“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

- Crowfoot

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'm here! **Cabbage Patch Dance**: Observations from Fort Albany

For reference: "The Cabbage Patch"

(Sorry this has taken so long!)

When I arrived in Fort Albany, the first thing I noticed was it's airport, which was the size of a large shed or an average garage and staffed only by two young men. The airport itself consists of a waiting room (a single car garage), basically to keep out of the cold, a small box sized office and possibly a bathroom, though I didn't explore too thoroughly.

After a bit of a delay, I made it to the hospital (which is two seconds down the road) and was given the key to a room in the nursing residence. I walked down the hall, passed a room being cleaned and in to the room and it was lovely, but rather small with a bed a dresser and a bathroom. Perfectly respectable for a short stay. Then the man I would later find out was the support services manager (ie. the super) knocked on my open door. He asked how long I was staying for and when I said 3 months, he informed me that I had accidentally been given the wrong key. He said that I would actually be staying the the suite that the women across the hall were cleaning! He said that they would be a little while before they finished, but that it was all mine.

A bedroom (with a double bed, dresser, mirror/cork board and closet), full bathroom, hallway (and closet) and kitchen/living room (with all appliances large and small as well as a TV). All fully furnished and all mine for 3 months. The apartment is fully furnished and the TV has Bell satellite. I thought I would be cold inside as well as outside, but lucky for me every building north of Sudbury seems to be keeps extraordinarily warm. This one is 24c, the hospital at 25c. No need for sweaters or long sleeved shirts when your inside here! The best part is, I don't even have to pay the huge heating bill either! (Good thing, because someone turned up the heat in the building to 30c! With it so cold outside and so hot inside, I was dying no matter where I was!)

The hospital is very small, only 17 beds. In fact, it is technically a 'nursing outpost.' Most are long term care however beds are often re-purposed as needed. There is only a doctor there once or twice every month and they have a nurse practitioner on staff, but she is only at this location part time. The hospital does have 24/7 support via telephone from outside sources, provided by both doctors and pharmacists. They also schedule telemedicine appointments for patients who need outside consultation. If a patient runs out of a prescription before it is delivered from the pharmacy in Moosonee, the hospital also functions as a pharmacy. The hospital clerks are trained to take basic x-rays (of a patient's limbs) and the nurses are qualified and licensed to perform extended duties; that is, duties that they would not usually perform. In total, there are about 10 Registered Nurses (RN) and exactly 2 Registered Practical Nurses (RPN) and 2 health care aids (similar to PSWs). A weekend is considered 'busy' if more than 1 RN and 1 RPN are needed (as was the case on New Year's weekend this year).

Often patients are requires to fly to Timmins, Toronto or Kingston for consultations, ultrasounds, x-rays, surgeries, and other procedures too complicated to be performed at this location.

There is also a small 'gym' that has been set up by the hospital employees for their use (just found this out today!). Set in a trailer just outside the hospital (and seconds from my front door) the gym reportedly contains a treadmill, stationary bike, Bowflex, weights and a balance ball. Figures, I would leave my gym shoes at home!

As for the town itself, it is incredibly small with only 600 people. There are seemingly as many snowmobiles as there are cars. And the majority of cars are Ford pick-ups (with the occasional van, but nothing smaller). At any given time, there hospital parking lot is 50/50 cars/snowmobiles. I can hear them zipping by the 'main road' that runs by my house until late at night. A relatively affordable method of transportation that can be driven by teenagers who are too young to get their license, or cannot afford to go to a larger town to get it.

As I was warned by one of Fort Albany's two public health nurses who overheard me talking about my placement on the train from Toronto, there are a lot of dogs. Mostly are fluffy and only about half are owned. Almost all dogs in this town (owned or not) are left free to wander most of the day. She said that she has had nursing students get right back on the next flight out because they are afraid of dogs. And let me tel you, it is understandable. I have seen 11 dogs roaming since I have gotten here. They trot up to you, smell you and then follow you wherever you are going. Yesterday, I saw a pack of dogs trotting ever so happily across the road in from of the hospital. It was incredibly cute, like a little gang of dogs. And the best part is all of the dogs are as friendly as can be. Most are some sort of husky mix (a lot have some wolf in them) and have their winter coats (which are so thick!). There are a couple black labs here and there though.

Because the community is fly in most of the year (until the water freezes for winter roads), everything is extraordinarily expensive! Take a look at the pictures that I have linked to on the right hand side of this blog to see my grocery bills so far (I wouldn't post something so mundane if not for the incredible cost!) On the plus side, when a package of Twizzlers is $6, it certainly gives your will power a hand up! My first trip to the grocery store, I spent $120!

It is so expensive that other businesses have sprung up in response. A grocery store in Timmins will take orders by fax and ship them up to you for a fee (apparently, the prices are so much cheaper, that even this fee doesn't make up the difference!). There is also the 'meat man' who is like a mobile M&Ms Meat Shop. He takes advance bulk orders of meats and other frozen items and drives up with a large truck to deliver them (we are talking 100 hamburgers at a time!).

As for me, the last two days (Friday and today), I have been working with the clinical coordinator at F. Albany. He arranges flight transports to take patients to appointments further south, prepares information for the doctors when they visit (we currently have one in for four days) along with various other administrative tasks. Tomorrow I am with the two public health nurses.

Then I am with one of the home care nurses until the 22nd. Get this, there is only one vehicle that belongs to the hospital and it is usually in use. So the home care nurses walk around town, no matter the weather, from visit to visit. Thank goodness the town is so small!

More updates to come!


  1. That all sounds so cool Bonnita! I'll be checking in with your blog once in a while to see how everything is going!

  2. It's so interesting to hear about everything you're experiencing!! It must be a completely different world up there but what an experience!! I'll definitely be following your blog!!

  3. Hey Bonnita,
    It's sounds amazing up at Fort Albany, it must be a hard change to get used to though.
    I'll be checking in on you, say hello to Rory's cousin's for me :P
    Have fun!

  4. love timer on the right - 8 days and counting. How many days in total?

  5. Hi Sanda - Just added another countdown to show how many days left! I also changed the 'days since' countdown, because that was originally based on the day I began travelling to Fort Albany, not when I arrived =P

  6. oooh! that photo of you in high Ft Albany style! sx