My last shift

It’s getting close. Steve was packed – until I unpacked his disemboweled guitar to take a picture of it. Serves him right, overachiever! I haven’t exactly started, but I’ve been piling stuff around the self packing cat, quietly seething. Which books? How many shoes? Mosquito repellant or sun screen or both? Amish skirt, the gray or the khaki? And if I pack 2 pairs of sneakers and the kickboxing DVDs does that count as working out or do I still have to do the work?

Freezing sun on Lake Champlain

The cold is sharp. -5F, getting colder, predicted down to -40F with the wind chill. It’s so cold you don’t want to breathe it in. It’s so cold that the clothes don’t matter, colder than it should be legal anywhere but the poles. I wish we could package those minuses and Fed Ex them to the Polar Bears.

Iced North Country

Steve made arrangements to forward the mail. Our neighbors asked how often to water our plants – once a week is good? Hah! I do it every blue moon, no wonder they keep dying! Today’s the last garbage day. In two days we’re driving to Buffalo, 7 hrs away, with the cat and the dog. Just let that sink in!

My last shift is tonight.

That’s bittersweet. Medicine has been good to me, when it didn’t tear me to pieces.  I learned about people and diseases while I almost lost my native tongue. I’m wiser, tougher, and more confident than when I started but I lost my youth and my stamina, and my future is running short. I acquired a new identity – I am now a doctor at work or at home, in the ED or on a plane – but I lost my reverence for the magic of medicine. I’ve become independent but I lost my sleep and my strength. Thanks to medicine I’ve travelled the world from Eastern Island to The Komodo Island, from the North Cape to Patagonia and everywhere in between.

Canals and windmills – The Netherlands, of course

I was awed by its beauty, torn by it’s sorrows, and shared in it’s hopes. I made friends everywhere. Many friends.

I loved sharing in the lives of my patients and knowing them and their families. I loved feeling useful and appreciated and sometimes even loved.

Most of all I loved belonging to the ER community, my own MASH, in the war against death, suffering and destruction, all of us together against The Others. I love many and I like most and I respect every one’s courage, grit and ruthlessness against evil.

They had my back. They were the best family I’ve ever had and I will miss them dearly. I already do. They are my friends and their lives and their stories will be fodder for my writing. We laughed and we cried together. We saved lives together and we failed together. We were a team.

It’s wonderful to have been through this, and it’s even better to move on to a new chapter, to another adventure, to my next life. Every tomorrow means yesterday is dead. The memories remain. My ER team is a part of me. I’ll take them with me to the Far East and I’ll drink a Chang in their honor and I’ll see their faces on my pages. I’ll keep up with them on the Net and who knows? Some day we’ll meet again.

Summer midnight in Norway.

Carol, Sheila and the bird (and how on earth did we ever get there in the first place)

None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Carol. Or for Sheila. And especially  for the bird.

Carol and Rada. Steve found the label.


Sheila was the Lead Nurse – Canadian, Eh? on my working cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore. I had tagged on to it a 2 weeks vacation in Chiang Mai, 3 hours away,  to find the bird.

I had fallen in love with a carved bird in Ayutthaya – former Thai capital, now mostly ruins and tourists. It was a shabby, heavy and worn embodiment of flight. It spoke to my heart. I tried to buy it. It wasn’t for sale. That’s how Thais are: If it’s not for sale, it’s not for sale. It was too big to steal. “Go to Chiang Mai, that’s where they make them.” the owner said. So, after searching “Thai carved bird” on Ebay for a year – no luck – we decided to go to Chiang Mai to find it.

Sheila – a woman used to making decisions for everybody around her – did I mention she’s an ER nurse? decided that Steve and I were going to meet her old friend Carol  – another ER nurse living in Chiang Mai.

We didn’t want to bother Carol. In fact we didn’t even want to meet Carol, we had better things to do. Like looking for birds. Carol wanted nothing to do with us either. We were tourists. To expats, that’s a four letter word. Like rat.

Everybody uses scooters. Everybody.

Sheila couldn’t have cared less about what any of us wanted. She had made up her mind. We struggled. We pleaded. No go. We were going to meet Carol and that was that.

Carol kindly invited us to visit her condo before going out for lunch. She was going to ditch us if we were obnoxious. We were good with that, it gave us an out if she was a bore.

After many soothing Changs, balm to our throats scorched by the Thai Spicy (Hot, Hot, Hot!) lunch, we ambled home. We had a new friend.

Chang (Elephant) beer, 21 oz, 6.4% alcohol. Soothes the burn.

Thanks to Carol, Sheila and the bird, our lives changed that day. I’d been in love with Thailand for years, but I couldn’t fathom leaving our life to move to the end of the earth, no more than I could see a tree relocating. Carol showed us that people, unlike trees, can grow new roots. She had left her job, her home, her family, her life in Canada and she was happier for it. She had built her new life and made new friends. She was eating Thai food every day and getting foot massages and never ever shoveled snow. She was learning Thai, doing yoga and having fun. I envied her. I wanted to be her.

Restored Teak loungers looking over the mountains. Welcome, morning coffee! 

December 2017, three years later we are heading to our condo, 3 doors away from Carol’s. It has a dining table with place for many friends, a TV with mostly Thai channels, and a refrigerator full of drinks, thanks to Steve. It has my new old rosewood rocking chair and views to the mountains. We’re short on forks (only 2) – but our friends gave us plenty of glasses.

And the bird, you ask? Well the bird… the elusive bird…It stays in Plattsburgh on the bedroom wall for when we come back. While in Thailand we’ll just look at it’s twin, the one I got for Carol.

The Bird.