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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes for a travel PT…

11 Jun

Choosing your travel housing and getting it right the first time (especially when trying to figure it from a distance in an unfamiliar place) doesn’t always happen. For me, my originally planned location was a good starting point because of its proximity to family despite its significant distance from my workplace. But with the passing of time, getting to know your surroundings, and getting to know the (not so hospitable) people within your new community can lead you to the conclusion: “Get me the hell away from this place!” I’m still sticking to my recommendation to fellow healthcare travelers to strongly consider the RV-ing route for this exact reason. Lower cost rent, monthly/weekly/daily rate options, and the ability to take your “house” with you at the drop of a hat continue to be an advantage.

However, I am learning the challenges to RV’ing in the Tucson area, where you really have to be selective about the community you pick in the sand sea of senior citizens. At my last location, the (older) population was not of the hip variety (if they even had their real hips) and pretty intolerant of a 30-something professional in their lair. (Mind you, I was not in a community exclusive for 55+. There were hellians tearing around on trikes and 40-something trailer trash milling around—that’s right, I went there.) It doesn’t take long to pick up on the vibes of the “regulars” who reside at an RV park that are not interested in a transient person invading their space. I actually got confronted for “casing” one of the mobile homes while trying to take photos of the Super Moon with my telephoto lens. These experiences, culminated with a climactic over-dramatized incident involving my dogs, led me to speed up the process of moving on to sandier pastures. As a PT and an RVer, I’m grateful for the housing freedom to be able to scope out other options and pick up and go as I see fit. Currently, I’m settled in to an RV park that is in a much more desirable location, managed by welcoming and professional folks, and doesn’t appear to have an express ticket on the gossip train. All pluses in my book!

Watching the sun set behind the mountains from my RV site…

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The “learning to live with less” mantra only works so long in < 23 feet of space

2 Jun

A little housekeeping post to start the update on one of several living arrangement transitions… Over the past month, it has dawned on me that a 23 foot motor home didn’t, in fact, offer that equivalent in living space. I quickly learned how tight the quarters were when my phone-chat pacing habit became quite dizzying. That, along with the constant shuffle of personal items, furniture, and gigantic dog crate, started those cogwheels in my head to turn. As often happens on a journey of self-discovery, I found myself discounting my entire original rationale then crunching numbers and making a plan to somehow upgrade my RV living space in the fall when I returned to Austin for a hiatus.

Then, as if by divine intervention, the opportunity to purchase a practically new fifth wheel RV and trusty pick-up truck as a steal-of-a-deal fell in my lap. At the mercy of the classically unpredictable acute care PT schedule, I orchestrated the purchase and move from ol’ MH to the new fifth wheel in a series of evening and one-day-off stints. God bless the insane American dream that allows a 30-something to have in her possession 4 vehicles and a tow dolly at the same time. (It’s actually anxiety producing even just typing the scenario. Deep breaths.) Although the logistics of financing, purchasing, licensing, registering, and selling my former vehicles can easily be considered a nightmare, I will gladly trade my week between assignments to trek back to ATX for vehicle mayhem in exchange for the added space. Remind me of this when I’m 1.) still financially spread thin, 2.) freaking out while attempting to hitch the fifth wheel solo, and/or 3.) trying to parallel park the truck in an urban locale.

From cramped and cluttered  (packing/moving day!) …

… to rollin’ with the big dogs!

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Feels a little bit more like a “home” on wheels now!

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Back on the Blogging Radar

10 May

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I didn’t realize how long I had been off the blogging radar! When on an acute care PT schedule which is free flowing and often without a traditional “weekend” of two consecutive days off, time escapes you. With only one day off for every 5 worked for several weeks, not only have I lost time to play tourist, local explorer, outdoor adventurer, I have also lost my daily routine. Losing track of the mundane laundry, bills, errands, etc. to a whirlwind of workdays starts to affect the work-life balance.

And, thus, the blog has suffered. Rest assured, loyal readers, I have lots of fun experiences, photos galore, and perspectives on local healthcare up my sleeve! (And a schedule with three “real” weekends in a row coming up!)

