"Are You Strong?"

Sunday, 11 October 2020

A few months ago, someone I just met asked me that question. I wasn't sure if I should take offence, or just completely ignore the question. I thought, "How dare you ask me that question. You don't know me. You don't know how my journey has been". For me, asking someone you barely know if they are strong is quite insensitive, if not rude. But, as I listened to what the person was saying, it became clearer to me why she asked that question. 

You see, I have been a nurse in the UK for almost two decades now. My journey has not been that easy. I went through an eye of a needle to get to where I am today. I have been rejected for multiple senior roles in favour of nurses less qualified than me. Less experienced than me. I was hurt, yes especially because I have shown nothing but loyalty to the workplace. But I didn't allow those failures to demotivate me. I continued to work hard with integrity until almost a decade later, when my biggest promotion came. I became a Nurse Practitioner- the closest thing to achieving my dream of becoming a doctor. My interview for the role became my standard and since then, I nailed every first interview that I had. Well, I only had 4 interviews since. 

In 2012, I was forced to leave my dream job as a Nurse Practitioner  in Bristol because I had to move to London. Having been in one place for over a decade, it was very difficult for me to find the confidence to look for a job in London- where it was and still is more competitive and complex. Regardless of my fear in starting over again and working in big hospitals, I went for an interview at St Thomas' Hospital - one of the best and biggest hospitals in London. I went for the interview only to try. I wasn't even serious. I prepared my presentation the day before - which I didn't usually do. I would prepare days in advance, as historically, I always got nervous when it came to presentations (I still do now to be honest). To say the least, I got the job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Despite my struggles with confidence (caused by some people who made me feel inadequate), I had a good experience at St Thomas'. However, things turned for the worse when I returned from New Zealand. It was quite obvious that some people didn't appreciate me coming back to work. My confidence was totally knocked down. When I confided to one of my closest friends at work, she reassured me by saying that they wouldn't have known that I was struggling with my confidence because my performance didn't change one bit. I was apparently still the same CNS everyone looked up to. What I struggled the most was working with some people who made me feel like I didn't exist on most days. I was prepared to put up with this for longer, however a potential move to Scotland compelled me to resign. We didn't end up going to Scotland, but I didn't retract my resignation, despite the Head of Nursing and a number of surgeons asking me to stay. The Head of Nursing even told me that in 5 years, she is retiring and I could potentially be her replacement. Instead, I took this opportunity to fill in the missing gap in my nursing career- and that is a managerial role.

And so I moved to the private healthcare to do this. It was my first experience working in the private sector, in a specialty that I never worked in. I was very nervous when I had my interview. But after my presentation, the panel said I didn't leave them any room for questions because I apparently have answered all their questions (one thing that I have consistently heard since my Nurse Practitioner interview). The Head of Nursing told me that I should be proud of myself for a very well done interview and that I didn't have any reason to be nervous. She empowered me from day 1, hence no matter how many struggles I had to go through in the last 2 years with the company, I became a successful manager.

Yes, successful despite how much some people pushed me beyond my boundaries. A lot of people made me doubt myself and my clinical abilities. I managed some of the most difficult people that I have ever come across with in my entire nursing career. Nurses that I thought never existed in this compassionate world of nursing. I managed some of the most negative people that I've ever met in my life. The kind of people who would suck the energy out of you every single day. People who didn't have any good things to say about the workplace. People who were so unhappy and ungrateful for any good thing that you do for them. For them, nothing was never enough. They wanted more and they wanted me to do something about every little thing that they complained about. It was honestly the most physically and mentally exhausting job I have ever had in my life. 

Then the redundancy came. Myself and all of my staff were made redundant. You can imagine how low the staff morale was during this time. I was going through the same emotional challenge that everyone was going through. And yet, I had a job to do. I was a manager and still needed to do the job- at the same time I needed to be there for my staff- not as their manager but as their friend. I guess it is fair to say that I did both with equal success. My staff lost interest in the things that we worked hard to achieve as a team. They were obviously very hurt. These were the people who helped me bring the ward to where we wanted it to be. We achieved almost, if not everything that we wanted to achieve. All of a sudden, staff were demotivated. "What's the point? We are going to lose our job anyway.", was the common comment I heard.  I wanted to help them as much as I could. My staff were good people. I knew they were going to be okay no matter what happened. But at the time, it was difficult for anyone to see things that way. I was hurting for them, I wished I could have done more. I offered to edit their CVs. That was the least thing I could do to help them. On the 30th of January, I finally said goodbye to my team, to my people. The people who made my first ever managerial job a special one. The people who took me under their wings and helped me succeed. The people who made my first managerial job a lot easier. The people who allowed me to be who I am and accepted me for all of it. People who made it all worthwhile. My first managerial job was successful because of them. I wouldn't have done it without them. 

