Cruising for a living

Local doctor makes house calls to the Carribean through new career plan

Today, Dr. Allan Reishus will catch a flight to Chicago and then to Norfolk, Va. Tomorrow, he'll board a cruise liner for three weeks on the Caribbean Sea.

He will work as one of the ship's two doctors, taking care of more than 2,000 passengers and 600 of the ship's staff.

For the first time in 29 years, he'll leave town without fretting over patients left behind.

Reishus, who is one of Craig's most veteran family practitioners, stepped down from his practice at Moffat Family Clinic Jan. 1.

He's been approached by those who wonder where he's moving now that he's "retired."

"Well, I'm not really retiring and I'm certainly not moving," Reishus tells them.

"When people say I'm retiring, I kind of wrinkle my nose," Reishus said. "I'm just going from three jobs to two jobs."

He will spend a few months a year as a doctor aboard Holland America Line cruise ships, but he'll still pull shifts in The Memorial Hospital's emergency room. He said he always looks forward to coming back to Craig, which has been his home for nearly three decades.

"I enjoy fishing and hunting, backpacking and skiing -- all the outdoor activities available in northwest Colorado. I can't imagine a better place to live, or base out of," Reishus said.

He's confident he'll be leaving his patients in good hands. Craig's medical community has grown considerably since he arrived in 1975. At that time, only four doctors had a practice here. Now, Moffat Family Clinic alone has seven doctors on staff.

Reishus has worked several cruises a year for Holland America for the last eight years. He has spent 30 weeks aboard the floating cities.

"I've been all over the world on ships, and I get paid to do it," Reishus said.

One of his most memorable cruises was a rare opportunity to see the continent of Antarctica and spend four days in the surrounding waters. He saw sea lions, penguins, whales and what he calls the "spectacular, gorgeous scenery."

And while he surveyed the landscape in the middle of the Antarctic summer, it snowed.

The ship that took him there was the only cruise liner that goes to Antarctica. It was part of a month-long assignment that took him around the coast of South America.

Such long assignments were particularly hard to arrange when his practice was in full swing. But now Reishus can take more trips and have a clear conscience that he's not leaving his patients behind.

Even when he knew other doctors were covering for him, he said it was hard to go without feeling guilty.

It was stressful for his patients, too, said Jessie Gorham. She was Reishus' first employee, and she worked with the doctor as a medical assistant during his entire career in Craig.

When a family doctor is away, people feel a little lost and confused, Gorham said. They've grown to trust the doctor. They just want their family doctor and there's a feeling of unrest when he's not around, Gorham said.

Although Reishus has a new family to take care of, he still sees a familiar list of ailments aboard a ship.

Coughs and colds, upset stomachs and pneumonia are common maladies at sea. Occasionally, people break bones.

The ship's 600 staff members need a doctor, too.

Cooks burn themselves, butchers cut their fingers, blackjack dealers get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, singers come down with laryngitis, dancers pull muscles or sprain ankles.

"It's a city," Reishus said. "A bigger city than I grew up in by double or triple -- all in a 900-foot ship."

While aboard the ship, Reishus and the other doctor keep regular office hours, but they're on call 24 hours a day.

Reishus said people joke with him about calling cruising a job. They think it's just laying around the pool drinking cocktails, Reishus said. It's not quite that easy.

In addition to the routine healthcare passengers require during a voyage, the occasional serious medical condition presents itself. That can be challenging aboard a ship with limited resources that may be several hours from the nearest hospital. Reishus can call for an emergency helicopter transport (if the captain concurs), but it's risky for everyone involved. It's only attempted in rare cases, Reishus said. In emergencies, the ship can speed up to about 26 miles per hour from the cruising speed of 20 mph, Reishus said.

Living in the ocean environment has been one of Reishus' dreams, said his son, Dustin.

When Allan left the flatlands of Minnesota after medical school, "he knew he either wanted to live in the mountains or the ocean," Dustin said. "I think he's always liked the ocean."

"I still have this thing about the ocean," Allan said. "I really like sailing. I'm a water person."

Dustin has been on four cruises with his father. He went to Alaska twice and took two Caribbean cruises as well. He said Allan likes to get off the boat when he can and visit the port cities.

Allan spends time reading on deck or in his cabin, Dustin said. "The ship always has stuff to do. All the time."

Allan said he likes the fine dining, watching movies and using the ship's gyms and workout equipment. He also catches up on his reading, which includes everything from novels to medical journals.

As a senior officer on the ship, Reishus also has a lot of official duties. On the first day of the cruise, he has to go on stage and introduce himself to the passengers, Dustin said.

He also hosts a table at VIP luncheons and formal dinners aboard the ship. Reishus is the wine taster, the entertainer and the veteran seafarer, who guides the conversation at a table of eight to 10 guests.

Reishus admits it's intimidating being a small-town flatlander from Minnesota who is supposed to mingle with sophisticated world travelers and even choose their wine.

"But I play the part," he said. "Part of a ship's officer's obligation is to entertain and socialize."

Gorham is looking forward to sitting at Reishus' table when she board's his ship later this month. The doctor told her about the joys of cruising for years, Gorham said. He even brought back videos of his trips and showed them to staff and friends on lunch breaks, Gorham said.

Gorham finally booked a Caribbean cruise on Reishus' ship.

Recently, Reishus went over the itinerary with her. They discovered Gorham is scheduled to dine at one of the dinners at which Reishus will be a host.

"He's got enough pull, I hope I can be at his table," Gorham said.

In the 29 years she's known Reishus, the two remained co-workers and close friends. Reishus was her family doctor. She thinks of him as a son, she said.

Reishus spent his first Thanksgiving with the Gorhams. "We all had sore tummies," Gorham remembers. "And then we went and played basketball and ran our dinner off."

She's glad he is getting a chance to relax some more now that he only has two jobs.

"He was a very busy man and a very dedicated doctor," Gorham said.

Reishus said he still enjoys working in the emergency room at TMH. Even as he scaled back his practice over the last couple years, he continued to be a part of the emergency room staff, which he says could always use more help.

In his private practice, he cared for as many as five generations in some families.

"My fondest memories of being a family doc have been the people in Craig," Reishus said. "It's been an honor and a privilege to take care of generations of people. I still look forward to seeing them around."

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

Commenting has been disabled for this item.