Vietnamese New Year in Mai Chau

Feb 6 & 7, 2016

On New Years Eve… Vietnamese New Year that is… we headed out of our hostel pretty early in the morning and were driven a few hours up further north into the countryside to stay with a local Vietnamese family.

We stopped along the way at a little shop for coffee although we could have had some luscious wine with snake flavors… Amelia also found the cutest little kitten!

When we arrived at our home for the next 2 nights, there was a large group of other young people staying there that night from the hostel also. We all stayed on the 2nd floor of the families home on mats on the reed floor with mosquito netting… it was chilly and strange but calm and peaceful! Except for the high volume K-pop and karaoke that played all the time!

After a lunch with the rest of the hostel crew, we headed out on little mopeds and motorcycles provided by the home stay family and headed out to explore in the mountains and village a little. My moped had a little different feel from any type of motorbike I’ve driven before… And I’ve actually never driven a moped! I might have nearly crashed into the bushes beside the house when I started off, but I quickly got the hang of it! I rode one myself but Amelia jumped on the back with one of the other guys and we all headed out through the town and up to find a little waterfall and lake in the mountains surrounding the home stay.

The road initially was well paved and pretty safe… Moderately curvy but manageable. Eventually we ended up on more of a gravel/dirt road that often had large potholes we had to avoid! And it got really steep in some sections too! But we all survived and found the waterfall with minimal issues.

We walked down a steep, slippery path to the base of the waterfall. And it was GORGEOUS!!!!!!!

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From the waterfall we went a little further up the road where we found a great lookout looking over one of the lakes in the area. So blue and beautiful! And so sunny and warm up there! (It had been quite cool and grey-ish for most of our last few days so the sunshine and warmth was appreciated!)

There was a little village near the lookout that we walked through… There were so many little puppies in the village and they were ADORABLE! A bunch of them tried to follow the girls back to the lookout but eventually abandoned us to return to their mothers!

As it was getting late in the afternoon, so our group headed back to the village where we found a little bar with a rooftop patio overlooking the valley and we sat in the coolness and quiet and last bit of late afternoon sunshine drinking beer and watching the sun set behind the mountains of Mai Chau.

Once the sun set, we drove back in the dusk to our home stay to join in a huge Vietnamese New Year spread with our hosts and all their extended family.

We were seated in the families home on mats on the floor, clustered around many delicious dishes. Our host kept coming to our group to refill our tiny rice wine cups and toast the New YEAr. The extended family of our host arrived intermittently throughout the evening to share in food and drinks and every time some one new arrived, our host would introduce them to us, followed by a celebratory round of rice wine again!

The very special (and absolutely unappealing looking) rice wine came out at some point… It had some goat unmentionables in it and also part of a snake I believe. It was supposed to be for the men to give them special powers. It would probably just make me sick… But it was interesting to see this part of the culture! One of the guys was brave enough (or crazy enough) to try it.

After dinner… Hours later… We ended up downstairs again, listening to K-pop and the family sing karaoke… We even joined in at some point until we all got too cold and tired and tucked ourselves under our mosquito netting in bed to fall asleep to the sounds of our Vietnamese host partying the night away and singing their hearts out til the early morning hours.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed back out on motorcycles to go check out a great lookout over the valley before we’d head back to Hanoi.

I loved riding those bikes around on the windy twisty hilly mountain roads. Makes me want to get my bike license at home and go motor biking more!!

The lookout was absolutely gorgeous!!! Even though the rice paddies were not filled with bright green stalks of rice, and were brown and muddy, the edges of each paddy were clearly demarcated and it was a beautiful sight regardless. The mountains were layered and faded out into the hazy blue sky… And it was stunning!

We had a great group shot at the top and then headed back down to leave for Hanoi again.

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Back in Hanoi, all of us were staying at the same hostel so after some pre-drinks at the hostel… We went out in search of authentic street food… Looking for some great hot pot.

We found a tiny little place where we sat on those silly little plastic chairs with our knees around our ears… And cooked our on dinner in little hot pots on the table. It was DELICIOUS tho!!!

All of us were pretty wiped and in bed early after a crap sleep in the cold the night before, plus, Amelia and I were headed out early the next morning to the highlight of our whole trip… A 3 day tour of Halong Bay!!!!

