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Sea Isle City, NJ: Beach day
If there is one place on the East Coast that can remind me of the West Coast where I am from, it is at the beach. This was my first time stepping foot into the Atlantic Ocean and I have to say… Atlantic > Pacific. It was sooo warm (well, cool… but warm comparably), even at 10AM when I jumped all in. I am used to literally freezing in the water in Santa Cruz. Even in the middle of summer it is typically too cold for me 🥶 I had the biggest smile on my face when I felt the cool water against my skin… the feeling of the waves swaying me… the foam of the crashing waves… the soft sand under my feet. There is nothing like the ocean to put my own life into perspective. More on that later.
This past Saturday my coworker & friend (who is also a travel social worker) took me with her to Sea Isle City, New Jersey. This trip was so necessary for me and to think I almost let it pass by me because I wanted to wallow in my grief and feelings about something completely unrelated (true story)! I have let grief and pain rule wayyy too much of my life in the past. I realized since I arrived in Philly I have not done nearly enough exploring. That needed to change. Plus I had never been to New Jersey, so I was first and foremost excited that I crossed number 26 of my #30before30 goal of going to 30 states before I am 30! I am most definitely going to accomplish it too so I am stoked about that.
The drive from Philly to Sea Isle City was about 1.5 hours and when we first got there the first thing I noticed was how NOT crowded it was compared to Santa Cruz, CA (which is 45 mins from my parents’ house in CA). In general Santa Cruz is 150% more crowded and rowdy too. There was something that was really calming about this beach even as it became more crowded as the day went on. It was a refreshing change.
We did some reading, I did some picture-taking (well, she did of me at least LOL), and pretty soon it was time for one of my favorite parts of any day trip: finding food 😂 We decided to try out Mike’s Seafood which was in Seafood Alley. It had really good ratings and looked delicious. Our restaurant pickers were ON POINT let me tell you. I splurged on the Stuffed Lobster ($37.99) which was literally a lobster (as seen in the photo for this post) stuffed with lump crab meat. HOLY wow, it was so good. I am a huge seafood lover and it was by FAR one of the most delicious & unique fresh seafood meals I have ever had. My mama who also ADORES lobster wasn’t there either which meant I had to fend for myself with cracking it open to get the lobster meat! I got a pretty hilarious video out of it so there is that 🤷🏼♀️ The ambiance was great also, we were seated by the window looking out to the harbor.
After our delicious lunch we walked around for a bit, talking and going to some of the cute shops by the beach. I ended up coming home with a tote that has anchors on it & “Sea Isle City, New Jersey” written because you know, ~tourist~ and all 😂 I also got a mug that was practically me written all over it that says “I just want all the dogs” 🦮
Overall, an awesome day trip. I will definitely be heading back to NJ for more adventures before summer is over! What are some of your favorite things to do on a day trip? I’d love to hear them below!
“Water Ice” & Jeny From the Block
Somehow I’ve completed my second week of the 13 I have here in Philadelphia and there is so much that I have learned and that I am still learning here.
One of the things unique to being a traveling healthcare worker is how fast we are expected to pick things up and learn a new electronic medical record (EMR) system, and resources. We are usually expected to be fully trained and flying solo within the first week or two, if we are even given that long. Whereas in North Dakota I did not need as much training because I was working in dialysis which I had done several times before, this experience has been a steep learning curve. I have to say that the hospital I work at (Lankenau Medical Center) is amazing. My experience has been SO great here so far. It started from the moment I met my supervisor (Jeny – yes, one “n”) in person. She literally introduces herself to patients as “Jeny from the block” 😂 She is also hilarious and so fun to work with. Also, I love how much she knows about medical terms and meanings, and the field of social work. I am learning so much from her. Also, fun fact: I am now “Katie from the Bay” when I introduce myself to patients LOL.