Two weeks before the hospital closed, I was asked to look for a temporary clinic in Central London. I searched and searched, made contacts with clinic managers, visited various clinics - all outside working hours, then negotiated. Two working days before we were to close our  own clinic, I found a temporary place to relocate. It was Thursday, and we were due to start the following Monday. I was packing my own office whilst still working. I was also helping in packing the whole ward. I was setting up a new clinic and closing a hospital at the same time. There were only about four of us left by then, doing everything. I was walking back and forth in between the new clinic and the hospital. In fact, I closed the hospital. It was the saddest day of my entire nursing career, but my journey didn't end there.

The temporary clinic didn't have storage area. So everyday for 6 weeks, Ate (one of the best nurses I have ever worked with) and myself were carrying an oxygen tank, two suitcases and a box of dressings from the office to the clinic, at least three blocks away. The clinic was on the 3rd floor. There was a lift initially, but it went out of order for 6 weeks after a few days. This meant that Ate and I had to carry all our stuff via the stairs (108 steps) everyday, for at least a month. There were also numerous issues in between. It was the toughest days of my nursing career, but I have no regrets. As Ate and I would always say to reassure each other, there was a reason why things happened the way they did. We gained an extraordinary experience that we can always looked back to with so much pride. It strengthened our relationship as friends, but most importantly as colleagues. I couldn't imagine doing what we have done with anyone else but Ate. We were meant to endure and get through that journey together. We stayed until the end despite all what we went through. If this wasn't strength and resilience, then I don't know what it was.

If I were to write every single challenge that I went through in my previous job, I will probably end up writing a short story. But despite everything that happened, I would still have chosen to stay if the hospital didn't close. It remained challenging up to the end, but I was in the right place with the right people. And I knew that despite the hardships, I was supported and appreciated by the senior management and most importantly, by my staff.

You see, I don't easily give up on things. If you have been following my blogs, you probably know what I mean. But, you should measure my strength not only when I don't give up on things or people. The more you should measure my strength when I do (give up on things or people)- because it takes a lot of courage and strength to walk away. Walking away should never be a sign of weakness, especially if you are walking away from someone or something that is not worth fighting for. 


That Three-Day Summer Trip To Dorset, England

Sunday, 20 September 2020

It suddenly dawned on me that we might not be able to travel at all this year. With the UK corona virus numbers rising again, a second wave is upon us. Local lockdown has been implemented in some places in the UK, and the government is highly likely to implement lockdown restrictions (again) in London imminently. So for now, all I can do is relieve our travel memories from last year. I have been going through our travel photos because honestly, I miss travelling. This is when I realised that I haven't written about our trip to  Dorset last year.

For so many years, Dorset has been on my list to visit in the UK - only because I wanted to see the Durdle Door. But when I was planning our trip, I realised that I had more reasons to visit Dorset - the land of countless roundabouts (haha). It was indeed a pleasant trip and an experience that is worth sharing.

During this trip, we decided to stay in a town called Evershot- a historical sleepy town, approximately 45 minutes drive to Lulworth where Durdle Door is located. With just over 300 population, Evershot is a perfect place for serene holiday, far from the madding crowd as Thomas Hardy put it.  Thomas Hardy was an English novelist and poet who referred Evershot as Evershead in his book Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The Acorn Inn where we stayed, is a very charming hotel with exceptional service. Our four poster bedroom, the Tess, was cosy and traditional; overlooking the village. The Acorn Inn is a hotel experience I will not forget.

Places we visited:

1. Lulworth
- Lulworth is a part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and this is where the Durdle Door is found, as well as the Lulworth Cove. It was August when we went and although it was a sunny day, the wind made it quite uncomfortable for us to stay longer. It was also ridiculously busy, with all people of all ages wanting to perhaps take advantage of the good weather for a picnic. It was too busy for my comfort though, so a glimpse of the stone formation that always reminds me of Monet's "The Manneporte" was more than enough for me.

2.  Highcliffe
- Highcliffe was not in our itinerary, however we had a few hours left  before dinner, so when we were searching for places to see on our way to Christchurch, we found the Highcliffe Castle. We took a detour and didn't regret it. Highcliffe Castle is an 18th century castle that was once a home to mr Selfridge (of Selfridges). We were not in the mood to explore the interior that day, but we enjoyed examining its picturesque exterior. Roaming around its beautiful grounds was relaxing. Not forgetting that refreshing coffee break under the tree at the end of the day.

