By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

If your appendix bursts or you cut off a finger, there is only one emergency doctor in Del Norte County to take care of it and thats a problem, says Dr. Thomas Polidore.

Its a huge problem for this community I just cant do it all, all the time, Polidore said.

On Tuesday, his frustration came to a head. He told Sutter Coast Hospital he would stop being the on-call surgeon unless someone did something to reduce the number of calls he was getting.

Nurses were calling him for nearly every problem, leaving him with no day off and very little sleep for three straight weeks, he said.

I had to put the brakes on things to kind of right the ship. They needed to stop things before a problem occurred, he said.

At 3 a.m., the morning after his letter, Polidore got an emergency call and he did go back to work, but not because all the problems were solved, he said.

Hospital management did set up a system for nurses to call someone else for non-surgery problems, but Polidore said thats just a small piece of the pie.

The town needs to know were short-staffed. For the most part people dont understand, he said.

Del Norte County has lost six primary care physicians recently. Four have left since last September and one surgeon, Dr. Robert Dodson, announced his exit last March.

To recruit a new surgeon, Sutter Coast Hospital in March sent out 4,000 letters, one to every U.S. trained doctor living west of the Mississippi, Polidore said.

Only four have responded, Polidore said.

In two weeks an obstetrician will be leaving. Del Norte County will then be down to one baby doctor.

Doctors are not the only people feeling frustrated. Patients often have to wait weeks for an open appointment. And few practices are taking new patients at all.

Ideally, Polidore said, there should be three surgeons who can be on call for the hospital and still run their private practices.

As it is, he goes to work at 6:30 a.m., runs his practice, does rounds at the hospital and, usually, doesnt get home until 9:30 p.m. Then he gets two or three calls from the emergency room during the night.

Some days it gets to be too much. Its bad for the family, Polidore said.

Many California counties are competing to recruit doctors, according to Polidore. Del Nortes problem, he said, is its remoteness and lack of big-town amenities.

People just need to understand whats going on. Its just one of the drawbacks of living here, he said.