A day at the hot springs and a send-off in the evening


Buying food is a regular chore,

So we set off on a drive to the store

     We’re living like kings,

     We went to the hot springs

And we ate a few chocolates more.

Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to dance back from the brink of burnout while my one-year non-compete clause expired, I’m working in out-of-the-way places and having adventures.  Currently I’m living in Amberley and working in Waikari, less than an hour from earthquake-devastated Christchurch, on New Zealand’s North Island.

I get Tuesdays off from the clinic in Waikari.

Rangiora, half-way to earthquake-stricken Christchurch, has the nearest large supermarket.  The drive lasts thirty minutes, five minutes longer than the drive from our home in Sioux City to the closest Sam’s Club, but here we drive on two-lane country roads, through small towns, past paddocks of sheep and horses.

After dropping the groceries, we headed back to Hamner Springs, stopping at a small chocolate manufactory in Culverden.  

Few people take the waters in the middle of the week during the off-season, and we found the tourist town wonderfully quiet.  I soaked in the hot mineral spring water pool while Bethany swam laps, and we lunched on very fresh blue cod at an Indian restaurant afterwards.

At six we walked from our apartment to the Amberley Medical Centre for a going away party.

One of the other doctors, originally from Dagestan, will be moving to Australia to be close to grandchildren. 

Dagestan, Russia’s most ethnically diverse area, includes the speakers of Tsez, the world’s most complicated language.  Children take ten years to learn to speak it properly (for comparison, English takes six, Navajo nine).  We asked a few questions about the region, and found out about the ethnic strife and rampant corruption.  Why, we asked, if they want to secede, would Russia want to keep  a fractious problem republic?  Oil and gas, came the reply, and we nodded then shook our heads.

Twelve people sat in the staff room and snacked on meat pies, quiche, sandwiches, and fruit.  Two bottles of white wine disappeared quickly; the two bottles of red went much slowly. 

I’ve attended a dozen doctor send-off gatherings; I was the center of three.  Each one evokes the term bitter-sweet. 

They include elements of celebration and grief coloring the universal human phenomenon of separation anxiety.

During this last year I worked at an installation which sees so much doctor turnover that welcoming and farewell get-togethers disappeared.  Other places where I worked threw them for students who only stayed a month.

At my sendoff from the Canoncito Band of Navajo the tribe gave me my exquisite silver and turquoise belt buckle, which since became one of the few material objects that found a place in my heart and daily life.

I couldn’t help but think of the celebration the Clinic Formerly Known as Mine put on for me when I left a year ago.  We lunched on steak and sushi, and the last going-away present, a soprano saxophone, helped make my summer the best ever.

Bethany and I walked back through perfect temperatures in the quiet New Zealand night.  We passed homes redolent of wood heating, and one stinking of burning coal.

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