Archive for August, 2017

The click of a linguistic show-off

August 29, 2017

That language didn’t come quick

And my accent is still a bit thick

It might sound like a crow cough

But I am a show off

And used my Naa Dene click.

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 traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I spoke a lot of Spanish in my quarter-century working in Sioux City. Eventually, my accent settled into the developing Spanish accent of the area.  On taking care of a Hispanic patient for the first time, I frequently got the question, “Where are you from?”  And I’d reply that I’m American.

The query, “Yes, but what is your nationality?” invariably followed.

(Regretfully, people of Asian descent in both Canada and the US face the same question; the questioner usually implies that a person with a particular appearance must be from somewhere else.)

Sometimes I use the word Gabacho (a derogatory term for white Americans, heard mostly in the Midwest). Sometimes I’ll talk about my grandparents being from Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   And sometimes I shrug and say I’m a linguistic showoff, because I am.

If they ask me why I speak Spanish, I just say it’s good business.

Many but not all the Natives from the Bands close to here come from the Naa Dene linguistic tradition. So I greeted one of my patients today with, “Daa natch’eyaa,”  meaning, “How are you?”

“Sa’atch’ee,” came the reply, meaning, I’m fine. As I prepared the injection, he asked, “What kind of white man are you that you speak our language?”

“Aalk’iidaan,” I replied, “Shi naalnish Toohaajaalehidi. A long time ago I worked with the Canoncito Band of Navajo.”

Navajo language belongs in the same group as Naa Dene, with some important differences.

Being a linguistic showoff, though, I couldn’t stop there. I asked the Naa Dene word for goat.

It took me three weeks to learn the first consonant in that Navajo word. The linguists use the ! to represent the click, to the best of my knowledge, the only click outside of Africa.

My patient didn’t want to look surprised when I repeated it accurately, but he did.

 

 

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Learning about a new toxic inhalation

August 22, 2017

It’s been quite a while since Yale

Some of my knowledge went stale

For I’ve never been tried

On chlorine dioxide

When it comes to the stuff you inhale.

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 traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

This town depends on forest products and, to a lesser extent, mining.   Felled trees get trucked or floated to the industrial area just outside of town, to get sawn at the lumber mill or chopped and bleached at the pulp mill.  The wood useful for neither process gets burned as biofuel at an electric plant.

The pulp mill operates 50 weeks per year, with a two-week shut down at the end of each summer for preventive maintenance and cleaning. The usual work force gets supplemented by short-term workers and contractors with their crews.

The cadre of workers may have experience, but all change involves chaos, and from chaos comes hurt.

Today, I saw a patient who had inhaled chlorine dioxide, ClO2, referred to by its local name, clowtwo (rhymes with crow brew) the day before, and gave me permission to write a good deal more than I have.

Decades ago, I worked in a town that relied on the meat-packing business. That industry requires a lot of refrigeration, which in turn depends on ammonia.  We did a lot of workman’s compensation medicine at the time, and one day I had four workers brought in simultaneously for ammonia inhalation, from a refrigerant leak.

Had I been asked, I would have diverted all 4 patients to the Emergency Room, but I hadn’t had the chance. I immediately had one nurse start oxygen, another nurse call for 2 ambulances, and a third nurse inject steroids.

When I called the ER to request a transfer, I could say, honestly, that they were breathing just fine and wondering why I was so worried. By the time they arrived at the emergency room, all 4 were starting to drown in their own fluids.  They all survived, after close to a week in the ICU.

I dealt effectively with a tough situation because I had read up on the effects of ammonia on the lungs beforehand, and I knew how dangerous it could be.

In this case, I knew a good deal more about chlorine inhalation, because of its use in WWI, but I didn’t know about chlorine dioxide and I hadn’t read up on it. The patient helped me along as I clicked my way through the Net, giving me the benefit of his experience.

 

Why I Came, and Can I Fix the American System When I Get Back?

August 14, 2017

My reasons? I’ve got quite a few

I didn’t want to say I withdrew

My application

But my rationalization

Got me to work with the right crew.

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 traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

The patient (who gave me permission to write a good deal more about her than I have) asked why I came to British Columbia.

A lot of people ask me that question, and I truncate the truth, too complex for brevity. In no particular order:  I have a thick stubborn streak.  I had a tiger by the tail: see the project through or have to say that I’d withdrawn an application for licensure.  I wanted to spend more of my time taking care of patients and less time at meaningless but marginally lucrative mouse clicking.  I have a sense of adventure.  I wanted to know the truth behind what US doctors vilify and US liberals champion but neither have any experience or knowledge about.

There are more.

So I just said, “I wanted to know find out about the Canadian system.”

As I opened the door she asked, “So, when you get home, are you going to fix the American system?” I said, “No, but the first step is educating the American docs. And I’m not sure they’ll believe me.”

Actually, I don’t think the liberals will believe me, either.

+=+=+=

Last night the smoke from the forest fires drifted into town. The dramatic evening sky progressed from intriguing to eerie.  Finally, darkness fell, thick and hard, two hours early.  The smell of smoke kept me from falling asleep.  This morning we watched the news for two hours to see how close the fires are.

