The life of a travel nurse: Pandemic Edition

By: Sydney McDonald | Managing Editor

Living through a pandemic such as the one we are in now will make for some very captivating stories for future generations to hear. Everyone will tell stories of how they stayed inside for weeks or months, that they lost their jobs, or weren’t able to celebrate their graduations or birthdays with friends and family. However, the frontline workers of COVID-19 may have the hardest stories to share. Doctors, nurses, and all other jobs regarding medical centers and hospitals have had some of the toughest weeks of their careers during the pandemic. 

Envision being on the frontline of this pandemic as a nurse while also being in the midst of moving to a new city with no family, friends, or contacts. Working in a hospital you are not familiar with and become accustomed to a new lifestyle in an unfamiliar area. 

Bailey Mehok, BSN, RN, has done just that as a young travel nurse who has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally from Huntsville, and graduating from UAB in 2017, she began working in Nashville, Tenessee at Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Neuro ICU. In July of 2019, she applied for her first travel position in New Hampshire. After her time there was over, Mehok was excited to move on to her second travel contract in San Diego. 

“I wanted to be a travel nurse because I have always loved to travel and I thought what better way to see the country and work at the same time. I get to spend a couple of months exploring in each place, which would be hard to do working a regular 9 to 5 job,” Mehok said. 

Eager to live in California for the first time and explore a new city, Mehok did not expect her next assignment to go quite as it did. Moving to San Diego on at the end of January, COVID-19 had barely made an impact in America yet. 

“I saw on the news about what was going on in other countries, but it is hard to understand how bad something is until you see it firsthand. Everything was normal at work until about the middle of March,” Mehok said. “One day, I was walking into work like I normally do, through the front entrance and we were told by a security officer to go around the side entrance where we would be screened. They had a table set up and asked us a list of questions, did we have a fever in the last 24 hours, shortness of breath, cough, or scratchy throat. We were given a sticker and it was good until the next day. Each night after that all staff had to go through the same process again.”

Bailey Mehok (right) with a fellow nurse suited up in PPE. 

Mehok was designated to be in the “float pool,” moving to whatever ICU unit needed her, so she was brought into the “COVID floors” many times during her stay. Mehok explained the hardest part of the experience was keeping up with the always-changing policies and procedures to deal with COVID patients. Also, not being able to explore and find people to connect with made it all the harder for Mehok to avoid being homesick while there.  

“In the beginning, everything was crazy. We were getting multiple emails daily and the policies kept changing. As soon as you thought you knew what to wear, where to go, how to handle these patients per the hospital guidelines it would change. It took a couple of weeks before there was a set policy, but once there were clear guidelines I felt like I was better prepared to take care of my patients,” Mehok said. “Once everything closed and my off days consisted of seeing what else I could watch on Netflix or what new book I could read, I felt more homesick. I think if I was closer to home, I would be scared of bringing the virus back to my family, but being away from my support system during this quarantine made it more difficult to emotionally deal with everything.” 

As a travel nurse, being prepared to move quickly and easily is a part of the job. With her time in San Diego coming to a close, Mehok is in the process of moving back to New Hampshire for her next assignment. 

“It was weird driving back from San Diego to Huntsville, the roads were relatively empty. We saw military units in some towns on the way back helping with the pandemic which was bizarre to see,” Mehok said. “Most of the gas station bathrooms were closed to the public, so finding places to stop to pee on the way back got interesting. It felt like driving back I was in a badly acted ‘end of the world’ movie without the zombies.”

Though Mehok doesn’t know quite what to expect from her next assignment, she plans to continue navigating through the unfamiliar territory while moving as best she can. 

“Moving your whole life into a two-door Honda and living in an Airbnb for three months is more difficult the first time, but gets easier as it goes. You realize what you really need and what you don’t,” Mehok told us. “I think everyone is trying to do their best with all the obstacles being thrown at them during this time, but nothing like this has ever happened before, so we’re all figuring it out together.” 

Though to make the move easier she only brings two suitcases now instead of three, Mehok always makes sure there’s room for her most essential item: her coffee maker.