Another road trip 9: bad news and no limerick


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. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, and I just finished an assignment in rural Iowa. Right now I’m working in suburban Pennsylvania, combining work with a family visit.

Monday traffic, like the clinic load, came unusually light in the morning.  At the rate of one or two patients an hour, things went well.  I had help from a PA for the first six hours of the session, and I finished my documentation as soon as I finished caring for the patient.

Most of the patients had respiratory, skin, or ear problems.  The day fell into an easy rhythm, and lunch time came and went.

I got a call from an old friend in the Pittsburgh area, a woman I’ve known since our mutual toddlerhoods.  We talked about our families.  I’ll won’t get the chance to see her this round but later in the summer I’ll be able to introduce her to my wife and local daughters.

I was listening to a patient’s chest when my phone vibrated insistently.  I ignored it; recruiters call me more than I’d like, usually during patient care hours, although I’ve asked them to email instead.

I can’t discuss the patient’s demographics nor diagnosis, but at the end of the visit I said, “It looks like I’ve given you more support group than medical care.  But I’m still not prescribing penicillin.”  We laughed, because people tend to laugh at times of drama and irony, and I got permission to write what I’d said.

I turned to documentation again, and when finished, I glanced at my phone’s display.

Pieces of really bad news come to us when we don’t expect them, they ambush us during our routines and they jar our lives.  They ruin our expectations.

The text message from my brother said that our brother-in-law, the husband of our youngest sister, had gone missing while fly fishing.

I made calls.  My stepmother didn’t have more information than my brother did.  No body had been found.

Long ago I learned to embrace uncertainty.  Every moment that I have before I know the bad thing for sure is a moment with hope.

In the later afternoon I talked with my other brother; Boulder Creek had yielded the body.

At such times words fail, and in the silence that followed much was said.

We grieve, feel, and worry for our sister and the twins.

I found comfort in the rush of patients at the end, being busy kept me from thinking about things I can’t change.

Based on information I noted while washing my hands, I made a series of guesses about the last patient’s problem (most of them correct).  Two minutes later, I said, “You wouldn’t know it based on this visit, but I’m a really good listener.  And I’d be happy to listen to your story (response: head shake).  Or we can get you out in a time-efficient fashion (response: vigorous head nod).”

I thanked the staff for their warmth, understanding, and support.  After finishing the last of the data entry, I stepped outside.  I embraced the thick, warm evening air embracing me.

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One Response to “Another road trip 9: bad news and no limerick”

  1. Pat and Charlie Hammond Says:

    Sad tiding indeed. My and Pats condolinces to you and your family.

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