3. Christchurch
-  We only actually went to Christchurch because the restaurant that we wanted to try was in the area. As it was approaching dinner, we didn't have much time to fully explore this riverside town. We, however, had the chance to walk by the quay which was refreshing after a full day of driving from one town to another.

4. Corfe Castle
- Corfe Castle is a village located on top of a hill in Purbeck, between Wareham and Swanage. We went here on our last day in Dorset. The castle is about 10-minute walk from the car park. Once we reached the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the village. The entrance fee of £10 per person was definitely worth it. 

Where we ate:

1. The Acorn Inn- 28 Fore St, Evershot DT2 0JW
- As we arrived in Evershot in the evening, we thought it would be best to have dinner locally. The restaurant in the Acorn Inn where we were staying looked credible, so we decided to have dinner there. The restaurant was charming and cosy. The service was efficient and the staff were delightful and accommodating. I loved the fact that the restaurant was not busy at that time. Their menu was inviting, it made me want to order more than what I could actually eat. But I was conscious that we would be eating more in the coming days so I decided to take it slow. I saw whitebait (£7) on the starter menu, so without a question, I ordered this. It was perfectly salty and crunchy to say the least. For the mains, I had the pan roasted Dorset pork loin, black pudding and apple hash pickled fennel broad bean and apricot veloute (£19). My plate looked messy when it came, but the tasteful food overshadowed this. J had the traditional fish and chips (£15.50), which he said was good. I was not going to have dessert as I devoured the whitebait, however I saw sticky toffee pudding (£8) on the dessert menu, so I had to have it. All in all, it was an amazing first dining experience in Dorset and I would recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area.

2. Rick Stein - 10-14 Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole BH13 7QB
- When we had our Cornwall driving trip in 2017, we visited Rick Stein's Cafe in Padstow. The original plan was to dine at the main restaurant, however it was fully booked. To be honest, J and I have been watching his TV shows, and we have always been fascinated by his food. So, we thought that it would be nice to eat at his restaurants whenever we visit the Southwest of England. In Dorset, we drove to Sandbanks only to have lunch there. And perhaps, as you would expect from a Rick Stein restaurant, the food is pricey. We had a langoustine on ice each for starter which was definitely a mistake. In retrospect, I should have ordered something else. I actually went to Rick Stein for their famous fresh crab, so I ordered a whole Singaporean Chilli Crab for my mains. I found the waiter quite judgemental when he asked me if I was sure I could finish the whole crab as it was quite big. I couldn't help but say, "You haven't seen me eat a whole crab, so trust me, I will be fine". He had the shock of his waiting life when he collected my plate and found only empty crab shells. J on the other hand, had their Singaporean seafood curry which looked mediocre, but was surprisingly flavourful. It wasn't one of the best dining experiences for us, but it was worth a try. The panoramic view of the Poole harbour was a treat.

3. The Jetty - 95 Mudeford, Christchurch BH23 3NT
- Our last dinner in Dorset was at The Jetty- a seafood restaurant on water's edge in Christchurch. We didn't make any reservations but were gladly accommodated by the friendly staff. I found the food quite expensive for what it was, but perhaps you pay for the location and the stunning views of the Mudeford Quay. We ordered the octopus salad for starter (the price escapes me) and the Jetty Surf and Turf for £40. 

4. The Pig on the Beach - Manor Rd, Studland, Swanage BH19 3AU
- If I were to go back to Dorset, I would make sure that I stay at The Pig Hotel. I loved the yellow house and the shabby chic interior. It's a shame that we didn't have much time to really explore the property, but I would really love to go back there one day. Lunch at The Pig on the Beach was the best way to end our Dorset trip. The food was amazing and affordable. The staff were brilliant. We were very well looked after despite the fact that we were only there for a quick lunch. The property has incredible sea views. J and I were both impressed that we wished we stayed there even just for a night. Anyway, food-wise, everything was topnotch. We shared a crab cocktail (£9.50) for starter, which inspired me to make my first ever prawn cocktail a few weeks later. J chose the Purbeck sirloin steak (£28) for his mains, whilst I had the buttery Poole Bay plaice (£21). I highly recommend this restaurant.

And that's our Dorset travel experience. It was short but nonetheless a memorable trip.

