Duff, dog sled, and death

I wouldn’t mind being the Duff
Had my leader charisma enough
Mine did, for sure,
Though there was no cure,
He was courageous, kind, brilliant and tough.

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.

I find the Gold Coast Cinema here in Nome so unique that I saw The Duff, a teen angst genre film.  The title refers to the Designated Ugly Fat Friend; while not necessarily fat or ugly, to qualify as a Duff one can’t be as attractive as one’s friends.  Find a clique, you will find a Duff. Not a surprise  though  we don’t like to think that human groups have pecking orders.  If you have an alpha, you must have someone lower on the hierarchy, and the one at the bottom, the omega, becomes the Duff.  In my experience, and in the movie, the Duff has more IQ points than the hot friends. 
The script pointed out that for every measure of social desirability (looks, strength, money, power), someone always occupies a higher position.  Thus the omega depends on the alpha as much as the alpha depends on the omega.
Taking the sled dog ride I bought at the Nome Preschool annual fundraising auction, today I learned more about sled dogs than just their hierarchies..
Tom, the musher who donated the item, picked me up on a very clear, very cold day, and brought me to his home 15 miles north of town.  Of course I quizzed him on the sport.
Working dogs are happy dogs.  Most come from the Alaska Husky breed, which lacks AKC credentials.  A team usually starts with 12.  As the years have gone on, the race has ended more quickly and the dogs do better physically.  While mushing, these animal ultra-athletes will eat the equivalent of 22 Big Macs a day.  Deciding to run the Iditarod requires a 3 month commitment and a huge monetary investment.  A good long-distance dog trots rather than gallops, in a smooth, level-back gait.
The lead dogs, furthest from the musher, have standing in the hierarchy, but must make a lot of decisions.  The next pair back, in the swing position, have the responsibility for making sure the turns aren’t made too sharply.  The pair closest to the sled, the wheel dogs, take a lot of jarring from pulling, and females have more resilience than males.  Most dogs prefer the other, team positions between the front and the back.
Tom kindly surveyed my gear, gave me toe warmers for my socks, and lent me a seal skin hat and a balaclava.  He let me mush on the return trip.
The immense work in dog sledding comes from maintenance of the team; just yelling HIKE was pretty easy compared to harnessing the canines.  Learning to keep the tug line (that nylon rope that connects to the sled) came easily.  I found my short ride in a dog sled exhilarating, in a primal way difficult to describe, and very cold.  At the end, despite my arctic grade layers, the cold had sapped most of my energy.
When I returned I learned a friend had died.  An excellent physician, a good husband, and a devoted father, he taught me a great deal about leaving judgment out of my day, and, in the process, having more energy and getting better clinical results.  My tears lasted a short time, we had watched this event approaching for years.
He led the team by example, he kept us focused on the clinic’s mission, and, in the process, kept us believing in it.  His charisma bound the group together and prevented us from breaking under terrible strain.  His guidance, hard work, and good, sound personal advice brought light to my three years at the Community Health Center. I admired his intense personal courage, maintaining a strong work ethic and a sunny countenance in the face of terrible disease.
With a leader like that, I never objected to not having the lead dog or alpha position.  I wouldn’t have minded being his Duff.

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