I can’t believe that I’ve completed my SEVENTH Travel Nursing contract!! Not to mention that it’s most likely my LAST one. It’s taken me awhile to write this last assignment recap post and it might be because I’ve been dreading reliving it and remembering what it was like to be a travel nurse! It’s been almost two months since I’ve been home and I am finally getting to this!! Enjoy 🙂
Way back in April, I had just finished a wonderful three and a half weeks on the Central Coast of British Columbia in Bella Bella. My recruiter with Select Medical Connections found this little gem of a contract for me and presented me for it before even telling me- she knew I’d be super excited to go here! It’s the smallest place I’ve ever worked in and it’s my second contract working by the ocean. How could I pass up the chance to be on the West coast again!? Something about the ocean and the mountains in an isolated place was very intriguing. (This assignment was all set up way before Covid-19 was even a thing. It ended up being a great place to work during the pandemic. More on that later!).
ABOUT BELLA BELLA
Bella Bella, British Columbia is a tiny little community on the coast of Campbell Island that can only be reached by plane or by ferry. The population is only about 1400 people and it is mainly Heiltsuk people that occupy the reservation. It’s actually the largest community found on the central coast with the only hospital in this location. This community in the Great Bear Rainforest falls right on the Inside Passage which is the ferry route between Vancouver and Alaska. It’s a very small place but the people are very welcoming and grateful to have staff come help at their health care facility. The hospital is right on the ocean and has the best views of any facility I’ve ever worked in. The only hospital employees that are local Heiltsuk are support staff (housekeeping/dietary/maintenance), Health Care Aids, a couple LPNs and only one full time RN. Every one else is agency or casual staff for Vancouver Coastal Health. All lab and Xray technicians, nurses and doctors come from out of town. If you’re walking around town and see someone who is not Heiltsuk, it is almost always a hospital staff member or else a teacher. It makes for a very interesting work environment when you and your co-workers are always new agency staff!
Being right on the Pacific Ocean, Bella Bella’s main industry is fishing and the fishing cannery. Most community members work on the boats to provide for their families. While I was there, they were collecting herring eggs that are usually canned and shipped overseas to Japan. Because of the pandemic, they sadly were unable to ship their goods overseas so the economy here definitely took a hit from that. Besides the tiny one-room airport and the ferry terminal, there is one general store, a post office, a school, a police station, a church, a pharmacy and a clinic/hospital. That’s basically it! It’s quite a “bare-bones” town when you compare it to other small communities. However, the community members have the biggest hearts and are SO welcoming to the hospital staff which makes you forget that you are in such a small place.
I thought that my last contract was a small hospital! Boy was I in for a surprise when I saw this one! They are set up for only four in-patient beds. The most I ever had while working there was two patients. The small ER is run like a walk-in clinic with the occasional trauma that comes through. They have one trauma room, two ER stretchers and another stretcher in the cast room that is used for ER patients as well. On the other side is the long-term care unit which has room for seven patients, but I believe there was only six while I was there. They have one RN working 0730-1930 and one overnight from 1930-0730. Another RN who is usually assigned to the ER works 1000-2200. I worked 1000-2200 every shift in acute care; as I am not an ER nurse, I could not be the only RN in the building. In the mornings before I started, the day shift RN would handle the ER plus the inpatient morning medications, an assessment and a wash. When I arrived most of the morning care for my patients was usually finished (depending on how busy the ER was) and I would take over their care and charting. I also helped out a TON in the ER which gave me great experience! The mornings are a lot of work for one person if it’s busy! It’s definitely a great team-oriented environment which I loved.
On the LTC side, there is one LPN and one HCA per shift. Normally in non-COVID times, these staff members could help on the acute side and ER if it was busy. Because of the long-term care restrictions though, the LTC side was completely separated from us so the staff were not able to go back and forth. Because of this, they sometimes had an extra LPN working 2200-1000 on the acute side to help out the RN who was working alone all night. They could also help with the morning care after shift change.
