Playing saxophone and singing in a Mexican restaurant in Barrow, Alaska


The guitarist made a hit with St. James,

The poster showed off my name,

    I felt like a king

    When they let me sing

But sometimes my playing was lame.

I went for a walk this morning in thrilling clear air instead of using the gym equipment.  I saw pressure ridges building in the weakening sea ice.  I found patches of intact tundra.  I saw my first lemming.

At morning conference we discussed the value or lack thereof associated with therapeutic modalities like trigger point injection.  Which brought us to a discussion of acupuncture.

I am the only doctor who holds acupuncture privileges at St. Luke’s in Sioux City, and only for the treatment of pregnant women who vomit so much they have to be hospitalized (hyperemesis gravidarum).   A spirited discussion followed.  We talked about the tribal doctors, who come to Barrow on a regular basis. 

I would like to meet them.  When I worked with the Navajo, from time to time my patients would complain of hemidynia: pain on one side of the body.  I knew that the medicine man could help the patient and I couldn’t.  We had a good working relationship. 

This morning I reviewed labs and found two cases of vitamin D deficiency, a borderline vitamin B12 level, a positive hepatitis C, positive rheumatoid factor, and a hyperthyroid.  In fairness, the rheumatoid factor turned out to be falsely positive, and the hepatitis C was already under treatment.

Most of the morning appointment patients didn’t show, and I had lots of time to do followup planning on the patients with abnormal labs.

In another setting I would have scribbled orders on a sticky note, slapped it on the chart, and handed it to the nurse, who would have Gotten It Done.  I don’t mind doing the work for myself here because I’m am not over worked.

Over the lunch hour I practiced my saxophone and didn’t nap.

On three occasions this afternoon I drew on my own personal medical experience to put patients at ease. 

The fact that I had a misdiagnosed chronic disease for thirteen years gives me credibility with patients suffering from a wide range of diagnoses.  “Here is how I learned to live with the pain…” opens a lot of productive discussions.  Of course I deliver impassioned sermons about nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol.

I finished walk-in clinic late and changed clothes, grabbed my sax, music stand, and music, and drove to Pepe’s North of the Border with Theresa, the wife of Mac, the physician-trumpeter, and two children belonging to the Clinical Director.

We used a vehicle belonging to the Arctic Slope Native Association (ASNA), the corporation that took over the hospital from the Indian Health Service in 1995, and indirectly employs me.  They are a very good outfit to work for.

Mac and the guitarist were already at the Mexican restaurant.  We opened at seven. 

The three of us sat at one end of the room.  We tried to get the crowd to bob their heads in time to the music, not overwhelm them.  For the most part we succeeded.

The crowd never exceeded twenty.  I only had two numbers ready for performance; Mac got me a pair of maracas, and the other people let me sing.

Forty years ago I couldn’t sing; I had the timing right but I hit the wrong pitch and I could hear it.  Ten years ago I could sing, but badly. In the last five years I’ve been able to sing, and in the last two I’ve sung well from time to time. Tonight my singing was better than my playing; I’m still having trouble with the cognitive dissonance inherent in playing a B blat instrument and reading from music written in C. 

The guitarist supplied with hit of the night singing St. James Infirmary, with me on back-up vocals.  We drew applause.

Afterwards Mac and I dropped the guitarist at his home, a block from the restaurant, and we detoured by the roller rink on the way back to the hospital.

 As of this writing, the sky has clouded over.

I’m on call tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ll practice my saxophone.

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