Friday, October 3, 2008


As most of you will have noticed I have stopped writing on this blog for the time being. Dr. H and I are back in Southern Canada, she having returned to further anaesthesia residency, and me to emergency room work in the Vancouver area. As I had mentioned previously it is difficult to know what to write about, city life doesn't lend itself nearly as well to story telling.

I am considering starting another blog with a focus on discussion of medical issues from a systems standpoint...less exciting to read, but interesting to write. I will post a link here if I do decide to start that blog.

As for the overall experience of living in northern Canada, it is difficult to encapsulate, but it was exhilarating, challenging, and perspective shifting. Adjusting to southern life is at times a challenge. The pros and cons of southern living were, I think, summed up nicely by an Inuit elder named Etuangat, who lived his life in the Pangnirtung area of Baffin Island and in 1995 travelled to Ottawa for the first time to receive the Order of Canada for his life long dedication to the health of the Inuit people. He was asked for his opinion on trees after seeing them for the first time and responded "One tree by itself is very nice, but when they're all crowded together they block the view." Wise words indeed...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

City Rehab

I've now been back in Vancouver for a couple of weeks. It's definitely an adjustment. Everyone is in a hurry, all the time. You can buy anything at any time and choice is limitless. Since I've been back I've been working as a hospitalist in a small hospital in the lower mainland. It's been fun so far but it's all a little more anonymous than the north.
At the end of August I'll make a short trip back to Iqaluit, I'm looking forward to it, the end of the summer in the north is beautiful, the tundra is in flower, mosquito season is at an end and the days are bright but cool. Perfect for hiking or fishing!
In the mean while I'll lay low here in Vancouver. It's difficult to know what to blog about, life in the city has so many options, but in some ways seems difficult to understand. Really, why the rush?? Why the big deal??? Oh well, I'll re-acclimate eventually! (Or maybe my ongoing trips north will make me an endlessly strange person to city folk?)

In the mean time, here is a picture of a DC-3 taking off over Grise Fiord. The DC-3 is one of the planes that opened up the northern frontier in Canada. This particular plane was built in 1943, and is still serving in arctic duty. Just down the beach from the settlement of Grise Fiord there is a flat (slightly) grassy area with old fuel cans with holes in the tops lining the sides....the old runway, fully equipped for dark season landings....I wonder if there's an old runway on Jericho Beach??

Friday, July 11, 2008

Beginnings Ends and In-Betweens

The house is packed, the excess stuff given away and I fly out of Iqaluit tomorrow afternoon. It's been a wonderful year here and I've learned many things. I definetely have mixed feelings about leaving. I'll be happy to see Vancouver again and most of all to see Dr. H. (who has been out for a month already), but I'll miss the work here and the small town atmosphere and most of all the people. Being a small town doctor is an old fashioned idea but it is a nice occupation. The fact that you see your patients at the grocery store, at the movies and basically everywhere is, mainly, a nice thing. People seem to get a kick out of seeing their doctor doing non-doctor things (yes we have to go grocery shopping too, and no I didn't buy only healthy food!) I'll be coming back to Iqaluit (and Pangnirtung) regularly over the next year but it will be different to not live here.

There is lots to learn here, medical and otherwise and I think Iqaluit is a great place for young docs to work to enhance their skills. Here are a few important things I learned this year....

1) Everything is not a big deal.
2) Things don't always need to be on time.
3) More choice is not always a good thing.
4) You don't need much stuff to be happy.

(I also learned that people from down south talk way too fast, and that Inuit elders are as tough as anyone I have ever met, and many more lessons along the way.)

When Dr. H. and I first talked about moving north for a year we had mixed feelings about it. In the end our decision came down to this; 'When we look back do we want this to be the year we did something, or the year we did nothing?'. We took a chance and moved north, to both good and bad experiences but most of all to new experiences and ones that enriched us. Hopefully we take some of that wisdom with us into the rest of our lives, wherever that may lead....

