Waking up to a phone consult, a new hat, a fire drill


I said yes right off the bat
For a warm, soft qiviut hat
I didn’t ask why
The price was so high
The musk-ox don’t like to chat.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m in Nome, Alaska.

From time to time different organizations need physician expertise outside of patient care. Occasionally I receive emails requesting an hour of phone time and promising 3 times my usual hourly rate. Apparently the outfit had a hard time rounding someone up, and on less than 24 hours notice I received a call before I left my bed. We discussed opiates for chronic pain relief, medication for high blood pressure, and the problem of attention deficit disorder. I gave my strong opinions in all three areas, mostly against controlled substances, probably not encouraging the development of new products. But I spoke from the position of both professional and personal experience for chronic pain and attention deficit. I enjoyed the discussion, appreciated bringing in data the interviewers hadn’t known, and finished at 8:00AM.

Since my arrival in Nome I’ve awakened very early, with plenty of time for email and breakfast, but this time I had to move efficiently. Thirty-six minutes later, showered and breakfasted, I stepped briskly into the subzero darkness and hurried to the hospital.

Mid-morning on my in-house email I read of a qiviut hat for sale. musk-ox live here; they shed their unique undercoat, qiviut, in the spring. Gathered by the locals, carded and spun into the world’s warmest yarn, some people bring in a secondary income from knitting. Despite a breathtaking cost, I found the knitter, tried on the hat, and bought it. I promptly sent my wife a selfie featuring my new headgear, warm and soft beyond words.

After lunch the fire alarm went off. The PA announced evacuation, and, not knowing drill vs. real, I grabbed my parka and new hat and walked quickly to the nearest exit. Hundreds of people streamed out of the hospital into the bright sun and an ambient temperature of 6 degrees below zero. Most had good quality coats and hats, one stood wrapped in a hospital blanket, and a few had no outer wear at all. My mittens stayed behind and I kept my hands firmly in my pockets. After chilling for 15 minutes the all-clear sounded and we trooped back in, some of us shivering, but most of us ironically grateful for the break in routine.

Despite clear conditions in Nome, snow and wind dominated out in the villages; one of my emails announced the closure of the Wales clinic due to winds, another announced the reopening when the wind dropped to 60 MPH. A lot of my afternoon patients, scheduled for pre-endoscopy history and physical, couldn’t make it in from outlying communities because weather grounded air traffic, and the afternoon passed without a time crunch.

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