Also, side note: I love the food combinations here: sweet and salty aka my fave. My first week here I was introduced to what Philadelphians call “water ice” (pronounced ‘woo-der’ ice) 😂 California’s equivalent would be Italian ice or sorbet. Here they sell it in huge gallons though! One of the agencies we often work with donated two gallon containers of cherry & mango flavors. As if that was not enough, they also donated a bunch of soft baked pretzels. Pretzels are also huge here which I am not mad about…at all 🥨 Here in Philly people combine the two for a sweet & salty snack. I won’t lie, it was actually pretty delicious! I got my sweet AND salty fix. I think it would also be delish with some ice cream in there too. It would probably resemble one of my favorite treats from Sacramento at Gunther’s ice cream: the fruit freeze! I will have to try it at some point! I also still need to get a cheesesteak. I was recommended to go to South Street by my previous manager and my current supervisor reinforced that! Some day soon.
I am also gaining so much knowledge to add to my travel social work repertoire. This assignment in particular has presented a brand new challenge which is learning, and I mean REALLY learning about discharge planning especially as it pertains to traumas. It is already week two and I have seen everything from gun shot wounds (GSW) to motor vehicle crashes / motorcycle crashes (MVC/MCC), suicide attempts, and falls. Each trauma case presents its own challenges. Some people go home, some people go home with hospice or comfort care, some people don’t make it. Some people go to skilled nursing facilities. Some can tolerate home health. Some don’t have any needs.
I worked at a level 2 trauma hospital like Lankenau before in San Jose (Regional Medical Center) but there social workers were not nearly as involved in discharge planning as I am now. There was also a difference in the level of involvement social work had with the trauma team. It is no fault of RMC’s of course, I just think social work did not have the proper introduction to the trauma team that would have been helpful in bridging some of the communication gaps. I applaud Lankenau for the amount of respect and involvement the physicians and trauma team display for social work. Social Workers are a core part of the team and our presence is needed during rounds and in general.
The cases here remind me more of those from East San Jose than North Dakota did. There is a lot of gun violence, many of the cases severe. I will do a separate post on this another time because it has been weighing heavily on my mind and I am still trying to process it.
As a trauma social worker my role is to follow these cases from admission to discharge. I do respond to some trauma activation codes in the Emergency Room as needed, but usually I start following the patients on the floors (especially in the surgical ICU). Whatever they need from a psychosocial perspective and referrals they need is taken care of by the social worker.
- Female who attempted suicide by jumping off an overpass and ended up having multiple broken bones requiring acute skilled rehabilitation prior to going to inpatient psychiatry. I would be responsible for sending a rehab referral based on insurance, coordinating with psychiatry to follow her as well, providing emotional support to the patient & family and arranging for transportation via ambulance at discharge.
- Young male shot 30 times walking out of his house and is now in the hospital on life support but parents do not want to pull the plug. I would have to provide emotional support to his parents who never expected their child would die before them. If they are hesitant, a goals of care meeting would need to happen and if they chose to take him off life support, I would delicately provide information about burials, cremation, and various death/dying resources with the assistance of palliative care.
- Older male with limited support who was independent prior to the hospitalization who fell, broke his hip and femur (non-operative) and is now unable to walk or drive or anything he used to do. Physical therapy recommends he goes to a skilled nursing facility (SNF). I have to check his insurance, apply him to SNFs, but also provide emotional support to the Patient due to this life changing event. He may be grieving. He may feel despair. He might refuse the SNF. If he does that, are there family that can help and will he accept it?
Again, none of those cases were real… all of them have been changed for confidentiality. But those are just some examples of the kinds of cases I see in the trauma unit. As many areas of medical social work do, trauma social work definitely gives me so much appreciation for life today. We never know what day is our last, and this is totally my reminder. Let this be your reminder too: live your life and enjoy it this weekend!
Philly, PA: First impressions
So, how am I making out here? I had to start this post off with that because it is literally one of the first questions I was asked when I got into Pennsylvania and I probably gave the cashier at Goodwill THE weirdest look 😳 I had no idea what she meant so I asked and she said “OH! It means like how are you doing? You doing OK?”
Well y’all, I am making out great so far.