But our home stay in Mai Chau was a wonderful way to spend the Vietnamese New Year and it was so great to be able to see rice paddies and the mountains and have a very authentic Vietnamese experience with the locals! They were such friendly people and it was incredible that they opened their home to us like that on such a special few days of the year!

 

Vacation in Vietnam

End of January 2016

The end of January… end of probation (the mandatory 3 months in Saudi Arabia without vacation to prove you’re a responsible employee…) and my bestie and I are headed to Vietnam for 2 completely amazing weeks away from work!!!!

Riyadh -> Doha -> Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).

Flying Qatar airways for the first time… even economy class is lovely on a Dreamliner!!!! And Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar… is definitely the nicest airport I’ve ever been too!!!

We had a couple hours wait in Doha before our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) so we found a lovely steakhouse/wine bar/piano bar where we ordered dinner and settled into luscious leather seats to listen to some lovely piano music and sip glasses of wine. Such a relaxing start to the trip!

And… my bestie is AMAZING! She surprised me with a gorgeous white gold necklace with my name written in Arabic! I’d always admired hers… and, being the extremely thoughtful individual that she is, she got me one of my own!!

Eventually we flew out of Doha to Vietnam, and landed in the crazy that is Vietnam mid-day I think? I can’t remember. I think my body was pretty stunned by travelling all night after working a full day before getting on the plane! We retrieved our backpacks (oh yeah… I should mention that this is my first ever “backpacking trip!!!!!! It took a little to minimize my packing style!)

As a side note, to avoid confusion, I should briefly explain that Saigon is the original name of Ho Chi Minh City… it was renamed after revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. Still most commonly called Saigon by Vietnamese and tourists alike.

Our first exposure to Vietnam was a little crazy. I don’t even know how to begin to describe the traffic… but imagine how a school of fish swim… and then picture those fish as dilapidated cars or mopeds… and the mopeds are carrying probably a mother and father and one toddler and the mother is holding a small infant and theres a box of groceries on the back and a small tree and potentially a cow… (the cow is probably pushing it a little… but the rest is legit)… and the cars and mopeds all swarm together and cross paths and beep their horns continuously… rushing forward as soon as theres a small gap that opens up before appearing to nearly crash into each other again… It was insanity! I was white knuckled every time I got in any type of vehicle and I thought for sure we were going to get in a car accident at some point on our trip through Vietnam. (we made it out unscathed though… didn’t even witness a single accident!)

Anyways. Found our hostel in District 1. Crashed for a few hours. Then went a wandering the streets around our hostel looking for some fabulous pho for dinner. I’d seen that Pho Quynh had great reviews on Foursquare (didn’t know how much I could actually count on Foursquare in Vietnam) so we wandered around a couple blocks several times, before realizing we kept walking past it! It was a packed little place on a street corner, filled with locals and expats, where we sat outside on the corner on metal chairs with traffic zipping by only feet away. Despite Saigon being hot and sticky, that hot soup tasted amazing despite the heat… probably cuz the Tiger beers we drank with it were amazing!! Fun fact: upon further research now that I’m home, apparently this place even made it into Lonely Planet it’s so great!

Seriously sleep deprived so we didn’t have the energy required for Saigon nightlife… but we did manage to wander the streets around our hotel for a bit… found a bar where we had a couple drinks sitting on flimsy wooden chairs along the sidewalk, just people watching and taking in all the crazy awesome and fascinating scenes the busy night scene had on display…

And then, early-ish lights out for us sleep deprived nanas. Mekong Delta tour tomorrow!

Dubai Weekend Getaway

January 2016

What do you get when you combine a British Couple about to get married, living in the Middle East, with their friends from various other British Commonwealth countries?? A Dubai Hen-do/Stag-do party weekend!!

A close friend of mine from Riyadh got engaged last year, and with her nuptials coming up quickly… we wanted to get out and celebrate her last few months as a single lady. Plus… I’d been in Saudi for nearly 3 months already now without leaving once… I was definitely in need of a time out! And… a few of us had plans to leave Saudi Arabia for good at some point in the coming year. So, ultimately it was a combination of masalama parties (a couple of the crew were leaving Riyadh soon…and I was starting to consider handing in my resignation also), birthday celebrations, but largely a hen do/jack n’ jill/ bachelorette party.

