I wanted this day to be over

By Arne Vainio, M.D.

News From Indian Country March 2012
I wanted this day to be over. This was Monday and I had been on call since Friday. Friday was a busy office day and after the clinic closed and I was done with my chart work and phone calls, I had to go 25 miles to Duluth and admit 2 hospital patients. Each admission typically takes an hour or so, so it would mean 8 PM was the earliest I would be home. I called Ivy and Jacob told them to go ahead and eat supper without me.

I was paged 3 times as I was driving to Duluth. One was from a new mom with a fussy baby, the second was from someone wanting pain medicines for dental pain. We don’t fill narcotics on nights or weekends and we don’t cover dental issues. The woman on the phone got mad. “What the hell do you even do for us, anyway?” She hung up on me after swearing at me. The 3rd call was from the Cloquet Emergency Room, which meant I had to go 25 miles back to Cloquet to admit another patient after doing the Duluth hospital admissions I hadn’t even gotten to yet. I called Ivy and told her not to wait up.

By the time I got home, it was 11:30 PM and I had a lot of pages to answer. Each call takes 5 minutes or so, but they add up. Often I have to call in prescriptions and have to wade through the pharmacy menus to leave the prescription information. At 4 AM I had to go in for a delivery. Fortunately, everything went well and I was home by 7:30 AM.

A quick shower and it was time to do hospital rounds. There were 11 people in 4 hospitals and it took me until 6 PM to finish rounding. During this time, my pager was going off constantly and I had to return calls. The woman who had called with the dental pain yesterday called again. This time she was drunk and extremely abusive and I ended up hanging up on her.

I was home by 7 PM and was able to eat supper with Ivy and Jacob, but I had had very little sleep and was in bed by 10 PM. At 11:30 I was paged by one of the Emergency Rooms and had to go in for another admission. I was home by 2 AM and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. At 3:30 I was paged by the hospital to change some orders on the patient I had just admitted.

I slept until almost 5 AM, then had to drive 25 miles to evaluate an OB patient to rule out labor. I went in, examined her and checked her cervix, reviewed her labs and was able to send her home by 7 AM. I rounded on the 3 patients that were in that hospital.
By now it was 9:30 AM and I drove to Duluth to finish my Sunday rounding. I was able to send 2 of the hospital patients home, but that’s a longer hospital visit and I didn’t finish rounding until 4:30 PM. I had lots of pages and phone calls during that time.

I was home by 5:30 and was paged 4 times during supper. At about 7 PM I fell asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace.

Ivy let me sleep.

At around 11:30 PM I was paged by the Emergency Room and had to go in for another admission. I got home at 2 AM or so and finally got into bed.

At 3:45 I had to go in for another delivery and didn’t get home until 6:30. It was now Monday morning and I rushed home and took a shower. If I couldn’t finish rounds before clinic, I would have to do them after my clinic day and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t have time for a bowl of cereal, so I grabbed an apple that we had all been avoiding for the last 4 days. It was the only one left. If there was a worm in it, I didn’t want to see it and I faced the squishy side away from me as I bit into it.
I was late for clinic after rounding in the hospitals. I was 2 patients behind all day and had to see patients through my lunch hour. I ate some peanuts I found in my desk and didn’t know how old they were. I was trying to hurry and one of my patients commented on that. I apologized and tried to slow down, but I couldn’t.

My last patient of the day was 6 year old Evan. He only said a few words, but I knew he was very smart. I had sent him to see a specialist for this and he was diagnosed with a pure articulation deficit, which meant he couldn’t talk, but was otherwise fine. Evan always has a smile that makes me think he knows something everyone else doesn’t. We were smiling at each other during his exam and we both enjoyed our visits.

After he left the room, he and his mom went to wait by the aquarium for a referral I had made. I was in the room finishing my chart work when Evan’s mom came rushing back in.

“Evan needs you by the aquarium right away.  He thinks you can fix anything!”

I ran down the hallway and found Evan looking intently into the aquarium.  Floating at the top of the water was an African Frog.  The frog was totally white and not moving and Evan was clearly concerned.  “Veesh! Veesh!” was all he could say as he pointed urgently.

I knelt down by him and we were side by side looking into the aquarium. I started to explain to him that a frog is an amphibian and has to breathe air. Fish have gills and don’t need to come up for air, but frogs do.  As I was talking, the frog finished getting air and suddenly kicked hard and swam to the bottom. Evan slowly turned to look at me with his mouth open and his eyes were wide. His look of absolute awe left no doubt that I alone was responsible for the frog coming back to life. He raised both arms up in a victory salute and beamed at his mom.

As I was leaving for the day, Denise from medical records called out, “Dr. Vainio!” I turned around reluctantly as I didn’t want to fill out another form or make another phone call.

Denise is constantly smiling and is always a bright spot in my day.

“Dr. Vainio, I heard you saved that fish!”

I thought back over my last 3 days. I really needed this one.

 “That’s right, Denise…that’s right.

I did save that fish.”
Arne Vainio, M.D. is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and is a family practice physician on the Fond du Lac reservation in Cloquet, Minnesota. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.