Home sweet home away from home

14 Apr

A modest, no-frills RV Park houses my traveling abode.  It is equipped with a few amenities such as pool, laundry, shuffle board, decent shower room, lots and lots of… gravel.  And dust.  Beyond the borders of the chain link fence, are open agricultural spaces.  Cotton, I hear, in one green space.  Wheat sprouting in another.   They must be growing dirt on the third side.   The first sound and sight of a low flying plane sparked panic until I realized it was a crop duster.  At night, the soothing tones of a nearby train’s mellow whistle drifts through my windows on a regular basis.

  

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tucson or bust! The story of my road trip

30 Mar

Long time, no blog!  As much as I hoped to blog “live” as my road trip occurred, the stress and subsequent exhaustion proved incompatible with blogging.  Now that I’m a bit settled, let me get you up to speed.

After much anxiety, last minute disorganization, and quadruple checking if I was ready to go, I hit the road around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14th.  My first destination was Fort Stockton, Texas.  I quickly learned that driving up to 2 hours continuously feels like an eon to me.   It took me almost 8 hours to go 332 miles. This was partially due to my comfort level of driving precisely 46-52 mph and my GPS leading me into the middle of nowhere. This “scenic” route was quite hilly, with no option to turn around, no shoulder on the road, and no cell phone service.  Cross checking my Google map app proved unhelpful as well, as it mistakenly placed its blue dot on the path toward Odessa.   Despite not knowing where I was exactly, I knew that was not accurate.  An hour and visions of being on Nightline as “the sorry girl who followed her GPS into an oblivion and certain doom” later, I was back on course.  With relief, I reached the Fort Stockton RV Park just before sundown and the office closing.

 

Thursday brought a shorter drive for my planned side trip to Carlsbad Caverns. After cursing my GPS and banishing it from the dashboard, I embarked on a journey led by Google maps…. which took me again on a few secondary roads, this time riddled with cow-crossing-grate-thingamabobs (I’m so not country).  Not so fun when you come up on them without warning, when driving the MH Brigade.  Who knew getting to a big ass cavern deep underground meant driving up steep, winding roads to reach it?  Ahh, the adventure continues… (more on Carlsbad later, I have photos to upload!)…

 

 

 

 

 

Following an overnight in Carlsbad, I traveled next to Deming, New Mexico.   At this point, my time zone awareness became a blur as I left NM, reentered TX, then returned once again to NM.  When conquering the open road, west Texas can be a personal hell for many.  Most are saved, however, by tearing through at the posted 75+ mph.  Sadly, ol’ MH and I continued to putt-putt along at 55 mph max.  Nightmare.  I also had the hellish experience of driving straight through El Paso, where I successfully blocked 2.5 lanes at a traffic light for at least 5 minutes while I desperately tried not to miss getting into the left turn lane to get on I-10.  Thank you, El Paso, but I hope to never see you up close again.

My fourth and final day would take me from Deming to Tucson.  With the help of some adrenaline and my first cup of joe since I departed Austin, it was smooth sailing!  The road also flattened out a bit, which improved my speed.  My one stop was at a rest area in a place called Texas Canyon (fitting, right?).  What a relief to arrive at the RV park to the familiar faces of Mom and Joe to help me get settled in my site!  Stay tuned for the tour of my home-away-from-home.

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Mission (almost) accomplished!

1 Mar

A lot has happened in the past week plus.  I’ve had several phone interviews for possible assignments, and finally the stars have aligned for location and start date.  An assignment in my desired location of Tucson was secured; and therefore, my anticipated start date has moved up a bit.  I knew I had to jump on the opportunity!  Wow, things happen fast from that point!  Once the assignment was confirmed with the facility, I began (and continue) feverishly working to complete paperwork, drug screens, finger printing, compliance modules, more paperwork.  Once these steps and the final agreement are signed, sealed, and delivered… I’m yours, Tucson!

