Apparently the doctor was very lucid. He wanted to know if I would like to go to San Antonio, TX for a national conference to find out more about the medical EMR that we use, especially as it relates to the upcoming ICD-10 change scheduled for October 2014 and for the next system upgrade we'd soon be receiving. One thing was for sure. I wasn't going alone. Fortunately, our office IT expert would also be coming. I think she felt the same...she'd go too, but not alone. Jared was all for it, but even with a companion, I reluctantly agreed. I was worried about the prospect of spending 4 days on the doctor's dime. I work part-part-part time and I wasn't convinced my going would be a good return on his investment. He said I was not obligated to go in any way and that he wasn't worried about his money. He even graciously suggested this trip could be a nice little getaway for me. What could I say except, "Alrighty then."
We started planning. I would have to fly out early Thursday morning to be ready for the first day early Friday morning. Jared took Thursday and Friday off from work. Not what we were hoping for, but Jake had band obligations that kept him from babysitting. I was gone Thursday, Oct. 10th through Sunday, Oct. 13th.
Jody and I were up mega early to catch a 6am flight to Denver. It happened to be our friend Kim's birthday. She's a medical assistant at the office. We sent her this picture...
and said, "Happy Birthday, Kim! From Sleepless in Denver"
We arrived in Texas around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was perfect. The weather was soooo warm and the sun was energizing! We found a cab and got to our hotel without any trouble. It was on the farther outskirts of downtown, but it was really nice.
We unpacked and stretched out a bit. I changed out of my jeans into capris and ditched my jacket. We decided if we were going to see the sights, this was the time to do it. We also needed lunch! As Jody got ready to go, she realized in dismay that she forgot to pack pants! So we added that to our agenda as well.
We got our map from the hotel front desk and started to walk back toward downtown. We found a shopping plaza and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I had some cheese and chicken enchiladas that were swimming in brown gravy. I wasn't so sure about them, but they were actually tasty. And we left just in time before we were serenaded by these gentleman :)
Five minutes later, we all but ran into a Goodwill store. Bingo!! It couldn't have been planned any better than that. Jody looked for her much needed bottoms and I took advantage of not having kids in tow and spent time looking for some jeans too. We both scored.
Okay, confession time. Maybe it's just me, but when I think of the Alamo, I think barren wasteland. A wide, open, dusty area with nothing around except the remnants of worn and broken fortresses.
Hellooooo??? The Alamo is right smack-dab downtown! Surrounded by other buildings and shops and restaurants. It took me a few minutes to wrap my brain around that one.
This was the building next to the Alamo. I don't know what it is, but I like it.
We headed toward the historic San Antonio River Walk. Before we left for Texas, Jared and some others were asking me if I'd planned to do the River Walk. I was surprised that so many people knew what the River Walk was because I'd never even heard of it. Jared said he remembers it being advertised for a past Physician's Assistant conference that was held in San Antonio.
The River Walk was sooo lovely. We didn't have time to get on a gondola tour, but it was certainly fun to watch others float by and to experience another little "city" and perspective below the street.
(The rest of the pictures, especially the nice, crisp, bright ones were taken by Jody on her phone camera. I couldn't believe the quality of pictures she was getting out of a light-weight and what looked like a rinky-dink Samsung phone--no offense, Jody--so I nominated her to be the trip historian :). I love this picture of the River Walk with all the vibrant colors.
We actually got a little turned around down there by the river. Thank goodness for the map, but our sight seeing took a little longer than we had planned to get back to the hotel. We estimated we walked a good 5 miles or more when it was all said and done.
Considering the early start we had and all our traveling that day, it wasn't surprising that Jody crashed upon our return to the hotel. I soaked in the hot tub and then grabbed a snack out in the lobby and texted my sister Kelly in Georgia who was only one time zone ahead of me instead of three, before turning in myself around 9pm. We had a big first day ahead of us and the conference shuttle would be picking us up around 7am.
There was actually a decent group of us at the hotel who were attending the conference, which was a nice surprise since we secured accommodations later than most. Friday morning, we grabbed a small nibble of food before going outside to catch the shuttle. At 6:50am we wandered outside the front lobby and congregated with the others. We waited for quite some time. Finally, around 7:15, someone went back inside to talk to the front desk attendant, inquiring about the shuttle. The hotel was tucked back quite a bit from the main road. We had been told the shuttle would be right out front, so we all planned for it to come up to the hotel lobby door. Apparently, the shuttle would be waiting on the street yonder. So we all hoofed it over in that direction, hoping to catch the last shuttle. As we headed toward the street, we did see a chartered bus. It was sitting between our hotel and the one next door, but we couldn't see it until we started walking closer to it. Argh!! We had missed the first bus and while we were grateful we caught the second one, we did make them aware that they were not visible from our hotel nor were the pick up instructions clear.
