Power outages and head lamps.


 Sometimes, when down falls the snow,

Out the power will go

But what I use instead

Is the light on my head

Which in my pocket I stow.

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 (EMR) system I can get along with. I spent last winter in Nome, Alaska, followed by assignments in rural Iowa. The summer and fall included a medical conference in Denver, working Urgent Care in suburban Pennsylvania, and Thanksgiving in Virginia. Just finished with 2 months in western Nebraska at the most reasonable job I’ve ever had, I am back in coastal Alaska.  Any specific patient information has been included with permission.

This winter, till now, has brought little snow to the area. Temperatures have consistently topped those at home in Iowa.

But today I trudged through fat, wet flakes the 250 yards to the hospital. Yesterday’s rounds lasted close to an hour, reviewing the significant cases that happened over the long weekend.  Today the presenting doc announced the expected death of an elder, and all action stopped for a moment.  The person’s passing will leave a void in everyone’s life.

Patient flow slowed to a trickle with enough snow to ruin driving but not nearly enough to make roads passable to snow machines.

At 10:00AM the lights flickered and went out. The laptops, running on batteries, glowed in the dark.  Then the emergency generator kicked in, and the fluorescent fixtures lit up again.  Business went on as usual.

With heavy, wet snow straining the electric wires, power went off and on the rest of the day. We kept working.

One patient gave a long, complicated, difficult to follow history, and if I’d had to hurry I would have gotten annoyed. But I didn’t, so I listened, and, after a while, I took notes.  The power flickered again, and I ordered some tests, the results of which showed serious pathology, bad enough I referred the patient to the ER and wondered whether or not the Medevac plane could fly in such snowy weather.

I took away a lesson I already knew: people get sick whether or not they can tell their story well.

A patient whom I’ve followed for more than a week came in after lunch. I asked one of the younger docs, with more surgical training, for help.  In the middle of the minor procedure, during the stitching, the lights went out and stayed out.

I carry a head lamp in the pocket of my white coat. When I first started private practice, LEDs had yet to revolutionize the flashlight industry, and head lamps stayed anchored to the wall.  A medical grade head lamp cost upwards of $200.  The one I have in my pocket cost $30 at Cabela’s, feels cheap to the touch, and provides better illumination than anything available in 1990.  I use it to examine mouths and other places where the sun doesn’t shine, to help during minor surgery, and to remove ear wax.  Today it helped finish the surgery.  Just as I cut the last suture, the lights came back on.

Then not much happened for the rest of the afternoon. I left outpatients early, and Bethany and I braved the roads to drive to the library.  I borrowed a couple of books.  If the power goes out, I’ll stay entertained.

Till my headlamp batteries go out.

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2 Responses to “Power outages and head lamps.”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Once again I fiind your e-letter fasinating – I wish I had you gift of writing, I guess the big snow from the previous letter was successfully braved and survived. Hope the surgery in this letter wasn’t too bad and all ended well. Pat recieved a e-mail from one of her nursing buddies on water consumption that she forwarded to me. I haven’t checked with MAYO yet but supposedly it was from them. It stated that people should drink a glass of water when they get up, a glass 1/2 hour before each meal and a glass before bedtime. Is this the way it is or is artical a fish story? I don’t know yet to its time to check it out. The letter states it helps prevent strokes and heartattacks. We will see.. Well hope to see ya later and keep away from the bears
    Charlie and pat

  2. walkaboutdoc Says:

    Water consumption should be enough to keep the urine clear. It’s like asking how often you should fill your gas tank; the answer depends on how fast it gets emptied. We drink water but we lose it in respiration, perspiration, urination, and stool.
    Staying hydrated will make a person feel better, avoid kidney stones and gout attacks, but to the best of my knowledge nobody has parsed out whether or not it makes a difference to heart attack and stroke.

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