One Paramedics’ Journey Comes to an End

Well, here it is…about 4 hours until one paramedics’ journey comes to an end.  Not quite ready to leave here as I have grown to really acclimate to the climate, the job, the people, and the lifestyle.  It is far from over; this morning we will ride probably at least an hour or two in a Tucker snow machine (a Sno-Cat if you’re more familiar with those) to an ice runway created by our guys on a frozen lakebed.  There I will board a 12 man Cessna Twin Otter that will deliver me to one of two bases, either Kuparuk or Deadhorse, if you don’t know where those are, look them up, it gives an idea of where I have been the last month.  After that, I will be on a 737 and fly about 700 miles into Anchorage which is always beautiful and scenic; I will overnight it there and in the morning be Seattle-bound where I will meet my lady for a couple days of RnR (not rock n roll like I’m used to…but recharging from this tour) Then it will be home to Denver and back to my regular grind as a paramedic, father….average joe life, and hopefully warmer temps.

Being a Paramedic in the Cold

The coldest it got here this year with windchill was around -58, and when it warmed up to about 5 degrees it is seriously warm to me, you have to experience to understand it.  I have grown to love this gig in the 3 tours I have completed here now.  I feel as if I have won the trust over of people who didn’t know me last year but now seem like old friends.  Even learned a couple new tricks on the guitar courtesy of one of the managers here.  Not quite as busy as last year, but there were still plenty of challenges. Then added in is the ever present challenge of coordinating transport out of here…again, look up where we are and you will understand this is not a simple task.  Limited resources, limited time and limited supplies.  It’s what makes it the interesting job it is.

The weather was much more pleasant this year, we had a couple days of steady winds and very dangerous lows but not nearly as cold or windy as last year; there were times last year where I was truly terrified of the weather; ever since I was a kid on the south Dakota plains experiencing tornadoes for the first time, I have always had an interest and respect for the weather.  When it messes with crucial fuel and food supplies and transportation of a sick patient, you develop a whole new level of fear and respect.  Doing this job has made my usual paramedic gig seem very simple.  I seem to have more interesting cases here.  No animal sightings as hoped, perhaps on the way out we will see some caribou but nothing exciting.  I think most of my friends and family are more let down than me for that.  Hopefully, in the

No animal sightings as hoped, perhaps on the way out we will see some caribou but nothing exciting.  I think most of my friends and family are more let down than me for that.  Hopefully, in the future, I will get to see and work in the other seasons and areas this beautiful state and frontier has to offer.  The more I come up here the more intrigued I am by the land, the history of Alaska and how this area is affected by what is going on.

The View from my Window

There was some big news up here lately and I hope that in turn is good news for us.  This field is unpredictable not only for the seismic, oil and gas industry but for us as well; if they don’t work, we don’t work.  Weather, snow levels, tundra conditions all play a factor of which we have zero control.  I am also very impressed with at what lengths the companies here go to for environmental awareness and preservation.  It is a constant from start-up of a job until long after the work is done. It is a collective effort of all involved from the top down.

The respect I have for the individuals who do this work has again grown exponentially.  To see guys that have done this now for over 5 to 10 years and still come back is amazing to me.  I could not do what any of these men and women do out in the field.  We sit in our cozy office with gourmet coffee, the internet, books, movies, conversation, a restroom not 50 feet away, hot showers every day if we so desire; yet complain that our coffee filters are too big for this particular machine…then I look out my window with an amazing view and see the mechanics in the 30 mph wind, doing repairs and maintenance as if they were in a heated garage.  That takes guts and dedication.

The line crews that go far out and do what they do, every day…12 hours a day sometimes for 4 to 5 weeks straight.  The ice check crews who go even further away from camp to ensure the ice is capable of holding the machines they use…it is all impressive to me and I have the highest level of respect and admiration for all of them.  The camp attendants who no matter what the weather, keep our clothes washed and folded, our bedding clean and fresh and our garbage dealt with.  The chore of cleaning the wash-car that includes emptying toilets, keeping showers and sinks clean.  The guys who drive out and collect snow to make water for us to shower in and brush our teeth.  I am thankful for every one of them.

A Big Thanks

Last, I want to thank a few people; of course the General Manager of SALA Remote Medics,  Jason McLaughlin who offered me this opportunity two years ago…I still can’t believe he pay’s me what he does and I get to travel and see places that few other get to.  Our owner Suzan, I could not ask for a better boss and it is nice to be appreciated and hear it.  My partners this year Brian and Sean; this was again a great time!!  Thanks for dealing with my computer illiteracy. But hey… I can now successfully scan and enter stuff and I also created an E-signature on my own. Progress gentlemen!!

