Sometimes life throws you off balance. Just recently we got the sudden news that my dad had a heart attack. My dad, Marius, had been complaining of several ailments that had been affecting him for the past several months. One morning he felt weak and disoriented and visited the local community hospital where he suffered a heart attack while being assisted by the nurses. Although it was a heart attack, it was in fact a mild one. People overreacted a little and I was delivered the news by an Ontario Provincial Police officer.

You can imagine what I thought. I assumed that my dad was dead or close to it. On calling the hospital back home I was relieved to find that dad was holding his own.

I got the news right away and both my sisters Jackie and Janie kept me posted as the nurses and hospital staff in the James Bay General Hospital in Attawapiskat treated dad.

As he was being treated, the nurses noted how fortunate dad had been to suffer his heart attack while he was being monitored in the hospital. An air ambulance with a doctor was immediately called and dad was flown to the Moose Factory General Hospital. Two days after he was stabilised and his health improved he was flown to Kingston where he received treatment for his heart condition.

The entire situation was hard on everyone in the family. All my brothers and sisters got to visit with dad at the hospital in Attawapiskat but my mom, Susan, was the only one who was able to fly south with dad. I also travelled to Kingston once dad was accepted into the Kingston General Hospital’s Coronary Care Unit. His time at the hospital was also made easier by the fact that Lawrence, my older brother from Quebec, was able to visit.

This difficult time reminded me of how hard it is on people in remote First Nation communities when a community member is injured or falls seriously ill. Many isolated northern First Nation communities do not have the same medical services that southern cities and towns take for granted. In my home community of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast there is a small modern hospital that can be used for different emergencies and regular care for local patients. There are also several nurses and others who work hard to care for people in the hospital but unfortunately there is no community-based doctor. Instead a family doctor based in Moose Factory visits the community on a regular basis.

Anyone with any serious condition has to leave the community in order to receive proper medical care. Leaving the community is always difficult for many people but it is even harder when a person has to deal with a serious health problem. It is also hard on family members and friends who are left behind in the community. Fortunately, part of the services that are offered to patients in remote communities who have to travel south for medical help is assistance with the flight and accommodation for one family member to accompany the ill individual.

In Kingston, mom was also looked after through a Native Patient Services organization that works with northern First Nation patients and their escorts during their stay in the city. The service operates a residence called Geaganano, which means “our home” in Cree and also provides translation services and assistance in the hospital. I am very thankful to Rose Mary Koostachin who helped my parents communicate with doctors and nurses by providing translation and Midge Rouse, Director of Native Patient Services and her staff for all their assistance. I am also grateful to Doctor J. Eisen and Doctor C. Flynn at Kingston General and as well as Doctor Lariman at Moose Factory General Hospital. The medical and nursing staff at Attawapiskat Hospital, Moose Factory and Kingston General all worked together to put my dad back on his feet.

In a time when governments are threatening to privatize our health care system and seem to have trouble funding it, I believe that we should all remember just how important our health and well being is. We should not be talking about cutting back or privatization we should instead be happily providing the funds to pay our medical staff well, make sure our hospitals are the best in the world and dedicate our medical system to the good health of every Canadian.