The problems of time: crossing the equator, avoiding jet lag, caffeine as an ally, and not celebrating March 11.


I messed with my internal clock,

With the advice and support of my doc.

     One late night so fine

    We crossed the Date Line,

And went for an evening walk.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to avoid burnout, while my non-compete clause ticks away I’m having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Just back from a six-week assignment in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, we’re now in New Zealand.

I didn’t celebrate March 11 this year.

I graduated from medical school on March 11, 1979, and every year the day evokes vivid, euphoric memories, the savor of the occasion lingering with me from the time I awaken till I fall asleep.  I remember the day, and the night that followed, well.  My brother, my father (also a physician) and I went out for Chinese afterwards; my fortune cookie said, “You will have great power over women.  Use it wisely.”

But I didn’t mark the occasion this year because I crossed the International Date Line from March 10 directly to March 12.  Most of the people on the airplane remained fast asleep, but I kept looking up at my TV screen from my Droid/Kindle book.  I watched the icon of the plane cross the line on the map at a 30 degree angle, skipping March 11 without even a feeling of turbulence.

New Zealand has one time zone and two islands. Six o’clock Sunday afternoon in Sioux City happens at the same time as Monday noon in Wellington.  The summer here ends when Iowa’s spring begins; the Vernal Equinox at home corresponds with the New Zealand Autumnal Equinox. 

An eighteen hour time difference boils down to a six-hour time difference for the sake of calculating jet lag.  In the Los Angeles airport we drank Pepsi, ate chocolate, and played Scrabble so we wouldn’t fall asleep once the plane took off.  With consultation and prescription from our doctor, we took eight milligrams of Rozerem (a prescription version of melatonin) and ten milligrams of zalpeplon (a four-hour sleeping pill) eight hours before we anticipated the dawn at our destination.  Shortly prior to our early morning landing we each ingested two hundred milligrams of Provigil (a stay-awake pill for shift workers and jet laggers).

Once we’d overcome the SNAFU at Immigration and cleared Customs, we trudged two kilometers from International to Domestic terminals in Auckland.  The flight from Auckland at the north end of the North Island to Wellington at the south end of the North Island went boring well. 

We fought the natural urge to nap after we showered at the hotel.

Nor did we sleep till after we’d eaten and exercised and the sun had gone down.  By that time we’d wandered around downtown Wellington.

I didn’t have my March 11th celebration this year, and I didn’t miss it.  If all works well, I won’t be jet-lagged when I meet with the New Zealand Medical Counsel tomorrow.

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