Inuvialuit woman says uncle's stroke mistaken for drunkenness

Maggie Papik of Aklavik, N.W.T., says her uncle died from the effects of a stroke after health care staff mistook the signs of the stroke for drunkenness.

'He just looked at me and he was yelling 'I'm not drunk! I'm not drunk!'' says Maggie Papik

Maggie Papik stands outside Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Hospital. 'He just looked at me and he was yelling 'I'm not drunk! I'm not drunk!,'' she says of her uncle Hugh Papik. (CBC)

Maggie Papik knew something was wrong when she got a call from staff at her uncle Hugh Papik's elders home on Aug. 3.

According to Papik, staff told her she needed to "deal with him" because he was drunk. They had found him lying on the ground covered in his own urine. 

Hugh Papik, a 68-year-old Inuvialuit man, had had several strokes in the past.

Hugh Papik, 68, suffered a stroke at home in Aklavik Aug. 3. He is brain dead and his family has had him taken off life support. (submitted by Maggie Papik)
"As soon as I got close enough, he clinged to me," she said.

"He just looked at me and he was yelling 'I'm not drunk! I'm not drunk!'"

She brought him to the Aklavik Health Centre, but says nurses there just kept telling her her uncle was drunk. Papik says it took nursing staff six hours to order a medevac for her uncle to the nearest hospital, 120 kilometres away in Inuvik.

By the time he reached Inuvik, he didn't know his own name, she says.

Papik says doctors later told her that her uncle had had a stroke that caused swelling in his brain. He was sent on to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife for a CT scan, where doctors told Papik the swelling in her uncle's brain was too extensive — he was brain dead.

On Wednesday, Papik brought her uncle back to Inuvik so that family and friends could say their goodbyes. She unplugged him from life support later that day.

"Now it's just all on his own time, whenever he's ready."

MLA looking into case

Papik says racism was a factor in the way her uncle was treated.

"Natives cannot be treated like this," Papik said.

"There's a difference between the way a white person and a native gets treated. I bet if you were lying down stroked out, they'd pick you up and haul you out of there. But if you were native they'd say, 'Oh, she's drunk and passed out.'"

Maggie Papik says her uncle Hugh Papik was 'happy, joyful. He always made you smile, laugh, even if you didn't know him.' (submitted by Maggie Papik)
A spokesperson for the nurses' employer, the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services, says it has already reviewed the incident, and won't be taking any further steps.

"The CEO of the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority has reviewed the matter and she is confident that appropriate clinical practices were followed," spokesperson Damien Healy wrote in an email to CBC.

"There is no further follow-up review being considered.

"We can assure you that we take these concerns seriously," Healy said.

But Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. is calling for the health department to take another look. Maggie Papik has given him permission to look at Hugh Papik's confidential health records to better understand the case.

Is misdiagnosis common?

Dr. Jim Corkal, the health department's chief clinical adviser, won't speak directly to the Papik case, but says the signs of a stroke are quite clear: slurred speech, drooping facial features and weakness in the arms.

'There's lots of natives that are being wrongfully treated,' says Maggie Papik. 'That's just not right.' (CBC)
Corkal says if someone has any of those symptoms they should be seen by a doctor.

Asked if the signs of stroke are often misdiagnosed, Corkal says: "No. It's pretty easy. Face, arms, speech… there can certainly be a lot of other things that may cause some of those features, but you should be getting that person to the emergency room."

Corkal also said it's critical that someone who has had a stroke be treated as soon as possible to prevent lasting brain damage.

'Always made you smile, laugh'

Maggie Papik says she is unsure what her next step will be, but is looking at bringing a legal case against the territorial government for the racist treatment she says her uncle received.

"He was happy, joyful. He always made you smile, laugh, even if you didn't know him," she said. 

"He wasn't drunk. There's lots of natives that are being wrongfully treated. That's just not right."

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Hilary Bird


Hilary Bird is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She has been reporting on Indigenous issues and politics for almost a decade and has won several national and international awards for her work. Hilary can be reached at