Starting College Degree #3

Upon completing my Associates of Nursing I kind of knew at some point I would need to return to school for a Bachelors of Science of Nursing. I took a year off and then started back to school to obtain my BSN. In the middle of my degree program we launched on our Full-time RV adventures with travel nursing. Much time was spent at the homemade desk that was fashioned in our bedroom of the RV working on school assignments. I completed my BSN capstone project in Daytona Beach at the hospital where I was a contracted travel RN. The administrators were blown away that I was doing a capstone project in their hospital but was not even an employee. They offered me permanent employment multiple times over my remaining contracted time there. At the completion of my BSN I figured I was done with school. I was a well-educated bedside RN with no aspirations to become an advance-practice nurse.

Well, let me tell you, things change…..

After joining the US Navy I learned that while it is a number of years off, if I desire to obtain the rank of O-5 or above, I will need to have a Masters Degree. Add to this that the Navy offers tuition assistance (TA) to those taking classes, and the thought and cost of a Masters Degree became very attainable. I researched schools and started the process. I was once again back in school. Of course, anyone who knows the military knows that EVERYTHING is subject to change. Part way through my degree plan I learned that I was temporarily not eligible for tuition assistance because of a rule change made at the national level. This meant that at least one class would have to be paid for out of pocket instead of receiving tuition assistance. Heather and I decided that while this would be a minor inconvenience, the military tuition rate was still pretty darn good and that I would continue working on my degree until I became eligible once again for TA. After a single class being paid for out of pocket I fell back within the criteria for TA and I happily accepted additional money for school. My degree was then once again put on hold due to deploying on the USNS Mercy, one of two Navy hospital ships. Upon returning from my deployment I will restart my courses and with any luck I will complete my Masters Degree at my next duty station.

I guess it just stands to reason that wherever I start my degree is not necessarily where I will complete it. My BSN was completed over three geographic living locations, and my MSN will be completed over at least 3 geographic living locations as well, more if you count each campground separately.

Temporary Duty in Florida

By: Kevin

IMG_9215Upon returning from our Ohio trip, I was fully anticipating to settle back into my work schedule at the hospital. However, the Navy had different plans. I worked a whole two shifts before I was placed on administrative hours so I could prepare for departure again.

It turns out I had been selected to be an instructor for Navy Corpsmen who were preparing to go to an operational job with a ship, the US Marines, or other forward-deployed medical facilities that would be dealing with trauma patients. I would be helping to train the Corpsmen of the future.

So what did this mean for me? Well, for starters, I would be living in a hotel for 8 weeks. This in itself was an interesting experience. I was given a daily allowance for food and incidentals. I could eat out all three meals a day for the entire trip. However, my waistline would have doubled if I had done that, so I opted to eat out some and make food in my hotel room part of the time. Now, cooking in a hotel room which only has a microwave and mini-fridge was a bit of a challenge. I could not get food that needed to stay frozen (no freezer, just a fridge), nothing that required a pan to cook, and nothing to go in the oven. I looked into a meal-prep service, but many of them required at least some stove-top prep, and the ones that were fully prepared were delivered once a week. That means I would have to play Tetris with a week’s worth of food in the mini-fridge. Instead, I simply went to the commissary/grocery store and cruised the aisles for food I could easily store and prep.

The training included classroom and skills practice, followed by 5 weeks in a local Level-1 trauma center to care for actual trauma patients. The Corpsmen who were selected for this training had not been involved in patient care for the past few years, so a good dust-off of skills was needed, but they were eager to learn and the classroom portion went well. Next the Corpsmen actually performed direct patient care at a local Level 1 trauma center which opened their eyes to patients they may actually encounter. They started IVs, dressed wounds, inserted Foleys, and help set broken bones among other tasks. Everyone agreed that the training was invaluable to them at the conclusion of the course. It is my understanding that the program is intended to be expanded around the US over the coming years to benefit even more Navy Corpsmen.

