Sunday, May 28, 2017

Would you like a T4 with that? explain the title of this post, I offer this anecdote... The setting is one afternoon this week as we two nurses were filling our day with routine tasks such as sorting stock and making out the barge order (heavier products such as casting material, jugs of saline etc. are not routinely ordered as air freight because of the shipping costs). Due to the government takeover of the shipping company, the barge will be coming through earlier this year in August so the mundane logistics task must be approached earlier. While I took a phone call (part health information and part social interaction as in "which hockey team are you rooting for this evening?") the Nurse in Charge aka my job share partner proceeds to pick some papers off the fax machine and shows me first a sharpie lettered flyer advertising that salt n vinegar and ketchup chips are for sale at a local government office and secondly the T4 of one of their employees. Wow, just wow! I extricate myself from the phone call and my colleague phones the sender stating that if we have received the information, likely the entire hamlet has because it looks like a group fax. The reply is "oops, must've stuck to the poster" and "you better rip that up". The T4 is quickly shredded and we comment on how much trouble we'd be in pulling a stunt like that - at the very least we'd have to take a faxing course and have every transmission cosigned. The following morning my coworker answers the phone and it's a clerk from the above mentioned office telling her that she should call the bank who faxed the T4 to us. She educates the clerk to the fact that we were an innocent recipient and have no plans to call anyone, that the document came from HER office. When the caller realizes that whoever sent it is fingering her as the culprit...she quickly says "oh, that wasn't me" and hangs up, apparently the concern being who got blamed for it, not the disclosure of sensitive information.... my nerves.

The community remains fairly quiet with the majority of folks out on the rivers, having moved their camps north from the lakes, following the geese who are nesting so there is egg gathering and shooting in progress now. Occasional trips back for provisions or poor weather hampering hunting has made for a few visits, mostly due to aches and pains of pounding over rough terrain by skidoo or ATV. Both nights this weekend my colleague and I have had middle of the night callouts (a rare occurrence here) and earned overtime awaiting a medevac which was in Yellowknife with another case (thankfully the fog lifted for a few hours), which we have both decided we would trade for sleep. In my honeymoon stage of returning to work, I had forgotten how unfun it is to be screamed and sworn at by a non coping individual at 2 am. over a minor situation with their family member. When the circus comes to town like this you're not even able to say 'not my circus, not my monkeys' because they both are.  I see there are job postings for short term assignments of four weeks to four months for TB nurses in Nunavut. I was discussing my qualifications for this area with my coworker as in...infection control education and experience, public health background, community health nurse with a degree and she said "a nurse with a pulse" which we both acknowledge is the real requirement. No call back though so tempting... hmmmm.

This continues to be a hunting paradise for the shore captain as 'pinch me I'm dreaming' moments are becoming a daily reality. For example, he was hunting with one of the RCMP members posted here (a fellow Nova Scotian but a farmer not a fisherman so requiring some tutoring) and after shooting one goose, went out across the tundra to retrieve it and came back with four. Apparently it is a good idea to take your gun and shells when 'picking up' a local told me. Earlier this week one of the hunter/trappers asked to meet my husband (his marksmanship not going unnoticed) as they both had the same tally - so he most certainly is holding his own. They traded hunting info and it was a great male bonding exercise. Journeying out on the 4wheeler to local hills which are now covered with snow geese, the great white hunter is at about 35 and counting today. He has decided to shoot only a few as the opportunities vastly exceed his luggage allowance and pluck at least one in the field because plucking is becoming an issue. Although there is some carryover of roles (as in women do shoot) the northern culture designates males as hunters, women as sewing the clothing and preparing the food. There are lots of geese around and anyone who would pluck I could post photos of geese here know what snow geese look like by now....

The only setback the in-house hunter has experienced is a bout of snowblindness, which you might expect from someone who has never lived north but...a few years in Labrador in the 70s apparently have faded from his memory. Last weekend with an overcast sky he had his sunglasses off on Sunday "for a little while" and I cautioned him about it as in "up here is more stark, no trees to buffer, more snow and more direct UV rays" which I'm sure he heard as Charlie Brown teacher's voice blah, blah, blah...I mean, what would a northern community health nurse know eh? So, on Monday he arrived home at suppertime (having had his sunglasses off for most of the afternoon)with very red, painful eyes and decreased vision so was in bed by 7 pm with sunglasses on and spent a couple of quiet days with eye gel, cold compresses and advil. Hard way to learn such a lesson but thankfully no lasting effects.