6 of us, including the bride and groom, headed out of Riyadh one Thursday… Dubai bound! We checked into a hotel in the JBR where we all shared a lovely suite with a full kitchen and sitting area… Not that we used the kitchen for anything more than storing champagne and OJ and making mimosas 👌🏼

The squad hit up Meat Co for dinner on our first night in Dubai, at Dubai Souq Madinat Jumeirah… a resort built to look like an authentic Arabian city with bazaars and traditional Middle Eastern shopping built between lovely waterways that allow the resort to be explored by boat also. The souq offers stunning views of the Burj Al Arab and is gorgeous during the day but also at night!

Meat Co might be one of my favourite restaurants… they always have a fabulous wine menu and the steak is always fantastic! So over a couple bottles of wine, looking out at the Burj al Arab, gloriously lit for the evening, watching boats pass in the waterway, gentle background music (a luxury we rarely have in Riyadh that always indicates freedom to me!), slightly humid and vaguely cool early February weather… we had a wonderful dinner of friendship and great conversation!

After dinner, we walked around the souq to Trader Vic’s for very large cocktails in super funky cups… and a little dancing of course. What’s a hen-do without a good dance party?!

Friday morning, I woke up super early, and I wasn’t the only one! The bride and groom to be were also up already with the sunrise, so we took in a little fresh air and morning sunshine along The Walk Dubai and even dipped our toes in the water as we walked along Jumeirah Beach also. The sun was blissful and the water perfectly refreshing… it always amuses me to see the camels on the beach… such a stark contrast between the very modern high rise hotels and apartments in the background and the camel as such a traditional Arabic symbol.

Then… champagne o’clock!!!! Standard Friday fun in Dubai is never complete without a boozy brunch!!!

On the menu… the Bubbalicious Brunch at the Westin Hotel Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina!

I don’t even know where to start, but I’ve never seen such an incredible display of food!!!! And booze!! The setup was beautiful… wine and and a huge assortment of cheeses and meats and breads set on wooden benches and wine barrels, a sushi bar, a taco stand complete with margaritas and mojitos, a full pig roast, a Pimms stand, plenty of vodka options including watermelons filled with vodka/run, and even a burger joint… and a gorgeous display for Hendricks gin!! There was even a dark room with all sorts of glow in the dark food and fun!! And our glasses were constantly being refilled with champagne… and I think we tried a few too many of the drinks options… but hey. It was fun!!! So much laughter and just relaxing in the sunshine, palms waving overhead, a view of the ocean in the distance…

And after our liquid lunch(I mean after we were sufficiently stuffed with food!) and brunch closed down, we headed to the disco at the Westin for some old school tunes and more fun. Singing and dancing with the girls… tequila shots for the girls back in Riyadh… it was so much fun!

Being the rookie bruncher that I am… I probably needed a little nap after brunch and the disco… and that nap might have turned into a full on snooze that lasted til the rest of the crew showed up back at the hotel at midnight!!! Not sure where they all went while I was sleeping but they clearly had a good time!  A couple of us headed back up to the hotel rooftop bar to finish the night with a last drink and beautiful view of Dubai!

The next morning… I didn’t have to leave Dubai on Saturday until quite a bit later in the day, so I woke up and went for a lengthy run/walk through the Dubai marina and along Jumeirah Beach. Spending so much time in Saudi, not having the freedom to get up and run out my door, only being able to run freely in compounds or in the Diplomatic Quarters, always means I’ll take advantage of any opportunity to run on vacation outside of Saudi!! And the Dubai Marina is always gorgeous… whether walking around and people watching, or actually seriously getting a sweat on and running it fast! Although I always seem to forget how much more humid Dubai is than I think it is!!!!! Doesn’t take much to work up a sweat!

We finished off the morning with a little shopping and wander through the Walk again… checking out the little market held at the end of the walk every weekend… the outdoor gym… and the seriously awesome whips parked curbside along the walk…

And… last order of business before we all headed out to the airport… a trip to Dubai is never complete without a stop at Barasti… and we all needed lunch and pre-Riyadh drinks!!!

Anyways… that was pretty much the last of my big Dubai weekend… Last thought, is that I will never fly Flynas again. (sorry friends who work for Flynas!) Here is my little review of Flynas. Not worth the cheaper flight… the lines are SUPER long and completely unorganized!! Rather than line up by destination, its just a bulk line for all Flynas flights with airline agents constantly coming along and calling out for people still waiting to check in for flights leaving too soon for them to make it though the whole line! And those of you who life/have lived in the middle East know the frustration and ridiculousness of queues(that really aren’t queues at all) here! Plus… no booze in the Flynas terminal! couldn’t even get a drink to relax after the frustration of dealing with the check-in lines. Not cool.

