The plane readied for takeoff and I turned to the passenger next to me, a doctor who had been around the North for two decades. As the plane droned at cruise altitude, he turned to me to talk about the good old days, when the North was still a frontier, somewhat akin to the Wild West of the last century, except there were no horses that could live up here, no cowboys and Indians either. My new friend, Doc, was eager to bring up the way things were done back then.
Back in the day, the only way to get around anywhere was by air. Everything was done by air transport and many times, the only way to get a desperate patient from the frozen North to any medical facility in the far south. I first met Doc when he was still young and fresh from his home country of Vietnam. At first, I mistook him for a local person, until he started talking and pulling out his stethoscope from his huge parka and checking out the patient at the clinic. I was there to deliver mail and cargo and by accident, came upon him and his patient, who was quite feverish and sickly looking. I headed back to the airstrip to ready the waiting aircraft for the regular schedule to the south.
After the plane took off, I got a call from Doc, who was worried about his patient, and on his first day of his job, didn’t have any routine to follow. I made a quick assessment of the situation and recommended that he send his patient to Montreal for immediate medical attention. But, he stammered, the plane is gone now and what can we do about that? I called the plane back and told him that it was better to do that and incur the wrath of the pilots than to face a saddened family at a funeral in a few days. Doc quickly understood the consequences and listened to my sage advice. Today, that man is still alive, but what his ailment was is I still don’t know.
Doc talked about his later years and all the hardships of living in the North. For quite awhile, we talked about the local solution to sewage, which was affectionately called the honey bucket. We were not sure if it was easier to deal with the honey bucket in the warm months, or during the cold winter season, where the contents of the honey bucket would freeze nearly instantly, only to emerge later on in the spring. Doc eventually moved to another community where he confessed, that there were two reasons why he left the far North – flushing toilets and green trees.
After all those decades of serving the people and all the different maladies that Doc had to face simply pale in comparison with the problems that reflect the woes of today. When an aspirin was the only remedy for a headache, today that headache is managed and controlled with strong medication. For major incidents, it often meant a long plane ride to Val-d’Or or Montreal with a nurse on hand. Often, the nurse would reappear in the community the next day, still fighting fatigue and sleeplessness and knocking back coffee like it was water in a desert. To Doc, it is just another day of healing and treating people. Today, the medical industry in the North is a major, yet underfunded sector. Perhaps, prevention is the best medicine.
I finally reach my destination and my tired friend Doc wishes me well and thanks for the memories of the wild, wild North. I noticed that yet another medivac was on the tarmac of the airport, with another medical mystery.