I thought the big charter bus was slightly overkill to drive us a mile or so up the road to the Convention Center, but hey, the seats were super cushy and there was a foot rest in front of me to take some pressure off my back.
Jody and I talked with the two gals behind us...asking where they were from and what they did. One of them was named Kathy. She's an office manager like me from Louisiana. LOVED her accent. Could have listened to her talk allllll daaaaay long.
I looked out the window and noticed we passed the Convention Center. I figured we were going around the block or something. There was a little bit of construction going on. Nope. We were getting onto the freeway. I was a little confused. Maybe you had to get on the freeway and had to access the Convention Center from a different way. But no. We just kept going. And going. We were clearly far from downtown San Antonio.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was a little concerned. And yes, the thought did cross my mind "Has this driver lost his marbles? Are we being taken somewhere against our will?" I wasn't panicking but was very aware that we were far away from where we started, especially when we passed the airport and kept going. I even texted Jared to tell him we were being driven away from San Antonio, including the airport...you know...just to let him know where I was and...just in case he needed to...I don't know, contact the authorities for us...or something...
Finally, after 30-40 minutes of driving, we arrived, out in almost the middle of nowhere, at a resort called the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Club Resort and Spa. Ohhhhh.
Yeah, I never did google the location of the conference. That's what happens when you make assumptions.
So I had it all backwards. Instead of the conference being downtown at the Convention Center (which might have been too small a venue...as we were sprawled out EV.ER.Y.WHERE at this resort) it was out in the middle of nowhere. And the Alamo, which I just figured had to be located in some wide open space, was, in fact, downtown. Who knew?
As we exited the bus we were greeted with 20+ eClinicalWorks staff smiling and cheering and clapping, saying how excited they were that we were there and welcome! It was only slightly awkward. When we arrived inside the doors, we were met with another 15+ eCW staff, smiling and welcoming us and directing us to the, I kid you not... quarter of a mile long hallway that was filled with banquet upon banquet upon banquet of breakfast foods. Wow. It was impressive to say the least and it was delicious. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, oatmeal with every topping you could imagine, cereal, juices, milk, coffee, tea, breads for toast, butters, sweet breads, fruits. More food than you could eat. And soooo yummy. I was actually surprised that we were provided with breakfast and lunch each day. At Jared's conferences all of his meals are what our family fondly calls YOYO: You're On Your Own.
As we ate in another hall with approximately 45 round tables that seated 10 people with just as many tables outside under tents, we made sure we had our schedules planned out and checked for any last minute changes. Our mission: to divide and conquer. Jody and I already selected our classes before coming and I'm glad we did. There were others sitting around us who were still figuring those things out. I was there to learn about things as they applied to billing and the front desk/check-in process and Jody was learning about the future tech opportunities and how to integrate more devices in order to automate more as it relates to communicating with patients. After feeding our faces, we went up a massive 3 flights of stairs...straight up. With all that food we were getting, I took my "cruise approach". I would need to take the stairs exclusively. This was just the first set. There were a few of these.
We stood in our respective "first letter of your last name" lines to check in. We got some handy dandy notebooks and a conference bag. Then it was off to the grand ballroom for our orientation and words from the sponsors and big wigs. We sat right up on the front row.
We learned there are 500 new features to the new system upgrade that's coming. They spent an hour and a half and showed us 15. Crazy! But really cool.
And then we were off! Jody went one way, I went another. I filled a notebook up taking all sorts of notes. The second class I was in seriously sounded like they were speaking another language, so I slipped out and went upstairs to take advantage of their one-on-one time with billing experts. That was the hands-down best part of the whole conference, really. I would learn something in a class, and then go up and get in line for my "tutoring" and so they could show me specifics of how to implement things and what they would look like on the system. I am also not ashamed to say that they knew me on a first-name basis up there! My two go-to gals were Sharon and Cindy. I was fortunate enough to find this incredible resource early in the first day of the conference because as the hours went on, the word got out and I had to wait in line a couple of times to get into a session. They really became my besties when they found out I had 5 kids. The naughty Jenn actually loves the shock effect on people when they make this discovery. I was surprised and loved them even more when they insisted I couldn't be older than 25. I'll take it!
