On the fringe


Dunedin is on the fringe.  Such a vibrant city and so far south.  Keep heading south and your next stop is Antarctica.  The Central Otago wine region is on the fringe, said to be the southernmost wine region in the world.  And today’s offering from Central Otago is the 2009 Clyde Village Pinot Noir.  It’s a classic Central Otago pinot; ruby red, that classic pinot bouquet, and a dozen different flavors which explode in your palate with the first sip, and the lovely lingering aftertaste.   I had a sip when I first opened it…very good…but an hour later it was stunning.  A spinach salad and vegetable curry for dinner alongside my glass of wine.  It took restraint to not keep on pouring more…but, I have to save some for tomorrow (and have save my liver).

And so many people here live on the fringe.  By that, I mean they get by, just barely, until something happens that pushes them over the edge.  And it doesn’t take much.  Today, I had 19 patients to see in the hospital (I was on call last night).  Three of the 19 were there because they had tripped and fallen.  Think about it….how many times a week do you trip on something?  But, you usually don’t fall because you have the strength and agility to catch yourself.  And even if you do fall, you usually just brush yourself off, hope no one saw your blunder, and go on with your life.  For three of my patients, one fall put them in the hospital.  One person dislocated their shoulder, another broke their wrist, another hit their head and developed a two subdural hematomas (collections of blood around the brain).  Three-fourths of the patients I’m caring for live alone, their spouse having passed away anywhere from a few months to several decades ago.  The average patient I care for is 85 years old.  Many just barely get by each day.  It only takes one little thing to put them over the edge.  They live, day to day, on the fringe.

But when you talk to them, you’d never know their existence is so precarious.  The patient who dislocated their shoulder, who is in their 90’s, was walking almost a mile from home to hear a lecture at the University.  Another patient, whose heart and lungs were so bad they could barely walk to the mailbox said, “It’s OK, because if I can’t make it to the mailbox today, I”ll just try it again the next day.”  The prevailing sentiment is ‘I”ll be OK’.  I can’t tell you how often I have heard people say those words.  And they don’t always mean they think they will soon be well, they just accept how things are going to turn out.  I have a patient who is too weak to eat; I asked if they wanted a feeding tube and they said, “No Way!”.

This is only my sixth week in the country.   I am impressed by the people I have met.  They smile….a lot.  They are grateful, even for little things.  They have reasonable expectations.  I have so much to learn.


This is one of the parks along the Dunedin waterfront.  It has a name, but I call it Molar park, because these statues look like molars.  And tomorrow my son Ryan’s molars are on the fringe…surgically.  So, Ryan, tomorrow I will be thinking of you all day.  I am sorry I can’t be there with you when you have those wisdom teeth removed, but fortunately you are such a wise soul you will not miss them.  I love you, little buddy.  You will be OK.


Published by dave clarke

I am different things to different people. Husband, father, doctor, teacher, friend, or if you're a fish, a fly fisherman. But really, I'm just a guy trying to learn about life, and if I'm lucky, maybe teach a little bit along the way. If I were a golfer (I'm not) I would be on the back nine of my life, or if I were a book, there would be more pages turned than not. Any yet, I'm far from finished creating chapters of my life. The goal of Next Chapters is inspiration, and I'm hopeful the traffic goes in both directions.

6 thoughts on “On the fringe

  1. Hi. Your post begs so many more comments, but I’m going to focus on this: have you thought about starting a page on your blog just listing the different wines you’ve tasted??
    I’m still loving your stories.

    1. That’s a great idea. I’ll start that for sure. More stories in a few days….going trout fishing this weekend (it’s Nz after all) so should have some interesting stories from that, and from work today. A little sad, though (about work).
      Thank for following along,

  2. What a great blogpost – the residents in Otago are so fortunate to have a compassionate doctor in their midst. You have no idea what it means to them… Keep up the great work you’re doing. Hope the molars are merely a distant memory for your son by now!

  3. I love your observation about reasonable expectations. It allows time to pause, take a slow, steady breath, and smile.

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