure that didn’t happen. As always, the universe won.  I poked around Cusco for a while, contemplating where to go next. Arequipa seemed like a logical place.  It has everything I look for in a destination: history, interesting architecture, something special in the vicinity that you can’t find anywhere else.

Enter Colca Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world, and home to the world’s largest and most romantic bird:  the Colca Condor.

The condor has a wingspan of 10 feet, can live to be 100 years old, and mates for life.  In fact, the remaining partner often commits suicide when its partner dies.  The bird just refuses to flap its massive wings and plummets to its death. Tragic, but also somewhat romantic.

After poking around Arequipa for a few days, I headed out to Cabanaconde, a small town nestled in a chasm deeper. I had nowhere to be until May so I planned on doing a little hiking/backpacking in the area knowing that I’d be back in Peru in the fall [technically, I suppose I mean spring since seasons are reversed] I had just returned from a short day hike and was admiring the view of the canyon while sipping what would become one of my top five all-time favorite alcoholic beverages–a maracuya sour– when I saw it far off in the distance.  What ‘it’ was was a small white waterfall standing out against a wall of green. At that moment, I knew that I’d have to get a lot closer, and I wasn’t leaving the canyon until I felt that cold water on my feet

 As it turned out, the white blip was the Huaruro waterfall, a 250-foot behemoth accessible from the small village of Fure on the opposite side of the canyon.  A hiker and explorer by heart, a mountaineer I am not. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with the curse of self-awareness, and knew that getting there completely on my own was so far outside my comfort zone it would not be advisable to try.  Enter my new best friend, Jose [maybe not his real name, but he answered to it]. As a solo female traveler and even more so as a solo female adventurer heading into a canyon where I could be raped and dismembered and left for the condors to eat, I have to trust my gut when meeting guides.  After all, I am literally putting my life in their hands–at least for a few days. I met my tiny Quechua guide the day before and maybe he recognized my hesitation since he invited me to meet his family.
Meeting the family put me at ease that this wasn’t some serial killer trying to get me alone and away from civilization.  Dinner was potatoes and meat, probably alpaca–I didn’t ask–and chincha, a drink I’ve already come to loathe, and conversation was probably 75% Spanish and 25% Quechua. Don’t worry, I didn’t know I could understand Quechua either, but apparently having studied/lived with Mayans 10 years ago

After dinner, the women-folk did their cleaning up and Jose and I discussed the particulars of the trek. We would start at 7:00 in the morning, and hike from Cabanaconde down to the bottom of the canyon [a descent of approximately 3,300 feet]. After that, we’ll cross the Colca River, have lunch in Llahuar, hike up about 1,650 feet to the town of Llatica and then continue up another 600 feet to Fure, where we would sleep that first night.

The next day, we’d set out for the waterfall and then hike back down the canyon to the Sangalle oasis, where we’d spend the night. Then, early in the morning of the third day, we’d leave the oasis to hike up back to Fure and on day 4, it’s back to Cabanaconde and civilization.  Looking back, I’m grateful I’d mention up front that I wanted to go slow since I’d would be taking a lot of pictures because Jose said in the past, this had always been a 3-day trek for him.

Jose said he didn’t do this route often; not many guides did since most people just wanted to see the canyon, but for 4 days he charged me $50. Food was extra, but in reality still only amounted to another $25 for the two of us for the four days. So $75 total for four days of guiding, food, drink, and our one night in a shelter.  What a deal. Fortunately, or maybe not, I had no idea of what I was in for.

Colca Canyon Sunrise.

Into the canyon

The next morning, I was up at 5 for breakfast and last minute backpack arranging. As promised, Jose arrived promptly at 7 and off we went. We walked through the town of Cabanaconde, passing an empty bullfighting ring and the goal of an abandoned soccer stadium. From there, we descended into the canyon.

I was weaving my way down Colca Canyon, slowly– little by little, when I caught my first glimpse of the Colca River. This glistening sliver of hope encouraged me that I was getting closer to reaching the bottom of one of the deepest canyons on the planet and helped me carry on.

