the travel nurse

massesFor those of you that have never had the pleasure of working with the travel nurse at kaiser, I pity you. Because once you have survived the perils of that appointment, whatever third world country you were heading to will seem like a breeze.

The travel nurse is meant to give you advice about your chosen destination, shoot you up with vaccines and get you all the prescription drugs that only travels need. In theory, it’s great. In practice, the travel nurse is really just a regular nurse that gets stuck with the job for a finite period of time. My particular travel nurse has never left the country.

My appointment gets off to a great start, when as I’m sitting down, the travel nurse says “So you’re going to Peru.” Before I can even think about it, the sarcastic answer “Um, to start with,” pops out of my mouth. Taken aback by my response, she asks me to list the countries I am going to. I rattle off a list that includes most of South America, and then she asks, “In that order?” This time I reel in my smart aleck response and respond with something about my itinerary not being pinned down quite yet.

Trying to get this appointment moving, I mention that I need my yellow fever shot and that in the message she had left me she said something about needed to update my tetanus. This is when I find out that she’s just the substitute travel nurse. She’s never actually done this job before so she’s just going by what my computer records say. I had a tetanus shot in 1999, so she assures me that I’m not due until next year. I am now internally kicking myself for not finding that yellow immunization card somewhere in my filing cabinet that has all my vaccines and immunizations in one handy place because I had an inkling I’ve had a tetanus shot more recently than high school.

After a call to the real travel nurse on her day off we come to the conclusion that it’s better safe than sorry and one year early on my tetanus shot is probably a good idea. But before I can get my shots and get out of there I first must sit through 47 pages of listening to her read the “important traveler information” from the Center for Disease Control’s website, which she kindly cut down a tree and printed for me. After a mind numbingly scary forced education on the perils of international travel I get shot up with tetanus in the muscle of the left arm and yellow fever in the subcutaneous of the right arm. But don’t ask her why each of those vaccines had to be in those particular locations. I made that mistake. I got the very informative answer that that is where box says to administer it. I quickly grab my recently slaughtered slack of trees and race down to the pharmacy where she assures me my malaria drugs are waiting for me.

Twenty minutes later I am face to face with a sweet, incompetent pharmacist who assures me that there are not prescriptions for me and at one point confuses me for a nurse. If I tell you I’m a nurse will you give me my Mefloquine? After another ten minutes of getting glared at by everyone still in line, making calls to the travel nurse and my regular doctor we discover that the travel nurse had mistakenly seen my malaria prescription from around this time last year and neglected to notice that it was from 2007, not 2008. So I actually didn’t have a prescription waiting for me. After signing over all my money and possessions to the pharmacist I get a vague promise that they’ll mail me my malaria drugs in the next three to ten days.

Excited to be free of the incompetence that was oozing from every office at Kaiser that day, I determinedly set a course for my car. Only to be thrown off course by a call on my cell from the travel nurse. In a very urgent and worried tone she tells me that I actually already had a tetanus shot just last year. And oh yeah, “does your arm hurt?”

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