First day in Metlakatla


I set off in the down-pouring rain

To the clinic, a small House of Pain

I started up with a smile,

Because that’s my style

And it’s easy for me to sustain.

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. After two months each in Western Nebraska and the West Coast of Alaska, I’m now in Southeast Alaska.  Any specific patient information has been included with permission.

On Sunday we took the ferry from Ketchikan to Annette Island, a ride of 45 minutes. We arrived in a pouring rain.

People call this area of Alaska the Panhandle, it juts southeast along the Pacific coast. It receives an average of over 100 inches of precipitation yearly.

About 2000 souls reside in Metlakatla, the town on the west part of the island. WWII brought an influx of defense personnel, who did not leave until late in the 20th Century; the majority of the inhabitants are Natives. As Alaska’s only Indian Reservation, license plates and driver’s licenses are optional, and ATVs run street legal.

The clinic assigned us to a cozy apartment less than a half-mile walk from the clinic, and I did my initial morning commute on foot in a torrential rain.

My first day on the job here started with morning rounds.

Talk of tides and fishing dominated the conversation before the clinical discussion. I mentioned the poster warning of paralytic fish poisoning I’d seen on the front door, and those present assured me that the problems wouldn’t start for a month or so.

The doc who had call opened the discussion with a rundown of the weekend ER patients.

I spent the morning in orientation and getting my ID badge and entry card, and I took care of four patients in the afternoon. I used RPMS, an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system developed by the Veteran’s Administration.  Far from perfect, I find it the best one of the 9 I’ve learned in the last 14 months.

I talked to a relative of the first Native to be drafted by the NBA (that unique individual has a lot of relatives on the island).

I saw the first of what would be a string of patients with violent vomiting and diarrhea, ranging from infant to middle age. Almost certainly viral, we have no treatment aside from oral rehydration, or, in extreme cases, IV rehydration.

But we are a clinic with an ER and no hospital; we don’t keep patients overnight. I will have to weigh the risks of a boat ride if I consider sending a patient for further diagnosis or treatment.

At the end of the day, we arrived back at the apartment dripping from a walk in the driving rain.

Well, if you can’t take the rain, stay out of the Panhandle.

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