One look inside the van ER nurse Becky Faulkner drives to assignments dispels any notion that she is a run-of-the-mill travel nurse. It’s decked out like a jungle-gym. And, oh, that’s a penicillata marmoset staring back at you from its perch on the bars.
Her black-tufted marmoset travel companion
The black-tufted marmoset is Becky’s constant travel companion. The world’s second smallest species of primates, they grow to about a pound and a half in size, are native to Brazil, and adapt well to urban environments. They’re as common in Rio de Janeiro as grey squirrels are in Boston. Its conservation status is LC (least concern).
A lifelong animal lover, Becky says she’s had every animal you can imagine. “Fish and mice and gerbils, up to horses, alpacas, and donkeys. I had a pet goose that would follow me all over the place. Then I just happened across this little guy, and there is nothing like it. You almost can’t call him a pet — they are too human. They are amazing.”
Amazing is an understatement. The monkey became best buds with her two elderly dogs. Over time, the marmoset doted on one of them in particular, becoming extremely protective. “He slept right next to the dog on the couch,” Becky says. “If he moved, he would go over and check on him.”
Turned out it was his way of signaling that the dog was terminally ill. It wasn’t long until he passed away. Sometime later, the same behavior signaled something wrong with their other 14-year old dog. The vet found a large intestinal tumor, and they sadly had to put the dog down. All are amazed to this day how the marmoset knew.
So why take the marmoset with her? As remarkable as they are, they can be difficult. “They go from loving on you and kissing you to trying to rip your face off. I am the only one that can handle him, so he goes everywhere I go.”
Starting travel nursing during a pandemic
A nurse since 2012, Becky started travel nursing only recently. “My husband and I have been married 20 years, and the majority of that time I talked about travel nursing.” With her kids grown, she decided to try this unique travel nurse lifestyle. Just as the coronavirus hit.
“To go into a new place is always a little chaotic anyway,” she explains. “You don’t know where everything is, you don’t know their protocols and all. And then you go in, and there’s this pandemic.”
Being new to travel nursing, Becky didn’t want to be far from home until she got a feel for travel. She lives in Georgia, and her first assignment was in Florida. “I can only go to certain states with the monkey, so that limits me,” she says. “My goal was to be staying at a campground, but the campgrounds were closed. I was kind of stuck.” But luck came to this adventurous soul’s rescue — a friend’s house in the area was empty and being renovated, and she was invited to park behind it and use the power and water.
When she began working, new information arrived every day, so policies changed daily. First it was “you have to wear your mask from the time you hit the floor to the time you leave. Next, we had to wear googles. Then head wraps — when we found out it could be transmitted with hair. When a patient leaves, if we even suspected any signs of COVID, we had to wait 70 minutes and have housekeeping clean the area differently. It was crazy because every night was something different.”
The silver lining was the facility itself. “The hospital that I worked at was absolutely amazing,” she says. “The cafeteria staff came in every night and cooked for us for free. They really took care of their staff. I wish all hospitals were like that.”
Best laid plans
Becky’s first travel nursing experience was memorable if imperfect. Her assignment ended three weeks early because the patient census was so low. She had planned a three-nights-on, four-nights-off schedule so she could drive down to the Keys or go “beach to beach or campground to campground,” some of which are on the water’s edge and gorgeous. But because of COVID-19, that wasn’t to be. “Next time,” she says.
But her experience reminded her why she loves nursing. “It is just satisfying to be able to help people. I actually sat with a patient while she called family before they were going to intubate her. I was there taking her family`s place while she had this very gut-wrenching conversation, because who knows what the outcome was going to be.”
She’s looking forward to continuing her unique travel nurse lifestyle with a new assignment in either North Carolina or South Carolina. Whether things ever get back to pre-COVID normal or not, she’s confident she will always have a job.