We live in a very small town…….
19.10.2015 - 01.12.2015 20 °C
Our first few weeks in NZ have been all about getting settled. Twizel is a very, very small town. The population is roughly 1500 people and the closest city is roughly 120 km away. Everybody already knows who I am before I introduce myself and Charles is known as the American with the fluffy beard or just as the new doctor’s partner. Although we are now comfortable with driving on the left side of the road, there have been a few other adjustments. We don’t have a clothes dryer and we hang dry our clothing. I am likely spoiled, but I have never had to do this. We also do not have heating or central air and must heat our house with a wood burning stove or space heaters. Given it is still spring here, our house can get quite chilly in the morning when it drops below 0 Celsius overnight. Actually, because we are living on the front range of the Southern Alps, the weather is very erratic. Freezing most nights with wind gusts that feel like they are going to rip the roof off the house, and with the limited ozone in this part of the world, very, very hot sun. We have learned you can achieve a memorable sunburn in 30min or less if not careful. Sticker shock has also been part of our transition. NZ is quite expensive; most items cost 2-4X the cost in the US.
I have started work at the Twizel Medical Centre. I work Monday through Thursday and do a combination of clinic and local emergency coverage. My clinic is a mix of chronic medical problems and urgent care. Given I am only one of two physicians in the Mackenzie High Country of the Southern Island, I can see any type of patient in clinic and it has been pushing my skills as a rural family doctor. There are many other differences about practicing in NZ. For example, no patients say they are sick, “buggered” = sick. Every illness or medical problem is a “wee” problem no matter how severe. The most common illness I see is asthma. Interestingly, asthma and severe seasonal allergies are the number 1 and 2 diagnosis affecting > 30% of the population and no one uses inhalers correctly. With no ozone, the public health campaign against skin cancer is very strong. The population is very fair skinned and mainly of Scottish descent on the South Island. We do multiple skin biopsies daily for abnormal moles or changing lesions; unfortunately most end up being cancer. Also, thankfully NZ has nowhere near the pain killer addiction problem that the US is struggling with; ibuprofen and paracetamol (Tylenol) are prescription here! In general, the population is quite healthy. The norm is to be very active. I see many patients daily age 60-80 that bike > 100 kilometers per week. Many more comparisons and stories to come in the future about medicine in Twizel, NZ.
Charles has also started working for a local builder, RAD Building. Yes, the company name is RAD. Twizel is an “up and coming” vacation spot for New Zealanders and is growing quite rapidly. They needed someone with carpentry skills and he was offered multiple jobs immediately. He is learning entertaining words for random parts of a house. Also, it is quite obvious that the New Zealand building code is very different from the United States building code.
Charles and I have lucked out and ended up with three-day weekends every week. We have used this time to start exploring. We leave Twizel nearly every weekend and travel to many local towns including Wanaka, Queenstown, Timaru, and Oamaru. Given the snowline remains quite low and we do not plan on taking up mountaineering this year, we have mainly been riding our new bikes.
NZ is very bike friendly. Biking can be divided into three areas including road biking, mountain biking and cross-country biking. I feel most people understand road biking and mountain biking. However, cross-country biking is new to me. There are many trails > 200km in distance that cross scenic parts of NZ. They are a mixture of gravel roads, easy to intermediate single track, and small amounts of road riding. They require a mountain bike to complete. One of these trails called the “Alps to Ocean” trail crosses in front of our house. Many travelers spend 3-7 days completing one of these trails. Living locally has been nice because you can cheat and just ride 10-20km of the most scenic portions. Mountain biking is more limited in NZ. The trails tend to be either mountain biking parks or very intense, long, and technical whole mountain rides. We have visited a few of the mountain biking parks in Wanaka and Timaru and they are fun short term but I have grown to love the cross country biking due to the scenery that can be taken in while pedaling. I hope Charles and I will get a chance to do a couple of the complete 3-7 day rides.
Christmas and summer are approaching fast. It is odd to be seeing Christmas lights and Christmas decorations while wearing shorts, tank tops and “jandals” (sandals). We have a few backpacking trips planned over the holiday and hope to share more of our adventure in the Southern Hemisphere soon.