Seizing the day: a dip in the Pacific after a terrifying drive on a day off

I have no driving devotion

On arrival I gave into the notion

     If the drive gave me fright

     Before the coming of night

I’d go for a dip in the ocean.

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.  After a six-week assignment in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, I’m working on the North Island of New Zealand.

Matakana, in the Rodney district of New Zealand’s North Island, bustles on the weekends with out-of- town folks who buy at the growers’ market and the crafts fair. 

Local products include fiejoas, avocados, pears, peppers, lemons, cheese, soap, olive oil, bread, baked goods, kiwi fruit, jams, chutneys, nut butters, chestnuts, fritters, free range organic eggs, and smoked salmon. 

Two narrow highway lanes carry traffic along the east edge of town by the river.  Matakana Valley Road leads west from the rotary through town.  A cinema shares a roof with a wine store, restaurant, yoga studio, hair salon, and bar, and one can enjoy a fine vintage in a good glass while watching a movie.  Four cafes, two restaurants, a coffee bar, two grocery stores, a surf shop, a pottery, a butchery, a bakery, and an auto mechanic line the road before the medical clinic.  Town lasts 800 meters, then the asphalt stretches out in the distance to green hills, lush with grass, dotted with sheep and cattle. 

On a weekday like today, cars, semis, and farm vehicles amble up and down the pavement, and Matakana life looks like rural Iowa.

We arrived early and parked on the street outside the medical facility.  The front part has the waiting room and a consultation room each for the practice nurse and the doctor.  The doctor’s quarters attach to the clinic area, with a communicating door; the doc currently living there, also a locum but nearing end of assignment, had a day off.

Bethany walked me to the door, gave me a kiss, and went about her business.

I attended fourteen patients in the morning, and refilled prescriptions for two more.  I saw patients for diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, superficial skin infection, and viral rash.  I advised several to check the website to avoid being judgmental (something I tend towards) about alcohol overuse.  I filled out forms for three patients injured by accident.

In the last week I’ve helped four groups of patients deal with the drama and irony of sexually transmitted diseases.  No matter how enlightened our society seems, STDs bring a tremendous emotional impact.

At half past twelve, Bethany came to collect me for my afternoon off.  I powered down the computer, and we went down the street to a café for lunch.  Then we walked down to the rotary so I could photograph the world’s most aesthetic public restrooms.

The world’s most aesthetic public restrooms, viewed from the rotary

At our next stop, Warkworth, we picked up a Vodem so that I can connect to the Internet, and we went grocery shopping.

Food prices here shock me; eggs cost $3.00 a dozen, whole chickens fetch $4.00 a pound.  But with locally grown produce coming in at harvest, onions came down to a dollar a pound, and avocadoes to$.60 each.

We dropped the groceries at the house in Leigh, and set out for Pakiri (PAH kee ree)Beach.

Six of the next eleven kilometers of narrow, steep one-lane gravel roads, in one place waiting to slide off into an abyss, constituted the most terrifying driving experience of my life, made worse by the idea that I had to go back the same way. 

At the beach, Bethany noted the falling temperatures and the descending sun and declined my urgings to swim.  I, on the other hand, having paid for my arrival with fear and unsure that I’d survive the return trip, would not be deterred by signs warning of life-threatening rips.  I strode across the sand exposed by the low tide, waded into the surf, dunked enough to swim a stroke, and came out.

During the summer I’d gone salt water swimming in the Arctic Ocean, which has no tides and no breakers; the air and water temperatures stood at 42F (5C).   Balmy by comparison, my dip in the Pacific proved again that contrast is the essence of meaning.


One Response to “Seizing the day: a dip in the Pacific after a terrifying drive on a day off”

  1. Stephanie Pierce Says:

    Hi Dr. Gordon.

    It sounds like you are having quite an adventure in New Zealand. Enjoy your time!


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