Almost immediately, Jose started pointing out all kinds of indigenous herbs and fruits. A plethora of plants with a variety of uses grow in the canyon: muña for indigestion, cactus fruit for asthma and jatupa for insecticide, for starters. The canyon also hosts an incredible bounty of fruit. Peaches, apples, papaya, several different types of squash, lucuma, corn, mango and figs all flourish there. And you know this just fed my little nerd heart so much.

Five hourse later, we crossed the rushing Colca River and arrived at Llahuar, a small settlement consisting of two guesthouses, where lunch was a hearty heap  of protein in the form of trout, and the requisite unidentifiable soup with a mass of avocado or potato in it, and rice.  The view was simply amazing–an overlook of the convergence of the Colca and Huaruro rivers.

 

After lunch, more hiking, this time up as we ascended to the town of Llatica, a sleepy place with a rundown church. At the end of the first uphill leg of our trip, I was completely winded. I maintain that this was due to the altitude (about 12,000 feet), not the fact that I was, well, a bit out of shape.

That’s when things started to get interesting. Right outside Llatica, we met the bearer of bad news. A group of three Peruvians guys told us the path to Fure had been blocked by a rockslide, and we’d be unable to continue. Specifically, one of the guys said that I wouldn’t be able to cross the affected path, which was now apparently a heaping pile of boulders. I am at most most effective [and stubborn] when someone tells me that I can’t do something. The guys pointed out a different trail, one that went almost to the top of the mountain and then descended to Fure.

I, of course, was not in favor of this option, considering the dire state of my knees and lungs. However, if we reached the rock slide and couldn’t get around it, we’d have to return all the way to Llatica in the dark for the night. Night hiking is not my favorite. By this time, it was already 3:00 in the afternoon. We’d been hiking since 7A and sunset would be about 6P. If I’d been smarter, I would have suggested staying in Llatica for the evening and re-evaluating my options. I wasn’t smart.

Thinking about what to do

Obstacle surmounted–chasing waterfalls

We soldiered on to  Fure where we met a young teenager who seemed more confident about our chances with the rock slide. The catch, though, was that we’d have to rock-climb up a 20-foot chasm in the mountain. There were no ropes and no harnesses, and there certainly was no emergency room close enough to make any difference. Rock-climbing has never been an interest of mine, and now I’m mentally cursing myself for never having visited a rock-climbing gym. And I was tired.  Bone-tired, but I was not at a place to stop.

By the time we got to the slide, I was running on fumes. The path ended and in its place stood a substantial rock face, which there was now no choice but to climb. On either side of the rock slide, the mountain shot straight up and dropped straight down, so there would be no walking around the boulders.

My new friend took my backpack up the crevice. Then it was my turn. My new friend and Jose told me where to put my feet and hands, and I inched up the mountain. About 15 feet up,  I got stuck. For nearly a minute, I balanced on one toe on the crack in the rock, using three fingers to grip the rock above my head. I held myself there, paralyzed, unsure whether my next move would hoist me up or land me with a broken leg.

Honestly, though, the climb was almost a relief, because I was able to make use of my arms in addition to my legs. With one big heave that involved placing my other foot on the rock above my hip and hoisting myself up, I cleared the worst of the climb. From there, just two more moves took me to the top. My new friend (I never got his real name) helped me up at the end, and Jose scrambled up quickly behind me like the native pack mule he is.

We picked up the trail again on the other side of the rockslide, and from there, we crossed a rickety bridge to Fure, where we were shown to our room for the night: a mud hut with four walls, a dirt floor and a mattress propped up on bamboo and logs.

Main Street–Fure

After a long soak in the town’s natural spring and a dinner of soup, squash puree and white rice, I went to bed and slept like a dead animal until sunrise the next day.

The Waterfall

After a relatively mild hour-and-a-half hike, we approached the waterfall. At first, all we could see was a watery mist drifting up into a vivid green pasture. Then we turned a corner, and suddenly we were at the foot of a mass of water plunging to the ground. The vegetation was dripping wet from the mist, and the noise from the water’s 250-foot drop silenced our conversation.

The hike to Sangalle oasis was thankfully, drama-free.

Colca Canyon has more to offer than resounding views and an oasis.  It has the power to challenge us both mentally and physically whilst giving us strength and a connection to the world around us.