Thursday, November 25, 2010


(l to r) Stefan, me, and Dad enjoying some beers and laughing about life, Germany 2008
there were a lot of big events in 2010 that took place in my life, and just when i thought all of the big, bad changes in my life were behind me (how many times can one count to three, anyway?) one more event took place--the death of my father.

it's no surprise to many when i say that my dad and i didn't get along that well.  we butted heads a lot.  but even through all of the disagreements, i think both of us were thinking, "(s)he's a lot like me."  i have learned a lot about my dad in the past few weeks, from people that he was friends with and people that he worked with.  i've gotta tell you, what they said surprised me to a certain extent, but then again...

through our stubbornness, we have seen some friends come and go.  it's the friends that stick beside you through thick and thin that matter the most.  it's the friends that can look past your stubbornness and see a drive and a will like no other to get a project done or to attain a goal.  true friends realize this.  the others step aside and don't realize what they are missing.

through stubbornness there are regrets, for sure.  regrets for the relationships that couldn't stand up to a passionate energy that sometimes does not have the decency to be polite, but is instead brutally honest.

through the kind words that others have said about my father:  "He was always telling us guys what you kids were doing and how proud he was of your accomplishments.  He was the adoring father even though his sometimes gruff German manners did not let it show.  We all knew how he cared."  i've reflected a lot on what others have said about me as well.  and i've realized how much my father and i really were alike in so many ways--for good and for bad.

i'm thankful today for the friends and family who have stuck by me for good and for bad.  i'm also thankful for the people that stepped aside or walked away from me.  because what i have learned from them has been so important as well.  sometimes we learn more from failure, and sometimes failure is not that at all--it is an opening to something new and different that would have otherwise been unrealized.

i'm thankful for my father and his stubbornness to see his goals to fruition.  for his passionate drive to do what he thought was right even if others thought differently.  i'm thankful for what i learned from him, for good and for bad.  because even what seems wrong or unfair at the time, somehow always has a way of working out to be for the best in the end.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Radar Road

I’m going to use this opportunity without television and without internet (except the trusty iPhone*) to get some more ‘sploring in…  right out the backdoor is Radar Road, aptly named because it goes up to a peak where the two large golf-ball like antennas are perched.

I walked a nice 6-mile out and back with the dogs yesterday and today I turned it into a loop:  several miles on the paved road, but who cares…  the only other person out there is a lady named Annie walking her two dogs:  a Weimaraner and a Basset Hound mix.  I did put the stubborn yellow-dog on a leash for part of the loop today, because if you look away for only a couple of minutes, before you know it she is about a quarter-mile away chasing a jackrabbit through the sage- and rabbit-brush.

I have to say, the rabbit brush is in bloom and smells like cherry candy.  it is eerily peaceful to run through the high desert with the wind blowing 20 miles per hour, the temp around 30 degrees, and the brilliant sunshine glancing off of snow-covered car wreckages.  really, it’s not so bad, it’s just different.  running in the desert is a good way to kill a couple of hours and to work on this jelly-roll that has formed around my mid-section.

I foresee that this 7.5 mile loop likely becoming a favorite of mine and the dogs’ while we are out here in T-pah.

*PS:  a huge thank you to the Tonopah Public Library for providing free Wi-Fi that I accessed from my car in the parking lot in order to update my blog today (Sunday).

Friday, November 19, 2010

long weekend in T-pah

dust clouds off of the salt flats in Big Smoky Valley

Kingston Reservoir

I decided to stay in Tonopah this weekend, since I am only working Tuesday of next week before heading back to Salt Lake for Thanksgiving.  I haven’t felt all that great the last few days:  sore throat, and generally just “worn out”—probably from all of the traveling and new situation and everything…  so I didn’t feel like driving for 6 hours and then just coming back for one day of work…

but I gotta tell you, this is a really small town.  like, really small.  there’s not even a good diner to go and get breakfast and read a book for an hour or so.  the best breakfast in town is probably McDonald’s.  so I choose to stay home…  or drive.

yesterday, I drove to a trailhead 100 miles away from town to go for a 5 mile run.  since I haven’t been feeling well the last few days, 5 miles was all I could handle.  I vaguely remember reading something on the internet before leaving Salt Lake about a “Crest Trail” of some sort, so I decided to go and try to find a trailhead.

my curiosity was rewarded.  just West of the town of Kingston is the northern end of a 70-mile single-track trail.  unfortunately for me, it was covered in about 6 inches of wind-crusted snow which made the going a little difficult.  but I was able to envision what this trail might look like in May or June…  single-track loveliness winding through the sagebrush and across the peaks of the Toiyabe National Forest.

start of the Toiyabe Crest Trail
the dogs loved it too (obviously) and the 200-mile round trip killed the better part of the long day out here in this lonely little town.  a winter storm is rolling in, which will make traveling a bit more challenging, and probably force me to stay home most of the weekend.  but there are a lot of dirt double-tracks right outside the backdoor, and I went on an hour and a half walk with the dogs today and found a very nice loop.

