Updated: Nov 8, 2020
The last few weeks have been a blur but I finally have a chance to sit down and reflect.
Farewell to Fort Bragg
I was in Fort Bragg (Mendocino Coast District Hospital later Adventist Health Mendocino Coast) from November 2019 to the end of September 2020. It became a second home and a second family. I never intended to stay so long in one place but then COVID hit, jobs started drying up, nursing contracts were canceled, hospitals were cutting staff, hot spots were being overwhelmed. It made more sense to stay put where I had a position, where they needed me there, and where I had great relationships with the staff and my fellow travelers. There were many factors but at the end of the day I stayed because of some great people.
Thinking back on my experience in Fort Bragg (and maybe this is the nature of working with travel nurses), but it seems like the experience was a series of phases with people. I came to Fort Bragg originally because of my friend Teri (who was working Labor and Delivery but also floating to the ER - she’s very talented and an amazing human being). I had worked with her years before back home as one of the first travelers (if not THE first) in our ER at Greer Memorial and we’ve been friends ever since. I worked with her again some time later at Greenville Memorial (the flagship and major trauma hospital in our system).
My Teri phase at Fort Bragg was mainly beach walks looking for shells,
hiking around on Forrest trails, and a quasi-dangerous decent into a very steep and muddy punch bowl. Teri was with us through the shutdown of the Labor and Delivery department at Mendocino Coast District Hospital and she spent the last few weeks of her contract working with us in the ER (which was awesome for me as we got to work side by side again) and doing training to help the ER staff prepare for possible deliveries in the ER (which happened several times by the time I left). Teri moved on after this to one of her favorite places at the medical clinics of Yellowstone National Park to spend the summer taking pictures of the abundant wildlife.
My friends Lisa and Angie punctuated the next period of life at MCDH. While Angie had worked in ICU for over a year, for Lisa this was her first travel assignment. Lisa (like many of us) was working through a lot of life stuff and we had some amazing conversations I will never forget. I watched her grow and really find herself and her joy in a truly special way. Angie occasionally floated to the ER and we shared a few shifts together which were always better for her being there. Angie is one of those awesome people that just make you feel better when you know they’re working. We also shared some great conversations and she continues to inspire me with her travels and gypsy lifestyle (a fellow RVer) - she truly lives life to the fullest. The night of Angie and I and the patient with the orange will be forever with me. One of my fondest memories of knowing these two was sharing a meal with these two, which during the COVID pandemic brought a very welcome since of home, family, and normalcy.
The next phase of my time in FB was spent mostly with my friend Lara, another travel nurse who routinely returned to Fort Bragg and I had the pleasure to work with her twice (two different contracts for her) while I was there. Lara’s second contract there occurred during the early-mid brunt of the first COVID wave and we spent many days hiking and talking through a wide range of thoughts and emotions on the topic. Lara was my first dinner quest to the Airstream and we enjoyed each other’s company in another rare moment of normalcy.
I spent the last of my experience in Fort Bragg mostly with Kari, Angie (different Angie from the previous, don’t get confused), and Dan. Kari was one of the few perm staff on night shift and having been in many roles in the hospital over many years, was a true expert in all the inner workings of the hospital system and processes. She was another of those wonderful people who just made the shift better for being there. By the end of our time together we also shared some truly deep and meaningful conversations that will always stay with me . . . I found in many ways we thought very much alike . . . staying curious with an open mind. Angie and Dan are a married couple that returned for another assignment to Fort Bragg after spending a year on the road traveling in a renovated Skoolie. Angie works ER and Dan ICU. Angie’s adventurous spirit and passion for living life profoundly inspired me and together she and Dan have had some amazing adventures (and I’m sure will have many more).
I worked with some amazing providers; Drs Ross, Lenaghan, Eisele, and Leon stand out the most, though there were many more. And I was there to work with and see some other very interesting people go such as the infamous Dr. Bob Pollard (or just Dr. Bob as he liked to introduce himself) who I will forever remember for the very nice touch of thanking the transcriptionist in his dictations . . . “This is Dr. Bob Pollard, that’s B-O-B, thank you for taking this dictation.” And there was also the mysterious fact that his white coat hung on the door unused for the entire night until we would have to call him for a patient at 3 AM and then suddenly it was time to put on the white coat. He was also known to frequently go out to his car to fetch a book of exercises to show to patients as a visual teaching aid - good stuff - oh, he was also a fan of recommending hot showers in his discharge instructions.
