The clinic runs hot and cold


I hardly think that it’s fair

If I’m delivering medical care,

    To get heated by steam,

    Just like a bad dream

Working with too much heat in the air.

 Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

At the Clinic Formerly Known As Mine, in summer the cooling system kept certain zones cooler than others.  My exam rooms and office, till four years ago, ran consistently cold.  In June and July, when on really hot days I’d be working in the fifties, I’d take my lunch break in my car in the parking lot with the windows rolled up.  I finished my dictations while the temperatures soared high enough to roast almonds on the dashboard.

Here in Barrow I face the same but opposite problem; when the mercury plunges outside, the normally hot clinical area becomes even hotter.  After a hot day in the clinic Friday I had to go out at into a twenty below night to cool off.

Last night the wind howled and I when I woke up this morning to look out the window, I knew that a white-out had Barrow in its grip.

Even without hearing the wind, I would have known about the cold from the way my patients dressed today.  People who have lived sixty or seventy winters here told me how cold the weather is.

The weather defines Barrow as much as the people, the sea, and the whales.  It remains a constant, undeniable fact.  In fog, white-out, or high winds, airplanes can’t come in or leave, and emergency medical transport goes from reality to hypothetical.

One of my elderly patients complained of cold; the hands were cool to the touch, and since I started to write this, I received lab notification for a critically low hemoglobin/hematocrit (very thin blood).  The patient will return for transfusion.

The temperature in the clinic today did not exceed reasonable limits of tolerance, in fact the place had good air temps all day.  I put in a twelve-hour day and faced difficult patients: four narcotics seekers, five patients who didn’t trust me, a person with very real mental illness and a very real medical problem, more influenza, and a mysterious viral illness causing alarming blisters in the mouths and hands of children. 

But I didn’t overheat, and I finished the day with my morale intact.


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