Posts Tagged ‘subsistence hunting’

And after the Iditarod, Brevig Mission

March 23, 2015

Taking off after the race
Away from the Nome City base
I flew Bering Air
To Brevig, that’s where
You use hondas the reindeer to chase.

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 (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m on temporary detail to Brevig Mission.

Yesterday I remembered my years in high school distance running; I ran dead last in 6 out of 8 meets my junior year. I wanted to be at the finish line for the last (“red-light”) finishing musher of the Iditarod, the daunting thousand mile journey from Fairbanks. Forty-three years ago, the winner came in close to the time that the “red light” racer did this year.

I didn’t know I’d napped through the siren announcing the incoming dog team till I got downtown. The festive atmosphere had deflated in the week since the first musher came in. The thinning crowd wandered the streets, carrying free posters in plastic bags.

I avoided the mushers banquet as too noisy, and, with 1/3 of the city’s population, too crowded.

One last load of laundry before bedtime, then up very early.

With one daypack for clothes and a postal box with food, I called for a taxi.

The driver’s breath spoke last night’s alcohol excess. On the ride to the airport he talked with delight about the possibility of starting to drive to Teller (80 miles from Nome) if his company gets new vehicles.

I recongized a third of Natives and non-Natives in the Bering Air terminal. The business still runs on paper, no one compained about computers. But they needed to know the weight of my baggage and my person.

In the absence of a PA, the pilot announced the destination and the crowd thinned by the dozen out the door; TSA doesn’t screen if the plane can carry fewer than 49 passengers.

I wore most of my clothing; I finished putting on my insulated bib overalls (suitable for snowmobiling) just when the pilot called “Brevig Mission.”

The village sits on the south side of the Seward Penninsula, supported by subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering. The clinic, the store and the school provide a few jobs.

The sun shone clear and bright on the snow over the hills as we winged north out of Nome; I marvelled at the bare pavement of the runway. The Caravan (also the name of a minivan) held seven humans including the pilot and a lot of freight.

Glad I heeded the friendly warnings about a marginally heated passenger cabin, I snuggled into my parka (here called a parky)

We landed in Teller, close enough to Nome that a 3 season road connects the two communities. The airstrip has no terminal; offloaded freight went onto ATVs and sleds behind snow machines.

We stayed on the ground less time than it took to fly to Brevig Mission (locally, just Brevig).

We could see Teller from the airstrip. Again, no terminal. I rode on the back of an ATV (locally, all called hondas regardless of manufacturer) into town, ten very cold minutes.

I set my gear in the bunk room at the back of the clinic, next to the door marked MORGUE. At the urging of the clinic staff, I accepted a ride to the store. Despite the small population (400, up from 276 in 2000) I could easily have lost my way. I tried to take in landmarks but in the end accepted the same ride back to the clinic.

I went to the bunk room and stripped off layers of long underwear.

I started right in at 1145, and saw 9 patients, more than I’ve seen in a single afternoon in the last six months.

The equipment in the clinic is dated but serviceable; last century’s doppler found the baby’s heartbeat just fine but I had to count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four.

I spoke with a reindeer herder, a plane crash survivor, an expectant mother, more than one carrying permanent injuries from snow machine collisions, and one who couldn’t tell the difference between lipoma (a benign lump of fat) and lymphoma (a cancer of the lymphatic system).

As always and as in all my past clinical settings, the ravages of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana on physical and emotional resilience accounted for most of the pathology.

But here, for the first time, when I brought out my calculator to total up the financial cost of substance abuse, I met with looks of true dismay.

I put it into concrete terms: “Between $11 a pack for Marlboros, $15 a joint for weed, and $1.21 a can for pop, you’re wasting a new honda every two or three years.”

I didn’t say, And I’ll bet you’re underestimating the expense.


Separation anxiety, heat intolerance north of the Arctic circle, and conversations with a sculptor/hunter

July 22, 2010

There’s a way of emotional grieving

When the time comes close for the leaving

     Separation anxiety

     Transcends all piety

Culture, and language, and believing.

The young man I attended gave me permission to write this information.  He came in with his supervisor after an on-the- job injury.  While treating him, we talked.  He’s an apprentice hunter, he holds a steady job, and he’s a sculptor with aspirations of doing animation.  He face sparkles when he talks. 

He makes tiny statues of people that he puts in corners where people do not expect to see them.   His sculptures adorn both home and workplace.

We talked about the artist’s moment; for him it’s watching the face of someone who noticed his art for the first time, seeing the reaction and delight.  For me, as a musician, it’s watching peoples’ heads bob in time to the music, even if they’re ignoring me as a musician. 

As a writer, I would like to think that people chuckle when they read the limerick, and, having been hooked, can’t stop reading till they get to the end.

We also talked about gill net fishing and subsistence hunting.

One of the perks of Barrow hanging out with hunters all day.

At morning conference today we talked about how maternal and paternal alcohol use contributes to schizophrenia later in life.

We exchange a lot of information in morning conference.  We talk about patients by name.  We talk about clinical problems.   I get much education from my colleagues. 

I brought up a particular patient with recurrent right lower quadrant pain whose CT showed a normal appendix.  I expressed my concerns that the image might not have had adequate resolution to show a carcinoid (a low grade malignancy occasionally found in the appendix).  It turned out that everyone around the conference table had taken care of the patient at one time or another and we all agreed the appendix needed to come out.

I am coming to the end of my tenure here tomorrow, and today I developed separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a universal human emotion.  It’s the reason roommates fight at the end of the school year or spouses fight just before one goes on a trip.  I knew that I would have it when the time for me to leave came close.   Bethany’s presence buffered the intensity.

Today the weather turned warm (fifty-one Farenheit), the wind stopped and the sun came out.  The heat in the outpatient area became intolerable, and I went to maintenance and complained three times.  I probably wouldn’t have been emotional in my declaration of impossibility of working conditions if it hadn’t happened towards the end of my tenure. 

I think the reason people have separation anxiety is because it softens the pain of emotional loss.  It’s a way of saying, “I have plenty reason to be mad at that person/institution.  So I won’t miss him/her/it when they’re/I’m gone.”