I've been telling folks that my roommate and I have a 'man servant' and I have to say this one must be trying to impress my coworker because after four decades it's not likely that it would work on me. No, that's not entirely true because... he washed my nurses scrubs (first time in the over 40 years we've been together) this week. I was speechless which is an uncommon event. He has been doing the shopping (important to get to the COOP as soon as a shipment of fresh milk/produce arrives and before it closes), cooking of suppers except for the occasional weekend night off, general maintenance and carrying of heavy objects. Retirement is certainly agreeing with him (and thus me) with my only complaint being that I've gained 2 lbs. Some of the excess is due to baking for our little family - we sound like 'sister wives' - with chocolate cookies, cherry squares and scones quickly consumed. 

Have been keeping myself occupied crocheting a small afghan to use up some of my northern stash, sewing soles on my Kugluktuk beaded slippers and finally finishing up my sealskin slippers where I've gotten as far as stitching the liners on the sewing machine which appeared in the apartment during my absence, and sewing the beaver trim on them - I promise photos of the completed projects with a future posting. Got out for a few walks this week, which is nice in the milder temperatures (it's running about 0c) but it is the beginning of mud season (even though there were big snowflakes in the full daylight last night at 3 am) so have to choose the route carefully. 

Off to make pizza for supper and perhaps a walk afterwards if the rain eases up...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Northern date night and more

Snow geese
So as I enjoy a sedate Sunday (on call but that is not a dangerous descriptor in this community during the spring goose hunt as the hamlet has emptied out of people this long weekend) with the shore captain having gone to play with his friends....I mean hunting with one of the RCMP members here, all is well. The geese are beginning to return on their annual migration and there are snow, Canadian, white fronted, ross and brant arriving daily. The local hunters are saying that this week will be the main overfly but, the hunter I brought with me has already seen and downed more geese than he would in a lifetime in the maritimes.
brown hills

Yesterday was my 'day off' from call so while the shore captain was hunting earlier I walked up to the airport to survey the snow melt and signs of spring. A few years ago when I asked a local hunter when the geese were expected to return, he answered "when the hills turn brown" which roughly translates to the end of May. Bingo!

COOP gas
With the receding of snow cover there is the eruption of various pieces of derelict machinery and the inevitable muck such as seen here on the left in front of
the 'gas station' with the office on the left and the pump station in the middle ..... Soon we will be dealing with the dry northern summer with clouds of dust when vehicles go by and clouds of insects as well, but I will have migrated myself when that occurs. Fortunate that we got out last week on the skidoo run to Cape Kellet as there wouldn't be enough now to make it a comfortable ride.

We had a date night, northern style, described as taking a run on the ATV with the shotgun (to scare away a polar bear should we encounter one) as far as the dump, which turned into goose hunting. Now although I've been with this guy for over 40 years, I haven't been goose hunting with him. Have been to camp while he's tended rabbit snares or was deer hunting hunting, but that involved occasional walks in the woods, keeping the wood fire going and having supper ready when he came back.We stopped the 4wheeler on the edge of the road and walked down through the cleft in the hills which runs to the shore known as Allen's Creek, an area geese are known to fly up through. With frantic gesturing and terse instructions to "get down, don't put your hands up, here they come" we watched various configurations of birds fly over and two came home with us. The rules for outsiders (non land claim beneficiaries) hunting on this island include only harvesting snow or ross geese within a 9 km area around the hamlet (no hunting in sanctuaries) and no egg collecting. With the large numbers (estimated between one and two million) of geese who are in the main flyover it is not the capturing but the plucking / preparing of geese which are the issue.

This week also saw the (delayed due to fog)  return of my job share partner - spring is an iffy time of year for northern air travel - and we have settled into our 'family' trio (not as polygamous as it sounds) with the life partner making sure that even if he is busy capturing the food that 'the ladies' are fed supper after work. Work is a relative term this time of year with the population having migrated 'out on the land' to the lakes for ice fishing, goose hunting and egg collecting. With the snow having left the roads it was necessary for the old guy to free the health centre ATV from the C can (shipping container) and get it started (getting to be quite a small engine mechanic) so now he has a country and an urban mode of travel.

