The beauty of Yellowstone National Park lured Medical Technologist Christie Burnett, CLS-ASCP, to leave her job and her home in the 1990s to work in the park’s only hospital, nestled on the northern shores of Yellowstone Lake. Each May-September, from 1993-1995, Christie worked for Yellowstone Park Medical Services as a medical technologist, testing blood samples and oxygen levels, and performing other diagnostic tests.
The 10-bed hospital operated 24/7 during tourist season, closing during the winter, when temperatures often reached -30°F. During her first year Christie, then age 33, remembers driving next to plowed snow over 15 feet high as she traveled to the hospital. “They removed the snow by the truck because there was no place for it,” Christie remembers. “That first year, the snow stayed until July 4. I remember calling my mom and sister and crying because I hated the weather.”
Most of the hospital’s business came from the park’s employees, which numbered in the thousands. Christie recalled the staff who cleaned the hotel rooms and ran the stores, campgrounds and restaurants. “We were like a big community,” she says.
Any serious condition for an employee or tourist would warrant an ambulance ride or an airlift to a larger hospital in Cody, WY. Most conditions involved injuries from car accidents, hiking sprains and shortness of breath caused by the high altitude. There was the occasional car vs. moose incident.
Man vs. Bear
One notable exception was the man mauled by a grizzly bear. Christie remembers vividly the image of the patient’s torn scalp. In fairness to the grizzly, Christie said the park rangers believed the men possibly snatched the bear’s dinner. It took 110 stitches to repair the damage.
Living with nature provided some interesting experiences for the hospital staff. One evening while making her way from her dorm to the hospital in the dark of night, Christie was told she almost ran into a bison. It was common for bison to wallow in the sand that doubled as the volleyball court and the helicopter landing area.
While Christie never saw a bear during her time at Yellowstone, she was trained on prevention techniques, such as not carrying food while hiking, including not even toothpaste. All trash cans were bear proof.
No television or cell phones at the hospital meant staff entertained themselves and became close friends. Because fish hook injuries were so common, Christie and her crew drew an outline of a person on paper and named it “Fish Hook Man.” Patients joined in the fun by marking the location of their fish hook on the drawing.
In their down time, hospital staff enjoyed the wonders of Yellowstone, designated as the country’s first national park in 1872. The park’s distance measures 100 miles from the north and south entrances and east and west entrances. “My love of hiking developed during my time there,” Christie said. During Christie’s first hospital stint in 1993, she hiked over 200 miles.
Today she looks back on her Yellowstone years with fond memories and cherishes the close friendships she maintains today.