This morning I was sitting in the coffee-shop in the Perth domestic airport, filling in time before my Sunday morning flight. I’m getting to be a bit of a regular there now, almost at the stage where I can ask the barista for “the usual” with some degree of confidence. I was heading back to South Australia, this time for a two week locum on Kangaroo Island.
This will be my seventh locum trip in 9 months, and I have to admit, it’s getting pretty tiring. The novelty of travel is wearing off a little and I’m finding it harder and harder to leave each time.
Most people would be familiar with the feeling of starting a new job; that strange mix of anxiety and excitement, always trying extra hard at the beginning to be likeable and fit in. It takes a little while before you start to settle in, learn everyone’s names, figure out where the tea room is, work out the local systems and become more efficient at doing your job. Well – I’m that “new girl” every 5 or 6 weeks, and I never ever get to the stage of feeling completely comfortable and efficient at my job, particularly when I’m extending beyond my existing skill set into new areas such as emergency medicine or palliative care.
On top of the new job, I’ve also got the extra challenge of living in a new house, in a new town where I often haven’t been before, don’t know my way around and might only know one or two people, or sometimes none at all. I’m trying to work out how to live a good life in a strange place and am continuously interacting with people I’ve only just met. Again, this is pretty exhausting. Sometimes it becomes easier just to hibernate in my accommodation and not make the effort to get to know yet another group of new faces. Fighting off loneliness and isolation is an ongoing battle.
I always look forward to coming back to Perth for a couple of weeks in between work trips, but this has it’s challenges too. I’m not there often enough to get involved in any regular activities, and people are so busy with their own work and social lives that there’s a fair bit of loneliness and thumb twiddling even when I am back in my own place. It’s funny how now even home doesn’t always feel like it should.
It’s a weird kind of life; disorientating, disruptive, disconnected and completely lacking in routine or continuity. I’m always coming or going, packing or unpacking, meeting new people, saying goodbye, switching in and out of time-zones.
But it’s also interesting, exciting, stimulating and rewarding. I’ve been to some absolutely amazing places that I never would have had the chance to visit, seen some spectacular scenery, enjoyed immersing myself in local pastimes, eaten lots of delicious regional foods, practiced some fascinating medicine and met a whole heap of great people, making some awesome friends along the way. I still can hardly believe that I actually got paid to come and spend 6 weeks in the Kimberley region (which by the way has just been named number two in the Lonely Planet’s list of top regions in the world)! I’m far more confident, adaptable and broadly-skilled than I was a year ago. I’ve also had the flexibility of having lots of spare time to do other things like go to conferences, work on my writing projects, travel overseas, dabble in a bit of FOAM and bake a hell of a lot of macarons.
I’ve now arrived on KI, and the stunning coastal scenery and bracing sea air has filled me with renewed energy and contentment. It’s reminded me of how ridiculously lucky I am to be doing this work; to have the kind of job where I can just up-and-go wherever I feel like visiting, because sadly they are desperate for doctors almost everywhere in rural Australia.
The question then becomes: how long do I keep doing this for? For although I am getting my fill of adventure, I am desperately lacking continuity and community, so I think the answer is “not too much longer.” In fact I don’t have any more work booked after this KI job, which is both liberating and scary. I probably don’t really deserve a break just yet, and my mother, who can always be relied upon to put me in my place, tells me, “Penny, you can’t really complain that you need time off. You’ve hardly done ANY work this year” and she does kind of have a point. However, I wanted to give myself a bit of time over Christmas to have a break from the merry-go-round of coming-and-going, catch up with family, think about my options and make a plan for next year, which will almost certainly involve a more permanent move out bush.
I get quite pensive when I see that my little apple tree is starting to flower and form it’s new tiny apples. I have no idea where I’ll be living when they start to ripen up in Winter next year and my vision of the future remains stubbornly hazy. But hopefully all of this time on the locum road will eventually lead me back to a community where I can feel truly at home one day. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy all the delights that this wide brown land has to offer.