Posts Tagged ‘broken ankle’

Highlights of six weeks in Barrow

March 1, 2011

You might say it flew far like a sparrow

Or fast and straight like an arrow.

     But either way time

     Like a vacation sublime

Went fast while we were in Barrow

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I just finished an assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States, and I’m in Anchorage for two days.

Six weeks in Barrow, Alaska, has flown by.  We arrived at the end of the two-month Arctic night.  We went out in -75 degree F temperatures, and we stayed inside while the worst blizzard in four years raged outside.


Blizzard in Barrow

I worked 360 hours while here, but the other doctors worked more hours than I did.  I received the lightest load on the call schedule.  I didn’t work any nights.

I saw a lot of broken ankles, from snow machine accidents and falls on the ice.  I picked up two cases of vitamin B12 deficiency, nine cases of vitamin D deficiency, two cases of hypothyroidism, and not one case of frostbite. 

I took care of people from all over Alaska, including Barrow.  I also saw those from Tonga, the Philippines, Hawaii, Korea, California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Florida, England, South Africa, Colombia, and Ireland.

I met people who had survived plane crashes and gunshot wounds.  I made personal acquaintance with more than a dozen whaling captains, and more than two dozen who had personally killed whales.

A lot of the men had taken polar bears, most at close range with low-powered rifles, many in self-defense.  One had killed a polar bear without a firearm at all.  

I talked to women who sew the seal skins onto umiak frames, and the men who hunted the seals.

When a white-out shut the town down for four days, I suited up and went outside.  Twenty paces from the building I thought better of the venture and turned back.

I didn't have to go out in a blizzard to ice up.

We watched the first dawn after sixty-three days of darkness on the afternoon of January 24, and watched it set less than two hours later.

First sunset and first sunrise in 63 days, at the point. January 23 2011

The medical community viewed the Superbowl in the Commons room, farther north than any other medical staff activity in the country.

I talked to other hunters who shot caribou, wolf, goose, duck, wolverine, seal, and walrus.  Several people had been hunted by polar bears, but lived.

We saw the Northern Lights, I for the first time and Bethany for the second.

We attended Kiviuk, the Messenger Feast that happens every two years.  I saw dancers passionately portray heroic stories with their dances.

Afterwards, while the Northern Lights swept mutely across the sky, we watched the best fireworks display I’ve seen.

While we were here we saw pressure ridges form in the ice on the Arctic Ocean.

For every active drunk I took care of I met two in recovery.

Bethany taught sign, Inupiak, Special Ed, third grade and fifth grade.  She made a lot of new friends, one of whom she started into knitting.  She got a lot of exercise.

I drove twice, a total of less than fifteen miles.

We had the best Kung Pao chicken and Mongolian beef we’ve ever had.

Both of us lost a few pounds.


Another Nalukataaq injury; what goes around comes around

July 9, 2010

I recalled my broken bones past

As I set to replacing a cast

     Inadequate priming

     Throws off the timing

And a lateral malleolus gets trashed

I replaced a cast on a young man’s ankle, and he gave me permission to publish this information.

Preparing for the Nalukataaq, or blanket toss, his whaling crew was getting the blanket ready.

Remember that at a blanket toss, they don’t really use a blanket.  It looks like a blanket till you get a few meters away, then you realize the trampoline sized object is sewn together from two layers of seal skins.  The skins came from one of the successful whaling boats, constructed by hand here in Barrow, and were part of some bearded seals hunted nearby.  Stout rope handles, ten to a side, are sewn between the skins.  Long ropes running from corner to corner are sewn in as well; the whole “blanket” is supported by those ropes which are anchored into the permafrost, tightened with block-and-tackle, and held eight feet off the ground by timbers.  To actually “toss” someone, forty strong men gather around the “blanket” and synchronously apply more tension to the baseline tension.  When the rhythm works (which is most of the time) the results are impressive, people sail thirty feet into the air.

My patient, wearing clunky rubber boots, climbed onto the blanket.  Thinking the crew was ready, he started to jump.  As only a few were tossing, when he went up for a back flip the timing was off and a fractured ankle was the result.

As I replaced his cast, I recounted my first-hand experience with not one but two broken ankles when I was sixteen.  I had run too far for too long and stress fractures of the outside ankle bone (lateral malleolus)were the result.  I didn’t follow the orthopedist’s instructions about cast care.  In the days before fiberglass casting material I destroyed three casts before my doc gave up and gave me ankle supports, forbidding me to run till cleared.

What goes around comes around.

I talked with another of my patients, suffering from a good deal of self-imposed stress, about the joys of delegation and not being the boss; I was given permission to include a good deal more information than I will include here.  I observed that most outsiders who come to Barrow are not seeking a fast-paced, wall-to-wall lifestyle, and that we change more about what we do to ourselves than about the things that are done to us. 

A lot of mental illness outside of stress and harsh life experiences afflicts the people here, with no regard to ethnic group.  Schizophrenics are more integrated into family and society here than back home where they are marginalized and isolated.    Bipolar disease (formerly known as manic-depression) occurs throughout the world and does not spare Barrow.

I’m using my Inupiak language skills and I’m getting better.  I can say Hello, How are you?  I’m fine, and My name is Dr. Gordon.  I can also say the Inupiak word for seal oil (think of it as seal schmaltz), bearded seal, whale, poop, goose, walrus, bow (as in archery), and Good morning.

It’s the least I can do.