Broken computer: condensing a week’s adventures into 500 words.


No way to write for a week

Of the wisdom and truth that I seek

The inevitable token

Of the computer that’s broken

Is not for the heart of the meek.

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, followed by assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral, a bicycle tour of northern Michigan, and cherry picking in Sioux City, I’m back in Pennsylvania. Any patient information has been included with permission.

I sat in a lovely Pennsylvania hotel room tapping on my tablet.  With the July 5 post, including limerick, ready to go, I started in on the post for July 6.

I wrote the July 4 post the night before and published it that morning, after a good workout on the elliptical.  And publishing more than one post a day seems to me excessive.  When I can write ahead, I do.  Because sometimes the work goes late and I’m too tired at the end of the day to post.

I had gotten halfway through the limerick for July 6 when my tablet screen flickered once and went black.  Twenty minutes later, past denial, anger, and bargaining, I accepted that the lightweight computer had ceased functioning and I couldn’t revive it.  Nor could I write about the immediacy of my days; I would have to wait to return home to condense a week of adventures into 500 words.

I met really interesting people and I had much to write about.  I quieted frightened febrile children.  I prescribed a narcotic pain medication on the basis of a breathtakingly abnormal x-ray.  Under tight time pressures, I cut my motivational interview to the bone and got astonishing results, better than I ever did when I could give the patient an hour.  With not a spare second for judgementalism, smokers and drinkers decided to quit in front of my eyes.

I received no permission to write details about the psychiatric emergencies that I saw, but I can discuss the distilled lessons on the human condition that came from those cases.  Never put the keys to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.   Irrational behavior cannot elicit an appropriate response.   Families of psychotic patients suffer; the one who suffers most from physical manifestations of severe psychiatric disease most loves the person who loses contact with reality.

I took care of a lot of people before and after vacations.  The local patient population likes to go to the Atlantic seashore from New Jersey to the Carolinas.

Power went off briefly at the end of a clinic day, but not long enough to impact clinic function.

I had to give bad news over the phone several times, no patient expressed surprise.

I took time to grieve with those people sickened in the context of death of a loved one.  I brought comfort to them pointing out the force of human love derives from the fact of our mortality, and would be impossible if we lived forever.  I didn’t always footnote the source of that idea (a passage found in a prayer-book in the 80’s) and let it stand on the force of its obvious truth.

At the end of a heavy work week I turned down the prospect of time-and-a-half for another day’s work because of fatigue.  I visited my two married daughters and their husbands for three days.  I had lunch with a childhood friend.  I took away wisdom and learning with quiet joy, and flew back to Iowa.

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