Not only is one a PT as a traveler, but also a juggler!  It is overwhelming to think of all the things I need to accomplish from the “business” side of it, but also to be prepared for my housesitters’ fast-approaching arrival, my departure to live out of a 23 ft box for seven months, my road trip, and my living arrangements once in Tucson.  … Deep breaths…  It’s amazing  how many things you don’t realize need to be done when you’ll be away from your home base for an extended period.  Some helpful hints of things to consider for both personal and professional “To Do” lists prior based on my current experiences will follow soon.  For now, I’m doing my best to focus and chip away at those daunting checklists while trying to scoop up any work I can in the meantime.

Motor homes and fifth wheels and bumper pulls, oh my!

6 Feb

I like to think of myself as independent, but becoming a homeowner solo taught me all the things that it’s nice to have a helpful and knowledgeable hand readily available.  Thank goodness for unlimited text and calling when I’m on my island of one (that’s right, even at 30, I’m not ashamed to call my parents for help).  And despite all my independence and learned comfort with being alone, the motor home is like homeownership on wheels!  The “how to’ s” of it sitting in the driveway are anxiety producing enough!  The great beyond and cell phone towers everywhere… prepare!   I’m going to use my “phone a friend” lifeline frequently, I’m sure.   For me, knowledge can be power and also paranoia-inducing.  This experience will hopefully teach me to not obsess so much about the “what if’s” and just deal with them if they arise.

To increase my knowledge base and, thus, my comfort level for living in an RV, I was given “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to RVing (2nd edition)” by my full-time RV-ing mom.  Idiot: check.  RV: check.  Perfect!  {Note: No book review here. This is just my own anecdote on my RV decision-making.}  She instructed me to skip reading the chapters on RV selection and purchase, knowing it would just perpetuate my over-analysis of a decision I had already made (the motor home had already been purchased by that time).  I, of course, ignored her advice and started to skim these chapters.  She, in turn, was absolutely correct; and I started down my road of “what if” ‘s and “Did I make the right choice?” ‘s. Quickly, I stepped away from the book.  I remembered my lengthy pros and cons debate with myself (under the guidance of my full-time RV’ing resource-people) and embraced my decision.

A motor home and tow dolly for my car was financially a better plan for me versus purchasing a bumper pull RV plus a vehicle to tow it.  Size-wise, it also felt more manageable.  Driving my 23.5 ft motor home doesn’t feel much different than driving a U-haul.  A downside is that adding the car-in-tow makes maneuverability more challenging—you can never ever back up— and the tow dolly itself is cumbersome for manually moving and storing (600 pounds, if memory serves).  A motorhome is also a convenient and secure choice for the single female traveler.  When on the road and in need of a rest or a bathroom break, I can climb from the cab to the “home” portion without having to exit the vehicle, if it seems unsafe to do so.  The motor home (versus hotels/motels) also makes on-the-road overnight stops with two large dogs a bit easier.

If you are considering an RV for yourself, finances, size, and practicality are certainly important points to consider.  My expert advice, however, ends there.  I highly recommend finding the RV’ing book of your choice to learn the ins and outs, the pros and cons, and all that jazz.  Other than that, we’ll figure it out as we go!

Yes, I can hold a steady job. But I don’t want to, thank you very much.

29 Jan

My passion for being a physical therapist remains strong, but finding the balance between life and work has been a daunting task. I have been a full-time employee, but the whisper inside to be a travel P.T. was ever present. The whisper became more like a bug in my ear when, in 2007, I met a fantastic PT (now friend, too) who had experienced life as a PT traveler and matter-of-factly told me within the first few weeks of knowing me, “It would be perfect for you, and you’d be great at it.” Sadly, it felt like too big of a “risk” for me at the time, so I pushed away that nagging voice in my head and carried on my established path. That road, however, was riddled with flashy billboards proclaiming, “Travel, PT! You know you want to!”