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Way way up

Last week I had a chance to visit Canada's most northernly community Grise Fiord. There are 2 other inhabited locations north of Grise (Alert and Eureka) but both of these are manned stations rather than communities. Although it has a difficult past, Inuit people from Pond Inlet and Inukjuak were resettled there by the Canadian government with far less than full disclosure of the difficult conditions in the high arctic, today Grise Fiord is a true community where people grow up, go to school and call home.
I was there for only a couple of days to provide a visiting doctor clinic but the people made me feel very welcome. I got to go on some nice drives along the shore line, and we had a nice barbecue after work one day while I was there. This time of year the sun is high in the sky 24 hours a day, in the high arctic this isn't summer but Light Season. The Inuktitut name for Grise Fiord is Aujuittuq meaning place that never melts. In spite of the name it was 14 C and sunny the entire time I was there.
I've been up in the Eastern Arctic for long enough now that I just accept the landscape as a normal part of life, and sometimes forget how dramatic and unique it can be. The landscape in Grise is impossible to ignore though and reminded me of that. Here are some pictures from the top of the world.

A view up a fiord on Ellesmere Island. (Taken through the window of the twin otter.)

Looking up the valley above Grise Fiord airport.

A glacier moving towards the shoreline.

A barbecue with the health centre staff, that's me and Tommy who is the health centre's interpreter, driver, handyman, and everything else to keep the health centre going.

A view of the sea ice from the air.

The twin otter lands at the airport. The landing approach is a flight directly towards a cliff, then hang a hard left, fly along the cliff and land on the short dirt strip.

A view of the town and surrounding mountains at take off.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How you know you've been in the arctic too long...

Now that I'm back in Vancouver, I'm trying to get used to several things:

1) living in a big city
2) trees
3) driving on the highway
4) Tim Hortons and many, many different kinds of takeout

Number 4 is certainly the easiest of these, and the most enjoyable.

However, tonight as I was going to put the hose back in the garage, I stepped outside and did a double was really dark out, and it was only 10:30 pm! Where were my endless hours of daylight? How could this be?

I guess I'm not quite settled back out west (and south!) yet. I'm looking forward to starting residency again next week, although I admit I'm a bit nervous. Once you're out in practice, it's easy to get out of "study mode", and now I have to get myself back into it. I tried to do some reading on volatile anesthetics this morning, and I think if it weren't for my large coffee with milk from Timmy's, it's possible my brain might have exploded. It doesn't help that I have an anesthesia exam coming up in less than two weeks (a three hour exam! on a saturday! in the summer! this is a form of sanctioned cruelty I say!)

Although I'm quite enjoying the view outside on these beautiful summer days, I miss those little flowers on the tundra more than I thought I would...

Monday, June 23, 2008

You call that 'up north'

This afternoon I am flying up to Resolute Bay and from there on to Griese Fiord to hold clinics for a couple of days. As northern as Iqaluit is, it's a metropolis compared to these remote places. I'll be there for a week and hopefully have some material to post about when I return.
The recently released book The Long Exile is an account of how people came to inhabit these unlikely places. It's a worthwhile read and a piece of Canadian history that most canadians know nothing about.
See you when I get back!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Real life, or something like that

We're safely back from our vacation. We travelled all around New Zealand over the past few weeks, and saw some amazing things. I've never in my life spent so long on a plane!! We won't likely have a chance to travel anywhere so far or for so long for quite some time so we really enjoyed our trip.
We're back in Iqaluit now, Dr. H for only a couple of weeks before she resumes her residency in Vancouver, and me for about 6 more weeks. It's still spring here, and like most springs it feels full of possibilities. I'm a little unsure what the next part of my own career will bring and am weighing a number of opportunities. For the next 12 months I will likely return north, here to Iqaluit, on a regular basis, but beyond that it's all up in the air. Iqaluit is a different sort of place than anywhere else in Canada, and it takes a little while to feel at home here. It seems like just as we started to feel like we're home it's almost time to leave...