“Look, Dr. Clarke, this is like Fight Club. What happens at the reg dinners stays at the reg dinners.”
Gulp. What did I get myself into?
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. This was the first week here in Dunedin that has had the feeling of a routine. Get up early, get dressed, drive into work. Work. Drive home from work, make dinner, practice guitar and then go to bed. Repeat. It’s not a bad life, and there is bound to be a bit of this since I do indeed have a job here which requires I show up every day. I did, however, turn 55 years old this week (the double nickel as one of my high school friends suggested), and I received a generous outpouring of very kind birthday wishes from my Stateside friends (thank you all). But I don’t know people here all that well, and I felt a bit awkward announcing my birthday to everyone here. It would feel too much like, “hey, get me a cake” or something like that (now, if blueberries were in season, and someone was willing to bake a blueberry pie, that would be a different story). But despite my little birthday secret, I managed (completely unsolicited, I assure you) TWO social invitations for Friday.
The first invitation was to Friday afternoon ‘diurectic rounds’. Yes that’s really what they’re called (a diurectic is a substance which makes you…ugh…pee). This is a regular Friday afternoon (5pm sharp at a pub, Ombrello’s, a stone’s throw from the hospital) gathering of some of the faculty wherein we discuss various research projects and academic challenges we’ve faced during the week. You believe that, right? It was mostly a liquid refreshment event. I was impressed by the efficiency of the faculty, and clearly I have a lot learn. For example, my first glass of refreshment was poured, which I slowly nursed for the first minute, before I heard the distinct thud of an empty glass landing on the table next to me, and looked to my right to see that indeed, I was WAY behind. “Ready for your second?” I was asked. “Yes,” I said, “I’ll just finish this one” looking at my full glass and then blinking, and finding there was indeed a second glass placed in front in me. I should have had a bigger lunch, I thought. Fortunately, diurectic rounds only last one hour, so how many glasses of fermented hops and grain can you go through in an hour? (don’t do the math). In all seriousness, it was a very fun hour. You loosen your tie (literally), bring your kids (some of them did), and just hang out at the end of the work week. The kids munched on french fries and played games on their iphones, and we just talked about whatever……OH, and we talked a lot about the ALL BLACKS game coming up. The ALL BLACKS are the national Nz rugby team, and next week they play Austrailia here in Dunedin. It’s a big deal. People here follow the ALL BLACKS quite religiously. Tickets start around $165 a seat, and it’s almost sold out. I’m on call that weekend. That combination (me on call, the ALL BLACKS in town) by the way, is not a good one for me.
We said our goodbyes at Ombrello’s, and then I was off to social invitation number two.
Social occasion number was a ‘reg dinner’ at the Gaslight. ‘Reg’ is short for registrar, and a registrar is a senior member of the medical postgraduate training system- kind of like a third year resident in the States (though registrars can work as registrars for several years). Think Grey’s Anatomy, with normal people. I was the only consultant there, but I did my best to fit in. The registrars are from all over the world (New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and all over the UK). They are a fun group. But as we all arrived, I was quickly admonished with the statement about these dinners being like Fight Club. I looked around the room. The women I was sure I could take in a fight, and the men didn’t really seem that intimidating. But I had a feeling the reference to Fight Club had little to do with hand to hand combat, and more to do distilled and fermented beverages. I was worried about that, especially since I was just getting my sea legs back after my recent foray into Ombrello’s. And as the waitress came around the table taking orders, my suspicions were confirmed. I ordered a bottle of beer (most were ordering bottles of wine…..each), and hoped no one would notice it remaining full most of the night. They were a lively group… but alas astute and good with math. Halfway through the dinner, one of them said, “Dr. Clarke, you’ve only had ONE beer!” with as much astonishment as if there was palm tree growing out of my forehead. Busted.
But I saw the beauty in these dinners. The registrars work very hard at the hospital; indeed, without the house officers and registrars the hospital would not function at all. They deal with, no, they ARE the front line. And the dinners were a more primal version of diurectic rounds. This was a chance for them to let their hair down and to say what they were thinking and feeling without having to be guarded. It was therapy and it was wonderful to watch. Everyone there had a great sense of humor…very dry….very sarcastic. I felt at home. Midway through dinner I received the ultimate compliment. “You’re pretty funny, for an American.” Dry wit and sarcasm are waters in which I swim, and several times I had a couple of them on the floor with laughter. One of them said, “You don’t seem American.” Flattery will get you everywhere, just don’t make me drink another beer. The food was very good; I had the lamb risotto (I was told, “Lamb is really good this time of year.” And I didn’t want any more information than that).
We ended dinner at 11pm, four hours after we arrived. What a great evening. And then…they said, “OK, now let’s go get some teapots!” Oh, God. No. What’s a teapot? But curiosity (and bad judgement) got the better of me. We were off to the Octagon. Think back to one of my very first posts: the Octogon is party spot on the weekends. And it was; it was after 11pm and it was just getting started. We went into a bar and one of the regs ordered several ‘teapots’, which sounded innocent until the teapots were delivered with shot glasses. Oh, no…not shot glasses. So, the liquid was poured from the teapots into the shot glasses, we all made a toast (and no, I can’t remember to what we toasted), and down the hatch. I was expecting burning, but wait, what was this? It was sweet, apple-like. It tasted…good. But that was bad. Fortunately, there was so much toasting and downing of the shot glasses, I could nurse a single shot glass for ages. I think no one knew. So at 1am, when it was truly my bedtime, I said my goodbyes ( I suspect most of them stayed for several more hours) and meandered home.
I was quite impressed by the fortitude of the registrars. Many of them had been all over the world (working in ‘training’ situations). They had seen so much, and it was so unlike our own medical education system in the US. I didn’t ask their ages (that often backfires, and someone will ask me how old I am), but they appeared to be in their mid-thirties. Many of them have not yet even selected what specialty they will enter, which is so different from the US, where in your third or fourth year of medical school you have selected the track of training which will determine your whole life. No right or wrong; just a different way to train.
This morning I slept in. Until 730, when it was too bright to sleep any more. I hadn’t planned any fishing today because the weather had been predicted to be rainy all day. But when I woke up, it was clear blue and not a cloud in the sky. I had some coffee (and then some more coffee) and headed into the hospital to look in on a particularly ill patient. I stopped by the Saturday Farmer’s market, of course (a blueberry muffin!), still reveling in the beautiful day. I drove home at noon, noticing the two clouds in the sky. Twenty minutes later is was pouring rain. Then, twenty minutes later the sun was out again. Then, twenty minutes later it hailed…and hard. You gotta love this place. Should I fish or stay home? What the heck, out I went to the beach for some surf fishing.
Yep, this was the end of a wild weather day. Simply amazing. On this beach, the count was: 3 humans (including me), 2 dogs and 1 sleeping sea lion. No fish, but I can’t complain; I got to play with the Labrador Retrievers, who didn’t seem to mind that I was American. (I’m sure they were thinking, ‘He must be American the way he throws the stick, but I’ll chase it anyway!!!!! Labs always end their sentences with exclamation points).
So at the end of a routine kind of week, it was anything but routine. I can’t wait for next week ( I can, really, I have four calls in 7 days). Maybe I’ll host a reg dinner to break it up.