Fortunately… I had a flying pal so it wasn’t so bad 🙂 And made it to Riyadh just dandily in time to get home for a decent sleep before heading back to work for 5 days before 2 weeks vacation in Vietnam with my bestie!!!!!

And… super excited for my friends to get married in May! Vacation time is booked off to attend the wedding!!

xx. Vietnam adventures upcoming. Stay tuned.

Expat Holiday Season #2

 

Christmas and New Year 2015

Holiday Season #2 away from home… A year ago, I didn’t really expect that I’d be spending another Christmas and New Years in Saudi Arabia… But here I am. And it’s not so bad at all again.

This Christmas, I think what I appreciated the most, was the response from some of my patients and colleagues. Even though many of them do not celebrate Christmas, many of my patients who spoke English, wished me a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. I had several conversations with patients who shared with me how they celebrate with their children (from a non-religious perspective), and how they really appreciate the joy and cheerfulness of the season and of their nurses who are celebrating the special day.

Despite being far from home, again I was surrounded by people I love and care deeply for… my Saudi family… the group of amazing friends I’ve been blessed to get to know over the past year…

I think being completely removed from the commercialism of the holiday season in North America actually gives us a much more natural and real holiday experience! There is absolutely no evidence that Christmas is near in Saudi Arabia… Starbucks doesn’t sell Christmas drinks… the shops aren’t filled with overwhelming rows of toys and candy canes and all sorts of goodies (not more than they usually are anyways)… there’s no tacky holiday music playing in the shops/malls… and life is generally just proceeding as is usually does. We have to look so hard to find simple decorations and ways to celebrate.

But we, being deprived of all the typical Christmas atmosphere, appreciate the little bits we do have and manage to commercialize our Christmases pretty well actually. The terribly tacky plastic Christmas trees that pop up in some remote little corner in a grocery store… the thin little string of lights someone manages to rummage up and string around their room…

And then there’s the compound Christmas markets… where everyone visiting the compound was in full holiday spirit and I LOVED walking around the booths finding saudi versions of Christmas cards… (comical camels with tinsel and lights)… fridge magnets… camel tree ornaments, etc.

And there are always plenty of events to celebrate the season…

The US Marines held an ugly Christmas sweater party…  (which I don’t have any pics of unfortuantely due to no cellphones at embassy rules…)

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And of course… Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a red and green run… so we ran in full holiday spirit… red/green clothing if we could find it… jingle bells on our shoes… even got the crew (the running lemons and associates) together for a Christmas tree red/green run photo…

Another pre-Christmas party… With more excitement over finding Christmas decorations in play…

And then finally… It was Christmas weekend and Christmas eve at work… it was Thursday afternoon… and when our shift ended, we all tucked ourselves into a back room where we set up a massive international cuisine potluck and a secret santa gift exchange… it was so amazing to be able to celebrate with all my beautiful colleagues from around the world… New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, the UK, Spain, Canada, America…

When we finally finished work for the day, and for the week, Amelia and I set off to a friends compound to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together with the people we love most in Saudi. It was a super chill evening of hurried present wrapping, tucking presents under the tree, and finally getting cozy on couches to fill our bellies with cheesy pizza and watch the ultimate Christmas movie… Home Alone (can you believe I’d actually never seen it yet?!!!)

I fell asleep feeling so content… Listening to the rain patter on the roof… Making it seem so much cozier and winterier… So that it hardly even seemed like we were in Saudi Arabia.

I was bounced out of bed by my excited bestie for Merry Christmas morning hugs… Wearing the reindeer onesie I got her so we could be twinsies in our onesies on Christmas morning 🙂  I baked scones with cream and jam for breakfast… And together we all opened all the presents we’d set under the tree.  My heart was so happy. I couldn’t ask for better people to spend a Christmas away from home with. So blessed!!