One of my favourite parts of working at R.W Large Memorial was the amazing physicians that worked there. The locum staff were unreal and I loved working with every single one of them. They were super supportive and respectful of the nursing staff and it was a great team environment. One day in particular stood out to me when we had a Code Blue and the patient sadly didn’t end up making it. The doctor who took over for the paramedics and ran the code sat us all down after and did a de-briefing of the whole situation. We were able to ask questions and discuss what happened to the patient. I felt so supported and also learned so much. I was so appreciative as a nurse with next to no experience in a trauma bay. I wasn’t directly in the room working on the patient; I was a runner outside the room helping the other RN draw up the medication and double checking everything. So, to be debriefed after and learn what was exactly happening helped me very much. I also was never felt to feel inadequate as a nurse while working there even though I was not trained as a triage nurse etc. For that I am super grateful!
The housing for this contract was definitely one of the nicest places that I have stayed in. Not only is the hospital situated right on the ocean, but most of the housing is too. If you are a full time staff member, they house you for free in this beautiful six-plex right on the water. There are a few other houses for the agency staff around town. I was lucky to stay in the Sosoona House which was a two bedroom apartment only a three minute walk away from the hospital and ocean. I could see mountains from my room which was unbelievable. It was nice and big and I had Wifi, satellite and a dishwasher! Not all housing has this luxury. The main housing complex, Coho House, does not have TV and apparently the Wifi isn’t great so I am thankful for where they placed me. All supplies such as laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies are all provided by the hospital which is something I’ve never seen before on a contract! I had a few different roommates in my apartment in the four weeks I was there and they were all lovely women! My last roommate was someone who has previously worked with other travel nurses that I’ve been on contracts with in the past. It was so nice to finally meet her and hang out after all this time just following each other on social media! I wish we would have had longer together but such is the circle of life in the travel nursing world! You make a quick strong connection with someone and then before you know it, one of you is moving along to the next place!
As far as grocery shopping goes, it was really weird at first. In Bella Bella, the ferry brings in the food supplies every Sunday. I arrived on a Saturday and when I walked into the only grocery store in town operated by the band, most of the shelves were completely bare. At first I thought this was related to the COVID-19 pandemic and people stock piling supplies. The next day, when I went back I had much more options. Prices were really high for some things such as $9 for a frozen pizza! I expected fresh produce to be very expensive but it was actually very cheap!! An onion was 19 cents…a bag of brussel sprouts was less than $2…a bagged salad was $5. I was pleasantly surprised. I later learned that this could be due to the Northern subsidies on healthy food costs. I definitely did wish that I had brought food into the community with me. There were some things like Keurig pods for coffee and basic kitchen staples that could have saved me a lot of money if I had brought them with me. One of the most frustrating things was that there was rarely any prices on the shelves in the grocery store. It was hard to shop and when I got to the checkout, I usually had to put things back because they were WAY too expensive. As COVID-19 progressed, the band store’s policies did too. Only 10 people were allowed in the little store at a time; hand sanitizer was provided. They later did not allow anyone new to town to enter the store so agency staff could not do their own grocery shopping when they arrived on the island. I was also given a badge to wear around town saying I was an essential service worker.
THINGS TO DO
Because this island is so small, options are limited when it comes to things to do on days off. On top of this, a pandemic was also happening so there really was not much to do on the island! Normally, you can take the sea bus across to another island called Shearwater where there is a fishing resort with a restaurant. You can even order a pizza and they will deliver it on the sea bus across to Bella Bella for you! Sadly, they closed it right after I arrived so I never got to go across…or have pizza!
One of the things I was most excited for when I signed my contract here was the opportunity to see whales. A few weeks before I came to Bella Bella, a pod of orca whales swam by and I saw some gorgeous photos of them. I was SO determined to see a whale while I was there. Whenever it was slow at work, I’d sit by the window and wait. I’m so devastated that I never saw one. What I could see from the hospital window was eagles everywhere!! They would fly overhead and scope out their lunch! Apparently one day a bunch of them were on the beach eating someone’s cat!!
One of my favourite things to do was simply walk along the beach. I would spend a lot of my lunch breaks sitting on the beach and watching the boats go by (and waiting for a whale to breach!!). I found a ton of sea glass that washed up on the shore which was super cool for me. When the tide was low, there were clams EVERYWHERE and you could see them shooting water up in the air all over the shore. There was a nice dock that I’d go sit on to watch the sunset which was always breathtaking. At the bottom of the dock, you could see all kinds of starfish and barnacles which was so neat!
The hospital has a ton of kayaks that are available for the staff to use. I regret not kayaking while I was there. There were a couple of days that I could have gone but I am not an experienced kayaker and the waves made me nervous to go alone. After I left, a big group of nurses did go out and I really wish I could have joined!!
