Greetings! And thank you for stopping by…..
This is my 56th day here in a last minute healthcare assignment in the very remote area of Chignik Bay Alaska. It literally is somewhere that most need to google. I, for one, had never heard about it. I had to take a single prop four seater plane in. And that is literally the only way out, short of a boat.
This place is called “the edge of the world” for a reason.
Because it is. Literally.
So here are the top ten (in a very lengthy list) of things I have learned here.
1. Everything Here Is Different
And I do mean everything. Things that were a mainstay of my life vanished overnight. Things I took for granted were no longer there. Transportation and the freedom to just go wherever was no more. Making a trip to a local grocery store and walking down the aisles to choose whatever you wanted? Nope. Produce comes in twice per month and believe me, fresh fruit became priceless and a rare luxury. The usual accommodation while on location was no longer an extended stay, condo or hotel. Now it was living in the clinic you work in, sleeping on a bunk bed in a renovated exam room. Ease of a cell phone was no longer an issue as no phone service. Endless wifi capability is replaced by shoddy, hit and miss connection which made communication sketchy at best and very weather dependent. My religion of 10,000 steps at least every day was shrunk to walking the clinic due to grizzly bear sightings – and frequently. Like daily. The sun stayed shining until after midnight. Midnight!!! This one section I could write about for days. It was a complete adjustment to almost everything.
2. Silence Is Not Always Golden
One remarkable thing that caught me off guard – was the silence. Now we all have been in the quiet. In the dark. But I don’t think I have ever experienced true silence. I mean the absence of all sound. All of it. It is comforting. Soothing. But also can be a little creepy.
3. Food: And the Lack Thereof
Food here is in a word – strange. No longer are the grocery store trips. I didn’t think you could miss walking up and down grocery store aisles……but let me tell you – I surely do.
Buying food here has a process. You call. Ask for your desired food items one by one. You are told if they are available. And repeat. Give your card info (this is a 100% cash-less community). You go to the location right off the ferry pier. Your food is in a box labeled with your name. It is extremely expensive.
Here is what $360 bought me.
4. You Really Can Survive Without Electronics
I was not told before I came here, but electronic devices are an issue here. No cell phone coverage except for the one Alaska provides. Which you can’t get once you’re this remote. I found I could text family that had iPhones and went to email for those that didn’t. Wifi is very weather dependent here and goes in and out daily. I was without wifi for eight straight days once. Which makes communication outside of here impossible and can be a little unsettling.
But? Ive learned that perhaps we all are a little electronics dependent. And perhaps it’s not a bad thing to tone that down. A lot. Everything turns out ok.
5. Living Your Best Life With What You Have
I have learned by watching this community of less than 100 people that they are quite happy where they are, with what they have. I haven’t one time heard complaining about having to wear masks. They just do. To protect each other. Not one single time have I had to ask. Not once. I haven’t heard one single complaint about having to cancel a vacation or trip plan because of this pandemic. Or that the group get togethers have been put on hold. Or the two out to eat places have had to temporarily close due to COVID. The salmon haven’t come in. Fishing season is the worst it’s been in history. And people are in financial ruin. But I don’t hear about that. I see people sharing and laughing and being thankful for good weather.
We have much to learn from this small village.
6. Questionable Healthcare
This was the biggest changes for me. I was hired to provide healthcare here for the summer and fishing season where the population tripled due to the transient fishing boats. Well…..that hasn’t happened. Salmon haven’t migrated as they usually do and no commercial fishing has started which usually does early June. It’s August 1st and no salmon fishing yet.
The clinic here is great. Three well equipped exam rooms. X-ray capability and a fully functioning, well equipped ER room. A pharmacy that’s well stocked with medications that can be provided on site (since things take days or longer due to everything having to be flown in)
Main problem I noticed is:
It’s just me.
There is no RN here. The support staff here are “health aids” who have had anywhere from 4 to 16 weeks training. That’s it. No one licensed or fully trained at all. I asked about this before I was flown out here. I was told “Oh that’s just an Alaska thing”
For outpatient care and common complaints and procedures that’s just fine.
But since Ive been here there has been anaphylactic reactions, a major head trauma, a fire, a motorcycle accident……..that’s the short list.
People here could literally write a book on home remedies. They know things about plants that I have never even read about and have go-to recipes that are mainstays of medicine here.
7. Honing in on Details
I have really learned about details. There is only one dirt road here. One direction you pass a fishing boat dock and beyond that is the short dirt plane runway.
The other direction is the village. There’s a dock for the ferries, assorted buildings – a small school, post office, community center. There are scattered homes that pepper the hills. Keep driving up the mountain to the landfill where all the trash is burned.
That’s it. Total.
So when I go outside it’s the same view. Sometimes gray, cloudy and stormy. Sometimes clear and sunny. But the same.
So you quickly learn details. The shapes of the water patterns. The forms of the clouds. The direction of the breeze. The sounds of the gulls.
I didn’t realize that the clutter of life can hide the details. I hope I never lose this lesson.
8. New Sense of Normal
Normal – here we go again. There IS no normal. I learned in just a few days that you need to adjust to where you are. You go to bed in bright sunlight as it’s light until midnight. You get creative with meals as what you had planned, three out of five things are not available this week. You exercise in makeshift ways and you shower in a patient room. You can chart when you have internet so you take good notes as it may not return for days. You get over your fear of grizzly bears as this is their home and you have invaded it so you just respect their habits and use caution – not fear. The list is long. Everything is different here.
9. Earthquakes Are No Joke
Where do I begin. The story of the major earthquake is posted a week ago so feel free to read. It was a 7.8 and classified as major. It was petrifying. You can’t stand. They trigger Tsunamis. You grab what you can think of and literally stumble around to safety, which in this case was to the highest ground possible.
Afterwards you get “aftershocks”. A lot of 3 point somethings. But we had tons of 4’s and 5’s and have had several 6’s in the past week. That’s not an aftershock. When you are either woken. Or things are falling off walls and you’re grabbing onto something, that’s not a damn aftershock! That’s an earthquake! I have patients that sleep with their clothes and shoes on with a “go-to” backpack right alongside of them.
I mentioned “normal”. Whatever normal is – I can assure you this does NOT qualify.
10. Many “Firsts”
The list is so long and I have mentioned a lot of it already. First time Ive had a police car to drive as my transportation, go to bed everyday at 11pm in the bright sunshine, air travel is the only way out, seeing wild foxes and otters play on a beach, grizzly bears for neighbors, be solely responsible for any kind of medical catastrophe on my own, and food! So many firsts for food!
Fresh caught salmon (caught that morning!) and cream cheese bagels
Homemade (not by me) salmon berry jam
Fresh made Octopus Cerviche with Chips:
Fresh caught Halibut for dinner tonight:
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Until next time …. be kind …. always,