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a big Christmas lunch with the same fabulous “family” we shared Christmas with last year… We all contributed to a massive feast with all the usual Christmas fixings (aside from ham :S)… Christmas cupcakes… A whole lot more presents to open thanks to Secret Santa… And time spent just hanging out, catching up, and singing Karoke…

And finally… A Boxing Day dinner with my flat mate and a couple other dear friends… (I feel like all I did was eat Christmas weekend!!! But isn’t that just like Christmas in North America?! :S) And I must say… It sure felt cold enough to be Christmas too!!! The pool might look lovely… But really it’s frigid!! (And frigid does mean less than 10 degrees mid-winter in Saudi!!)

And then… About a week after Christmas… It was New Years Eve… I rang in the New Year with singing and joy, confetti, and a whole lot of happiness and laughter with my flat mate!!! Way different, much more peaceful vibes for my New Years celebration this year… But my heart was so content to spend it in a meaningful way!!

And to start off the New Year… I ended up waking up relatively early and going for a run with a couple friends… In the cool morning air around the Diplomatic Quarters… Finishing at Pancake House for coffee and omelets and pancakes. All in good company. And starting off our New Years resolutions right on the first of January yet too??!! (Don’t think I actually made any fitness resolutions but if I did… What a great way to start!!!!)

Volunteering with 10KSA: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

As I was leaving North America, Breast Cancer Awareness events were in full swing all over Canada and the USA. I was really hoping that somehow, I could initiate or participate in a some type of event or activity to raise awareness in Saudi Arabia and have a positive impact on women’s lives.

In my previous year in Saudi, I’d seen some of the devastation of breast cancer among the women of Saudi, and in my experience, it seemed to hit so many of them and at such a young age as well. (Maybe that’s just because I work in a large chemotherapy clinic so my exposure to women with breast cancer will be quite high given the volume of patients we see on a daily basis.)

However, the sad truth is that Saudi Arabia, like all countries in the world, has significantly high rates of breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness is not as high as it is in the Western World. Many women go undiagnosed for years until the symptoms of advanced disease bring them into the hospital for treatment which ultimately results in reduced survival and less positive treatment outcomes, as well as increased pain and suffering.

Many women also lack the education and the awareness to monitor their health and perform monthly self exams to monitor their health, or the awareness that a mother or sister or auntie with breast cancer could indicate a significantly increased risk that they themselves might develop breast cancer. They’re not educated that lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits and unhealthy body weights increase their risk of developing cancer in general but also breast cancer. Many women also lack the access to resources such as family physicians, or proper medical care to monitor their health, assess and diagnose also.

So, my wish actually came true. The opportunity to volunteer for a large breast cancer awareness event came my way only a week or so after returning to Saudi, through a friend of a friend, who was organizing and recruiting all the volunteers for the event.

The event was being developed by an organization called 10KSA, a subdivision of a greater organization called Alf Khair, started by Princess Reema bint Bandar. The goal of Alf Khair is to empower the women and youth of Saudi Arabia, and to make the people of Saudi Arabia, the best they can be, and the countries greatest natural resource. 10KSA is a holistic health initiative, and the primary focus is raising health awareness throughout Saudi and the world. This would be 10KSA’s first event and breast cancer was the focus.

The event itself would be held in December and the goal was not only to focus on breast cancer, but also holistic health in general. And the highlight of the day was to be the formation of the world’s largest human health awareness ribbon. The current world record was held by India, but 10KSA was hoping to break that record and get 10,000 women together to form the new largest ribbon. The event would also focus on various other ways to promote health and wellness also though.

As it was to be a very large event, thousands of volunteers were required to run the event. I was hoping I could do some education on breast cancer, but unfortunately those roles were taken by the various hospitals and organizations holding awareness booths at the event.

I ended up joining the team of first Aid volunteers, originally as just one of the volunteers, but as I wanted to get more and more involved in the activity, it escalated into then becoming head volunteer of the First Aid team and planning/coordinating the First Aid Plan for the event as well as train the First Aid volunteers.

I still wanted to do more… so my friend suggested I help recruit volunteers and do some of the orientation sessions for them also. So I got to meet so many amazing Saudi women through this. And it was so fun to tell them about the event and share my passion for this with them… because then they would also get really excited and happy about this opportunity… it was just so inspiring to see them all coming together!

Altogether I think we recruited well over 3000 volutunteers. My first aid group made up a very small portion of this, roughly 30 volunteers in total, plus the team of doctors and nurses from the university hospital.

