Dr. Wain Allen saw 20 patients in his Coalville clinic Thursday morning, then completed rounds at Holy Cross Hospital in the afternoon.
Just another routine day for a busy rural doctor except it was also the day that Allen was activated into Army duty.Allen, a family practitioner, is a member of the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital, the second Salt Lake-area medical unit to be called up as part of Operation Desert Shield. The unit's 700 members come from three states - Utah, Idaho and Colorado - and include medical personnel to staff a full-service 1,000-bed hospital.
Besides his wife and four children, Allen, 39, is leaving behind clinics in Kamas and Coalville and 5,000 patients. There's only one other doctor in Coalville, who works two days a week.
Allen has been in the reserves for six years, since he left the military and moved to Utah from Fort Bragg, N.C. For his family, the monthly training has been a good way to subsidize his rural practice.
Utah's rural communities are already in a medical crisis, as health care professionals have a hard time making a living in small towns. The call-up of the two medical reserve units strains resources even more.
Allen even talked to Sen. Jake Garn's office hoping to change his orders. He wasn't alone, according to Laurie Snow Turner, a spokeswoman for Garn, R-Utah. "We get about 15 individual cases per week," she said. "There are a lot of people who have some difficult circumstances and some real heart-wrenching stories about why they shouldn't have to go."
Although Allen's situation affects an entire community, Turner said, he is classified as "essential personnel" according to his military supervisors.Orders say the unit will be gone for 180 days, staffing hospitals in Germany to replace medical personnel enroute to Saudi Arabia.
"Most of my pregnant patients will have delivered by then," Allen said. "Some of them will have babies and be pregnant again."
Allen said he is glad to serve where needed. But if his duty will be waiting in a foreign hospital, he wishes he could wait at home. That way he could care for a female patient with brain cancer, whom he promised could die at home, as well as the other patients he visits in their homes.
Since he got his orders on Monday, Allen has been arranging with other doctors to care for his patients. Allen hopes to keep his clinics open, staffed by nurse practitioners backed up by Dr. Frank Newhouse in Morgan. Newhouse and his doctor's bag are about a 20-minute drive away.
Allen has become something of a media star, answering the questions of local reporters and being photographed for Time magazine.
And he's answered his patients' phone calls. "A lot of `Good wishes' and `We'll be waiting for you when you get back,' " Allen said.