I arrived in a very different land mass today. The Arctic. It commands respect and awe. It is barren, and the people smell different. Their smiles seem genuine and acknowledging. People at home don’t smile like this. Their faces are tan, and smeared with sun that never ends. Little kids have raccoon tan lines and wind burned cheeks. Skidoos and children litter the non existent streets. The sun burns 24 hours a day, and the air is crisp and lonely. Despite being with other nurses, I feel very on my own. Like being here is perhaps what living on Pluto might be like, with equal existential ramifications. It’s beautiful, but comes attached to a mystical edge. Almost a loneliness and feeling of being in too big of a space, with nothing there. Like how babies don’t like being in cribs, without being swaddled. They need to feel the edges of something encapsulating them.
Inuit people smile. They have a natural appreciation for simplicity. They don’t seem as restless as me. They are very curious. Their eyes seem ancient and 200 years old. Their Ancestors blood pulsing them onward, and it’s magnificent seeing a culture so defined and prevalent. Their language is stony and I love how they roll their K’s. Inuktitut is the primary language spoken here. It reveals deep throaty tones. I could listen to them speak all day. They have voice, but I will soon discover there is disquiet also. Hearing them talk seems familiar. I feel a part of them. I have dreamed of the Inuit. I get chills over and over the first day, with each encounter, due to their profound presence. For the first time in a long while, I am living in awe again.
The sun is glaring. It throws off your depth perception. You need sunglasses to cover your eyes. To walk on this earth. This land, which feels very old. It feels like survival, and it makes me uncomfortable while simultaneously making my heart skip with joy. Living here will require a new stamina. As the snow crunches beneath my feet, wind whipping my face, words break out in my mind and I feel a compulsion to write!
The nurses here possess an independence I have not encountered often. Very self driven, and highly attuned assessment skills. They have finesse. All are seekers. Devout walkers of the common journey, with conscious awareness of their place in the world.
It wasn’t even this quiet in Hawaii. In Hawaii, I didn’t write at all. I had no interest. I wanted to look out at the beauty, and words seemed to diminish the experience. I wanted to be more tactile. Here, words will once again allow me to survive. I have the bare bones of my words. Vowels and consonants to get me through the loneliness which feels vacuous and lunar. I feared the isolation most of all coming here. Being so far from all I know, from my boy, will take some getting used to. Filling all that spare time just on me. No movies or even books to distract me. My own pain and displeasure will rise to the surface for me to face, and relinquish.
I’m getting fat with experiencing a new culture, and being quiet. Meditation has become my friend here. In my dream last night, I saw an Inuit woman, with stars in her eyes. She waved and welcomed me. She had a child on her back. The dream shifts to me walking on an inlet cove alone. Icebergs. Arctic blue waters stunningly beautiful. An Elder approaches me and whispers “welcome my child…” We stand together at this blue patch of ocean, while nothing else is said. I am welcomed.
I am supposed to be here.
Today I prayed that Creator would guide me in these spaces. And that when I feel helpless or fearful, He will fill those crevices with His love and guidance.
I remember how much I love people, and particularly paediatrics! Oh how I have missed the little children….
I had a busy day in clinic today. Saw lots of patients all needing very different things. I went home after a full day. I was called back to the clinic by the Nurse in Charge. She tells me “we have a baby coming, can you come back?”
I quickly dress in my scrubs again, and prepare to walk the four minute walk with my coat and sunglasses on. I light a cigarette, regretting my decision, as the cold burns my fingers so swiftly, after two puffs, I throw it onto the frozen tundra.
I walk in to a busy array of nurses, with a hurried anxious energy permeating the place. They prepare Fentanyl, magnesium, and Oxytocin. For some nurses, it’s their first delivery.
I walk to the room where I hear a screaming young mother. She looks about 18, and the older nurse is checking her cervix.
I look by the window, near the baby warmer. I see the flight crew, which consists of two attractive people, in flight suits. One a male, one a female. They wear blue jumpsuits that just command respect and awe. Their kindness and smiles are soothing.
We start to give medications, I chart our interventions. Within the hour, I watch as a little Inuit baby enters the world. I see his black hair, coming out of her, and he passes through very easily. This little boy is early, a premie, just 31 weeks old. He comes out in a rush and the nurse quickly clamps the cord and cuts it. “Suction!” one yells hurriedly and commandingly. I have shivers ripple up my spine watching such an amazing being. The family is all there, including an Elder who wears mukluks, sitting quietly in the corner. Her presence quiet, but very necessary. Many in the family cry, including the mom. It is quickly evident that baby needs to breathe, and soon. I wait to hear his cry. Much like Noah, there isn’t one. This entire scene sends me reeling back to my own son being born. How small he was. How he wouldn’t cry. How he needed oxygen immediately. Baby’s heart is strong, much like these people. Looking at him, I know he’s a survivor.
