A Nurse On A Cold Island
January 6 2009

A City Nurse on a Cold Island
I recently had the opportunity to go to Moose Factory in Northern Ontario to work as an outpost nurse. Until early November I had never heard of places like James Bay, Moosonee, Peawanuck, Attawapiskat or any of the other towns bordering James Bay. I was deployed to Weeneebayko General Hospital in Moose Factory. Moose Factory is an island located on the southern end of James Bay near the mouth of Moose River. The majority of the land is reserved for Moose Cree First Nation people, the hospital there is on federal land and there is also a small portion of provincial land found on this tiny island. There are three schools, an elementary, senior elementary and a high school.
Part of me cannot believe that I was actually there. I've always wanted to do something like that but never had the confidence too. The trip there was kind of long and tumultuous because I hate flying on those small 10-12 seated planes. Upon landing I could feel every little dip, drop and movement of that plane, it kind of felt like the Behemoth at Canada's wonderland! From Toronto I flew to Timmins, and from Timmins to Moosonee. When I got to Moosonee we had to take a helicopter over to the island of Moose Factory. Flying on the helicopter was a lot nicer that those small planes. They told us that during our month there we'd see the transition of the river becoming frozen so that way they'll be able to use it as a road. The nursing educator stated that when the river is completely frozen they just plough a path and leave snow on either side so it sort of feels like you're driving on a snow bridge. We went on a tour of the island and it's pretty small. It takes about an hour to walk the circumference of the island. Everyone knows each other and people leave their doors open, kind of reminds me of island living in St. Lucia. To drive here no drivers licence is needed or insurance! They only have dirt roads here with lots of potholes so people don't drive that fast because they can't, it doesn't matter if you wear your seatbelt because they don't have MVA's and if they do there is not much trauma involved. In Moose Factory it is not unusual to see Skidooís on the snow-covered dirt roads. The residents love the cold winter weather and it seems like the colder it is the more people I saw outside .The only serious accidents they have involve the skidoo's in the winter and there is usually drinking involved in those accidents. They don't sell alcohol on the island but I can buy some from Moosonee and bring it over. It costs $15 to commute over to Moosonee, not sure if it's one way or round trip. But since they don't have canoo's now or the skidoo's can't operate on the river yet the people are basically stuck here until the river freezes over. The residents can't wait for it to freeze so they can do some shopping in Moosonee. To take the helicopter over now is too expensive. The only people leaving the island now are patients who need diagnostic testing like MRI's or CT's, or those who are more critical and need to be transferred to hospitals in Timmins, Kingston or even Toronto.
Learning about the culture was amazing because the people were very accepting and willing to share their customs with me. I felt privileged to be surrounded by such rich history and to be surrounded by a people with such a strong sense of ancestry. One of the primary concerns of everyone was that the traditional ways of living were being lost and not passed through to the children. At the same time many of the young people who came in with their parents spoke Cree as well as English. Many of the elders I took care of primarily spoke Cree and little English. As a people they echo a sense of frustration with their current social status but they are hopeful and donít like to be viewed as victims. Furthermore, they feel like they are looked down upon by people who donít understand them and are upset that people think they choose the lives they live and have no aspirations to do better. As a minority who has been able to rise above my circumstances I was able to empathize with their plight while being able to provide information about resources available to assist them. I understand the strong will it takes to ignore the fact that one belongs to a marginalized population and do better and conversely the need for more people to access the vast array of resources available to them. Itís a dicey situation and it takes many years to start seeing progress after a nation has been mistreated and is left to pick up the pieces. It takes time and we owe it to them to give them the time and support they need. I believe the financial support is there but I got a sense from the non Native people that they were a little dissapointed. They shared that Natives were given so many opportunities by the government but they are wasting it. Even though I can see why they may feel that way my experience had taught me that compassion is the greatest tool.

While having these discussions the issue of reverse racism was introduced to me by some of the non Native nurses. Several of them mentioned that some of the patients that come to the hospital are often rude and hurtful to them. At times cultural divide is apparent among the Native and non Native nurses where the non Native nurses feel are made to feel like outcasts. All in all they all are very knowledgeable and work well together for the better good of the patient.
New Yearís Eve celebrations consist of families getting together for a bonfire and drinks. They also take turns bursting fireworks. At the stroke of midnight everyone takes turns shooting the family shotgun into the air. Itís not my idea of a celebration but it is a cultural tradition and everyone enjoys themselves. There are several stray dogs roaming the streets, many of these dogs look a little weird and I was told this was because none of the dogs are neutered or spayed and there is a lot of inbreeding that happens. To control the growing dog population as well as dog attacks when they get into packs, dogs without tags are gathered at least 4 times a year and killed; their bodies are thrown in the local dump. I was very surprised that this occurs.
The hospital was an old TB hospital and it's in the shape of a 2 crosses, when you stand in the middle of one floor each hallway looks the same, can't wait to get lost there. There are 3 floors, the third floor is offices, the second floor is the inpatient department consisting of general medicine, L&D and the incubators (30 beds in total). They have outpatient services there too like hemodialysis. They have on OR but they do really simple surgeries, laps, c-sections etc. They only have the capacity to care for stable patients, if the patients need critical care they transfer them to timmins, kingston etc. While working at the hospital I had a new appreciation for the technology in Toronto that make my job (medication administration and recording) much faster giving me more time to spend with my patient. I missed my colleagues and belonging to a familiar team that work well together.
Working in the emergency department was a new experience for me since I am a cardiac nurse. Most shifts in the emergency department were just the regular complaints like fevers, infections, allergic reactions and the like. Three cases stand out; the first is a young lady who presented to the ER with an industrial staple in her right index finger. She had been putting up Christmas decorations and struck her finger. She was embarrassed and surprisingly calm but most of all she was lucky that the staple had not penetrated the bone, in fact her bone had bent the staple preventing it from penetration. We had to use lidocaine to freeze her finger before pulling the staple out; it took several attempts.

The other case was a when the Chief of Peawanuck had to be transferred via air ambulance with multiple stab wounds. The Chief was conducting a council fire meeting when a schizophrenic man who was well known to him and the community approached him and assaulted him. Apparently the attacker was listening to one of his auditory hallucinations. The most admirable thing about the chief was that when questioned by others as to the name of the attacker he did not give out the name, knowing that that everyone in the area knew each other. He wanted to keep the manís honour, an honourable act in itself. The chief was fine with no serious injuries.
The other occurrence I found rather out of the ordinary was the amount of suicidal attempts from young people in the town. From talking to these youngsters I got the impression that some were just trying to get attention from their parents, some suffered from mental illnesses and others saw suicide as the only remedy from their oppressive situations. Often times they see figureheads in their lives commit suicide and that is what they emulate when they themselves have trials.
I missed my family and the freedom to just get up and drive anywhere I want to but I had most of the comforts of home there. We had a wireless internet network in the house I stayed at and that is basically all I needed. The accommodations were amazingly homely, my roommate and I took turns falling asleep on the cozy couch during movies. There is a grocery store; the highlight of many of my days was walking to the grocery store. I did lots of walking there and even went to the gym to keep me sane.
I left in -30 degree weather and I was happy to return to my family and friends but as I looked back on the island through the helicopter window I was grateful for the experience and I would sum it up in one word different. It wasnít good or bad, it wasnít what I thought it would be in terms of the exposure I thought I would have gained but it was a great challenge.

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Comments from Our Readers

  "good job" - pam, January 15 2009 - reply
  "very interesting ,great exposure" - vj, January 31 2009 - reply

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