Posts Tagged ‘fox’

Another road trip 14: a fist fight on the road, and a fox out at mid day

June 25, 2015

If you happen to come on a fox

Check the time on you clocks

For that bad rabies virus

Might sometimes require us

To bury the thing in a box.

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 System (EMR) I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, and I just finished assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral, my wife and I are doing a bicycle tour of northern Michigan.

After a substantial breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we again gathered in the parking lot to review the day’s route.

We exited from Traverse City on the TART (Traverse Area Recreational Trail), a really nice, smooth, well-paved bike path with really lousy signage.

Tandem riding resembles flying in that the hard parts are the take offs and landings, and we faced one of each with every intersection.

At the Mawby vineyard and winery, the only US facility dedicated exclusively to sparkling wines, we learned more about viticulture.  At the end I asked about the deer and the marc (the leftover grape skins and seeds).  Deer eat the new growth in the spring and are dealt with summarily; the marc is composted.

At lunch in Sutton’s Bay we studied the map , and our tour guide gave us a choice of taking secondary roads with very light traffic but a slightly longer total mileage, or facing the gradual grades and heavy traffic of a main route.  We took the back road, leaving ahead of the group.

Sutton’s Bay High School’s Driver’s Education car passed us.   We settled into a rhythm.  The sun shone and the breeze blew and the only sounds were the birds and the hum of the tires on the asphalt.

We came up a gradual incline to find a real fight had spilled from driveway to road.

Two shirtless young men punched at each other with vicious intent and little training   A young woman watched, distressed.  As we passed, I announced, loudly, that I would call 911.  The young woman yelled at me to mind my own business, using more words than she had to.  The Driver’s Education car had pulled over, and the young woman in the driver’s seat bore a facial expression between smirk and embarrassment watching the action in the rear view mirror.  We started up the hill and I shifted down.

I commented to Bethany that neither young man had a weapon, the fight appeared fair, and thus I had no interest in seeing the fight stopped.  The two combatants had something to settle, and knowing the dynamics of the age, would probably become fast friends afterwards.

From the other side of the ridge we heard sirens.  As we toiled up steeper and steeper grades in lower and lower gears, a police car came rocketing down the road, followed by another, and then another.  I observed that law enforcement was having a slow day.

We bottomed out on the gears, and, breathing hard, toiled to the summit without having to get off and walk.  Then we rocketed downhill, the speedometer climbed to a thrilling 32 MPH.

Bad signage prevented us spotting the turnoff in Lake Leelanau, asking directions got us back on the right path, and we started up a gentle but persistent slope.

We made good time going uphill, sheltered by pines, and overlooking a lake.  Then I saw the fox running ahead of us.

I enjoy seeing foxes; it should mean I’ve been clever or stealthy.  But a fox is a nocturnal animal, and seeing one at midday means something has gone very wrong.

We knew the fox could be rabid.  Turning around, marginally possible because of the conflict between turning radius and road width, risked putting us over.  Continuing at speed to pass the fox would bring us closer; I slowed.

The fox glanced back at us, ran on another 10 yards, and disappeared into the roadside cover.

Had I a firearm, I would have shot the fox presumptively.


Foxes, itches, triumph, and hunter: on the cusp of leaving Nome

April 1, 2015

On the med list I’m pulling a switch
‘Cause my patient came down with an itch
Now they’re getting the sleep
That’s restful and deep
And for trazodone I found the right niche

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 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) I can get along with. Right now I’m back to Nome from temporary detail to Brevig Mission.

I took care of a patient with a very bad diagnosis and a very bad itch. I will leave it up to the specialists to try to change the course of the disease, here in Nome I will try to relieve suffering. Because itch in the context of unrelenting pain constitutes torture. We looked over the med list.

Me: Aren’t you allergic to codeine?

Patient: Yes, it makes me itch, real bad. Same with the hydrocodone.

Me: Stop picking at yourself. Why do you take the oxycodone?

Patient: Beats me. Doesn’t work. That’s why I finished ’em early.

Me: If they don’t work, why do you take it?


Me: Maybe oxycodone is making you itch. Let’s try stopping it.

Patient: But how am I going to sleep?

Me: How are you sleeping now?

Patient: I’m not. Those pills don’t work.

Me: Maybe we should stop them.


Me: How about if I give you a sleeping pill to help you sleep and you come back next week. How about trazodone?