They attempt an IV several times, with no luck. Baby veins no bigger than a piece of thread, make it very hard. They decide, with much reluctance, to insert a catheter into his umbilicus. It’s called a UVC, or Umbilical Vein Catheter. They cut his tiny cord with a scalpel and I watch as he bleeds. I am holding a tiny mask on babies face to ensure he is getting Oxygen. I feel important and a part of it all. This nursing feels exciting and in my element. The room is cooking, but it needs to be warm for baby. I monitor his oxygen saturation constantly, watching his colour even closer. He looks so frail, like Noah did, but he’s a fighter like my son also!
It’s been about four hours now. None of us have had water nor gone to the washroom. The intensity and focus is thick. The machines bip and boop, with each breath. Baby is indrawing severely now, and his resolve is wearing. He lacks surfactant and he needs to be intubated immediately. I put my finger into his tiny hand, and he grips it tightly. So small. So perfect he is.
I am on the phone with the physician who instructs which medicine to administer. We get Atropine, Fentanyl, and Succs to prepare for intubation. The RT shoves a glidoscope into the tiny baby’s throat. How his head must be forced up haunts me. It looks so foreign to tilt a neonates head up that much. I can tell the RT is getting frustrated, as he cannot see anything in this tiny airway. He grabs a 2.5 endotracheal tube now. The baby desats, to 54%. I quietly call out baby’s vitals as they decline so the RT knows how much time he has. Baby is not breathing. He becomes a dusky purple. His body, lifeless. The RT pulls out the tube and calls for oxygen and suction again. My heart races watching him work. He asks me to put his stethoscope into his ears. My hands brush the sides of his unshaven cheek. This man who saves babies in the North.
I snap back into the seriousness of the moment. The tube is in the wrong position. He tries again, all of us with bated breath. Finally, at the fifth attempt, the RT is successful with intubation.
It is now 3am, and all of us Nurses have been on for over 18 hours. We are all exhausted, but exhilarated by this night. We all thank the other for helping. We all wear smiles. We tell of other stories in our careers like this one. We thank the other for doing what’s necessary to save this baby’s life.
I walk home, in cold snow, with a co-worker. Little does he know, I glimpse him with complete awe. Without him, this baby would have surely died.
As I collapse into my bed, the searing sun continues to beat upon us. It’s a dusky sun, but it never goes down here. I ponder how I got here. How I helped save a life tonight. I think of my own son, and thank God he is now ten. I remember praying to God for my own baby son. “If You save him, I will never ask You for another thing….” Watching my son struggle, as this baby did tonight, was a grossly difficult time in my life, but also, one of the most real. That pain. That love. That need for him to BE, it broke me open.
I close my eyes, into dreamless sleeps, of strange lands and people coming and going. I dream of ones I love. Of ones who have left me, or maybe I them?
I don’t dream about his baby, but this night, and these people, how we bonded, and worked together, will be imprinted on my heart forever.
It is quiet today. A Sunday. I hear church bells. They haunt me and bring me a peace that’s foreign. Huskies howl here night and day. It’s difficult to know when day ends and night begins due to the constant sunlight. It throws you a bit. Shakes your equilibrium. I glimpse out at the barren white landscape as wind collides with my ears. I imagine very old Inuit people, nomadic, hunting, thriving, and surviving. It is lunar and vast here. So far away from what I love. I will help these people. I will give them my best. I have much to learn from the Inuit. I have such calcifications of pain I need to scrape off. For now, i’ll set a table for this quiet, feel the empty, and bear down for what is coming for me. In my abject desolation, I remember that kind doctor. How two years ago today, a physician looked into my eyes softly, and uttered the words “we don’t know how you survived. We are so glad you are still here with us.”
I am reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. He went mad writing this book. Became so obsessed and in his word soup, he became a drunk and died. But his writing is slippery, and soothing. It makes me jealous. I wish my writing was as moveable on the page. I am impressed by his story telling. How he can evoke images in my mind. Writing is not a choice, and the compulsion and passion is worth dying for.
One of my colleagues today told me that a nurse, after being here for two weeks, went completely psychotic. She was found walking around naked, on the tundra, in just her parka. She was murmuring “where is the plane? I need to go home…..”
I don’t think Northern Nursing is for the faint of heart. My other insight today? We never, ever stop loving those who once owned our hearts. Once you have breathed them in, they remain.
9 child deaths in Nunavut since January.
A little Inuit girl walks into my clinic room, about 4 years old. A chubby little Inuk, with a big belly. But Canada is failing them. Homes uninhabitable. Black mould with upwards of seven people living under one roof. Little kids cough here. They sounds like 78 year olds who smoke a pack a day.
I witnessed a mother beat her 12 year old right outside the health centre today. She hit him, six times, with a closed fist, in his jaw. In the waiting room, as I look on in horror, other Inuit people sit, showing no reaction whatsoever. One says to me “don’t get involved, she’s been like that for years.” My response to her, looking her deadpan in the eyes, “no, that’s not okay. This is Canada. It’s 2018. You can’t beat a child out front of a health centre!”
I had the Mom arrested that day.
I am shocked at how acceptable abuse has become in this region. The absolute trauma and hopelessness of here. The violence. My humanity feels completely assaulted. I am now disjointed and blinded by what I witnessed. Forgotten children. They move me, profoundly, with their pain and harsh realities.