The weeks and months leading up to the event were ridiculously busy. I was working full time as well as trying to participate as much as possible in training sessions and planning for the event. Many evenings were spent running off after work to an office somewhere to orientate the volunteers to the purpose of the organization and the event and determine their role at the event, as well as assisting with task specific training once the women had been selected for various roles. But I thrived on every minute of it and loved the opportunity to interact with Saudi women who were excited to volunteer and participate in this potentially historical event…

Until this point, my interactions with Saudi women had been restricted largely to work, but this was a huge opportunity to work with them outside of work… to inspire them and be inspired by them… to work together to create something amazing for the women of Saudi… to feel strong and empowered together… It was beautiful!

The planning and promotion of the event lasted for a couple months… with a woman flying to Australia in a small plane even carrying the 10KSA logo on her plane when she stopped briefly at the Riyadh airport. The symbolic 10KSA Wings of Hope could be found at various venues throughout Riyadh… including shopping centers… and even at King Faisal Specialist Hospital for a few days!

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There was even a theme song created for the event which went on to win an award at the California International Shorts Festival as the best music video!

As the day to the event grew closer, my days filled up with work and training volunteers, and mostly… figuring out how first aid was going to work at the event and developing the first aid training program for the first aid volunteers!

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I met Princess Reema, a beautiful person with a vision for the people and especially the women of her country… I was so inspired by her and her goals and commitment to raising awareness and empowering women!

In general, being a part of the event and all the planning was just an incredible experience. I met so many women who inspired me. And to be part of such a major event organized by women for women… my heart was so full and happy!!

And in the final days leading up to the event, I made many trips to Princess Noura University, the largest all-female university in the world, so large it even had it’s own train system inside, to the sports complex where the event would be held. There was so much organizing to do yet… determining how first aid services would be available throughout a venue that large was quite a challenge. I met with the emergency doctors at the Princess Noura University Hospital to plan how we would provide support throughout the venue the day of the event… Fortunately, we would have a couple of doctors and a team of nurses from the university hospital to offer support (and supplies!!!) the day of the event, as my first aid volunteers would really only be providing very basic care in case of any emergency.

It was really  amazing to see the sports complex transformed into a health and wellness event, with amazing displays including beautiful photographs from Saudi and artwork by Saudi women… and an incredible Active center for promoting fitness and active lifestyles…

And of course, the massive stadium where the ribbon formation would happen. Princess Reema went up in a big lift up over the field to see what the view would be like for the photographers who would be photographing this historical event…

And the last day before the event, all the head volunteers and main organizers and supporters of the event, me at the complex for a last run through… and an amazing family photo.. it was so incredible for me to be there, with all those women, women dedicated to making a change in Saudi… I felt so blessed!!IMG_5847And that’s about it… bring on the big day!!!

Stopover: Minneapolis with my Bestie

After 3 months at home… the most intense family time I’ve ever had… spending nearly every day with my mom/sister/nieces… I knew that the only way I would be able to get on a plane and leave them for an extended period of time again to return to Saudi, would be to book a stopover somewhere… like in Minneapolis so that I could visit my best friend and pretend like I was just flying away for the weekend, instead of for potentially years…

I landed in Minneapolis in the evening and my bestie picked me up… it was a very very long year and a half probably since we’d seen each other last… and I love how whenever I see her, it’s really like no time has passed at all and we’re right where we left off last time!

We went downtown to the Guthrie Theatre to watch a live production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My first play ever! It was really beautiful and well performed!

Obvious cocktails and dessert were necessary after the play!!! It’s not a girls night without chocolate and a good martini!

The next day…we explored Minneapolis. Well.. downtown anyways! For the record… it’s a gorgeous city, especially in the fall!! I could make it my home for a while I think!!! Maybe one day…

We found a super cute little breakfast nook for delicious waffles with strawberries and cream…

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and then spent the remainder of the day just wandering around the city… checking out all the adorable little blobby people sculptures in the downtown area…

admiring the gorgeous fall colors everywhere…

and walked through Mill Park along the Mississippi River…

It was such a gorgeously sunny day… the sky was so blue and the fall leaves looked incredible everywhere.

But most of all… it was so wonderful to have a whole 24 hours to hang out with my best friend and catch up on life… it made it so much easier for me to leave home knowing that she’d be there to meet me in Minneapolis!