Ah, I really can't wait to start travelling again. For now, I must remain patient until we are certain that we are totally safe to visit places again.


The Corona Lockdown Made Me Cook It

Sunday, 30 August 2020

The Corona lockdown was definitely a good opportunity for me to upscale my skills in the kitchen. I have been learning how to cook since 2016, when I took a career break and lived in New Zealand for almost a year. I mean, I know I can now cook, however, I have only been cooking food that I am comfortable cooking. In short, I (always) play safe because I am very impatient in the kitchen (this is the only aspect of my life that I am impatient with). So, when the lockdown was imposed, I decided to level up in my cooking. I started cooking food that I would not normally cook, food that I haven't eaten in a very long time and food that I very rarely cook. I even learned how to bake bread, cakes and muffins. So yes, another good thing that came out of the lockdown is the fact that I am now inspired to take on my cooking into new heights. So, watch this space. :)

Allow me to please share the food that I have cooked during the lockdown:

1. Cakes, Breads and Muffins
- I say this as if I actually baked amazing cakes. Haha. Not really. I started baking banana bread during lockdown just like everyone else. I am comfortable with banana bread because I have baked it once before. For me, it's the safest and easiest to bake. Then my birthday came, and I decided to throw an afternoon tea party for myself and J. I was forced to bake scones, cupcakes and my birthday cake. It was my first time to bake a proper cake. I chose pistachio cake because I found the recipe easy. I also baked red velvet cake for the first time. Surprisingly, I pulled it off very well. 

Then I tried to cook pandesal- the first proper bread I ever baked. I mean, it wasn't the most successful pandesal, but it was not bad for a first timer. 

2. Pasta
- Although pasta is easy to cook, I very rarely cooked it before lockdown because J and I were cutting on carbs. But since lockdown, we have declared Fridays as our pasta night, so I have been cooking pasta more than ever before. The pasta dishes that I enjoy cooking the most are fusilli and cheese (because J is not keen on macaroni), creamy carbonara and garlic pasta. 

3. Steak
- To be honest, as much as I love steak, I don't really want to cook it because it is messy to cook. I don't like it when the oil splatter all over. Besides, I was never good at cooking steak. So, whenever I craved for steak, I would go out to eat. Saying that, it is J's favourite so I really made an effort during lockdown to learn how to cook it properly because we couldn't go out. I still haven't got it 100% right, but at least I am a lot better.

4. Filipino dishes
- There are not many Filipino dishes that I can cook, and J can eat. This is the reason why I very rarely cook Filipino dishes at home. During the lockdown, I craved for some really badly so I cooked my favourite kare-kare, liempo and adobo. To be honest, it was only recently that I was able to cook proper adobo. I mean the colour and the taste finally tasted like the adobo back home. Yes, they say that every Filipino should be able to cook adobo. I was one of those who couldn't. But perhaps now I can? Also, I tried to cook sisig for the first time ever and it was definitely a success!

Oh, I also made an no-churn ice cream for the very first time. Of course, I tried my favourite Filipino ice cream flavour- ube.

5. Pancakes
- You probably wouldn't believe me if I say that before lockdown, I couldn't cook pancakes. I mean, I have attempted many times before but they were either bitter (from too much baking powder) or flat and chewy. I was on the verge of completely giving up on pancakes when I came across Food with Mae's recipe. Her 4-ingredients recipe gave me hope. You have no idea how happy I was when I finally saw those fluffy pancakes. J was even wondering why I was so happy. Then I took my pancakes to another level and made my version of "duck and pancakes" (instead of waffles). :)

6. Spam and Corned Beef
- I really can't remember the last time I ate spam and corned beef. But the lockdown gave me the excuse to eat them again after God knows how long. And boy, was I excited!? It was definitely the perfect comfort food for me during the time of lockdown. And of course, garlic rice which I haven't cooked like in forever.

7. Tofu, Dahl and Nando's Chicken
- Okay, I never thought that I would and could actually cook tofu and dahl. These two dishes really never occurred me. And although I knew that I could buy Nando's Peri-Peri sauce, I never really tried using it for cooking. So, thanks to Mindful Chef for inspiring me to cook  dishes that otherwise I wouldn't cook. 

8.  French Onion Soup
- I have always wanted to learn how to cook French onion soup because this is J's favourite starter but for some reason, I never tried it. Perhaps because I thought it was difficult to cook. But I was wrong. In short, my first ever French onion soup was a success. Another dish that I can add to my starter list.

I still have a long way to go, but at least now I am more motivated to cook. :)

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