A blizzard shuts down the hospital

Was ever a walker so bold

As to go out into the cold

     Only a wizard

     Could get through this blizzard

And the hospital got put onto hold.


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.


The author, outside in a whiteout


Winds howled around the hospital loud enough last night to interfere with slumber.  My Care Initiatives Hospice meeting took place behind schedule because I had overslept.  Skype failed to pick up the nuances of blizzard sounds while we talked.

Bethany walked to her job at the school, about two kilometers away. 

“You’re sure you want to do that?” I asked.

“I’ve got my phone,” she said.  “Worst comes to worst I’ll call a cab.”

Taxis are part of Barrow.  They are quick and cheap.

After she left I started trying to use my cell phone and found I had no service, and no way to call her.

At morning conference we talked about the weather and how it makes medicine in Barrow unique; we can’t do what we can’t do and we don’t have what we don’t have.  For a complex litany of reasons we’ll not be able to do transfusions outside of absolute life-and-death situations until a plane can land with certain vital supplies.

Planes won’t be able to land until the forty mph winds die down.

Bethany called.  She had gotten to school safely, arriving at 730.  Promptly at 735 the administration closed school.  Nonetheless, she said, she had work till 230.  When I rang off I recounted her morning’s exploits; she drew a round of applause.

Though we discuss matters of vast importance, though we may disagree about things, the mood of the meeting stays lighthearted. 

At the Clinic Formerly Known As Mine, we called snow “patient repellant.”  We never got mad at those who didn’t come in during bad weather, we looked forward to a more relaxed schedule.  With a blizzard raging, only one of my scheduled patients showed up.

I used the time to phone other patients about lab work.

Lunch passed leisurely; the snowstorm occupied the conversation.  I learned (in Spanish) that the current storm won’t break for three days.

After lunch, two patients showed despite KBRW’s announcement that the hospital had closed.  Most of us just stood around and chatted.

Bethany called; with school closed she’d gotten a ride to within three blocks.  Safe and warm inside an apartment house, she was considering walking home.  I told her to stay put or get a ride.

Two nurses came in, looking cold, wet, and frightened.  They left early, their truck stuck fast in a drift, and they’d had to call 911.  In the process of walking from the truck to the police they’d gotten wet.  One, on the verge of tears, started to shiver.   I put her on the phone to Bethany as a warning to not try to brave the elements. 

We cut the conversation short when we recognized hypothermia.  As we swarmed around her with towels and warmed blankets, the hospital PA system announced all those not living on hospital grounds needed to report immediately to Medical Staff Administration.  Those employees will form up into a caravan to make sure everyone arrives home safely, even if their vehicles don’t.

 I took these pictures from our apartment window:

Visibility going once...


Visibility going twice...





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2 Responses to “A blizzard shuts down the hospital”


    Steve – after reading your blog about the conditions during the snowstorm, I became convinced of one overriding fact that had escaped me up until now — Bethany has to be the bravest woman on the planet. No doubt about that. I don’t know of any awards that our government gives for her kind of bravery, but there should be something to recognize her braving the wilds of northern Alaska in a snow storm. In Judiasm, we recognize women of valor. Bethany is certainly earning that applellation in her coping with the weather there.


  2. Debby Dahl Edwardson Says:

    Good meeting you today, doc. I found your brother’s books. Mine are here:

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