We went out on a fine day

At the checkout we were ready to pay

When down went the power

For less than an hour

And then we went on our way.

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.

We went grocery shopping today, and got to two of the three food stores in town.

Most calories consumed by the2500 city residents and 5000 villagers get into the neighborhood by swimming or walking. Without salmon, moose, and caribou, we would face widespread starvation.  Flying foodstuffs in costs a lot of money.  Eggs run $6.00 a dozen, milk is $10.00 a gallon.  Nonetheless one can find oranges, apples, nectarines, pears, lettuce, and bag salad; we inhale deeply and try not to look at the price.

We stood in the checkout line, ready to pay, when the lights went out.

Power outages come regularly here, sometimes several times a day. The hospital has a backup generator, and well they should as just Friday they lost power 4 times.

People stayed cheerful in the dark. I switched on the lithium flashlight I keep clipped to the brim of my ball cap.  We joked.  Eventually the people in the parking lot turned off their engines.  The lights flickered, five minutes passed.

I talked about my friend whose start-up company provides solar cell and battery backup electricity to hog confinements, where pigs suffocate without adequate ventilation. It wouldn’t take much, I said, to make sure the registers didn’t stop working.

It wouldn’t take much, the clerk said, to power the whole building.

The lights flickered again, and then, 8 minutes later, came on and stayed on.

When I worked an outlying Navajo clinic in the early 80’s we rarely had continuous power for more than an hour. Existing technology at the time would face complete computer memory loss with each outage, so computerization didn’t attain viability.

I failed to appreciate the efficiency of the paper system at the time. In fact I complained frequently that I couldn’t dictate my notes.

In the late afternoon, we went to the only Chinese restaurant in town. We faced high prices for reasonably-sized portions.  Two entrees, soup, and tip came to $65, more than 3 times what we would pay in Iowa.  But in Iowa we wouldn’t overhear a phone conversation in Athabascan in a Chinese restaurant run by Koreans, watch planes take off and land, and run into a Coast Guard Rescue Team coming up the stairs as we left.

 

 

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