I have officially completed the first week of my assignment here in Philadelphia. All I can say is: Toto, I am not in North Dakota anymore. In fact I am in literally the complete opposite of North Dakota. It is green. It is not flat and there are definitely hills. It is progressive. It is extremely diverse. Stores and restaurants are open on Sundays. It is humid as HECK. There is every single store imaginable here. There is a Trader Joe’s (that is probably my favorite part so far) 😂
Although I am missing my coworkers back at CHI St. Alexius immensely (Dawn and Christina, I miss you more than you could ever imagine), I have learned through this traveling experience that I am a person of change. I never thought I would say that if I am being totally honest. I used to fear it in fact. Now I soak it all for all it is worth. New people, new experiences, new coffee shops to explore, new dogs to meet… it makes my little adventurer heart sooo happy 😍 If this placement is anything like the last then I am going to make some memories and friendships that last a lifetime.
The day I arrived was Saturday July 10th after a 3 day drive across 5 states from Minneapolis, MN. I had an amazing trip which I will totally post about in the coming weeks, but let’s just say I was tired and ready to sleep in a bed that I will be staying in (+ my mattress topper that I brought with me). The first thing I noticed in the City was HOW FREAKING HUMID IT WAS. It was 90 degrees, but like you are in a sauna and everything is on fire around you despite it being wet. Humidity, y’all. I turned my A/C on ASAP. After settling in for the night in my new place which I will be staying at for the next 3 months (this AirBnB), I went to bed super excited for what is to come!
Be on the look-out for some new posts that are coming soon! Please subscribe and comment, I would love to hear from you with questions or recommendations for my travels 😃
Bismarck, ND: Wrap-up
I am so grateful for my time in Bismarck, ND. I made so many great new friendships & connections that will be with me forever ❤️
Here are some of the highlights from my first assignment:
Favorite brunch spot: Butterhorn. Their butterhorns are obviously to die for with frosting and cinnamon butter but they also have phenomenal food. The best meal I got there was the corned beef scramble 😍
Favorite coffee spot: City Brew, they are originally from Montana which is where I first tried their drinks! I became obsessed with their huckleberry white mocha 🤤
Favorite dinner spot: Charras & Tequila HANDS DOWN. Thank you Katie P. for bringing it up! I became obsessed with the homemade guacamole that they literally make in front of you and I don’t even like avocados 😂 I never in a million years expected to find a good Mexican restaurant in North Dakota, but not complaining either!
Favorite memory: My trip to Minneapolis, MN with Monica and Crystal ❤️ So many amazing moments. That and celebrating my 29th birthday there!
Where I stayed: Nick & Leah’s AirBnB and I totally recommend it for anyone traveling to Bismarck, ND! It was 4 minutes from the hospital too. I stayed here all 3 months and it was honestly the sweetest place I could have asked for. They had everything I needed and more. They were also always available if there was anything I needed (i.e. tea when I felt sick).
Where I worked: CHI St. Alexius Medical Center – Bismarck. It was a great hospital. I met amazing people and had the opportunity to experience so many new units (NICU, pediatrics, SNF). I was also able to experience more of the discharge planning aspect of acute care.
Favorite Unit to Work on: Inpatient Psychiatry! I had never worked inpatient, only residential so it was a nice change and an opportunity to use my clinical skills.
Favorite Excursion: Minneapolis. Mount Rushmore was a close second though!
I will never forget THIS about North Dakota: How crazy the weather changes are! It would be snowy one day and the next would be bright and sunny. I thought CA weather was ridiculously hot & cold but this brought it to a brand new level!
What I learned about cultures around health: There was a large Native American population in North Dakota and I had never worked with folks with that background. It was really interesting learning about reservation life and it added a completely different element to many of the patient-provider relationships I had.
What I learned about myself: That it is OK and necessary to learn to be alone without being lonely and I also learned how to self-soothe.
Favorite Dog I met: Max the therapy dog at the hospital! Such a sweetie.
Overall verdict: I loved North Dakota even more than I thought I would. My team was amazing. The rich history alone was so amazing. I met amazing people. I would 100% do another assignment there in the future.
Bismarck, ND: Not Goodbye
Three months ago on March 24, 2021 I made the courageous choice to leave everything and everyone I loved behind in San Jose and just GO. I left my lease and my roommate in our apartment we shared. I left my relationship. I left my stable job at the hospital. I left friends. I left family. I left my dog. I left a severe drug addiction. I left the chaos. Bismarck, ND was my first travel assignment.
