Monday December 8, 2008
Random Thoughts on Med School and Sioux Lookout
Several lifetimes ago, when I was in med school, our curriculum gave us time off to do course electives. Electives are rotations in areas of your choice. Often, they serve as a springboard to a career choice. For example, when I was in my final year of med school, I spent two months on rotation on the neurology ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. That I didn't end up as a neurologist is a long story I'll be happy to share with you over a beer one day.
For their electives, many of my classmates went to Sioux Lookout. To me, it was just the name of a place. But, to them, it was a place that changed their lives. Last week, I spent nearly three days in Sioux Lookout, learning about the people who provide health care to First Nations people living in remote communities in Northern Ontario. One of them is Dr. Harriet Lennox, a feisty family doc who took me with her to the clinic at Frenchman's Head, a community that's a 45 minute drive outside of Sioux Lookout.
Dr. Lennox just happens to be a classmate of mine. Except that, while I was at Johns Hopkins, she went to Sioux Lookout. There, she met her future husband, a commercial pilot, fell in love with the place, and decided to stay. She's been there ever since.
Frenchman's Head is part of the Lac Seul First Nation, which is located on the southeastern shores of Lac Seul, 56 km northeast of the city of Dryden, Ontario, and 50 km from Sioux Lookout. The First Nation is governed by Chief Clifford Bull, along with eight councillors. Chief Bull came to meet producer Lara Hindle and I when we toured the clinic. The clinic is impressive. It's a modern, one story building equipped wth several examining rooms, a medication room, as well as offices, a kitchen and lounge and a larger room for meetings and community activities.
Once every month or two, Dr. Lennox sees patients at the clinic. The rest of the time, it's up to people like Lana Angeconeb and Louise Chisel to care for local residents. Lana Angeconeb is the the nurse in charge of the clinic. She's been working for the Lac Seul First Nation for the past 11 years. She provides a lot of the hands on care. On any given day, she runs a general clinic, in which she sees everything from babies with draining ear infections to grown ups with colds and flus, injuries and even burns. She also spends a lot of time caring for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Louise Chisel is the nurse coordinator for Frenchman's Head, Whitefish Bay and Kejick Bay. Although Louise spends some of her time at the clinic, her focus is on coordinating home care for people in need. Given the realities of geography (Kejick Bay is accessible by boat or float plane during the warmer months and only has road access during the ice road season), home care is a critical part of the system.
The problems there are real. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are epidemic. Rates of substance abuse are high. So, what drives people like Harriet Lennox, Lana Angeconeb and Louise Chisel to work there? For Harriet Lennox, she found love in Sioux Lookout and decided it was as good a place as any to raise a family. Lana married a member of the Lac Seul First Nation. Louise said something others said during our stay: that the medical needs of the regions around Sioux Lookout resembled those of the developing world. She and others have considered working in developing nations, but decided to pour their energies into providing that kind of care where needed here at home.
I'm not over-idealizing they work they do. I'm just glad they do it, for whatever reason.
Tune in later this month, for a full edition of White Coat, Black Art to the people who provide care in Sioux Lookout and Frenchman's Head.