It has been nice to catch up both professionally and personally with the job share partner as it's been about a year and a half since we did that. Long discussion with her about a more flexible working arrangement as in....casual, not locked into the job share schedule and I have promised to think about it. Not that she's trying to get rid of me, just stating that work gets in the way of vacations (so very true) and this would deal with the solution to not being ready to completely walk away yet. I'm chewing on that. So, time to make some chocolate chip cookies for my roomies. Later ....

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Two for the money....

Safely settled in the high arctic and a bit of a challenge to figure out how to update the blog but.... no worries as you know that nurses are problem solvers....the dilemma is that in my over a year absence some (quite a few actually) things have changed (as they are wont to do) and one of those situations is accessing the internet. I have brought my MacBook Air and previously used a modem but, my partner has moved on to something on her phone called a mifi (no idea, don't ask) and so just using data on my phone is the plan for the month. This is fine for accessing email, short chats, posting photos and catching up on the news, however not practical for a long document. So....I have logged on to the network in the office, emailed myself / saved photos and signed in to blogspot so here we go.

I am being accompanied on this initial four week return to work rotation by the life partner. This is a perk offered by my employer to indeterminant (either full or permanent part time) employees as a family member is sponsored to accompany us to work, it's usually popular over the Christmas holidays and school breaks - my job share partner brought her daughter last summer - but the call of ice fishing / goose hunting was too much for the recently retired shore captain to pass up this year. Previously the lobster season at home has made for a busy time in May when the weather, 24 hours of daylight and game made it the best time of year to be north. Only minimal complications of traveling with a gun/ammo and hunting gear so it has been good to travel with a Sherpa for the stacks of luggage...just pile that on top and bring it to oversized baggage will ya?

We had minor travel complications with the Edmonton hotel clerk putting my vegetables in the freezer (this is NOT the first time it's happened so I confirmed three times to put them in the cooler NOT freezer...sigh) and the potatoes, celery and tomatoes especially were very unhappy and needed to be cooked up early. We were delayed by a blizzard here and unable to make it over from Inuvik on Monday so took a cab in from the airport, called the travel clerk who booked us a room at the Nova Inn and explored the most northerly town in Canada. Introduced myself (and hubby) to our Nurse Manager (who had changed in my absence) shopped for some souvenirs and stopped for supper/drinks at Shivers. Felt a bit guilty when I discovered the next day there had been medevacs that evening after the weather lifted. Check in with Aklak Air and prioritize the luggage - gun and perishable food first - manage to get all but two bags on the flight with us. It's a smooth trip up above the clouds and over to Banks Island, but unable to see the landscape. It's so good to be welcomed at the airport by my job share partner who has always believed in me and that this would be happening again. A quick hand off and she exits for the plane, we take the vehicle to the health centre.

I unpack the groceries, grab some lunch, send the man to COOP for milk and eggs, change into my scrubs and head downstairs doing my best to settle into the routine and get up to speed as the Dr is arriving to begin clinic tomorrow. I'm working with a CHN who is the age of my daughters so feel right at home. We decide that we're a good fit of young and old and I take call the first night, cautioning my colleague I may need her for backup as my brain is still rusty. One fairly routine call in the evening which gives me the chance to get back into the swing of things and a full nights sleep. It feels wonderful to be back!!

The next day is steady as we work our way through the Dr clinic and I receive lots of welcome back hugs. The physicians are using an electronic medical records system called WOLF (not sure what it stands for but a great northern name) with one of the main bonuses being the notes and prescriptions are printed out legibly, supposedly the consults make their way through the system as well but....being nurses who have seen lots of new technology fails, we opt to fax them in addition....just in case. The inhouse hunter spends part of the day getting the health centre snowmobile working. This requires a trip to COOP for sparkplugs, a (new) rectal tube to siphon gas to pour on the carburetor, my hairdryer and an extension cord to unthaw the lines and finally the custodian reported that "there's a strange man driving the health centre skidoo around the front" I assured her that he was pretty strange but we knew about him. He reported that $53 of gas filled the tank so "pretty expensive." He chauffeurs me over to the ENR office to pick up my fishing license and the machine is purring. We entertain the Dr and my coworker that evening for supper, enjoying gifted muskox which was marinated/braised by my colleague and must-be-cooked veggies, wine (always requested of the Dr when traveling here) and fruit (again from Inuvik) with gelato which the clerk made us before exiting to the lake to go ice fishing for a few days. Roughing it? Not a chance!

