Posts Tagged ‘plane crash’

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.

Gone!

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.

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Full mornings and evenings in clinics, walks in the evening, and a jam session

February 9, 2011

We’re seeing more cases of strep

At the end of the day I’ve lost pep

   But here is an upper

   I pause briefly for supper

Or else burnout becomes the next step.

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’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

The outpatient section of the hospital in Barrow has six exam rooms and two ER bays.  The morning schedule contains only appointments, the afternoon schedule is open to walk-ins.  Not surprisingly, we see more patients in the afternoons than in the mornings, and in the mornings we have lots more time to spend on each case.  Sometimes questions pop into my head.

When government agencies keep statistics, I wonder how they classify Barrow injuries.  Does a broken leg from a snowmobile rollover count as a motor vehicle accident or a hunting injury?  Do we file a finger laceration sustained while preparing muktuk (whale blubber) for consumption as a whaling injury, a fishing injury, or a cooking injury?  If two snowmobiles collide in mid-air, do we have to report to the FAA?  How do we classify a crick in the neck from pulling out a whale?  Should we be keeping stats on the number of people constipated from eating muktuk?  Does a hunting accident for a subsistence hunter qualify as on-the-job injury?

I would not have believed the number of people I’ve met here who survived plane crashes.  People here cannot believe the number of patients I’ve had who survived lightning strikes.  Residents in the bush spend more time flying than those of us in the lower 48.  They also spend more time on boats.

Walk in clinic brought a few more cases of influenza and a lot more cases of strep.  People slip and fall on the ice and sprain and break things.  Most of the worst injuries come from snow machine accidents; collisions hurt more than trying to turn too fast.  I haven’t seen a car-snow machine injury, but I’m sure I will.

Two days into the week and I have 19 hours on my timesheet.  Afternoon walk-ins routinely last two hours longer than planned.  I have stopped trying to work all the way through the dinner hour; to do so is to take the first step back towards burnout.

I returned to the walk-in area after my fifteen-minute break, helped my colleagues care for the outpatients, then I came back to the apartment.  I suited up to walk Bethany to her Tuesday knitting group, a mile away at the library.

With a light snow, the temperature had risen to almost zero Fahrenheit (minus 15 Celsius), and I knew I had overdressed before we’d gone two hundred meters.  I left my parka and my bib overalls unzipped but my arms sweated.  On the way back I took off my mittens.

I picked up my saxophone and went to my guitarist friend’s house.  We played some popular and some esoteric tunes, and by the time my lip started to fail I had more energy.

I walked back to the hospital in the gentle cold and snow of the Arctic night.  I felt like dancing because I’m not carrying a beeper.