Travels With TL: Salida

salida 0220
Salida as I saw it: hospital off to the right, pleasant little walking trail to the left, the Sawatch Range front and center. The weather looks nice, but a cold wind was a-blowin’.

I first met Ed Quillen at a Headwaters Conference hosted by what was then Western State College. I was standing nearby as he told a man from New Mexico that he was from Salida. In good Colorado fashion, he said, as we all do, Suh-lie (as in tell one)-duh.

The man from New Mexico frowned, and then asked, “Is that like the Spanish salida?” Which he pronounced Saw-lee-daw. Ed, who very sadly is no longer with us, told his questioner yes, the origin of his town’s name is the Spanish word for “exit,” but that there is a geographic line — the location of which I don’t remember — north of which all Spanish pronunciations get anglicized. Which is a polite way of saying, pronounced wrong. [You ought to hear what we do to Buena Vista.]

However you’d like to pronounce it, Lynn and I headed to Ed’s town yesterday as part of our Medical Tour of Colorado. Lynn wanted to know if I was going to try to look up Ed’s wife Martha, but it turned out to be a good thing I hadn’t made her part of my plan for the day.

Because here’s the thing with medical tours: they’re extremely unpredictable, and make planning anything that might actually be fun, like seeing old friends, hard to do.

Let’s just take yesterday as a fine example of this. Lynn and I both went all the way to Salida, 60-some miles (Ed also had a quarrel with that; as he noted in print, the sign from Gunnison says one thing, while the sign from Salida has a different number. I think one says 60 while the other calls the same distance 66) over a really large hill on account of two tiny spots.

One of these spots is a color-changing patch above Lynn’s lip, and the other is an invisible but palpable bump on my neck. And while Salida’s dermatology clinic sends a doctor to Gunnison once a month, there are so many skin issues in Gunnison that the clinic is currently already booked through September. So instead of the dermatologist coming to us, we went to her.

It turns out, it does not take two hours to drive to Salida — at least, not while the sun is shining, traffic is low and Monarch Pass is reasonably clear of snow. Under those conditions, even with driving the most convoluted route through the town of Salida an electronic device can create, it takes one hour and 20 minutes to go from one of our vet clinics (because it wouldn’t be a complete tour without a stop to get animal meds) to the dermatology clinic, located in the vicinity of Salida’s reasonably new hospital.

[A hospital, by the way, that was built by Chris Landry, a Lake City boy who went to Gunnison High School and then Colorado School of Mines. When he was in Salida building the hospital he and his wife Michelle, a Gunnison native, would come over to watch Mines play Western in football. Chris was a good enough player himself that he served as the Mines kicker for a year or two, until he decided he didn’t enjoy the pressure.]

So we were there early, but not really early enough to locate a restaurant, let alone patronize it. Oz and I did find a little walking path that runs just south of the hospital with several memorial benches, what looked to be a lone par-course station, and a conveniently-located pet waste station.

My appointment was set for 1:15 and Lynn’s a half-hour after that, so we assumed we were back-to-back. We assumed wrong. I had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts in WebMD magazine on how you can’t know a stranger (which seems in contrast to his book Blink, on the snap intuitions you make about people you see), a scenario that often pertains to a doctor-patient relationship. There was also a lamentation about the amount of time doctors must spend on electronic health records, even while in the room with the patient, further reducing extremely limited face time.

Dr. Echols, however, spent all her room time on literal face time while her assistant took notes on a iPad. She quickly diagnosed a deep sebaceous cyst for which I will have to return to Salida in a month for exorcism of —

[Having already paid my doctor in Gunnison $700 post-insurance to unsuccessfully remove this, I am wondering why we expect a plumber to repair the damage his faulty hot-water heater installation caused at his expense, but I get to pay for medical procedures whether they work or not.]

— and then moved on to a myriad of pre-cancerous dots all over my face that she proceeded to zap with nitrogen.

Then she said she had “several” patients to see before Lynn’s appointment, and we were sent back to the waiting room, where I read of experts’ predictions for the future of medicine. Right as Lynn was saying how exciting it is that medicines will ultimately be adapted to each individual’s genome, I read that exact same prediction from a PhD.

Without consulting  a clock, I feel Lynn and I got called back (different exam room) more or less on time for Lynn’s appointment, but then she got to sit there in a gown (having opted for the full-body scan) for probably half an hour before the doctor came back, wanting to know if we’d done “anything fun” between our appointments. As if anything could be more fun than reading a months-old edition of WebMD magazine.

When Lynn was finally released, with fewer but a couple slightly more concerning pre-cancerous spots (subjected to the nitrogen treatment) than me, it was approaching 3 p.m., and I was in a food rage beyond the help of any Snickers bar.

I asked the humorless receptionist for a restaurant recommendation, but as Lynn drove a second block past our instructions, which were centered on a downtown location with several eateries, I realized that if we left a neurotic Oz in the car for another hour by himself he was probably going to literally scream that entire time.

And so we defaulted to Sonic, now an “exotic” food because it’s no longer available in Gunnison. (Their Sonic is a lot faster than ours, and I have to say, Sonic’s ice cream is about 50 times better than McDonald’s.)

After which we drove immediately home, still in sunshine and no traffic, despite passing Monarch Ski Area right at closing time (perhaps everyone was finishing a last run, because the parking lot seemed full).

And, as I approach my self-imposed word limit, I realize this was far less about Salida than it was about the inner workings of dermatology, so really, more about “medicine” than “travel.” On the other hand, that’s about all I saw of Salida despite spending three hours in transit and three more in a foreign land.

So you don’t get to hear me ramble on about the conflagration waiting to happen on Monarch Pass from the multitude of dead evergreens, or the housing boom (mostly ugly) that appears to be happening in Poncha Springs, or even the story about the guy I met in college who told me he was from a little place no one had ever heard of, Poncha Springs. “I drive through it all the time,” I told him, although I didn’t tell him I really didn’t think people actually lived in it.

Perhaps the travelogue will have to wait for the return trip in a month. Set your timers — I’m sure you don’t want to miss it the way we missed the full Salida Experience yesterday.

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