As the week moves along I manage to get myself together enough to draw bloodwork, process and package lab specimens to send off to Inuvik / Edmonton without too many questions, handle some paperwork, play with the new x-ray system (PACS) and get up to speed on peoples histories. The larger challenges are systemic (of course) with reactivating my email account then throwing out 462 messages from over a year with only two being needed, entering my time on PeopleSoft to get paid, ordering supplies and enjoying the pill dispenser of candies our manager sent for nurses week. She also generously gifted us a $75 purchase order for the COOP which we splurged on supper/breakfast to entertain the (fog delayed) physician. Have sure been less recognized on my 'special week'.

Had time to fit in a Friday evening run on the skidoo to the Mary Sachs / Cape Kellett area which is
Cape Kellet
about an hours run west of the community. The Mary Sachs was a ship from the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913 - 1916 which the hamlet is named for. It was a beautiful sunny excursion where we saw two geese, one ptarmigan (partridge) and two cranes, oh and some muskox turds, no polar bears. I had some refresher skidoo driving lessons on the return trip and feel comfortable now handling the snow machine myself. Took a hike up to the airport
and checked out the amazing white views from the hills of the community, Amundsen Gulf and lakes, this spot is breathtakingly beautiful! Ice fishing was successful for the shore captain and he
4.5 lb lake trout
Sachs Harbour
had a small arctic char the first time, a good sized lake trout the second trip in the evening where he arrived back at 1 am (those who know him realize this was well past his bedtime) but he is earning his keep - fish for supper this evening. The lake ice is well over five feet thick so will be with us for a while. The geese are beginning to arrive and by next week should be here in large flocks, with snow geese becoming a nuisance and ruining the roots of tundra grasses there will be no problem with permission from the HTC (Hunters & Trappers Committee) for hunting - that will keep him entertained. My job share partner returns on Tuesday evening and we have discussed sending the old guy over to the spare apartment if he acts up, so he will need to be on his best behaviour.

I have found myself startled a few times when mister enters a room because I'm not used to being north with him and it seems as if he is in the wrong place, but he doesn't require much minding as we've lived north before. He is starting to take my suggestions seriously as's Friday so you had better check on gas as I don't think it's open Saturday or Sunday....he couldn't believe there wouldn't be fuel available on the weekend....can you guess who was right that time? Be careful with the sewing machine if you're making that canvas shotgun attempting to find a Singer sewing machine needle. The reports of blackflies and ticks in Nova Scotia sure make the wind chill and snow more welcome as we're a ways away from that summer plague. The time moves so quickly here and with a week in, we are already 1/4 of the way through this trip.

Monday, May 1, 2017

We're 3 for 3 with yernos

My goal for this weekend was to post to the blog and….it's late Monday evening… but I've had a number of goals for the weekend which have not been met so….here we go:

Since Saturday there's been catching up with the mail and news, paying some bills, unpacking, laundry, walks, community breakfast, passport renewal, errands, appointments, planning for a post wedding shower for the bride and….packing for work. So excited to be able to do that after a year off and at times wondering if I'd ever make it back. Can't wait to return to the land of white, guess we will get our 2017 winter after all…if only for the month of May in 24 hours of daylight, albeit at -34c this week. Bit different to be shopping / packing food for two, inquiring about non resident small game licenses and ice fishing gear, but the shore captain has to be entertained while I work, no one wants a bored house boy underfoot for four weeks. 

But in keeping with the plan of….avoid winter by travel to warmer climes, this update will focus on the past month spent in Cuba - the land of sun, fun, rum and….our newest son-in-law. It was a fun but fully packed four weeks and as I said to the travel partner on the way to the airport "it'll be difficult to come here for less than a month after this". Photo gallery at the bottom of this post. 