I’ll be happy when Tuesday rolls around, so that I can work and see folks at the clinic.  ‘til then, we’ll hope the weather clears so I can get some more exploring in with the dogs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

week one in T-pah

Well, my first week “by myself” went pretty well.  I was the only provider in the clinic on Tuesday and Thursday, and Dr. S was at the clinic one hour north of here, and was available by phone.  I was forced to try to think through situations by myself, and did not allow myself to get rushed by staff (too much).  The mornings seem to start out pretty nice and steady and then as five-o’clock gets nearer, the pace starts to pick up.  This is contrary to what my body wants to do, as at 3:30pm I am longing for a cup of coffee and a little siesta.

It’s also a challenging situation on Thursday afternoons, because the only pharmacy for 100 miles closes at six-o’clock and doesn’t reopen until 10am on Monday.  So, if you’ve got a patient that needs something (like, say, antibiotics…) you’ve got to make a decision sometimes without the help of technology (like, say, a CT scan).

And so I found myself, at 5-o’clock Thursday afternoon, with a male patient with acute left-lower quadrant abdominal pain, a previous appendectomy, and a clean urinalysis…  hmmm…

So I had to do some quick thinking.  Worst case scenario—diverticulitis.  Best case scenario—constipation.  But with the pharmacy closing in less than an hour, I didn’t have time to get the CT scan of his abdomen to make a definitive decision.  So, I called in antibiotics to the pharmacy anyway (along with pain medications) and waited for the 2 hour window for my patient to drink his contrast (at home—it’s nice when the hospital is only 10 minutes away from anywhere in this town) and then proceed to get his scan done.

While waiting, I sat down for a chat with Dr. S in his office and we looked at photos and talked about his last medical mission trip to Mali, Africa (I’m invited on the next trip in October!).  Then the phone call came…  Dx:  Diverticulitis!  Woohoo!  My gut feeling was right (pardon the pun), and I did it!  Go ahead and take those antibiotics, Mr. Patient! 

There’s a lot of down-time out here too, and on Wednesday, my day off, I decided to go up to the BLM Field Office and get some maps.  I love small towns, when you can just walk into a place and instantly be friends with someone.  Steve sold me a couple of maps, and gave me another because it had not been updated in the last 10 years, and also gave me a bunch of “things to do around Tonopah” recreation maps and brochures.

So after eating lunch on Wednesday, I decided to drive 90 miles out to the Wild Burro Refuge west of town.  Lovely drive, but I wouldn’t want to break down out there.  There is nothing but mountains and sagebrush.

So I got to the Wild Burro Refuge, and realized that it is really difficult to find 85 wild burrows in 68,000 square acres of sagebrush and mountains.  The dogs had a nice time romping around in the desert and eating wild burro poop, though.  On the drive back to town I spotted some wild horses off the side of the highway, so the trip was not all for naught.  You might ask, how did Nevada end up with wild burros?  Well, it turns out they are remnants from the age of gold and silver mining, abandoned creatures when the miners abandoned their mines… a little sad, really.  But I’m sure they are much better off roaming free in the desert rather than lugging around mining implements as their ancestors did.   It was really quite a pretty spot out there in the West Desert of Nevada, with views of the Sierras and large salt marshes between the peaks. 

Apparently, (as Dr. S informed me last night) the alluvial soils of Nevada are very favorable to agriculture, if one can just tap into the large underground aquifer hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth.  It is theorized that a large river may even run the length of the continent, stretching from Canada down to Mexico.  If a well is drilled in the correct spot, it can supply upwards of 300 gallons per minute of water to the surface (don’t close the tap…  always leave a little bit dripping… or you might have “thar’ she blows!” on your hands).  Indeed, alfalfa and potatoes are grown in abundance in Nevada:  two crops that are known for their need for adequate irrigation.
Another thing I learned from traveling out here in the West Desert is that upon my return to Utah, the Wasatch Mountains look even more magnificent when viewed from the west.  As I drive through the brilliant sunshine of the desert the Wasatch Mountains creep into view out on the eastern horizon:  blanketed in snow and clouds.  Each time I make the trip home those mountains tug at my heartstrings, making my return to and departure from Utah even a little more bittersweet.  Until next time…

Saturday, November 13, 2010


there's a place in the Utah Desert called the Upheaval Dome.  i remember visiting it years ago with some college friends when i was on a camping trip.  it must have been almost twenty years ago now.  there was something eerily moon-like about that place.  almost like a crater had formed in the Earth's surface, but in a mirror image of what it should have been.  it is some geological anomaly.

