Another Nalukataaq injury; what goes around comes around


I recalled my broken bones past

As I set to replacing a cast

     Inadequate priming

     Throws off the timing

And a lateral malleolus gets trashed

I replaced a cast on a young man’s ankle, and he gave me permission to publish this information.

Preparing for the Nalukataaq, or blanket toss, his whaling crew was getting the blanket ready.

Remember that at a blanket toss, they don’t really use a blanket.  It looks like a blanket till you get a few meters away, then you realize the trampoline sized object is sewn together from two layers of seal skins.  The skins came from one of the successful whaling boats, constructed by hand here in Barrow, and were part of some bearded seals hunted nearby.  Stout rope handles, ten to a side, are sewn between the skins.  Long ropes running from corner to corner are sewn in as well; the whole “blanket” is supported by those ropes which are anchored into the permafrost, tightened with block-and-tackle, and held eight feet off the ground by timbers.  To actually “toss” someone, forty strong men gather around the “blanket” and synchronously apply more tension to the baseline tension.  When the rhythm works (which is most of the time) the results are impressive, people sail thirty feet into the air.

My patient, wearing clunky rubber boots, climbed onto the blanket.  Thinking the crew was ready, he started to jump.  As only a few were tossing, when he went up for a back flip the timing was off and a fractured ankle was the result.

As I replaced his cast, I recounted my first-hand experience with not one but two broken ankles when I was sixteen.  I had run too far for too long and stress fractures of the outside ankle bone (lateral malleolus)were the result.  I didn’t follow the orthopedist’s instructions about cast care.  In the days before fiberglass casting material I destroyed three casts before my doc gave up and gave me ankle supports, forbidding me to run till cleared.

What goes around comes around.

I talked with another of my patients, suffering from a good deal of self-imposed stress, about the joys of delegation and not being the boss; I was given permission to include a good deal more information than I will include here.  I observed that most outsiders who come to Barrow are not seeking a fast-paced, wall-to-wall lifestyle, and that we change more about what we do to ourselves than about the things that are done to us. 

A lot of mental illness outside of stress and harsh life experiences afflicts the people here, with no regard to ethnic group.  Schizophrenics are more integrated into family and society here than back home where they are marginalized and isolated.    Bipolar disease (formerly known as manic-depression) occurs throughout the world and does not spare Barrow.

I’m using my Inupiak language skills and I’m getting better.  I can say Hello, How are you?  I’m fine, and My name is Dr. Gordon.  I can also say the Inupiak word for seal oil (think of it as seal schmaltz), bearded seal, whale, poop, goose, walrus, bow (as in archery), and Good morning.

It’s the least I can do.

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One Response to “Another Nalukataaq injury; what goes around comes around”

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