Suicide rates in Nunavut are 9 times the national average.
I give a child a sticker. Stickers are for children. She beams at my gift. My eyes well up. Inuit babies of the North are carried by their parents on their backs, in an amauti. So close. So near.
I am missing Noah now, the most I have. I’m missing our life, together. Missing something so small as going to the grocery store with him. Holding his little hand knowing that he soon will be too cool, and big to want to hold hands. Missing his questions and why’s, even though at times, it drives me bonkers. Missing movies and food, and our laughs. How he eats his bagels not in quarters, but in two half’s stuck together.
We had the most difficult of talks yesterday. Through tears, and a whispered voice, Noah says “I just want a regular bike Mommy…” My eyes filled up like snowglobes. His vulnerability sears me. I felt so helpless, so rocked by him saying exactly what he felt. I remind him of how strong he is, and tell him that this is his path, and despite its absolute barren difficulty at times, he has to walk tall and face it. I tell him all this, and inside, I grieve. I grieve for him, for his challenges, and wish with everything I am, that I could take his legs, and give him my own. That is love. That is motherhood. It can fucking crush you. But moments like that let you know why you signed on for this. Why you agreed to bring a little human being into this life. To aide them. To feed them. To clothe them. To love them. But the biggest thing we can give our children? A sense that they BELONG. Not to us, but to something greater. That they have purpose. Humanity. That we see them, right where they are! Maybe not always. Maybe at times our vision is hazy. But kids need to know that we are their home. Their landing strip. That safety of your parents loving you is necessary. For to not have it, is to not feel love. An absence of God.
A little boy living with CP, who just wants a two wheeled bike. His strength and courage, so apparent to me. May my little son continue to RISE to his journey.
In report, a 7 year old boy, sodomized on the playground. We all grieve together. A collective silence in all of us, as professionals, and as human beings. A reminder of the harsh realities of this world.
An Inuit woman comes in with a clavicle fracture. Her abuser, sits beside her in the chair as I assess her. I must suspend my judgements, and it is incredibly difficult looking into her eyes. I put a brace on her. Broken bones. Broken life. And what am I doing to help her situation? Nothing. What can I do? Nothing. I hope she has the courage to leave one day soon.
I discuss the horrific tragedy and trauma i’ve witnessed over some drinks with the psychologist out here. It is nearing my end here. He starts to talk, and is an an obvious writer and fantastic storyteller. Once again, I feel chills rising on my cells. Something about when conversations really matter, you get this feeling you need to LISTEN. So, he tells me about his week. A drunk guy, whose wife kicks him out. No big deal, happens all the time. He normally takes off for a few days and drinks. This time, he decided to go outside, on the tundra, with no outerwear. After two days, no one can find him. They form familial search parties. Where the entire family goes out and looks together. They come across something on the ice. As they approach, they find their loved one. He is frozen solid, with eyes still open, sitting upright on the sea ice. They also see an Arctic Wolf, gnawing on this mans arms and chest. One arm already gone, blood everywhere. The wolf is so engorged from eating this man, he can barely walk. An Arctic wild wolf, just feasting on an Inuk. If that isn’t a metaphor for what these people face, I don’t know what is. The grief Inuit people have within them.
The second story, a woman, a young mom, has a newborn baby. They are flown to Iqaluit for births. Her and her husband both. She feeds the baby his bottle of milk. She goes into the bathroom, and hangs herself. Dad comes in, finds her, he also suicides. When they find the baby, the milk is still warm. A Mom, caring enough to provide one last bottle for her infant son, and then, makes her exit. The psychologist is brought in for emergent counselling to the family. The sister wails, with guttural cries, and he whispers in her ear “don’t stop…” He tells me the Inuit grieve in healthy, profound ways. Not like the clean, antiseptic ways we do in the rest of Canada. He told me this is why he comes here. To experience them. To encapsulate himself in their life. Suddenly I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be. And the message is; DON’T STOP. No matter what, we all have to keep going.
So today, leaving here, feels bittersweet. I feel connected to these people, and to this land. I feel a sombreness for the tragedy and trauma that lives here. I am only home for 18 days and then I’m flying to another community. It looks like I may be doing this for a spell, and despite its challenges, it’s taken me inside in a way nothing else has. Like maybe i’m letting go… of my own grief within. Grief with a voice, and a name, which has finally found it’s resting place. Here, on the Arctic tundra, amongst ice bergs and blue waters. Amongst Arctic wolves that can eat you life from limb.
On my last night here, I dreamed of a soulmate who has passed on. She told me “I have to leave you now. You have everything you need inside.” I so desperately wanted her to stay, but the message was clear.
In this space of trauma, and grief, and harshness unrelenting, I find peace. I seek God’s mercy in the Inuit’s eyes. I look for it everyday here. I feel a stillness I never have in my life. I feel God guiding my life, and as I fly away, the Arctic waters flood my mind. I whisper out loud a memory. “Don’t stop….”
The Inuit are a force. Caring for them professionally, is an Honour. It has winded me. Many lessons are to be heard.
I will be listening to them all.
Their stories will be told.