It was true. I wanted to find a way to do what I loved (both travel more and be a PT) while staying balanced (read: not overly invested, overly stressed, overly consumed by my work). I love challenging work, and from the beginning, I’ve been drawn to clinical practice (particularly inpatient neurologic rehab) that is hard work on multiple levels but holds the potential for monumental stepping stones toward the reward of the patient’s recovery. The multifactorial intensity of these practice settings can make maintaining my “balance” another (less welcomed) challenge. When I wanted to recalibrate my life/work balance without taking the plunge into travel PT, I dipped my toes in the waters of being a wandering P.T. by filling a “full-time” schedule floating between several facilities PRN (“as needed”). Ironically, I then missed the continuity and contributions made from start-to-finish of a patient’s care. My gypsy soul was in a tug-of-war with my professional preferences. Where was the middle ground between the heavy commitment of full-time placement and the freedom (yet, little sense of investment) of PRN work? To me, the happy medium could be Travel PT. No other employment status offers the “pseudo full-time employee” feel (for 13 weeks) by allowing you to contribute your unique insights and skills, leave a positive footprint, but then move on to the next!

As I certainly don’t live in an idealistic fairytale, I know that every situation has its potential pitfalls. Sure, some travel contracts are to cover a maternity leave or a leave of absence. But to paraphrase conversations I’ve had with many therapists experienced in travel/contract work— many places that will pay for a contractor are desperate for a reason. So, with new freedom and travel adventures comes a tradeoff. It is likely that I will encounter places with staffing troubles, management issues, morale dips, and/or obscure locales. This brings to mind another recurring pearl imparted to me by fellow travelers: “You can do anything for 13 weeks [within the realm of your professional ethics and values].” For the many perks, I think it will be worth it.

So, the Southwest, you say?

21 Jan

How could I possibly narrow down the 50 glorious states to Arizona and Colorado?  Well, here’s what I considered:

1.)    Timing is everything.  Things pretty much aligned with the culmination of my Argentina trip.  I was able to give my employer 4 weeks’ notice in advance of my 2 week trip that, upon my return, I would transition to PRN (or “as needed”) status.  My plan was to begin a local “travel” PT contract (which is typically 13 weeks) at the end of November to get my feet wet, then hit the road.  Two out-of-state assignments in a row, plus travel time, would equate to approximately 7 months away.  I also wanted to be home before the holidays and any on-the-road winter weather.

2.)    I had a “feeling”.  Not much more to it than that.  My gut said, “Go west, young (wo)man!”  As I described in my last post, I haven’t experienced many states since my pre-teen days.  Plus, the opportunity to explore natural landscapes I haven’t yet seen was alluring.  My gut also told me that my next round of PT travels (should I enjoy this lifestyle for a bit longer) will take me back toward my homeland of the northeast.   But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

3.)    ‘Tis the season. Based on the aforementioned “timing”, I hoped to be headed to my first destination roughly mid to late February.   Although I love cold weather and snow, managing to drive and live in the motor home (named “MH”— creative, I know) while worrying about frozen water lines/pipes and icy roads was not something I intended to take on during my first outing.  As much as I adore seeing my breath on a brisk day, I equally detest scalding hot weather (a bit ironic that my home base is central Texas where we saw 70+ triple digit days in 2011).  Therefore, I hoped to escape the torrid temperatures for my second contract (theoretically, to start mid/late May).

4.)    Family ties.  Although Arizona was always in the running, it sealed its place in the final two when my mom and stepdad relocated from Texas to the Grand Canyon State.  I frequently live apart from my scattered family, but being close enough to them for visits (and pet sitting) seemed appealing. Also, they are full time RVers themselves and will likely have to field a few SOS calls regarding MH. This #4 consideration is also a strong influence on my second round of travel hopefully taking me north, to bridge the geographical gap between me and my family up there.

