I took the weekend on call
I started with no patients at all
But I fixed that up quick
With the ill and the sick
The thin and the fat, the short and the tall.
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, traveled 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 went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.
Perfect people don’t come to see me. When I find a patient who has to face the music and pay the piper, I do my best not to judge. Strangely, when I can condense my approach to, “You’ve made mistakes in the past, let’s move forward,” I find it easy to establish rapport. I like to think that the rapport brings better chance of patient cooperation in lifestyle modification. At the very least I have more energy at the end of the day.
In residency and in private practice, when I would take sign-out for weekend call, I would look first at the gross number. Of course we like it when no-one occupies a hospital bed. But if the number came in really low, I’d shudder and remember the adage, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
This weekend, I started call on Friday afternoon with a census of 0. By the time Saturday morning dawned, the census had climbed to 5. Most, not all, had pneumonia. Most, not all, sickened from a combination of tobacco damage and the aftermath of the influenza. I went into a rhythm of admission history and physical.
I dictate with sophisticated software. Still, sometimes I get so frustrated that I use my well-honed keyboarding skills. For example, dictating a list gets me correct numbers except “4” which prints out as “for.”
And beneath the commonalities of fever, cough, and wheeze, each patient has a unique circumstance, a story of drama and irony that brought them to illness. And almost all have come at a time of stress in their lives.
Nothing is 100% in my business. A very few patients sickened gratuitously. A genetic accident should not constitute a death sentence.
I enjoy talking with the patients. I ask them what they do in their spare time if they haven’t told me before I get to the question. Over the years I’ve acquired enough vocabulary to speak meaningfully about a wide range of subjects. Particularly in rural America, being able to talk about farming, crop yields, soil management, firearms, archery, and hunting gives me credibility.
Here in Clarinda, close to St. Joseph, Missouri, I ask people my age and older if they remember the Jerome Hotel.
It belonged to my grandfather. I drop his name.