It took some explaining, but the patient came in, looking fresh and happy and focusing a lot better, having slept well 4 nights in a row, and now having much less pain. Because (everyone knows) that good sleep helps a person deal with pain.

And another demonstration of the principle of ABCD (Always Blame the Cottonpickin’ Drug).


I can post this about the young man because I got permission from him and his mother and because everything is on Facebook. Well on the way to being a hunting legend at age 14, he got his first polar bear at age 11, same year he got his first bowhead whale. He has lost track of the number of walruses he’s gotten so far this year. I still won’t publish his name or what he came in for.


I stepped into my cubicle about 10 in the morning and saw a red fox run past.

Foxes hunt at night, any abroad by day raises suspicions of rabies. At home, if I see raccoon, skunk, or fox outside of dusk, dawn, and night, I will seek a weapon to dispatch the animal. In Barrow, we assumed rabies in all arctic foxes.

The furry red animal ran along the north side of the building, around to the west. I said, loudly, “There goes the fox!” and strode briskly to the other end of the clinic to try to get another look; I worried it might head to town. I didn’t see it again, and decided it dens either under the hospital or in the maze of construction dross nearby.


The first patient of the day felt really, really good after the vitamin B12 shot yesterday. Best in years; better sober after that shot than drunk.

Which made my day.


I leave tomorrow after an abbreviated afternoon clinic. Staffers have come in to wish me well. I got a great going-away card, a very trendy tote bag, and a pair of hand knit socks. Along with the story of the wool (starting with the sheep) and the WWI-era sock knitting machine.

When fur is a necessity

January 25, 2011

In a place where life’s on the brink,

The cold makes cheeks rosy and pink.

     The fur of a fox

     Can protect from the frost

But nobody’s wearing a mink.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Transitioning my career away from the brink of burnout, I’m on a sabbatical my one-year non-compete clause expires.  I’m having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point the in the United States.

Forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit equals forty degrees below zero Centigrade.  At those temperatures, the cold has a hard cruel edge.  Wind, given such a weapon, cuts like a saw.  Exposed flesh freezes to death in moments.   I catch my breath when I step outside, and if I walk too fast or if the wind comes from the wrong direction, I put my hand up to my face to protect my nose from frostbite.

This cold demands a central place in the everyday life of the North Slope.  It is a fact that will kill you if you give it the chance.

Such frostbite as I’ve seen here has been confined to the face and neck, when the cold has found a soft spot in the armor of the last layer a person puts on before going outside.  People here don’t venture out unprotected more than once.

This kind of dangerous cold makes wearing fur a necessity, not a luxury.  Wolverine fur, the most visible, predominates as a ruff on the hood of a parka, but a lot of the shearling lamb, fox, wolf, and beaver stays hidden as the best parkas keep the fur side inside.

I haven’t seen mink, even once.

The people here, Native and non-Native, live with the cold.    

Some people, whether connected with the hospital or not, just don’t go outside for longer than it takes to get in and out of a taxi.

A few of the young, dressed for the experience, go out for fun on snow machines; the distinctive whine of the engines sounds throughout the long Arctic night.

Most people riding on snow machines go out of necessity, not recreation.  Hunting happens year-round; most of the calories consumed in Barrow come from creatures who breathed their last less than fifty miles from here.  Firearms qualify as tools.  The people hunt, not recreationally, but for subsistence.  They whale, not for wages, but to eat; if they didn’t, they would starve.

The women sew to survive and manufacture most of the outerwear.

Thus living in Barrow means wresting the necessities of life from the most unforgiving environment in the world.

Yet, when I find myself in a group of people here, I count nine smiles for every frown, a ratio eight times better than any other place I’ve been.  Except, perhaps, a comedy club.

A walk to the grocery store at thirty-five below

January 20, 2011

We walked in the snow and the ice,

The moonlight was ever so nice,

     Ignore all the clocks,

     Watch out for the fox

Who goes out eating lemmings and mice.

The intense arctic cold doesn’t stop Bethany and me from going outside.  Under a full moon, with clear skies, we walked out to the airport last night; the wind chill dropped the effective temperature to -35 degrees Fahrenheit.   My breath condensed on the faux fur ruff of my parka as well as my beard, which led to our evening discussion of hoods trimmed in fur.

