Your first week as a travel nurse looks a little different than your first week at a new staff position. Every new assignment is different, from small details such as your badge to different charting systems that determine the workflow of your shift. After driving 12 hours, checking into my hotel, and grabbing last minute supplies I prepared myself last Sunday night for the unknown. Would they take me onto the floor my first day? Would they sit me in a classroom for hours completing mandatory education? Would I know my schedule for the rest of the week?
The first day is always daunting. You feel out of place, you don’t know if you’re on the right floor or even the right building. You don’t know anyone so you don’t know who to turn to if you have questions about where to go. Thankfully, my facility here in New York sent detailed emails about parking and where to go. My fit test is at 0915, so at least I can get a little extra sleep. I wake up, put my scrubs on and head to the parking lot where a shuttle should take me to orientation. They drop me off in front of an imposing building and I look around “Hey, do you know if this is where we go to get fit tested?” I ask a nearby woman in scrubs. “I think so,” she shrugs to me. It turns out we were right and we’re ushered into the fit testing room.
Here I fill out forms asking if I have problems with enclosed spaces? Have I ever passed out while wearing an N95 mask, do I ever have irregular heartbeats or a diagnosed cardiac condition? Have I ever felt short of breath while wearing an N95, or do I have any pulmonary conditions? I quickly run down the page checking the “no” boxes and hand the page in. They give me a mask to put on and I put the testing hood over my head. One of the volunteers sprays a puff of bitrex into the hood and tells me to read the provided sheet out loud while leaving the mask on. I quickly realize the mask is not going to work as I sense the bitter taste of the bitrex in my mouth. We go through another round and I finally find a mask that works.
From there they send us to the Director of Nursing, she asks us what we’re familiar with and puts us into tiers to determine which unit or floor would be best suited for our skill-set. “Do you know Epic?” she asks looking down at her list. “Yes, I worked with it for two years, the last time in February,” I inform her. “Good,” she says, “You can start working tomorrow. Report to ASU at seven and you will take your first patient assignment.” I am both nervous and expectant. I had thought I’d get more time orienting to my unit before taking a patient assignment, but it appears my one day of orientation is done.
I find out that ASU stands for Ambulatory Surgery Unit, where patients usually go after surgery to recover for a short time before going home or to a medical-surgical floor. In the midst of the current chaos, this unit has been converted into one of few clean intensive care units left in the hospital. I’m surprised they assigned me to a “clean” unit, one without COVID-19 patients, but I’m here to help in whatever way I can so I show up with an open mind.
The nurses of this unit are weary. Most were ICU nurses in the past, but have been working hard to adjust to the new conditions. More shifts, different patient demographic, caring for ICU patients in open bays, and moving from day-shift to night-shift are all things that have been wearing on the staff. The nurse I receive report from is kind enough to show me around the unit, despite having already worked thirteen hours. She gives me a few pointers and I tell her to go home and get some rest. The rest of my day feels oddly normal. I’m back in ICU caring for patients, titrating drips and administering medications. The normalcy is eerie, like being in the eye of the storm. I know all around me are nurses, doctors, and patients fighting this new virus but here we fight a different battle. We care for our patients knowing that we are one of the last places left they can go for care without an increased threat of exposure.
I didn’t know what to expect the first week, but the warm and welcoming nature of the other nurses makes the transition here less challenging. I’m blessed and honored to be working alongside these nurses who have already seen so much and still remain compassionate and kind. Their small kindnesses, laughter, hope, and guidance made my first week pass by quickly. I look forward to the next few weeks. I know I’ll have an abundance of wisdom to learn from these men and women. Hopefully, I can share some with you.
Much love, until next time.