The Perilous Privilege of Alaska

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After becoming an RN, my dream was to one day be a travel nurse and work an assignment in Alaska. ”I want to experience Alaska and take a dog sled to work,” I told my husband. Steve was getting ready for a golf outing. It was summer in the Louisiana swampland and he was packing a cooler full of beer and ice.

“You got two kids on you and one in you,” he snapped the cooler closed, “Think about reality!”

Twelve years later, divorced and remarried, I said to my new husband, “I’ve always wanted to take a travel nurse position in Alaska!”

 “Ok,” he chuckled, “Let’s go!”

Bruce, I, and Ariel, my youngest daughter of twelve, boarded the Malaspina Ferry in Bellingham Washington in mid-July of 2003. Our plans were to travel the inside passageway to Sitka, where I had an assignment to work at a community hospital. The Malaspina was an older ship with very few cabins. The three of us joined in with the majority of passengers and propped up a couple of tents on the upper deck. We used duct tape and rope to anchor the canvas. 

First night aboard, Ariel got significantly seasick. As a nurse, I thought my preparations had been perfect, but the Dramamine and Gatorade failed miserably. The following morning when the Malaspina docked in Ketchikan, I had four hours to transport my daughter to the hospital to get treatment for severe dehydration.

Ariel was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and was in surgery before the ship left us behind. Two days later, she was discharged from the hospital and we took her to a motel to convalesce. It was heart-wrenching watching my daughter hobble down the hallways, girding her abdomen with a pillow. But looking outside the motel window, were eagles soaring overhead and float planes taking off and landing. Despite the hardship for Ariel, I was now in Alaska. 

I was in Alaska! The smell of sea salt, salmon, and the sounds of the tide crashing on the rocks were parts of dreams that I thought I’d never get to experience in my life’s journey. I knew once Ariel felt better; she’d feel the same way. I couldn’t wait to get settled into Sitka and get some airline tickets for my older daughters to come and visit.

We flew Alaska Airlines to Sitka from Ketchikan. After a short twenty minute flight, we were greeted by fishing boats, rainbows and friendly faces. A friend that I met on the ferry system had taken down our tents and driven our truck off the ship and parked it at the hospital for us.

With my family’s blessing, I extended my short term travel nurse assignment. Ariel started school and grew to love Sitka. Bruce worked at the college and fished outside our back door. My mother left New Mexico and moved in with us. She eventually met and married an Alaskan man.

The first fall season of 2003, Sitka had the largest Northern Light show in history. I woke up during the night to red, green and yellow curtains falling from the sky. I ran into Ariel’s room and wrapped a quilt around her. ”Come outside” I said, “Heaven is dancing all over the place!” For hours, the lights gleamed across the water and we fell asleep while the Aurora Borealis partied on.

I didn’t ever take a dog sled to work—at least not on that trip. I’ve moved back to New Mexico, but have taken several more travel assignments to remote areas of Alaska since my Sitka experience. 

The privilege of living in Alaska might have had a perilous beginning, but my journey lives on. Alaska is no longer a dream. It’s my dreams reality.


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