Of course I didn’t pass up the opportunity to enjoy Florida on my days off. I visited Daytona Beach and the Ponce Inlet lighthouse, toured the St. Augustine distillery and the Angell & Phelps chocolate factory, as well as various restaurants around Jacksonville. I spent a decent amount of time soaking in the Atlantic, which is considerably warmer than the Pacific at San Diego. I met up with a retired Navy officer and her husband to check out the Central Florida Zoo followed by lunch.

The instructor assignment was considered unaccompanied and I flew to Florida by myself. However, Heather being the strong independent person that she is, decided that if I wasn’t in San Diego then she did not need to be either. With 4 kids and a dog jammed into the cab of my truck she hitched up the fifth wheel RV and towed it from California to Ohio to visit her family (who we just got done visiting about a week prior). She spent a few weeks there before hitching up again and driving to Jacksonville, FL to visit me as well. After a few weeks in Florida she hitched up once more to start the journey back to California so she would beat me back to San Diego as I flew back at the completion of the course. All in all it was a great experience and would do it again if given the opportunity to teach the course to future classes.

Road-trip back to Ohio

By: Kevin

DSC_0357aWhen Chipmunk was born the US Navy awarded me with 14 days of free leave. However, with Heather’s mom in town and the support of our church, I did not feel the need to take leave immediately after Chipmunk’s birth. We had meals being delivered to us and an extra set of hands to care for the other kids. Instead, I decided to save my leave and use it for a trip back to visit friends and family in Ohio after Chipmunk was old enough to really travel.

We decided to make the trip in June, so the weather would be nice during our visit. This would make Chipmunk 4 months old. While he would still need stops to eat and have his diaper changed, this would be much easier than when he was younger.

We packed the van and were ready to go the night before leaving, which we did for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was that I worked the night before we left. Luckily for me, the flow of patients was not horrible and I was able to head home early, which allowed us to pull out of the campground right at 2:00 am Sunday morning instead of around 7:00 am if I had worked my entire shift. We were officially in for the long haul! The kids were excited to be on the road and were very energetic, but after we made it out onto the freeway they all went back to sleep until after daybreak. It was a little over 2,200 miles from California to Ohio. We were prepared with snacks, activities, and 5 gallons of drinking water.

We settled into a routine when we would make stops along the way. I would fill the van with fuel and wash the bug cemetery off the windshield. Heather would tend to Chipmunk. Pie would help with Miss Kicky Feet, and Bug would potty the dog and refill Dixie’s water bowl. This kept our stops short as possible to reduce any unnecessary additional time being added to the trip. Our system must have worked, as we pulled into the driveway in Ohio at 5:30pm Monday. When you account for the 3-hour time zone difference, this put us right about 36 hours for the whole trip including stops.

We were asked by some why we didn’t fly to Ohio. The first was simply cost. We would have needed 5 round-trip tickets, and once we arrived we would not have a vehicle, so we would most likely need a rental car. Comparing this cost to the fuel expense to drive the van to Ohio and back, the choice was clear. We also were planning (and did) bring back a 30-gallon cooler of frozen beef. I don’t think the airlines could have accommodated that.

The next two weeks seemed to fly by as we relaxed, visited with family and special friends, and enjoyed watching our kids play with their cousins. Each of Heather’s sisters had given birth to a new baby that we had not actually met yet, so it was nice to seeing the babies in person instead of just pictures. Additionally, none of the extended family had ever met Chipmunk either, so all three new babies got passed around quite a bit.

While I have been away from the Fire Department for a few years now, our visit to Ohio coincided with Chief Henry’s retirement from STFD, the second department I was on while in Ohio. It was great to see my coworkers again and catch up with what was going on around the department. I am very happy with my current occupation and location, however I am truly thankful for the time I got to spend on the department.

Since I was thinking about the Fire Department I opted to make a visit to the Mansfield Fire Museum, a small museum that I had heard about but had not made it a point to visit while actually living in Ohio. Miss Kicky Feet came along with me and she enjoyed seeing all the retired trucks and equipment. She even got to try on some junior-sized fire gear.

