Many people from First Nations communities along the James Bay coast spend a lot of time out on the land at their traditional hunting and trapping grounds. These trips vary in time and can last for a few hours or for several weeks or months. The traditional areas that are visited in many cases are close by but can be a long distance which requires several days travel by boat or snowmobile.

These visits back to the land can be very satisfying and restful but sometimes they can also take a turn for the worse due to medical emergencies. Once a person gets ill or needs medical attention they must travel back to the community hospital as soon as possible for treatment. This can be very difficult as traveling at any time of year can be treacherous. Weather is always a factor and determines whether or not waterways in the summer such as the great James Bay can be traveled by boat. In the winter if the weather is bad snowmobiles may not be possible to use to get back to the community. Even after the decision is made to make the trip home with an injured person or someone with a medical emergency, it can take hours over rough water or in severe cold weather to reach the community.

If someone who needs to be treated with a serious medical condition reaches the community hospital they still have to make another trip by aircraft to larger and better equipped medical facilities. In the case of my home community of Attawapiskat these patients must be flown to the Moose Factory Weeneebayko General Hospital where they can be treated and stabilized. Those who need specialist care have to wait for appointments to be set up for treatment and then they must travel even further south and out of their familiar surroundings to cities like Timmins or Kingston which have larger hospitals and can provide the care needed.

My dad Marius recently needed medical attention. He had been out hunting 50 kilometres south of Attawapiskat on the Lawashi River and suffered major heart problems. Dad had traveled with two of my brothers, Paul and Joseph, and our cousin Travis Koostachin. When dad experienced severe weakness the decision was made for my brother Paul to take him back to Attawapiskat, which is a three to four-hour boat ride. Once they made it to the community, dad was stabilized in the local hospital and prepared to make a quick flight to Moose Factory Weeneebayko General Hospital.

In dad’s case he was treated in Moose Factory, but had to wait to travel to Kingston to receive specialist care. He was brought back to better health and I am thankful for the great job the medical staff and Dr.

Derek Boan, of Moose Factory Weeneebayko Hospital, did in assisting my father.

When he arrived in Kingston he was treated for his condition and provided with many services to help him with his stay. My mother Susan was also able to fly with him to Kingston as an escort. It is really important for people from up the coast to be able to be accompanied by an escort, who is usually a family member or dose friend. You have to remember that for most of my people a trip to the outside world is still a very foreign experience and especially when a person is ill, confused and anxious.

For many of our Elders it is even more important and sometimes they need more than one person to be around them. Many of our older people know only the traditional language so it is necessary for them to have others they can communicate with and who can assist in dealing with the medical professionals. It is also very helpful to be surrounded by family and friends in these situations as we Crees are very family-oriented and need the comfort and reassurance of our loved ones.

I am very happy that the escort program is in place that allowed for my mom to accompany my dad, but I would really like to see that program extended so that two or three people could accompany a sick person as escorts. Any extra cost to do this would be well worth the effort in terms of the patient’s recovery.

Kingston General Hospital is a first-rate medical facility and I was very impressed with the care my dad received. I am grateful to all the doctors and staff who assisted my father and communicated with my mom and my sister Jackie who were with dad. I also thank the staff of Geaganano House for their wonderful care for my family. Geaganano House is a great service facility staffed with First Nations people that accommodates and assists patients from up the coast and their families. Meegwetch for making my family’s difficult time a lot easier.