We don’t want the fires to come this way. Too close and the town dies from lack of wood.  Much too close and the whole city goes up in flames.  I wouldn’t want to have to evacuate, and I don’t know which way we would go.

We’re seeing an increase respiratory problems from the smoke. Some people have come in from BC’s largest city, Prince George, because of air quality.

=+=+=+=

Last time I was on call, I saw 14 patients, and 3 diagnoses accounted for 13 of them: back pain, abdominal pain, and left facial pain. The only one not covered by those three complaints came in before the others, and left, cured.

 

Contentment and birthday pizza

August 13, 2017

At the end of a beautiful day,

We caught the sun’s reddened ray

We snacked on raspberries,

Pizza and cherries

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, 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 traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

Different organizations have different ways of celebrating birthdays. During my New Mexico years, I got used to bringing food for the clinic when I marked a change in age.  I continued the habit into private practice and Community health.  Mostly, I had Bethany pick out a good selection from Panera.

One of my colleagues ticked just a little closer to 40 last week, and a selection of cupcakes appeared in the clinic. And, at the last-minute, he and his wife put together a pizza-based gathering after work.

Bethany and I drove out to his house at the outskirts of town. He has had black bear, grizzly bear, deer, moose, wolves, and caribou in his back yard.  But on this particular evening we contented ourselves with stories of close wildlife encounters.

The docs drove up, one by one. Before the noise disrupted conversation, I showed off my trick of sharpening knives on the back of a ceramic plate.  Till the pizza arrived, we snacked on chips, and sweet cherries freshly picked in southern British Columbia.

We ate the pizza at leisure. I’ve written in the past about how doctors tend to bolt their food because we never know when we’re going to get called away.  These physicians know how to work hard but more than that they know how not to overwork.  We enjoyed our food.  We chatted.  Topics included economics, politics, horticulture, wildlife, and medicine.  We recounted various places we’d been.  Perhaps because of my country of origin, we had some lively history discussions, fortunately none of them mentioned the Fenian raids, where renegade Americans tried to invade Canada shortly after the Civil War.

The day waned, and I relaxed. Forest fire smoke takes the clarity from the air but it makes spectacular sunsets.  In this case, the solar disc reddened well above the horizon, while cool evening breezes mixed in with the heat of the day.  I reclined after a good day at the clinic and in the late stages of a great summer.  I had worked but not too hard, I had eaten but not too much.  I had chatted knowledgeably but without pedantry.  I had sharpened the knives, but no one cut themselves.

I wallowed in contentment, thoroughly in the moment.

After a bit we toured the grounds. We picked raspberries and ate them immediately.  We saw the Saskatoon berry bush, trampled by the visiting bear.  I looked for the peach tree I had seen earlier.

And when the mosquitos came out, we said good night.

 

 

Patient Transfer and Push-back

August 12, 2017

The specialist just needed a chance

To vent his frustration and rants

Just as expected,

The referral’s accepted

Sorta what I thought in advance.

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 traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

I listen to the subspecialist’s voice on the phone, and I can hear the overwork through the bluster, asking me what I think he can do for the patient that I can’t.

The local term for what he is giving me is “push-back.”

I got a lot of it from Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage when I would try to transfer a patient. Even before I would pick up the phone, I knew I’d be attempting to enlist the cooperation of a physician close to burnout, with a service already bursting at the seams, analogous to pouring gallons into quarts.

In another century, in another country, I faced push-back from every rung of the hierarchic ladder at the academic hospital, when I had to ship out a patient with Reye’s syndrome. With vomiting, altered mental status and a swollen liver, I had made the diagnosis in less than a minute, and spent two hours proving it with lab, while late evening ticked into early morning. The medical student, intern, and resident all tried to block the transfer, but passed my call up the food chain.  The presentation to the chief resident, polished by the first three layers, included answers to the questions posed by the underlings in a coherent, rapid fire fashion.  In the silence of a 3 second pause I could hear something in him break, a resignation to the inevitable, and then he said, “Well, I supposed I’m going to have to accept the transfer.”

(I’ve not seen a case of Reye’s syndrome before or since; it disappeared when we stopped giving children aspirin. That particular patient recovered completely.)

I never ran into push-back in New Zealand. The physicians at the university hospital sounded fresh and cheerful every time I called.  But they have a different system; following the online flowchart weeded out the majority of unnecessary calls.

Today I catch the subspecialist in at the university hospital fresh, in the middle of the afternoon.  He fires off a list of questions, interspersed with complaints of thinly spread resources.  When he pauses, I confess I use a whiff of sarcasm when I say, “Would you like me to answer, or would you like to keep going?”

I figured out, early in my private practice years, that I spent more time and energy trying to avoid work than actually doing it, and I quit pushing back the ER docs when they called me to admit a doctorless patient. Because I built up good will, about every 7 years, when I really needed to, I could dodge an admission.

Between my sarcasm and the chance to rant uninterrupted, the subspecialist loses momentum, and in the silence over the phone, I can hear something break. Resignation replaces resentment when he accepts the admission.

I later learn he has a reputation as a good, caring, skillful physician in a badly understaffed situation.

I feel for him. I hope he doesn’t burn out.