the reason i mention it, is because my emotions have been in a cycle of upheaval for the last month.  right around my birthday, a month ago today, i found out that my dad was in the hospital in Germany.  we all knew that he was ill and his prognosis was not good but for the last year or two he had been steadily plugging along.  he and his girlfriend had just been to my brother's wedding in Idaho in August and he didn't look too bad.

he left me a message on my voicemail on my birthday.  i had been out hiking with the dogs and although in a fog, he had figured out how to dial from Germany to the US to wish me a happy birthday; something he had typically failed to do in the past when he was healthier.  then several days later i was able to call him back and talk with him, but he was quite ill and confused.  he did recognize my voice though, and i could tell that he was happy that i had called.

a call came from my brother, Stefan, several days after that, that our dad was indeed doing quite poorly and  Stefan and his wife Abigail decided to fly out to Germany to see Dad.  i also booked a flight but a few days after they had gotten theirs.  we would all meet up together in Düsseldorf to be with Dad.

but life rarely goes according to plan, and as i was traveling i got a text from my brother that Dad had passed away.  Stefan had been at his bedside, and heard his last breath.  so my trip to say goodbye to my dad would be just that.  i met up with Stefan and Abigail after a difficult trip (my flight was canceled out of Denver, and i had to re-route the next day through Chicago).  Stefan had already taken care of the cremation and getting the urn transferred to Dad's hometown in Southern Germany, miles away from Düsseldorf.

to put it simply:  they do things differently in Germany than they do in the USA.  and nothing seems simple.  especially when you are trying to negotiate a delicate situation in your second-language.  we had to plan a funeral, deal with a house, and bills, and reams of old paperwork.  it's the kind of thing you really don't want to deal with ever in life, let alone when your dad has not written out a Last Will and Testament.  German bureaucratic paperwork that takes an eternity to accomplish was seeming to us like it would never be brought to completion.  and we were in the midst of a three-day holiday weekend, where everything comes to a virtual standstill.

but through all of the stress and sadness, old friends of ours and our dad's stood up to help us out.  Stefan and i reunited with our uncle, who had had a falling out with our dad years ago (they had not spoken for probably ten years...) and our uncle came to the funeral.  our mom's best friends helped us forward the mail, plan the funeral, order the flowers, and made us dinner.  their son agreed to continue to be the caretaker to our dad's house. our dad's good friend helped us get his death certificate released early so that we could close bank, pension, and phone accounts.  we really couldn't have done it without them.

and ironically, we made the time to go to some of our favorite places in the mountains of our dad's little Bavarian town to laugh and smile a bit too.  we visited with old friends and told stories about how we had traveled together when we were kids.  through the sorrow and stress we were also lifted up.

i got home Friday night, and turned around on Sunday to drive to my new job in Nevada.  a six hour drive from Salt Lake City through the desert, when all i really wanted to do was lie in bed.  but hours alone in the car (not really alone--i had the two dogs with me) gives one time to clear the head.  and after a half a day, i arrived in Tonopah, NV.

just when i thought things could not get worse, i stepped into my own little version of Hell.  the apartment that i had been set up to live in while on my three-month travel assignment turned out to be a total shit-hole.  i made an honest effort to clean it before getting "settled in", but in reality i was really glad to have my Hepatitis immunizations up to date.  i took the dogs around the back of the building for a pee-break, and was afraid i would find old hypodermic needles amongst the cigarette butts and old burned out car wrecks.  after one night in the place, my lungs burned from the 30-odd years of old, stale cigarette smoke in the place.  one of the dogs peed on the carpet, and i didn't bother to clean it up--that's how bad it was.  i had to get out. 

i went to work at the hospital, my first day, and was delighted to find that i am working with probably one of the most brilliant rural emergency and internal medicine doctors in the nation, if not in the world.  Dr. S is an Italian-American with a limitless amount of energy and determination.  i will learn so much from this man, and am so honored that he feels i am up for the task of partnering with him in his practice for the next three months.

i got set up with a much better place to live, and the dogs have the wide-open spaces of the desert right out the back door.  i take them for 6am morning strolls before heading into work.  we watch the sun come up over the peaks and i think what a lucky person i am to have this serene place to myself.

i've hardly had time to process all of these swings in emotions.  my chest feels like the Upheaval Dome--a deep emptiness lies within my chest:  an inverted crater which is being filled up with love and confidence from those around me.

we never really know what we have until something is taken away.  we never really know what our potential is until we are placed in a new environment.  like the sign in Dr. S's office says, "if you think you may have just entered hell, keep going... "  yes, it does get better.