Terrible traffic and courteous drivers, narrow lanes with gorgeous vistas, impossible situations with competent bureaucrats. Caution: contains 1100 words.


I started orientation

On the verge of final frustration

    Without enough slumber

    I awaited my number

And at last I got registration

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, right now I’m in Leigh, New Zealand, hoping to start work next week. 

I slept poorly last night because of anticipation of my weekly Care Initiatives Hospice meeting, my orientation to the new clinic, my interview with the Medical Council of New Zealand, my appointment with Immigration, and the need to move at the end of the day.

We have no net access in the beautiful town where we’re staying; running out of megabytes and the noise of passing trucks marred my Skype session and jangled my nerves as I sat outside the only wireless hot-spot available, a half-hour away from our apartment.

At orientation, in Wellsford, I filled out more paperwork, came up short on the professional liability issue, the work visa, and the medical registration number.

I have been struggling with those three issues since I arrived.  Before I can have a license, the Medical Council of New Zealand wants to see me, with my original medical school diploma and my passport in the same place at the same time.  Most days dawn with the expectation that Today Will Be The Day and end with hope for tomorrow.  Four days ago frustration replaced anticipation. 

My license hung up a week ago on the fact that the hard copy Certificate of Good Standing from one of my State Medical Boards hadn’t arrived. (When I made my overseas call to investigate, the person who sent it out muttered he always had problems with overseas mail.) 

The process involves a three-way Catch-22: to have a job, one needs a license and a visa; to have a visa, one needs a job, which also requires a license; to have a license, one needs a job.  Because 40% of the doctors in New Zealand come from other countries, physicians rate enough flexibility to render the task possible.

The manager of the twelve doctor operation, Sara, glows with professionalism; calls flew back and forth, and by 11:15 I had my invitation to meet with the Medical Council in Auckland.  I could visit Immigration first as long as I had the invitation in hand.  We headed out at 11:30.

The drive took an hour and a half, through spectacular vistas. 

Auckland , New Zealand’s biggest city and four times larger than the capitol, Wellington, boasts 1.4 million people.  As with any other city that size, the traffic problem drives many to insanity.  The hyper vigilance engendered by accommodating to driving on the left didn’t help me, though the courtesy of the other drivers did.

Our GPS guided us to the proper spot but couldn’t find us a parking place.

Twenty traffic-crawling minutes later, Bethany guided me into a parking spot in a facility designed for very small cars being driven by really good parkers.

Downtown Auckland appears to be vigorous, energetic, young, and Asian, with a few Maori and Pakeha thrown in.  Sushi, tandoori, curry, and kebab restaurants crowd against banks, electronics shops, and fashion stores. 

Immigration rules from the fourth floor of a high-rise office building.  I heard languages from Korea, China, Japan, India, Germany, America, and Australia.  Dress ranged from business suit to blue jeans, footwear from flip-flops to oxfords to hiking boots.

After a fifteen minute wait in line I approached the counter with my green plastic folder full of paperwork.  Three people handled the stack, assured me that all was not in order, I would need to leave my passport, and they would send me my visa in a couple of days.

I called my agency in a panic from the counter.  “This is anything but a walk in the park with a couple of rubber stamps that you promised,” I said.  “I can’t leave my passport, I need it when I meet with the Medical Council.  They tell me you need to call Carl.”

I was told to sit down and calm down and wait.

We waited.  In the early afternoon, I knew from long experience, sleep deprivation hits after the morning hormonal surge has left.  Worst case scenarios ran through my mind, and I started to figure.

There is much to be said both for never giving up and for knowing when to quit throwing good money after bad; such is the basis of game theory.

“If I’m not working in a week,” I told Bethany, “we’re going home.”

“You sure you want to give them that long?” She asked.

“I’m figuring time investment as a percentage of time spent working,” I said.

We waited another hour.  I called my agency.  “Nothing is happening.  I’m getting upset,” I said.  Just before I said I’m giving this up as a bad bit of work and I’m going home and the heck with you, a grizzled office veteran called me.

Smiling, courteous, and professional, I relaxed in his presence.  He explained the hang-up and the work-around, and called me back to desk 6.

Two more people handled my packet, and ten minutes later, with the hologram-decorated visa pasted into my passport, we left.

Polite drivers let me edge into the crush of Auckland’s rush hour.

I faced reminders of home: lanes as narrow as the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Jersey barriers.

We arrived ninety minutes early in suburbia marked by young trees.

I power napped and brought out my computer while Bethany slept beside me.  At 5:15 I met with a Justice of the Peace who looked over my papers, handed me a 250 page tome “Medical Practice in New Zealand,” and assured me that five working days was optimistic for a license number.

Waiting for traffic to abate, we ate in a food court and I bought work shirts.  We drove out of the city, back out into the verdant countryside as darkness closed around us and a drizzle fell.

By the time we got back to Leigh the clouds had opened and rain fell in sheets.  Traveling light brings the advantage of quick packing, and before nine we had unloaded and unpacked into an incredibly gorgeous beach house with a view.

Eighteen hours later I had my license number.

This post was written on Thursday, not posted till now because of internet access problems.

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