My awesome bosses at home specifically Carl Craigle, Chris Mulberry, and Dave Christenson…these guys worked with me and made it possible for this to happen.  Not too many employers let you take off to do another paramedic gig and still figure out a way for you to come back when your season is over. I am forever grateful to them too.

To my significant other Tanya, when I was lonely and sad at 0300 am and two hours behind her in Denver, faithfully answered my texts, face timed me, made me smile and kept me realizing how good this paramedic gig is and how good I have it when I get home.  See you in Seattle in under 48 hours now babe!!

To my parents who sent me coffee and cookies and emailed and called me. Nice to still have your mom and dad available when you’re 3000+ miles away.  Last…my daughters Elissa Lynn and Kaitlyn Michelle for understanding that daddy’s job takes him away from you and sometimes for longer than you want.  Your early morning texts and pictures, face times and phone calls are the highlights of my day when I am here.  You are the reason I do what I do.  I love you more than words can say and beyond forever…my two monkeys!!

Thanks for taking the time to read this…again.  I hope it entertains you, peaks interest and makes you maybe one day consider this as a career, Hopefully, the next installment will be sooner than later.  To all my friends who kept in contact, I thank you as well.  From the paramedic to you…stay safe, be well, and stay in touch!!

By Michael Opp

Nobody Said It Would Be Easy

So I am starting my second year as a remote paramedic; this year we are in the same area but a little south and west of where we were last year; yeah it is still cold…when I landed at Kuparuk it was about -50 with windchill…tonight it is about the same. However, just an hour ago, I was privileged to see the Northern Lights for the first time.  I highly recommend this if it is ever possible for you.

This has been a whole new adventure.  I had about a week and a half to plan this trip out all while trying to maintain good standing with my full-time paramedic employer upon my return as this will likely be a short season for me.  Not that being away from my loved ones for about 4 weeks is short, nor easy.  That’s the only problem with working remotely; it’s very dependent on variable factors that we just cannot control like weather and tundra conditions.  However, I am grateful to be here; most people don’t understand how you can be grateful to be in this weather and so far away, but until you do it, you’ll never know the thrill of it and how rewarding it can really be.

Ice RunwayThe flights from Denver to Seattle to Anchorage and to Kuparuk were usual; 737s full of passengers. Where it gets interesting is the flight from Kuparuk to camp and landing on an ice runway; yes, you read it correct; a Twin Otter with 12 passengers and 2 pilots and one helluva view and anticipation of the landing.  Probably one of the smoothest I’ve ever had and I racked up close to 30,000 miles collectively last year.  The 40 minute Otter flight beats a 3 hour Tucker/SnoCat ride any day.  The lack of snow means a bumpier ride.

This year is already different; I have a new partner and we are doing the day and night shift thing.  I am a night rat by nature so I am fairly happy so far. I do miss having someone to talk to like on the ambulance butIi can also do a lot of reading, learning, and reflecting in these hours.  I’ll also be sending a lot of late night emails so be ready.

The safety meeting has been cool and it was so nice to be remembered, greeted and thanked for care provided last year.  I hope no one is ill nor injured here; but I do enjoy when people just come into the clinic to say hello, welcome back or just need to vent.  Plus we have a good stock of amazing coffee… Not much else; hope to see the Auroras more prominently this trip, but even just seeing them once is an amazing thing.

It’s not easy leaving a decent paying full-time gig, at an agency and a chief and assistant chief and coworkers you really like working for and with; it’s not easy saying goodbye to your kids for a month especially going into dangerous areas of the world we go to.

It is definitely not easy leaving the comfort of your home and loving arms of your significant other (to whom I still owe a huge amount of gratitude for getting me ready for this trip last year…the last minute pep talks, programming my phone with music, making sure I had all I needed and was packed and got to the airport… thank you T… and I love you beyond forever…if it wasn’t for your help last year, I wouldn’t have made it to this year) Your parents, friends and just the easy comforts of living in the city where I live.  Nobody said it would be…but it has been an amazing ride and I am again fortunate to come to a place where I love my employer as family. The people I provide care to are amazing and I get to see things a majority of you never will.

They never said it would be easy, but they also never said it would be so much fun…

 

By Michael Opp

No Place is Safer than Us