Another Road Trip 12: reminiscing in Saginaw

It was such a long time ago

O’er the bridge I would walk to and fro

But one day running late

I hopped on a freight

And survived.  But how, I don’t know.

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. In the midst of combining work with a family visit, I had to make a sudden trip to Colorado for a funeral. Right now I’m starting out on a bicycle trip with an alumni association.

We arrived in Detroit with our circadian rhythms disrupted by bad sleep and grief, got onto the highway and went north.

I came to Saginaw in the summer of 1977 for my medical school clinical training.

I had no car and barely money for food.  I lived across the street from the St. Luke’s parking lot, a block away from Saginaw General Hospital.  St. May’s, directly across the river, would have taken 20 minute bicycling in good weather.  Or I could walk across the railroad bridge, a process that took 8 minutes if I walked fast, and gave me a brief respite of outdoor exercise.

One day, running late, a slow-moving train occupied the bridge.  Remembering a technical conversation with a hobo,  I ran alongside the train, matched speeds, grasped the ladder, and jumped on.  I rode across the bridge, dismounted at a jog, and arrived at the noon lunch lecture on time.

I repeated the process a dozen times, but once, after the temperature had dropped with the seasons into the teens, the train started to accelerate while on the bridge.  I had dressed for a short walk across town, and the wind chill numbed my hands in less than a minute.  I had visions of freezing to death as the train headed out of town and picked up speed.

I made a stumbling dismount from the train at a run, in front of a waiting car. (What did that driver think, seeing me in a white coat with a stethoscope around my neck?)  I made it to the lecture, alive and on time, and never rode another freight.

And now I could ride the streets in my own car.  While the day faded, I showed Bethany what I remembered of my time in Saginaw.

Covenant took over Saginaw General and St. Luke’s and merged them into one institution.  A bronze statue and a couple of nice plaques now sit outside of St. Mary’s Hospital, on grounds much better maintained than any I ever experienced during my tenure.

A vacant lot has devoured the house where I lived my senior year, the furnished room rented for $200 per month.  The letter bearing news of my National Health Service Corps scholarship came to that address.   The grocery store and the greengrocer, walking distance from my first dwelling here, have disappeared.

Medicine has changed as well.  Laparoscopic surgery, unknown then, has become the norm.  Ibuprofen, Tagamet, Prilosec, Zyrtec, and Flonase, each a game changer, no longer require even a prescription.  Total knee replacements (I saw Saginaw’s first) are routine.

When I lived here, research hadn’t even started to elucidate the inflammatory cascade of ankylosing spondylitis, and aspirin was the best drug for its close cousin, rheumatoid arthritis.  And my back hurts less now than it did 40 years ago because of Enbrel, the miracle drug, which would not be invented till 1999.

We parked at St. Mary’s and  I led Bethany to the intersection where I alit from the train.  We walked up the tracks to the railroad bridge.  I had never seen the river that high.



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