Combining Life and Work at the Center for Sustainable Medicine

Well, I’ve gone and done it, something I’ve been considering for years. I have rented out my house in the woods to the new teacher at the high school, and moved into the old house that holds the Two Rivers Clinic and Center for Sustainable Medicine. One of my colleagues had moved out and another was looking for a shared space with his sweetie, so I said “This is it: an opportunity to try truly sustainable living as a health care provider.” Yes, we’re all here–kids, medical dog and all. The chickens are on their way as soon as I get a fence up. Not all amenities are quite in place yet, but it’s amazing what a localvore can cook up on a single electric burner when friends are coming for dinner, and lucky for me I have several close friends with showers and the best secret swimming hole just a minute’s walk away, since a claw foot bathtub turns out to be a lot more expensive to install than I thought.

My old office is now my bedroom and writing space, and the office next door is back to its original use as the boy’s bedroom. Henry and Alden asked me if they could spray paint the ceiling, and I said “sure.” We went out and collected a bunch of leaves and ferns, and used them as stencils, along with a few paper cutouts of baseball players. We now have the coolest ceiling in town.

Downstairs we have three “clutter-free” zones, the waiting room, my new office (the one with the big window looking out on the old tree, the sunniest room in the house.) and the kitchen. These zones are all in use for my medical practice in homeopathy and community acupuncture, but after school the waiting room turns into our living room, and the kitchen is in use all day, as I often have some wonderful soup or curry cooking up while I’m working—one of the reasons I wanted to live and work in the same space. I told my friends: “Instead of never being home, now I’ll always be home.” It’s great to be able to run upstairs and grab a t-shirt as the day warms up, rather than wishing I had brought a change of clothes since I don’t want to drive 8 miles to get something cooler or warmer to wear. Likewise if a kid forgets a lunchbox or his homework, no biggie, I can just zip it up the hill one mile to the school, rather than having to cancel a patient just to rectify the situation.

Living on Route 113, a two-lane state road that goes all the way from East Thetford to Chelsea, Vermont, and next door to the highway department and their sandpit is a bit of a challenge, noise-wise. My initial panic has calmed down a bit, since I have made an arrangement to use a friend’s hogan for quiet time when I need it. When the pickup trucks start blasting by at rush hour I have learned to flip on a country western station and start frying something up for dinner, and engage in a fantasy that I am a waitress in a little roadside café in some cowboy town out West, waiting for my honey to drop by. (You didn’t know I have a secret desire to be a country western singer, did you?)

In more meditative moods, I pray for a future when the only sound outside will be an occasional bus, bringing all those folks back home on one set of wheels, the way things are in Cuba—with almost no cars on the road, except those turquoise and chrome beauties that have been kept running by sheer ingenuity since 1956. At an alternative clinic I visited there, busloads of elderly people were given free transport from the outlying towns to the clinic in Matanzas where they received every imaginable form of alternative medicine: massage, acupuncture, homeopathy, magnet therapy, and more—all paid for by the Cuban national health care service. The roads are beautifully quiet, even in the city. And the cars that are on the road are required to pick up hitchhikers, in order to conserve fuel.

We have a lot to learn from Cuba, and will soon wish we had paid more attention to what they were doing as they transitioned to a self-sufficient, non-petroleum-based society, rather than bashing them for their politics.

The Cuban model of community medicine is part of what inspired me to try living here in the clinic. In Cuba, there is one doctor for about every 250 people, and the doctor lives right in the neighborhood, practicing out of a home-based office, so that she is available to the people who live there at all times, and knows her patients in more contexts than just office visits.

By having a home-based clinic, I don’t have to pay to heat my home when I’m at work, or my work when I’m at home, or waste all that fuel either. I can pay one electric bill, and have one internet service. I can start supper during a break and mail out a package of medicine as I take my dog for her morning walk. My kids can jump on the school bus in the morning, and get off in the afternoon, and I can spend several days at a time without needing to even start the car (not to mention that I’m right next door to the auto repair shop.) If a kid has a cold, I don’t have to cancel the whole day’s work; I can stash them up in their room and check in on them periodically while they sleep it off. Snow, sleet, rain? No problem, I’m already at work. If patients don’t get here, well, I can catch up on paperwork, or take a nap.

As for the road noise? Well, I may look for a quieter place to do this work/home thing, or I might just bank on the inevitability of buses in rural Vermont, or the fact that even my hearing will probably dull with the years. In the meantime I’m on the pick-up drop-off drop-in route for friends ready to pick up kids on the way to little league practice or just stopping by for a chat, and passing farmers who stash raw milk, fresh meat, and hand-picked raspberries in my fridge when I’m not looking, in trade for acupuncture.

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