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Thom Barker: The undocumented features of living in the north

Thom Barker
Thom Barker - Contributed

I prefer, of course, to write about how wonderful it is to live on the north coast of Labrador.

It is not without its challenges, however.

Access to medical services is one of them. That is not to disparage the services that are available, or the caring people who provide them, but, let’s face it, simply on economies of scale alone, what can be done in an isolated community of 180 people is going to be limited. We’re fortunate to even have a clinic and nurse practitioner.

For the sake of full disclosure, that nurse practitioner happens to be my wife, which is a double-whammy for me. As excellent as she is, health care providers are ethically not supposed to provide health care to family members. And, since our nurse practitioner is one of the most ethical people I know, I’m left, for the most part, with the roughly quarterly visits from the M.D.


More by Thom Barker:

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How do we get past the propaganda divide?

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Coming to terms with the insidious presence of glucides


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Now, fortunately, I am generally healthier than I have any right to be given my personal history, but a couple of weeks ago, my eye started itching. Over a couple of days it starting to really hurt and swell. On the fourth day, I woke up with significant impairment of my vision.

We live in an amazing technological era and are fortunate in Postville to have a telehealth robot (okay, they call it something else, but robot is more fun). I was able to remotely see an E.R. doctor in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, who concluded, because we were potentially dealing with my eyesight, that I should fly out.

No offence to Goose Bay — it’s as fine a town as we have in the Lake Melville area—but having just been there less than a week prior, on my way back from my summer vacation in Ottawa, going back was about the last thing I wanted to do.

We almost didn’t get out. Flight times in the north are more like suggestions than schedules and, as we waited, the weather started to come down. The pilot told us Hopedale and Makkovik were completely flat. Our window was small. Sometimes, even getting on a flight is no guarantee. The previous week, we flew from Goose all the way to Hopedale, then Postville, but had to turn around and go back because we couldn’t land.

Long story short, from the time I arrived at the clinic that morning until the time I was done with the doctor in Goose, it was a full nine hours only to find out it was nothing sight-threatening and the “prescription” was warm compresses. By the time I got home, it would end up being 34 hours — the flight home was scheduled for 2:30, but a medevac pushed it back to 4:30.

I will not lie and say it was not a tad frustrating, but, glass-half-full, I do feel fortunate to live in a country where a guy who chooses to live in a remote area still has access to quality health care, even if it is on the inconvenient side. And I certainly would not have wanted to find out it something serious just to justify the time and expense.

Yes, expense. While the actual health care aspect of it is covered (thank you Tommy Douglas), it’s far from free. By the time you add it all up—flight ($103), cabs ($45), hotel ($150), meals ($50)—you’re out-of-pocket $350.

Again, I am not actually complaining. I’ve written before about the high cost of vegetables and other perishables and asked the question: What would you pay to live in paradise?

How lucky am I to have been born Canadian in an era of unprecedented affluence, to have the opportunity to choose to live where we want and afford the associated costs, both financial and logistical? I refer to it as winning the lottery of birth.

There is an old joke that harkens to my days in the high tech business. We would refer to software bugs as “undocumented features.”

I guess you could say the challenges of living on the north coast are undocumented features.

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