|On Call in the Arctic|
As Dr. Thomas Sims is about to enter his pediatric surgical residency, his status suddenly changes overnight when he is informed that he is about to be sent overseas to serve within a M.A.S.H. unit in Vietnam. With a wife nine-months pregnant, and a two-year-old daughter, Sims is relieved to be given an alternative. He can choose to accept a plum military placement as a U.S. Public Health Service physician in Anchorage, Alaska. Not only does that mean that Dr. Sims can keep his family together, and be stateside for the impending birth of his son, but Sims is also offered the position of his dreams—Chief of Pediatric Surgery in a well-equipped urban hospital.
Perfect, right? Well, not so fast. Upon arriving with his family in Anchorage, Sims is shocked to receive new orders to report to Nome, Alaska, where he will be the only doctor in a very isolated setting. Not only will Dr. Sims serve the remote outpost of Nome, but he will also be responsible for the medical needs of thirteen outlying Eskimo villages.
This is where things get mighty interesting. Imagine the shock, if you have been trained in state-of-the-art medicine, to enter a medical world without adequate facilities, with very few supplies, and almost no support. Not only that, but a major scandal which occurred during the previous physician's tour of service has created the kind of mistrust and prejudice that will make relationship-building almost impossible.
The most fascinating element of this memoir involves the stories of frightening, and yet exhilarating, medical emergencies. How do you save the life of a patient whose appendix is about to explode when you don't have an operating room, the right supplies, or a surgical team? How do you deliver a huge baby in distress when a C-section isn't an option? This is where Dr. Sims has to use a combination of intuition and MacGyver-like ingenuity to save the day.
I can't help but believe his time in the Alaskan bush made Thomas Sims a better doctor. Medical training in perfect conditions is one thing. Learning to improvise in the heat of a life-or-death emergency is another. To be able to master both the art and science of medical service requires a rare gift. The beauty of this story is in watching that gift emerge.
From harrowing medical procedures, to death-defying bush plane and snowmachine travel in wicked weather conditions, this book has it all. Though the harsh conditions and interpersonal divides take their toll, On Call in the Arctic is a book that dwells in the miracles that can happen in the midst of hardship, misunderstandings, and the messiness of living outside your comfort zone.
I recommend this memoir to anyone who enjoys living, or living vicariously, the kind of life that takes one to the wilder side of existence. There is something essential to be gained when we leave the safe confines of a predictable way of life. Somewhere out there are brave new worlds to be found and explored.
Reading this book is one way to step into a world where the past may inform the future, especially given the common threads between our current societal struggles and those with which Dr. Sims wrestled. Here's to finding our way to a brave new tomorrow.
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