Funny how the food really left an impression on me :) It didn't take long to catch on to the pattern. In between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner (while you were still ridiculously full), the staff would bring out tables in the large hallways off the grand rooms where the classes were held. There were rows and rows of tables and banquets filled with nuts and fruits, drinks, candies, granola bars, smoothies and sweet breads (and of course all the Starbucks coffee and tea one could ever want). One afternoon there were candied apples with all sorts of different candy or nut toppings or you could have sliced apples and dip them in caramel. They brought out warm apple fritters and tarts. Another afternoon was a huge display of different flavored popcorn...cheese, spicy, caramel, chocolate all wrapped in cute, little bags. I told Jody and Kathy, "You can't look at these mid-morning snacks and afternoon treats and not know that it was a woman who organized all of this." Seriously, impressive. On Friday we were wowed with lunch...grilled salmon, chicken, Italian pasta dishes, a variety of salads, breads, beef medallions and desserts--it made me feel like royalty. I couldn't imagine the planning that went on to host an event this size. Makes my head spin. I'm still figuring out how to make enough food for my family of 7. They really outdid themselves. Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday was deliciously more or less the same with a little bit of variation. It was actually cooler and raining on Sunday. Storms had moved in (I even got a big rumble of thunder!) I was hoping for some oatmeal to warm me up, but all they had were grits. Bummer. But then I thought about it for 2.2 seconds and said to myself, "When in Rome!" and got me a bowl of grits. I put a tiny bit of butter on them and some brown sugar and I swear, I died and went to heaven. I could not believe how much I loved those grits. I ate two big bowls and they were at the top of my shopping list when I got home. Admittedly, I can't make them taste as great as they were at the resort, but I still eat them here in the northwest. I was actually a little relieved when our lunches on Saturday and Sunday were boxed (in a carrying case for us to keep) with sandwiches, chips, fruit, pasta salad and huge cookies or brownies. Even the food planners think it's okay to take meals down a notch or two due to budget and/or time constraints.
Something else I appreciated....nice, fancy and clean bathrooms :)
Friday night was the big, conference gathering at the River Walk. Since we already did that, we bowed out and went to have some more Mexican food near the hotel. During one of my many sessions with Sharon and Cindy, Cindy highly recommended eating at Mi Tierra Café and Bakery. Said they had amazing candy too.
We walked to dinner and were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't too far, which was nice after a long day of filling your brain to the point of overload. Mi Tierra was a fun place to be. It was like Rainbow Brite exploded all over the place! I guess we kind of stuck out because we had lots of people ask us where we were from. I suppose taking pictures of the inside of the restaurant probably gave us away too.
This dinner was seriously, the epitome of Mexican food in my book. Check out my super colorful meal. I cleaned my plate--all but licked it, in fact. Didn't want to shame my family. The tortillas were incredible.
And this was our waiter. Alejandro. He was such a doll--doted on us and was very attentive. I could have just squeezed those cheeks. Jody took a picture to make Jared jealous. Whatever. I was just playing tourist!
At the end of the last session on Saturday, we were met by the eCW staff handing out cowboy hats to all the attendees. There was a big dinner and shin-dig of sorts happening that evening at the resort. Even though they would provide a shuttle back to our hotel that night, we had no interest in staying, especially with as far as it was to get back to the hotel. Kathy had plans with her sisters who traveled with her and Jody and I were going to do some souvenir shopping and get us some serious beef at a steakhouse we had seen on our own little river walk on Thursday. But we made sure we got this picture first. Yee-haw!
Hating all things cowboy or country, I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it all when I was in San Antonio! Jody ditched hers, but I kept my cowgirl hat and proudly wore it all the way home...on the taxi ride, through airport security and on two flights :)
Some cool pictures of buildings Jody took on our way home from our steak dinner Saturday night.
And some she took the day before.
I had noticed this sign on the freeway on our way back to the hotel on Friday. I watched for it again on Saturday and Jody was kind enough to take a picture of it for me so I could send it to our McCullough friends.
Because our flight was leaving late afternoon on Sunday, we had to check-out of the hotel that morning before getting on the bus to the resort, lugging our bags with us. The conference officially ended on Monday afternoon, but I wanted to be home Sunday night (which ended up being 1am Monday morning with delays!) Fortunately, we were not the only ones leaving on Sunday and there was a system in place for us to leave our luggage in a secure spot while we went to as many classes as we could before having to call a taxi. Jody even admitted that we could have left earlier on Sunday than we did. Our brains hurt.
Jody, Kathy and I were in the last class together before we had to leave. We said good-bye and got one last picture. Funny how we only talked with Kathy for a little bit over the course of 3 days but we parted ways having made a new friend. We wish Kathy the best of luck in all that her future holds, especially as she navigates through the new software upgrade and ICD-10 changes coming soon to the medical world.
Though it was dark, when I arrived home, these five little "kiddos" were lit up and waiting for me in front of the house when I got back. Super cute!! I missed my munchkins!