I think we each gained about 10 pounds while we were in Ohio thanks to “Grandma cooking”. Make no mistake, the feasting was glorious! It was like a full-fledged family reunion at each night’s dinner. I even got to enjoy my favorite homemade pie, Apple Rhubarb.

I was promised by Heather’s mom that during this trip I would not have to take on any home improvement projects like the prior visit when I ripped up and re-tiled the bathroom floor. While she did not ask me to do any projects, I did do a few little jobs like moving the Wifi router, changing the bathtub spigot, chainsawing 2 trees, and adding a vent valve under the kitchen sink to name a few. I also hopped on the zero-turn lawnmower, although I’m not sure if that really qualifies as work or play. For reference, it had been 5 years since I last mowed a yard.

Once our two weeks had come to an end, we loaded up the van and headed back West. This time the anticipation and excitement were not the same, and we knew exactly what we were in for over the next 36 hours. That made the return trip seem longer than the trip heading East. We also started out first thing in the morning, which means the kids did not sleep the first few hours like on the way to Ohio. Regardless, we made good time and pulled back into the California campground around dinner time the next day, approximately 36 hours after leaving Ohio.

It was great to see our family and some special friends during this trip. As we pulled out, we were not sure when the next time we would be back in Ohio so the hugs were long and there were even a few tears shed.

USS Midway

By: Kevin

One of the most highly ranked attractions around San Diego, the USS Midway, also known as CVN-41, is one of the first slant-deck aircraft carriers in the US Navy. Since its decommissioning in 1992 it has been moored in the San Diego Bay. The ship offers daily tours to the public which are sure to give the visitor a glimpse into the life aboard an aircraft carrier. This floating city was home to around 4,500 personnel while underway. While we were not rushing through it, it still took us around 3.5 hours to complete the majority of the tour. We opted not to stand in line for the superstructure tour because Miss Kicky Feet is not tall enough to attend that portion of the tour, and there was a line waiting to get in that portion of the ship. The tour led us through the hanger deck, flight deck, mess deck, berthing spaces, engineering, laundry, portions of Officer Country, and the brig just to name a few. There were mannequins positioned around some of the spaces acting as crew members, and one moving & talking mannequin who explained part of the Midway story. The tour is self-paced and self-guided, however there is a free audio tour that is initiated in the different areas of the ship by tapping the loaned audio device on pads located around the ship. This method allows the visitor to visit compartments of the ship in any order they wish without disrupting the audio tour play list.

How much soup does it take to feed a floating city? These kettles may give you some idea of the scale on which food was prepared aboard the carrier.

This is part of Officer Country, specifically the berthing spaces for officers. Had this been an enlisted berthing compartment there would have been 3-4 racks in the same space as these two. While there are certain luxuries that are extended to officers, it doesn’t mean that the officers don’t take part in their fair share of work.

The senior officers’ mess or dining room. While enlisted typically ate off metal trays and drank from plastic or metal cups, officers had the luxury of real china plates and true glassware for their meals.

Sick Bay onboard. Comparing this with what I saw onboard an active vessel I recently toured, there are some things that really have not changed much since WW2. The stokes basket in the center of the picture could very easily be taken down and used today without anyone even questioning it, as ones like that are still in service today.

Miss Kicky Feet enjoyed playing with the “spinner” on the front of the bombs located under the wing of an aircraft on the flight deck. The “spinner” is actually part of the arming device on that type of bomb.

This is Bug in the TCC (I believe it stood for Tactical Combat Center) sitting in front of one of the radar stations. When underway this space would be secured by a Marine guard to ensure only authorized personnel were allowed access due to the sensitive information within. Notice the overhead lighting is shaded blue instead of white.

This is just one view of the massive panel of radios aboard the ship. While as a tech nerd I was in my element, there were a LOT of knobs and buttons, and keeping them all running properly would have been a daunting task.

