As I was perusing my December issue of the BCMJ, I came across the article “A snowy medical adventure,” by Dr Paul Gelpke [BCMJ 2011;53:565]. As I read the article it didn’t take very long for me to realize that I had been part of that adventure. It had been I who made that urgent call to Dr Gelpke from New Denver on 26 December 1971.
In the winter of 1971–72 I was doing a 3-month locum in New Denver. Like Dr Gelpke, I was also “newly minted,” having just completed my rotating internship at Vancouver General Hospital earlier that year.
At the tender age of 25 I found myself in a solo medical practice, in an isolated rural setting, in the midst of one of the heaviest snowfall years in decades, and responsible for a community’s medical care—including obstetrics.
On the morning of my first day, my first medical service was a delivery. It was the first delivery in the hospital (built in the 1890s) in several years, as the community had been without a physician for some time. I gained some appreciation of my situation when I saw an iron lung, a relic from the 1950s polio epidemic, being stored in the hallway outside the delivery room.
That first delivery exposed several inadequacies in the equipment and general setup in the then-dormant delivery suite, where I would eventually deliver 13 infants.
The second delivery, on Boxing Day 1971, was the infant with ectopia cordis. Even after 40 years I can still clearly see the visible pulsations of the beating heart under a thin layer of skin. The nearest medical facility with specialist services was Trail, and thus I made the call for help to Dr Gelpke.
The transfer entailed a 3-hour trip in the volunteer ambulance over the icy, snow-covered road, which included treacherous segments high up the mountainside, some of which were one lane at that time.
Following the surgery by Dr Ashmore, the story made front page news in the Province, not only because of the difficult journey, the unusual cardiac anomaly, and subsequent successful surgery, but also because this child’s paternal grandfather had died unexpectedly the month before his birth and his father was killed 2 weeks after his birth.
This early experience in solo rural practice is one of my most cherished, albeit scariest, memories in what is becoming a long medical career. I think it is regrettable that medical students today have to decide on their career path so early in their studies. As a specialist, I feel that my time in family practice made me more cognizant of some of the challenges faced by referring physicians and more appreciative of understanding specialists who receive calls for assistance like the one I made all those years ago.
—Glenn Scheske, MD
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