5.)    It’s not about the destination but the journey.  What can I see and do while en route to my job?  Initially, New Mexico had been in the mix of travel assignment possibilities, but the areas in which I was interested had a high probability of snow (refer back to #1 and #3 considerations).  So, highlights of New Mexico moved to the list of “places to stop along the way”.  Additionally, what locations could I incorporate on my journey from first assignment to second?  I also needed to be realistic about the distance of my trip, not only for my two final destinations but for the time I would take to go from point A to point B.  I’m not a good long-distance driver (again, a bit ironic) and so I needed to be cognizant of the length of time I would be on the road each day.   Another consideration:  driving MH plus tow dolly plus car also limits the speed at which I can travel safely.  Finally, time is money.  As fun as it would be, I can’t afford to be too leisurely on my trek to each assignment.  Time between each assignment is without pay (other than a travel allowance from my company, which will only put a dent in the gas expenses of my fleet).

Given all my considerations, how has it all panned out?  Well, my timing wasn’t that great.  I got cold feet on my plan to be 3-ish hours away from home (so I could take advantage of some tax-free benefits) and be able to come home occasionally for weekends.  It just felt too fast for my MH preparedness, and I was without a decent cat-sitting option.  So, I narrowed my window to seeking an assignment that was commutable from my home.  This bit me in the ass, and I was contract-less for many weeks longer than I thought.  Until my January start date, I treaded water working PRN at my former full-time gig and dabbled in a bit more contract home health.

Looking forward, I selected Arizona and Colorado for my assignment destinations.  My delay in getting to Arizona would actually work to my advantage if I wanted to be near Sedona or Flagstaff (potentially snowy earlier) but would make for a hot time if I wanted to be near Phoenix or Tucson.  If fate landed me in the sweltering desert, I knew I could look forward to blissful weather in Colorado for the summer/early fall.  I would hit New Mexico sites on the way to Arizona and catch the Grand Canyon on the way to the big CO.  I lined up a great couple, who fulfill their love of travel and new experiences by house sitting, to take care of my home and kitty while I’m away.  Luckily, the flexibility of their lifestyle meshes well with that of a travel PT (as you don’t know exactly when or where you’re going start an assignment until just weeks before).   Sure, it’s an unpredictable and ambiguous career path… but it sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Wow, you’re really going to do that?

17 Jan

What? Driving  a motor home, towing my car, wrangling two oversized puppies, finding out each 13 week assignment a couple weeks before it starts … just me and the open road headed across the southwest solo all for the very first time?  Sure, why not?

I typically see raised eyebrows and a look of disbelief when I talk to people who don’t know me well about this master plan I’ve concocted.  People seem to think the idea just sprung into my head overnight and then—bam! – I took off!  Well, okay, I have kind of operated like that before.  But, I swear, I always put a lot of thought into it.  Can’t blame a girl for having a vision and making it happen, right?  Despite my propensity to get an idea in my head and execute it fairly quickly – most notably when redecorating, re-landscaping, traveling, relocating, and job-changing — I’m not really an impulsive person.  I am a planner.  Type A to the max.  I actually could argue that this life route is far outside my comfort zone—less control, less ability to plan down to the “t”, more flexibility required.   But I’m also focused, (a wee bit) impatient, and averse to feeling stagnant.  Those traits, along with my wanderlust make the discomfort of being outside my box worth it.  (I hope.)

When I was younger, family vacations were important—many of which involved hitting the road.  At 11, I had my first big adventure.  A cross country trip with my mom, a mini-van, and more scenic American landmarks than you can shake a stick at (although I’m sure Mom would have liked to beat my ass with said stick on several occasions throughout the trip).  Some may think that Dad got it right by flying out to meet us on the west coast for the hotels and amenities part of the trip, but that bicoastal trek opened my eyes to the beauties America has to offer (plus a few places you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming back to… but at least I now have stories to tell).  My list of domestic destinations continued to grow (to date, 8 states left to go), along with international jaunts to Toronto, Mexico (just Tijuana, but that’ll do), England x 2, France, Spain x 3, Costa Rica, Portugal,  and (the most recent) Argentina.

With the exception of the four states in which I’ve lived (18+ years in South Jersey, the college years in Boston, 8 weeks in NOLA,  6 years and counting in central Texas), I’ve seen most of my US destinations through tween eyes.   I’m looking forward to discovery through my 30-something eyes by living it, instead of vacationing it.  Southwest USA, here I come!