ZUIKER CHRONICLES The blog of Anton Zuiker

Back from the South Pacific

coconuts in Port Vilza

Coconuts for sale in the market at Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Our epic family trip to Australia and Vanuatu finished up last weekend. (Erin and I served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Vanuatu from 1997 to 1999, and we’d saved up miles for nearly 20 years to return.) We arrived home Sunday evening, tired but completely satisfied with our two weeks in Sydney, Port Vila, and Liro. I meant to start posting photos and notes immediately, but we have had to focus on work and house—the water stopped flowing, and the plumbing was backed up, so the well-pump tank has been replaced, the septic tank emptied, and the pipes snaked. We all found it funny that, for a night at least, our Chapel Hill bedtime routine was similar to the bucket showers and rationed water that we’d just been through on Paama Island.

Anyway, I’m hoping to sit down this weekend and write about our time in Sydney (Blue Mountains, Opera House, Bondi and Manly beaches) and Vanuatu (visiting friends and the Peace Corps office in Port Vila, standing atop Yasur volcano on Tanna, and reuniting with family in Liro).

It was a memorable trip. I’m glad to have been able to introduce Anna, Malia, and Oliver to the Vanuatu experience and our Ni-Vanuatu friends. And I’m so grateful to have an amazing life partner and traveling companion in Erin.

Blog posts and photos to come.




At Duke this week, Dean Klotman (my former boss) announced that Dr. Kathleen Cooney, from the University of Utah, will be the next chair of the Department of Medicine, ergo my new boss. Our department is large and active, and in a major academic medical center that is undergoing much change. I look forward to working with Dr. Cooney as she brings her energy and experience and vision to Duke.

Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of working for Dr. Joseph Rogers as he’s been the interim chair of the department and a most thoughtful leader during this transition. He’s made great use of our This Week in Medicine newsletter (TWIM), writing a timely, topical message each week to inform our faculty, trainees, and staff of the myriad issues swirling around us. TWIM is one of the products of the departmental branding and design framework we completed last summer with the design firm Thinkso Creative. Thinkso has highlighted our project in a case study on their site.

Here on Zuiker Chronicles, I’ve upgraded the CMS to Textpattern 4.7. This release is dedicated to Textpattern creator Dean Allen (I mentioned here how Dean inspired my blogging). I’m also posting to the growing and very useful Micro.blog (see smol.zuiker.com), where I’m paying for the ability to post audio files called microcasts. I purchased a Zoom H5, and am learning to use that, along with Hindenburg Journalist Pro, as part of my Voices of Duke Health project at work and in anticipation of the trip to Vanuatu.

Up at the house, the renovation is behind schedule but we are very close to moving. The house is going to look amazing, and it will be a testament to Erin’s vision and design sense and tireless weighing of the details. I’ll be swinging by the house today to pick cherries off the four trees. The rest of the four acres is grown and green. Last week I found a box turtle down at the slope, and later a lone-star tick biting me on my hip.



Lights up

Another company that I have supported on Kickstarter is BioLite — I funded the FirePit hibachi-style grill last year, and am anticipating its arrival sometime this summer. We’ll use it on the new deck of our renovated home.

But I couldn’t wait for the FirePit, so last December I used a discount code to purchase the CampStove 2 bundle. It’s a cool wood-burning unit with a fan for smokeless fires, and it generates electricity to power a phone or light. I’ll use this stove next month when Oliver and I go camping with my brother, Joel. (I have an old MSR WhisperLite backpacking stove, but it’s not working.)

As I read through the pages on the BioLite site, I saw that the company has a mission to bring “clean cooking and charging” to families in India and Africa. The scenes in their introductory video remind me of the huts in Liro Village and across Vanuatu. I thought about asking to buy one of the HomeStoves developed for off-grid households. It would make a great gift for Leah and our family in Liro, in case the concrete smokeless stove that we made for their kitchen is no longer functioning.

So, too, would the SolarHome 620 package: a solar panel, three lights, and a unit that can play radio and mp3 files, and charge phones. I ordered that package last week, and it arrived yesterday. It is cool! I’ll install it in the shed, which could use the light inside. And if it works as well as it promises, I’ll buy one or more to take to our family in Vanuatu this summer

That will bring me full circle. My time in the South Pacific was dramatically improved by a solar panel my father brought me, and when I departed Paama in 1999, I had just placed 30 orders for solar-panel kits for families on Paama and Epi. I heard a few years later from another Peace Corps Volunteer that the kits had arrived, and worked. (I blogged that in Lights out.)

Kudos to the BioLite team for designing some very nice products.


Here’s the BioLite video:




First Friday audio message

The Voices of Duke Health listening booth project is gaining steam. I figure it’s about time I start practicing my audio production skills. So I recorded what I hope will be the first of a weekly audio message on Fridays.



Score a conversation

Today was a busy day of conversations, first a morning check-in with Johnny, our contractor on the house renovation. Later, at work, I met with the chief nursing officer for Duke University Hospital. We talked about the Voices of Duke Health listening booth project. Then, I sat down with a first-year medical student to hear about his experiences listening to a cancer patient talk about sports, politics, travel, music, bbq, and his illness. These conversations between student and patient are part of a student-created initiative called Duke Navigators Program, to help them navigate difficult conversations, especially around palliative care and end of life. I’m eager to learn more about this initiative and how we might feature the voices of the patients and their student partners.

I left work, got caught in traffic, listened to a recap of Champions League soccer scores, parked and walked in a few minutes late to my haircut, only to be told my appointment had been 30 minutes earlier and the chair was filled for the rest of the day.

No matter. I walked up the street to the bookstore to buy five more copies of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, a book I’ve been giving to medical students, doctors, and others who are interested in the Voices project, and narrative medicine. On the newly arrived table, I saw The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer, the new book by Duke professor Laurent Dubois, who teaches a course called Soccer Politics. (See this in-depth DukeStories page.) I bought that book, and a new novel by another North Carolina writer; that book will be a birthday gift for Erin later this month.

I’ve been thinking about a book that someone once gave me.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting of a dozen doctors, professors, ethicists, and proponents of drama and puppetry and storytelling and medical improv, all of us hashing out the details of an exciting new program geared to Duke pre-med students. It all made me think back to my job as editor of Northern Ohio Live, an arts and culture magazine in Cleveland. One summer day, a man and woman stopped into the dusty old mansion that was the magazine’s offices. I was called down from my desk in the attic.

“Sure, I’ll spend a few minutes listening to you talk about your book,” I told them.

We sat in the conference room, and Dr. Adams told me about his work as a physician, and about his book and a health institute of the same name: Gesundheit!, dedicated to “bringing good health to you, the medical system, and society through physician service, complementary therapies, humor, and joy.”

Dr. Adams was Patch Adams, a few months before his name would be seen on the big screen in a movie adaptation of his life starring Robin Williams, the master of improvisational humor.

Somewhere, up in the attic of this temporary townhouse, in the boxes of books waiting to be unpacked an put on the new built-in bookshelf at the house, is a copy of Gesundheit!, inscribed by Adams and testament to what good medicine it is to sit and engage in conversation.



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