We had a bit of a scare
When the rumors all said “polar bear”
Such a big predator
Right outside of our door
You can go out unarmed if you dare.
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.
During the blizzard our patient flow fell yesterday. This morning at our daily morning conference, we had few patients to discuss.
Not many made it in yesterday, among them a disproportionate number of drug seekers. We talked about that problem at length. Despite our frustration we kept good senses of humor. Two topics generated most of the rest of the conversation, one was the weather with blizzard conditions again forecast starting at noon.
We also talked about the polar bears.
Barrow sits on a peninsula that juts into the Arctic Ocean. With 7500 souls in towns, the bears have an area the size of Wyoming to roam and never see a human. Natives legally hunt and eat bears, and the bears sometimes hunt and eat people. The Barrow Inuit have drawn most of the bears away from town with a designated whale carcass dump site, six miles from any human activity. Still, bears go where they will, and last night three of the white bruins came into town.
Bears are a fact of life in Alaska, an undeniable reality. There are many places where getting out of a vehicle unarmed is just plain stupid.
Thus, less than twenty-four hours after our arrival, we had a pamphlet slipped under our door.
Last night, while Bethany and I sat in the Commons, a nurse called to us from the hallway to come see the polar bear that had been sighted on the lagoon. We jogged through the corridors to our apartments, and watched the tail lights of eight snowmobiles and trucks running patterns on the ice outside the hospital housing.
The large white carnivores had prowled around the elementary school, we heard, and had last been seen where we were looking.
Bethany, who had walked to the elementary school in the dark that morning, and had almost walked back but for the blizzard in the afternoon, said that she was even happier she’d accepted a ride.
I learned that the bear police had been called out.
“Bear police?” I asked. “There is such a thing or are you pulling my leg?”
The bear police get called out any time a bear is sighted in town. The first one to kill the bear gets to keep it.
Snow machines motored, eerily quiet, on the ice in front of the windows we were looking through. I didn’t see a long gun on the sleds or riders.
This morning, we heard three bears had been seen, one by the school, and two on the lagoon.
We found this sign posted at the exits:
Probably something I’ll never see in Sioux City.
When Bethany and I walked to the grocery store this evening, we debated borrowing a firearm for the walk.