This is topside on the flight deck. One can see a few of the planes on display on the far end of the ship, and the city skyline behind them. The day we visited it was sunny and warm, which is pretty typical for San Diego, but made the day all the more enjoyable. We sat and listened to a lecture by a volunteer which detailed the challenges of landing on a carrier at sea, including the unique challenges of landing at night.

The staff and volunteers aboard the ship are comprised in part by veterans who served aboard the Midway or other comparable vessels/aircraft. This added an extra element of expertise to their talks and explanations of how things worked aboard the ship.

If you are in the San Diego area, I would recommend making a visit to the USS Midway, and if you have active duty ID, your ticket is free.

Life in a Military Hospital

By: Kevin

medical-caduceus

After working in civilian hospitals for the past 5 years, I thought it would be interesting to note the differences as I start working in a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). There are many similarities between civilian hospitals and MTFs, like the fact that MTFs are accredited by The Joint Commission and other civilian accreditation organizations. They are, after all, a hospital at the core. That said, there are many differences between civilian hospitals and MTFs. This starts with the very fact that in addition to being a hospital, they are a military command. This means that there is a very specific and traceable chain of command at any level. You can very easily determine who you report to and who reports to you. There are also specific jobs assigned to people in key positions. That means if someone is responsible for a task, such as the unit schedule, the other department leadership will defer to that person instead of “making this change for them” and “letting them know”. This actually does help communication because there is one specific person for certain tasks and things don’t get lost in the shuffle between multiple managers.

One obvious aspect of a military command is the defined hierarchy and rank structure. I am currently an Ensign in the Navy, so I am a junior officer. That affords me certain rights as well as responsibilities as an Naval officer. One of these is the time-honored tradition of saluting. All enlisted members of the military salute officers of any rank. As an officer, I outrank around 90% of the Navy, even though I have not even completed my orientation yet. That also means the Command Master Chief, a seasoned veteran with around 20 years in the military, many more ribbons on his or her uniform, the senior enlisted person at the command, and his picture posted on the wall in various places around the MTF salutes me…a junior officer that has been in the military for a few weeks. This is the way the military operates, but makes me take a moment of pause, as in any other setting, (while I may not be saluting) I would be the one giving respect to the more experienced person. It reminds me what responsibility I have to live up to the respect my position as an officer holds within the military and society in general.

Another aspect of a military hospital versus civilian is that in the military, (with very few exceptions) no department is ever really “closed”. There is always someone on-call, on recall, or on duty that can be contacted if someone needs assistance from that department. That is a big difference from some civilian facilities that departments simply do not function for any reason between 5pm on Friday and 8am on Monday morning. I have tested this fact, and was pleased by the availability of the on-duty personnel.

 

I am also enjoying working at such a large facility. The MTF is big! Like really big. Here are a few statistics to help quantify how large of a facility at which I work.

STAFFING:

  • More than 250,000 are eligible for care
  • Nearly 100,000 beneficiaries enrolled
  • Staff is comprised of more than 6,500 military, civilian, contractor and volunteer personnel
  • Personnel proudly deploy to support US Military Hospital Kuwait, the I & III Marine Expeditionary Forces, numerous humanitarian missions afloat and ashore and as individual augmentees.
  • Personnel deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Djibouti, and aboard the USNS Mercy
  • The staff has been recognized for excellence by such organizations as the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Athena International.

FACILITIES:

  • A 272-bed multi-specialty hospital and ambulatory complex
  • 1.2 million square feet located on 78.4 acres
  • 2 libraries
  • 18 operating rooms
  • Full Blood Bank collecting 15,000 units per year
  • 11 primary care clinics offering active duty and family care
  • 10 Dental Clinics caring for active duty
  • Helicopter Landing Pad for Medevacs
  • Medical and Surgical Simulation Center
  • Virtual Reality Lab for PTSD treatment
  • Recreational facilities on-site include: 2 gyms, 2 pools, volleyball and basketball courts and softball field

SERVING OUR NATION:

