Saturday, August 07, 2010

Dispatch 58 Small Town Life

4 June – 31 July 2010

Life continues in Oamaru, a small town with big city aspirations. We have an Opera House here which is extremely grand. It is built of Oamaru limestone and is a gorgeous building and a really fantastic show venue. Les Miserables will be showing there this September—all the big shows in New Zealand pass through Oamaru because of the Opera House. The other night I went to a show there called “Hot Pink Bits”. It was a one woman show and it was, well, hard to describe. This woman has done a fair amount of research about the sex trade since humankind began and has lots of funny bits as well as interesting facts to share about sex. By the way escort services and houses of entertainment, (nudge, nudge, wink wink know what I mean, eh), are legal in NZ and the adult entertainment ads in the papers offer a wide range of services, but back to the show. She is also outrageous and funny and a pretty good singer. She also has humongous breasts that she stuffs into a outfit that they are mostly falling out of for the show and interacts with the audience, mostly the men, in a most irreverent way. It was LOL funny. I sat next to a grandmother who had come with her 26 year old granddaughter. Clearly the two had no idea what the show was really about or they would definitely have not been there together.

Tonight, a Friday night, I was so looking forward to a relaxing evening at home after a long busy week of work. Just as I was about to leave the hospital, all the power went off. It was pitch black for about 20 seconds, and then the hospital back-up generator went on and everything returned to normal. That was the hospital. As soon as I stepped outside I realized the power to the WHOLE CITY was off! The hospital was the only place with lights. I walked home in the pitch black—a beautiful starry night that I appreciated while I contemplated what awaited me at home. We do have a fireplace which I haven’t mentioned before –actually, a quite good one that is built to throw out heat effectively. And, when we moved in, we had found candles around the place. And, when I thought back on it, there were other clues about this not being a particularly one off experience (power outages) because the prior tenant had warned us that the oven doesn’t work when the clock isn’t set which happens when the power goes off. . Hmmmm, okay I’m starting to see a pattern here. Oh yeah, and the house keys are on a key chain that includes a little flashlight, uh, I mean torch (Kiwi speak).

I arrived home, found my way to the door with the torch on the keychain, walked straight to where I left my headlamp (every good cruiser always knows where that is!), and proceeded to make a fire in the fireplace. I realized I had a little portable propane cooker from our camping days and knew I could even heat up a meal if the power didn’t go on. I exchanged a few texts with Richard (who is out of town still awaiting the catamaran delivery to Fiji, or so he says) and a local woman I have befriended. I learned this is not an unusual occurrence but the duration is a bit odd (it lasted 1 ½ hrs). Thank goodness the cell towers weren’t down too. And, at last, the power went back on. The weather was not extreme and I have no idea what turned the power off. Too many portable space heaters overloading the system?

My hospital life is really a throw back to times I spent in old Veteran’s hospitals in the US.. Although it is a modern facility, it is built with many shared rooms with beds for 3 people. This is purposeful—I guess the thinking is that patients can sort of look out for each other, which, it turns out, they do. The rooms are sex segregated except the HDU (high dependency unit which we would call a step down unit—that is, it’s not really an intensive care unit but the next level of care. My hospital doesn’t have an ICU—anyone that sick gets transferred to the big city.) There, both men and women are cared for, separated only by curtains. There is virtually no privacy. And, no need, since, it seems, everyone knows each other. In fact, as the Oncologist explained to me today in his monthly visit to the rural hospital, there’s lots of cancer here partly because everyone is RELATED to everyone. OK, never mind.

So, one night this week, one of my patients suddenly had a turn for the worse. As I was in there checking him out with the nurses, another patient of mine in the same room, who has had a stroke and is quite confused generally, said to me from his bed where he was lying quietly, “He’s been having quite a time of it tonight—I think it’s his heart.” And, this morning, I found another patient of mine who is feeling much better and told me she needs to go home because she is, “quite bored in here” helping the other ladies in the room fill out their menu requests for the next day. I greet the patients who aren’t mine with the same familiarity as my own since they are all in the room together. People in our hospital are often not very sick—there for rehabilitation as much as anything--so they are fully dressed and sometimes go home on leave over the weekend since nothing really happens in the hospital on the weekend (no lab, x-ray, PT, OT, you name it). Contrast this with the US hospital I’ve lately worked in where I often commented that they might as well do away with the dietary department because we send people home as soon as they are well enough to eat. Which brings me to another observation about my hospital. I’ve had occasion to eat the food when I’ve done overnight shifts. One night I picked the spaghetti thinking that it’s a foolproof meal. Well, apparently it is not foolproof in New Zealand. My colleague the next morning nodded knowingly and said, “You should have had the toasted sandwiches…” He’s been there for 12 years or so. Thank goodness Richard is back to bring dinner down to me. Well, actually, the evening meal here is called “tea.” Really, it is.

When I walked home in the really dark night with the power off tonight, I admired the Southern Cross, the Milky Way, the constellation Scorpio all while being serenaded by the surprisingly loud tiny blue penguins who had come in for the night (and were probably really happy about the lights being out). You, know, things really could be worse!