I’m going to miss this wonderful friend… like always… but looking forward to the next time I see her…

#notjustanurse

For a month or so in September/October 2015

By this time, I’d spent a good 4 weeks at home, just slothing (being a lazy bum) and vacationing… not being particularly productive with my life other than agonizing over what I’d do next with my life and whether i’d go back to Saudi or stay in North America.

I decided it was time to step out of my funk and get on with work. Things would eventually fall into place with a long-term plan again… but while I sorted it out, I was desperate for some good, proper, really hands-on nursing again. I was going through patient care withdrawls.

Also, Miss Colorado (in some pageant) just made a major statment in international entertainment news when she wore scrubs and a stethoscope and went onstage and talked about her role as a nurse. But what really caught the world’s attention, and especially the attention of nurses around the world, was when a few ignorant talk show hosts, specifically the ladies of The View, made mention of her “doctor’s stethoscope” wondering why she as a nurse was even wearing a “doctor’s stethoscope.” Obviously, we were all a little offended. Nurses united around the world, speaking out on social media against the ladies of the view, and promoting our profession in whatever way possible!

Miss Colorado: Not Just a Nurse

So, I returned to work with great pride as a nurse, wearing my “doctor’s stethoscope”, grateful that I’d chosen this wonderful profession and not medicine. Because I chose to be a nurse and not a doctor. Nursing was not my fallback. I didn’t go into it because I couldn’t get into med school. I could have gone to med school. But instead I chose to be a nurse, to spend more time working directly with patients, being their main point of contact, being that person to see them at and help them through their most vulnerable times!

I have my very own stethoscope, and I use my stethoscope to listen to my patients lungs to ensure they’re not filling with fluid/developing a pleural effusion/observe for signs of infection… to listen to their hearts to make sure they’re in a normal rhythm… to auscultate their bowels to ensure things are moving through properly and to detect when they’re not so that I can fix the problem. Unfortunately, part of my job is also to use my stethoscope to auscultate a heart that is silent and no longer pumping blood throughout the body, and lungs that are no longer breathing and filling blood with oxygen… and then to tell a patients family in the kindest but always most inadequate words, that I hear nothing anymore and confirm what they already suspected, that the one they love is deceased. And it’s me, the nurse, who has to do that, not the doctor, with my very own stethoscope. However… that being said, I don’t mind it, because next I get to hug them all, and do exactly what I went into nursing for… to offer comfort and support and care for people at the most difficult moment in their lives. So, I’m very proud to be a nurse and part of this very honorable profession. I can’t imagine being anything else!

When I first graduated from nursing school, I was blessed to get a fulltime job on the unit I did my final practicum on, a Tertiary Palliative Care Unit. I know I put the unit way up high on a pedastal, and I consider my colleagues on the unit to be the very best nurses I’ve ever worked with. Maybe it’s just because they’re the first nursing team I’ve really been a part of? Maybe it’s because they’re the team that raised me from a green, super fresh and young baby nurse to the nurse I am today? Maybe I’m just super biased?

But then I think about it a little more and remember how I saw them interact with patients and their families on a daily basis… their infinite care and compassion… seriously, the most caring group of individuals I’ve ever met. Nurses with a heart and passion for one of the most difficult fields of nursing practice… nurses who daily pull together as a team and are so supportive of each other as it’s the only way to survive in such an intensely emotional environment… nurses who advocate daily for nothing but the best for their patients and consistently put a patients needs and desires above their own… nurses who go to great lengths to ensure comfort of both a patient and their family… nurses who go above and beyond every single day, without ever asking for or needing recognition, because it’s just what they do, it’s what they love to do.

They’re not just nurses. They ARE nurses. They are the people you want spending 24 hours a day with the person you love and who is at the most vulnerable and difficult point in their life. They are the person who will ensure that the one you love, is loved and taken care of so that they want nothing but to spend time with you in comfort and peace!

Palliative care nurses are a special breed of nurses. We are faced with death and dying and sadness on a daily basis. Yet we are happy, not sad and gloomy. And our unit is suprisingly filled with light and laughter and happiness, not just from the nurses but from our patients and families also. We’ve learned to see the good in everything, to find the shiny silver lining to it all! If we couldn’t see the flip side, it would be come intensely overwhelming and we’d all crash and burn out for sure. But we have each other, we have the most lovely patients and families… people who are generally focused on the good things in their lives and have let go of the bad because who wants to hang onto the bad and nasty things when theyre so clearly faced with their mortality?