The thing I did most while in Bella Bella was walk!! There are some really pretty places that you can walk to! My favourite was Bachelor Bay which is way out past the airport. I had such a peaceful time there and suntanned while watching the ducks swim by. It was a good 8 km walk! There’s another quick walk around Martin’s Lake which is also gorgeous. Sadly, at the fire pit area on the one side, there was garbage and empty booze cans and bottles all over the beach. Actually, everywhere around town there was garbage along the road in the ditches. I’m not sure if it’s due to it being spring time or if the birds are to blame, but a city-wide clean-up was definitely needed as this took away from the natural beauty of the place!
You can also walk down to the ferry terminal and just past it is a very nice boardwalk that they created for Prince William and Princess Kate’s visit back in 2016 on their Western Canada tour! It was really neat to walk in the same place that they did! It was a really pretty area. When we walked there, one of the many stray dogs from town walked all the way there and back with us! She was CRAZY and tried to bite the tires of every car that passed us on the road. I for sure thought she was going to get hurt but thankfully it never happened.
There’s one more walk that I didn’t do which was actually hiking up a mountain! I heard great things about it from other co-workers though!
I was quite nervous to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, as I’m sure everybody was. At first I had a lot of anxiety and struggled with being away from home. Soon after arriving, the only airline that flew in and out of Bella Bella stopped services so I felt trapped. I was on an island with no way out. I actually had a ferry trip booked when I left and I was supposed to take the Inside Passage up to Prince Rupert then go over to Haida Gwaii for a few days. Sadly this was all cancelled due to the pandemic. Many other travel nurses were leaving their contracts early so that they weren’t stuck on the island and many warned me to do the same. Should I just cancel and go home?? It created a feeling of panic inside of me and I really wish I hadn’t listened to these voices because it really did affect the first couple of weeks that I was there. I was really depressed and anxious at first but then I began to understand the severity of the pandemic and instead these feelings converted to much better ones. I was so grateful to be in such a secluded place, after all. Here I am, isolated on an island where no one can come in or out besides essential service workers such as me. I didn’t know how I was going to get home, but I had faith that it would all work out. Once I felt this way, I enjoyed my time in Bella Bella much more. The hospital and Vancouver Coastal Health ended up arranging daily chartered flights in and out to bring medical supplied and lab samples and staff back and forth. All lab staff, doctors and nurses used this service and it ended up being one of the coolest experiences of travel nursing for me thus far! I flew on a private plane!
As far as actually working in the hospital during the pandemic, it was very interesting. First of all, the hospital and administrative staff did an EXCELLENT job of implementing policies and communicating these to the staff. I felt very informed the entire time. The Bella Bella hospital and staff were well prepared for any worst-case scenario that should happen. We did frequent simulations of codes and dawning/doffing PPE; we wore goggles and masks at all times in patient care areas. The entire school gym was converted to be an emergency back-up area for patients and there were 50 cots spaced out should they need them. The manager educated the community by posting live videos on social media about the new process for arriving to the hospital. Social distancing was extremely difficult for this Indigenous community to understand at first. Visiting and being with their families and community is so important to them. Protecting their elders is as well, so that is what was enforced the most in order to educate everyone. It was very hard to implement the visitor restriction at the hospital and for the long-term care patients. Eventually, word travelled throughout the community and then everyone began taking the proper precautions. The community members were SO supportive of the hospital staff. They did a few drive-by’s in their vehicles while socially distancing and they drove by the hospital honking their horns. People dropped off big signs for the staff, and there were even thank you notes taped to the door of my apartment! The Coast Guard on the island across the water did a tribute drive-by on the water as well with their sirens blaring. It was so nice to feel the support from the town while I was away from my family and loved ones to be there helping them!
All in all, it was a great experience and it was a good one for it being my final travel nursing contract. I am going to write a post about my new job in the future but to sum it up, my life has changed a LOT in the past couple of months! I went from travelling all the time to a new job working from home full time. We also bought a house and we’re getting a puppy soon! It feels so weird but it also feels right. I was craving stability and now I will have that! A piece of my heart will always belong to travel nursing, however. Maybe some day I will be able to do it again. 🙂 Right now with the pandemic, it’s hard to say anything for certain. I am so grateful to be home safe and sound and that all my loved ones are too. I can’t wait to travel again, though!! Stay safe everyone. ❤