  • 24 Graduate Medical and Dental Programs, of which 97 percent of graduates become board certificated
  • Affiliated with 19 civilian nursing schools, training more than 400 students per year in their clinical rotations
  • Only DoD site for Prosthetic student training

AVERAGE DAY:

  • 6,500 prescriptions filled
  • 4,000 outpatient Medical/Dental visits
  • 1,000 immunizations distributed
  • 170 Emergency Department Visits
  • 150 pairs of glasses made
  • 50 Operating Room cases
  • 45 new patients admitted
  • 10 babies delivered

 

Note: All of the statistics and specific numbers were obtained from the hospital’s public website.

Officer Development School

By: Kevin

The past five weeks have been anything from ordinary in the Ready household. First off, we were once again a household divided. Heather and the kids remained behind while I traveled to Rhode Island to complete Officer Development School for the US Navy.

This five week course helps to prepare new Navy staff corps officers to meet the expectations of both the Navy and the American public. It involves classroom instruction, physical conditioning, technical training, and ethical & moral development. We lived, ate, and learned together as a group, which fostered both unit cohesiveness and personal accountability to each other. At first the time seemed to creep by, but by the end of the five weeks we all couldn’t believe we were already at the completion of the course. The culmination of the five weeks entailed a very professional graduation ceremony complete with a guest speaker. The graduation ceremony was especially enjoyable for me since my father, a retired Navy First Class Petty Officer, was able to attend the graduation in uniform and render the first salute from an enlisted sailor to a commissioned officer who has completed this training.

During these five weeks, Heather and the kids were having an adventure of their own. They spent some of the time in Daytona Beach, Florida, the location of my last travel nursing contract before my departure for training. They then traveled to Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, which boasts a 1:1 scale replica of Noah’s ark. They then headed North to Ohio for some quality time with Heather’s mom, sisters, and grandparents. After this visit, Heather and the kids, in addition to Heather’s mom and grandparents, all made the drive to Rhode Island to attend my graduation as well. Of course this drive would not have been complete without them driving straight into a Nor’easter snow storm which reduced their travel from freeway speeds to a crawl across ice and snow-covered roadways.

As I write this we are rolling down the interstate in transit from Rhode Island back to Florida, to once again reunite with the RV we have called home for the past three years. After some rearranging and a decent night of sleep, we will be pulling out, with the RV in tow, and heading west to face our new adventure as a military family. Stay tuned for further updates as we traverse the United States enroute to our new duty station.

navy blue to Navy Gold

RN to Ensign

by: Kevin

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Today was a big day for us. We joined the United States Navy! While this may sound like a complete change of course for us, it is really just an adjustment in the direction in which my career is going. I will still be serving as a nurse; however the next three years will be served at the naval hospital in sunny San Diego, CA.

Today a year of paperwork and preparation has come to a close. I have been working for some time now to lose weight and build stamina in an effort to meet the physical fitness requirements of the US Navy. As my current travel nursing assignment schedule is from 3pm-3am, this has entailed running (sometimes up to 3.1 miles) at 4am after returning home from work. I run during the day or in the evening on my days off as well, but sometimes you just need to take a 4am run to keep in shape. I have passed their physical fitness requirements.

I have also done TONS of paperwork over the past months including multiple interviews, background checks, degree audits, nursing license audits, and both peer and management reviews. I have passed all these requirements. I have received two thumbs up from the selection board as well as the Secretary of the Navy.

It has now come time to sign on the line and raise my right hand. Today, with my wife and children present, I completed the final steps of the process and have been commissioned as an Ensign, a US Navy Officer.

The next step is for me to attend a training program that will teach me the ‘Navy way’ of doing things and better prepare me to serve as a Navy officer. I have received many questions about this, and I can tell you, No…this is not boot camp, this is officer school.

Heather and I are very excited about what the near future will bring as I start active duty. We still plan to RV and explore, so fear not faithful followers. Our travels are not ending, but rather just beginning.