I miss palliative care. I think it’s the best of everything in all health care disciplines brought together to create the most holistic and collaborative and patient/family centered care possible, care that is dedicated purely to meeting a patient’s goals and ensuring their comfort in everything! Due to the culture, the lack of education on palliative care, and just general misconceptions, palliative care doesn’t really exist in Saudi, at least not at all in the way it does in North America, and it really is a shame. While I was home I read the most fantastic book by Atul Gawande called “Being Mortal” who suggested that patients who have palliative care services involed in their care, generally tend to live 25% longer. That’s an extremely significant result. Depending on the estimated time frame, it could be anywhere from extra days to extra years… but if it were me, I’d take anything I could get, especially when it only means that I’d be more comfortable and experience less symptoms and side effects…

Anyways. I was so happy to get back into palliative care and work with my favourite colleagues for a good month while home. I was worried that I would have lost a lot of my skills as I’d been out of inpatient care for well over a year by this time, and outpatients is much different! But… it was like riding a bike… but so much better!!!!

I probably drove my colleagues crazy with all my comparisons of Saudi to home. But i forgot how well stocked our supply room is at home… all the time!!! Like heaps of IV fluids in all sizes and all flvours… NS, D5W, 2/3 1/3, lactated ringers, NS with 10, 20 or 40 KCL… it’s amazing!! And we never run out of IV lines either like we do in Saudi!!!

And don’t even get me started on the narcotic prescribing and accessibility!!! Appropriate doses, with ranges for nurses to use base on patient needs… with normal time frames for administration (anywhere from q30min for a PRN to scheduled q4hourly analgesics)… and then all the adjuvants… gabapentin, citalopram, etc… and meds to manage all the side effects of narcotics… And a Pyxis (electronic drug cabinet) filed with everything from Tylenol #3 (shit) to Morphine/Hydromorphine/Fentanyl/Methadone!! It was amazing!! In Saudi we have Morphine (5:1, i’ve never seen anything more than 5mg IV prescibed unless palliative care services was somehow involved and the patient was recieving long acting morphine 10mg) Demoral (who still uses that crap except ER??!!) and Tramadol (even more ridiculous especially as it seems to be the drug of choice for oncology physicians in Saudi!).

And our doctors… oh my goodness… they’re so fabulous. They’ll just sit and spend anywhere from half an hour to an hour just talking through problems with patients and their familes. And they’re so open to suggestions from nursing!!!! I feel valued and respected! It’s wonderful!!! (and the feeling is very much mutual!)

Anyways… enough comparison… I’ll just mention again how much I adore my colleagues, how much I loved spending so many nightshifts just catching up with them, how much I loved working as a casual and picking up heaps of shifts in a two week period so that I manageed to work with almost every single nurse on the unit, and how much I loved our Thanksgiving night potluck… it was wonderful!!

Wearing colored scrubs with no repercussions… instead of shapeless/baggy white scrubs!! Personally I think they’re so much more cheerful and make me much more approachable… plus, hello?… white coat syndrome??!!!  Also, In Saudi, I’m not allowed to drink coffee on the unit unless i’m in the staffroom, and getting caught drinking coffee at the nurses desks can result in a serious talking to/written warning… so I very gleefully drank coffee on the unit/at my desk/in the lobby… all day long actually. I loved stopping at the Starbucks in the lobby for coffee breaks and drinking my coffee while looking out at the trees in the atrium… my seasonal “autumn” cup from Starbucks! And then… can’t forget stat holiday pay!!!!!! Working Thanksgiving night meant I got a couple hours of holiday pay… that’s another thing we don’t get in Saudi… (but considering we get 54 days vacation, i can’t really complain!!)

And then to top it all off.. breakfast with a few colleagues and a now moved on to Calgary colleague who came to visit with her adorable little munchkin…

 

And a wine night with one of my nursing school classmates who is now working on my old unit too…

I think it’s important to be able to sepearate our work and personal lives… but it is also amazing to be able to have a great relationship with your colleagues and spend time outside of work with them also!!!

So, when my last day of work in Canada came again… i was really sad to leave everyone behind again. (Not sure why i keep torturing myself with goodbyes!!!) But… back to the adventure… let’s see where this crazy ride takes me again!! I’ll be back again… and if not back to this unit… at least back to palliative care because every time i work in palliative care I know that is where my heart is… So… one day again soon…

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