Hunters eagerly seek the wolverine here, but I also see wolf, beaver, lynx, otter, arctic fox, grey fox, and red fox on outer wear.  Tanning skins taken locally falls to the women and the women get the best of the furs; men, for the most part, get the trimmings. 

Most arctic fox in this area carry rabies.

Snow crunches at high frequency in this weather.  Barrow receives little precipitation, less than five inches per year on average, so when snow falls the wind blows the ground bare between snow drifts.  Nonetheless moonlight here on a clear night comes in with a “very bright” rating.

The afternoon clinic ran busy and ran late; I worked through the dinner hour and finished fatigued.  Both yesterday and today I took care of four people in one family in one room.

The outpatient area of Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital has six exam rooms and an ER with two bays.  The first patient of the afternoon was quite ill and needed a good deal of medical care, staying in the department for three hours.  Patients who signed in at 4:30 didn’t get seen till after seven.

Most patients today had cough with or without fever; the circulating syndrome apparently started on Friday, and the virus has gone ripping through town.  As usual, those sickest before the epidemic  suffer more during the epidemic.

I find great pleasure in the side conversations I have with the hunters here.  I can pick out whalers most of the time by the glow on their faces.

Two days ago Bethany and I walked to the store.  It wouldn’t rate as an adventure if it hadn’t happened with -45 degree wind chills, and a full moon that didn’t set.  Our glasses grew layers of ice, as the wind whipped wisps of snow along the ground.  We found good traction on the hard dirt roads that have been snow-packed by vehicles but textured by machine.

The grocery store ranks as a medium-sized supermarket.  The ammunition section comes well stocked with common calibers like .223, .45 ACP and 7.62×39.  The presence of a good selection of .22 Hornet surprised me.

The fact of nectarines from Chile in the produce section at $4.50 a pound astounded me.  I can remember saying my mother saying that a hundred years ago kings couldn’t get what can be commonly found in a grocery store; stone fruit in the middle of winter ranks as a triumph of modern man.  I said, “Bethany, I’m buying some.  Contrast is the essence of meaning.”

Outdoor winter workouts: low-impact, high-intensity

January 11, 2011

For cold, we’ve got Barrow beat,

A strong wind will steal your heat.

     Despite what I ate,

     In the cold I lose weight,

But sure it’s a harsh way to cheat.

I’ve been following the weather on the internet. Ten days ago, the temperature in Barrow, Alaska ran twenty degrees colder than Sioux City.  For the last four days Sioux City has shivered ten to fifteen degrees colder than Barrow. 

I went out for a walk this morning in the frigid air, the house thermometer reading in the negative double digits.  With official wind gusts of thirty miles per hour, I put on two layers below the belt and four above.  Hat, mittens, neck warmer and hood, I figured, would be warm enough.

But for the wind blasting my face, I was right.  I turned back after two hundred yards.  I rummaged in my hunting gear till I found a mask. 

Of course the problem that developed once I went back outside had to do with my glasses.  While the wind in my face cleared frost well, when I turned around the polycarbonate iced over, then fine crystals blew in from the back. 

Winter workouts have advantages.  Walking in snow makes for a high-intensity, low-impact workout.  Breathing cold air burns a lot of calories.  I get the chance to see wildlife at a season when most people don’t venture out.

Four winters ago I walked every morning between 5:30 and 6:15.  As the winter progressed I followed the fortunes of the animals.  Two hen turkeys with three chicks roosted in trees a quarter-mile from the house; as time went by I noted their mortality, one by one, by tracks in the snow.  Here the signs of struggle, there a pile of feathers.  A fox got them, I could tell from footprints.   I knew where he lived, and I knew his ambush points by the number of turkey kills.  I found the breast bone of the last survivor, picked clean, on top of the snow in February. 

All active animals in winter need more calories.  When I shiver in a deer blind, I remind myself that I burn calories at the same rate I used to when I ran.  Even when I don’t shiver, I burn energy just by breathing.

In the evening, Bethany and I went out to a dinner seminar; the temp hovered at zero, and  20  MPH winds howled across the landscape. 

We arrived late, and missed the hors d’oeuvres.  I had been ready to write about the irony of eating large meals while listening to lectures about weight loss.  In an uncharacteristic burst of sanity, the food stopped with the appetizers.

When we got home, we found it too late to eat.

Just as well, Bethany and I both need to lose weight.