Five referrals south to save life and limb, getting fingerprinted, and an ice cream bar from home.


I’m just trying to keep folks alive

My off-slope referrals were five

     At the station I lingered

     While cops printed my fingers

At the end of a leisurely drive.

I just finished a twelve-hour call shift, which is not an excessively long call. 

Out of respect for the patient I won’t give identifying details of the day’s first patient’s bizarre presentation.  I can say that between the time the patient came in and the time that the patient left, I could see in the face a sense of wellness returning.  It required a good amount of work on my part with several phone calls, a consult from a colleague, and five forms to fill out.

“I sent five patients off slope today” is not something you will hear said anywhere but the North Slope of Alaska, and the linguistic device reflects a cultural thought process.  The Brooks Range runs more or less east-west across the top third of Alaska.  The land slopes gradually downwards and northwards to the Arctic Ocean.  The North Slope is close to the size of Montana, the population is less than 10,000.  Barrow is the largest town at 4500.  The roads that connect the rest of the world only come to Prudhoe Bay; the well publicized Ice Road is a temporary phenomenon that ends with spring.  Commerce between settlements can be by plane or boat or snowmobile, depending on the season.

I was instrumental in sending five patients off slope today, away from the unique cultural assumptions of the North Slope.  Three were sent by Medevac, two went by commercial jet.

ATVs and snowmobiles are necessities of life here; they are the vehicles that feed the towns.  With so many of the two passenger gas burners around, no wonder people get hurt with them. 

Barrow lacks CT, and we send a lot of patients to places like Anchorage where CTs are common.  They can find diseases and conditions that endanger life and limb.

In the middle of the steady intensity of ER coverage, I had to go get fingerprinted. 

My employer here is the Arctic Slope Native Association, or ASNA, which is a bureaucracy.  Though run by Inuit, it is subject to the vagaries of all bureaucracies.  For unknown reasons, they wanted four sets of my fingerprints. 

The police station is four blocks from the hospital, and one of the hospital’s expediters drove me in one of ASNA’s vehicles.  When I left the ER, I checked out to a colleague one of the patients in the middle stages of being Medevac’d out.  I left the hospital wearing scrubs and a white coat, into 40 degree fresh air.  The police station maintains an anteroom for those waiting to be fingerprinted.  I waited in line and I didn’t fret about waiting

My clinical duties were being handled while I was away from the clinic.  I was in the service of my employer and I had time to breathe.  It was a good break.  When the policeman called my name I shared my relaxed attitude.  He took my prints professionally and we had a good time chatting. 

I’m no longer the boss.  I enjoy my position as an employee.

Back at the clinic, I arranged transport out for an injured patient.  Supper was the best corned beef brisket ever, but I ate dessert first.

It was an ice cream sandwich from Wells Blue Bunny, just north of Sioux City.

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2 Responses to “Five referrals south to save life and limb, getting fingerprinted, and an ice cream bar from home.”

  1. Beverly Feiges Says:

    Best blog, and the most interesting I’ve read. Hurray for you. Is this a paying job or pro bono, and what is the wife doing, cooking the brisket?

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      The blog job is pro bono. The medical job pays less and carries fewer management responsibilities than my previous position. My wife is in the DC area, caring for her father. The brisket cooker was the professional in the hospital kitchen. She says her secret is to steam the brisket for 3 hours. Actually the brisket came out better than anything either Bethany or I have done with it.

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