My arrival to Fort Bragg in the early winter of 2019 occurred just after their last fire season and ironically I left just as the fire season of 2020 got into full swing. The skies were an eerie orange which cast the same color on everything beneath. You could write in the ash on your car in the morning (and the nearest fire was about fifty miles away in Willits). I had the pleasure of staying at two beautiful RV parks. The first, Harbor RV was a lovely park right on the ocean edge (or at least on the cliffs above the ocean) and directly adjacent to Pomo Bluffs Park - with a beautiful grassy walking trail following the cliff line and looking out on the harbor - this became our daily walking trail. As summer progressed and I continued to renew the Fort Bragg contract, the park eventually filled up for the summer (yes, even with COVID), so I had to move on. Leisure Time RV Park was the next stop and a pleasant change and contrast to the ocean as this park was nestled in the borders of Jackson State Demonstration Forrest. Our daily walks there were now on quiet logging roads wooded with towering Redwoods and bordered with ferns and small gurgling creeks. When I first started in Fort Bragg, COVID was only remotely on the map (as an emerging illness in China) but we went through protracted shelter in place orders, and when I left COVID was still in full swing (as it was elsewhere throughout the country).
I quasi-totaled one rig (Forrest River RPOD) and made a home in a new one (Airstream) . . . and FYI the repairs on the RPOD were still not complete nine months later as I was leaving . . . so here's to things up in the air. This assignment took me to some amazing places such as Goblin Valley State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Death Valley National Park, The Alabama Hills, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Redwood National and State Parks, many other smaller local parks, and the astoundingly beautiful Lake Tahoe (my first Airstream towing experience after six months in place).
A Whirlwind Next Assignment
I slept after getting home my last shift and then woke to break down camp and drive through the night (and approx. 16 hours) to the next stop in Flagstaff (and by the way, the skies remained depressingly smoky until we finally hit Flag). I arranged to spend a few days in Flagstaff in order to do some bucket list hiking - Walnut Canyon National Monument and summiting Humphreys Peak (the highest peak in Arizona at 12,635’). I originally intended to hike this summit during the National Parks road trip of 2018 but at the time I came through, Coconino National Forrest was under stage III fire restrictions (i.e. completely closed), so it felt good to come full circle and return to bag this peak - Hiker did an awesome job at elevation but was completely trashed for a few days afterwards.
An easy 3 hours later and we had the weekend to settle in at the beautiful USA RV Park in Gallup, New Mexico before starting orientation at Fort Defiance, Arizona (Tséhootsooí Medical Center) on Monday. It’s a 45 minute commute but I actually like the longer drive (especially through the beautiful desert) as it gives time to listen to podcast, audiobooks, or just to quietly get in the right headspace.
After being in Fort Bragg for 11 months, I had forgotten the hassle of all the onboarding prep and orientation - loads of modules, requirements, paperwork, and classroom time. Then it moves onto to the tedium of unit orientation and muddling your way as fast as you can absorb through processes and procedures, the charting system, and unit dynamics - I’ve said before that unfortunately a lot of what makes you a good nurse (perhaps even more so than knowledge base and clinical skills) is simply knowing how to navigate these factors efficiently - and you throw that out the window each time you change facilities. I was immediately reminded why I like to extend contracts when possible - to avoid this process (every 3 months is too often to go through this time after time). All of this being said, I’ve just about found my feet again, and the people (both staff and our Navajo patients) have been warm, appreciative, and welcoming. It’s also a lovely facility, well staffed and well equipped. I used to tell orientees that you have to expect a period (at the start of any new job) of not really liking that job, not knowing what you’re doing, having that tight, “butterflies in the stomach” feeling on the way to work - it you just have to realize that at some point down the road, you will be on the way to work and realize that feeling is gone and you kinda sorta feel like you now know what you’re doing and you kinda sorta like and enjoy what you’re doing too.
I’ve also been able to get out and do some hiking (at El Morro National Monument and El Malpais National Monument/Conservation Area) on some amazingly beautiful days . . . I end up just walking around in constant wonder and amazing at the great wide-openness and grandeur of it all - the lovely sun and warmth and breeze, the smell of the desert.
There’s so much more to explore and I’m planning many more day trips to visit more National Park sites and other beautiful spots so keep tuned for more to come.
"Do you see the great expanse, my walkable ocean, and my soul between earth and sky"