I was just finishing my souffle when the police came to pick me up.

Too late for the one on the rug

To meet or to greet or to hug

     It wasn’t a hunch

     I hurried my lunch

And nobody pulled out the plug.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to dance back from the verge of burnout, I’m having adventures and working in out-of-the-way places.  Right now I’m living in Amberley, and working the last four days of a four-week assignment in Waikari, less than an hour from quake-stricken Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island. 

I was just finishing my lunch souffle when the police came to pick me up.

I stepped out the staff door and got in the car.

I had had a full morning. Complicated clinical problems intertwined with the ravages of tobacco and alcohol. Inescapable realities stalked the clinical landscape: gravity, mortality, Newton’s laws of motion, and the fact that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

I took care of as many people by phone and message as I did face-to-face; lab results rolled in one after another, some demanding treatment, others demanding neglect.

As I was getting ready for lunch, the police called.

Bethany had dropped me at the Hurunui Health Center, aka the Waikari Clinic, early in the morning, taking the car into Rangiora to do some grocery shopping.

Thus without transport, I told the police I didn’t mind, I’d be happy to help, but they would have to send someone to pick me up. 

I didn’t exactly bolt my food, but I didn’t savor it, and I didn’t have time to heat it up.  I had no idea how long the task would take, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to eat once I got back.

The policewoman had just started to walk away from the blue and white cruiser when I stepped out of the door into the clear, cool sunshine under the brilliant blue sky.  We made small talk during the 6 kilometer drive.  South Island police don’t need to carry guns; tasers do well.  The methamphetamine (here called P) epidemic has started in a small way; it has made its usual criminal inroads in South Auckland.

We agreed that neither of us would be nearly as busy without drugs and alcohol.

The pavement ended and we continued down a gravel road to a narrow driveway.  By the house the space opened up; like most Kiwi yards it deserves the local term “garden,” well-tended and groomed, neat, free of junk.

I found the house cold, the drama and irony on the carpet.

The body lay on the floor, arms outstretched; the inevitable had evidently arrived as a surprise.  I noted rigor mortis (the stiffening muscles that come after death) and dependent livido (the red color where blood, no longer circulating, has pooled).  Still I knelt with the stethoscope in my hand and listened for the heartbeat that would never come.  I felt for the absent carotid pulse.  I tried to open the eyes to check for pupillary reflex, but the muscles controlling the lids had stiffened as well. 

I filled out the form the other policeman had waiting for me, confirming the person’s life had ended. 

A bumper sticker, I BRAKE FOR HALLUCINATIONS, graced the side of the refrigerator.

I looked around at the layers of uniqueness that had been the person’s life. 

I did my best to drink in the scene, but I didn’t have time to linger.


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2 Responses to “I was just finishing my souffle when the police came to pick me up.”

  1. David Sterling Says:

    Steve – To give you an update on Dakota Dunes, all residents have to be out by Thursday. No returning to their homes for two months, based on estimated water level. Crest is now estimated at 7 feet above flood stage. A 10 foot levee is being constructed two miles long. If it holds, the Dunes will not be under water. If it fails to hold, then all homes will be under water. Local motels are now advertising availability of rooms for those that have to vacate. Tonight, highway patrol is restricting access to residents only, who have to provide ID>


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