We were so pleased to meet our third son-in-law (yerno in Spanish) after two years of messages, phone and video chats and find that he's a great guy and one we would've chosen ourselves if it was our decision. His English was stronger than anticipated, he's not just handsome but funny, engaging and has clearly fallen head over heels for our daughter. His family are warm and welcoming and we were spoiled with their hospitality. The vacation sped by quickly with wedding preparations, lots of visiting with the arrivals and departures of Canadian guests and generally enjoying hot, hot, hot Cuban weather (temperatures in the mid 30c range). There was a lot of rain / flooding the week after the guests headed home but the weather was beautiful for the festivities with sunshine and a breeze. The bride and her sisters looked beautiful thanks to a makeup artist friend and the bride's hair was done by her brother's hairdresser partner (nice to travel with professionals). The father of the bride was stylin in his black guayabera (Cuban dress shirt) which was lightweight and tieless while my coral coloured dress was cool and packs like a t-shirt so both will become travel wardrobe staples. It was wonderful to have all the kids and grandkids together for a weekend for a positive family event like 'la boda' (that's wedding in Spanish) which doesn't happen often enough. Our granddaughter is seven months old now and as a chubby, smiling, blonde was a huge star, our grandson was fun to do activities with and both were entertained extensively by Cubans who missed them after departure. Needless to say the week after the wedding when the couple left to honeymoon in Camaguey, Ciego de Avila and Holguin….we kept a very low profile on the island of resting, reading, and being served great meals. Since I gained five pounds in my travels there is some realignment of the eating habits after returning. 

One interesting transcultural story I can share involves our grandson and a cute little Cuban girl who was visiting Cayo Damas as her parents were helping with wedding preparations. In my fractured Spanish I managed to ascertain that her name was Lirena and she was seven years old. She and our grandson played together, each speaking their own language while enjoying each others company. I was struggling with our grandson to write a story in his notebook for school (he's good with math but sees no relevance to writing) and having flashes of deja vu from spelling lists with his father at the same age. Lirena observed his messy scrawling with capitals in the centre of words, no spaces, reversed letters etc.  Our daughter gave her a journal (quite a prize as paper is not easily sourced in Cuba) and offered Lirena a pen from the bag - she was rewarded with a bright smile and a polite 'gracias'. Lirena opened the journal cover and choosing a red pen wrote her four names neatly with a flourish in flawless cursive writing. We were speechless….she is our grandsons age, likely thought he was 'special' when she saw his handiwork. That my friends, is what focusing on the essentials (such as education and healthcare) results in. Cursive writing isn't even required in our provincial curriculum! As we made our way to the airport, we passed rural schools with uniformed students sitting quietly in rows practicing their penmanship. It can be done. 

Friday's final travel day was looonnnnngggger than it needed to be, first with late departures, delays at layover and the final indignity of circling Halifax Stanfield Airport at midnight, unable to land (lightning strikes shut down the terminal which was blanketed in fog) then diverting to Moncton where after various options such as trying to head back to Halifax (airport still not open and not sure when it would) return to Toronto and try it again the next day (flight crew had flown from Miami and thus were timed out) or being bussed down (the final decision) although a fair number of folks who elected not to wait for the buses, rented all the available cars and exited. As we groggily waited, then tiredly boarded the bus I noticed a familiar face - a slight mother carrying a sleeping toddler in a front pack while dealing with a screaming preschooler - it was the urologist who has been following me since my post op complications of last June, she, her husband and children were returning from Bahamas. Always seems you meet someone you know when travelling…. Managed to catch a few ZZZZs on the bus and awoke at 4 am to find ourselves arriving at the airport and facing another three hours on the road. Felt as if I'd worked a night shift when we finally arrived home and crawled into bed for a few hours. 

So a few days of tying up the loose ends and we're off. Hoping that the duty travel of this weekend goes smoothly and that the life partner and myself haven't booked ourselves too much togetherness….Next posting from the great white north!

Restuffing a mattress
Sunset on Cayo Damas

Burro in front of the Cayo


1954 Willy Jeep
Cutting the cake

Crib by horse cart and boat

Falcon at Sierra Mar
Market cart in the city

Santiago de Cuba at night