If I am completely honest, I was conflicted every single day leading up to the one I left. Part of me could not even picture it happening for me. I had so much fear of missing out on the lives of my friends. I had so much doubt if I was making the right decision. I had voices of fear in my head (some of which people actually told me) telling me “you are going to feel so lonely,” “your mental health is going to tank,” “this won’t stop your drug addiction,” “once an addict, always an addict – this is a geographical,” “you’re going to fail,” I heard all of these and so many more. But I also heard a small, quiet… so quiet I could barely even hear it… wise voice that was telling me, “It’s time to go.”
So I went. I drove across 4 states, 1600+ miles to Bismarck, the capitol of North Dakota in 5 days. Looking back, I am so glad I chose to listen to God, to the wise voice inside of me telling me to just go for it. This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and an equally as amazing placement for me to learn new things and grow my skills as a social worker.
While I have been in Bismarck I have been working at Catholic Health Initiative St. Alexius Medical Center. I have primarily been in the kidney dialysis unit (KDU) working with patients with end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis. I have also worked with patients who are on home dialysis (CCPD specifically). Although that is primarily where I was, I experienced so much more “floating” around the hospital. Some of the places I got to float were:
- NICU. Working with the families of babes in the neonatal intensive care unit. Working there was intense, but so rewarding and special. I have NOTHING to compare in terms of experiences with them because I have never been a mother but it is so sacred to me that I was able to sit with the parents through one of the most traumatic experiences.
- L&D/Mom/Baby. I worked with women (and significant others) who had experienced miscarriages. I was able to sit with them and process the trauma as well as provide emotional support.
- Pediatrics. I had some very interesting cases on peds. I don’t always consider myself to be the best with kids, so it was new for me to be working on this unit. However the fact that many of the kiddos I worked with were going to psych was very humbling given my own past.
- Inpatient Psychiatry. I had obviously worked in the mental health field before but working on inpatient psychiatry was incredibly rewarding for me as well as a place to use my own experience as an addict to guide how I approached someone with substance use impacting their mental health. North Dakota was very different from California in the way that substance-induced mood disorder was enough to commit someone. That, and basically anyone with a MSW can write a hold on someone.
- Skilled Nursing (Transitional Care Unit). I learned more about Medicare than I knew before and I had the experience of giving IMMs as well as coverage-related documents to residents.
Those were just some of the highlights. I will say that I also learned a lot about Native American health and mental health because of the location. It was also incredibly humbling for me to learn from people who historically had been murdered by my people and learn how to best support someone who does not trust you (as a provider). It was a reminder that compassion and transparency as well as vulnerability are critical to this line of work and especially when working with other cultures.
Aside from amazing experiences in my career I also met so many amazing people. All of my coworkers (with the exception of one student intern) and my manager were women and honestly we are SUCH a force to be reckoned with in case management. Everyone I work with is so capable and talented at what they do. I am forever grateful that I was able to be included by everyone and seen as part of their team. Whoever ends up in the KDU permanently is the luckiest social worker in the world. The team was extremely brave and just too… they fiercely advocate for their patients and COVID-19 did not instill fear into them (almost all of my coworkers did eventually get COVID), instead it was just a thing and meeting with patients was not a thing to be avoided. That was also different from my work in California where a lot of my colleagues were a lot more hesitant.
I have to say that I hit the jackpot in terms of where I was seated too. I was in a room with another social worker and two RNs who did utilization review. We had SO many laughs, cries, and there was so much heart and love and soul in that room. We were often each other’s therapists, confidants, and shoulders to cry on when work was harder on days.
I am grateful for the other connections I met here too through people back home and through AirBnB, Furnished Finder, Celebrate Recovery, and church at Evangel. I have truly built a community here and it is SO hard to be leaving that behind and starting fresh again. It is just a testament to the fact that I can always start over and sometimes it comes with pretty amazing people and experiences.
So, this is not goodbye North Dakota. It is definitely a “See You Later” because the connections I have here are timeless and are officially forever friendships. Y’all are stuck with me 😉
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