Because you, Henry, are our greatest adventure

When Blake and I found out that we were pregnant, we vowed that no matter what happened, we would do our best to continue to pursue our current lifestyle (with some modifications, of course!). Our biggest fear was that we would stop doing the things that we loved to do, like skiing, camping, canoeing, traveling, etc. Both Blake and I very much enjoy being active, being outside and pushing ourselves outside of what is ‘comfortable’. The activities that we are passionate about independently, are also what have brought Blake and I together as a couple and continue to be an important part of our relationship.

Since Henry has been born, we have travelled across the country and have gone North to live for a week at a time in a fly-in First Nations community. These adventures have not been without challenges, hilarity and frustrations, however, they have already brought our family closer together and have reinforced our hope to continue to embark on journeys that other families might have significant reservations about!

Our most recent trip North to Neskantaga First Nation was definitely a challenging one. With swarms of mosquitos and black flies as thick as storm clouds, cool weather and lots of rain, our ability to get out and about in the community was really limited. My working days when we are North are long but also very rewarding. It’s one of my favourite parts of my job. I love having continuity with patients and hearing about people’s lives and their stories. Unfortunately, in part due to EXTREMELY slow internet, I am often in my office from 8am-5pm, then from 7pm-10 or 11pm charting, writing consult letters or following up on test results. The long days make it difficult for all of us, as I am not able to help out much with Henry. It is also challenging for Blake and Henry to be stuck in the little apartment at the back of the nursing station when the weather and bugs make it literally impossible to get outside. Despite this, Blake has been incredibly patient and very resilient. As always, he makes the best of the situation and keeps himself and Henry occupied by chatting with community members and getting out when they can. I am so very grateful to Blake for supporting me and enabling me to provide care in this community.

Waking Henry up bright and early to catch our first flight from Sioux Lookout to Thunder Bay

En route to Thunder Bay to meet Blake

Father and son reading material 🙂

Henry’s first flight in a very tiny plane!

Neskantaga (formerly known as Lansdowne House) is a community of about 250 people perched on the shores of the great Atiwapiskat Lake. Our first glimpse of the community came on our descent towards the gravel runway that beings and ends at the water’s edge. A landing not for the faint of heart. Thankfully Henry adores turbulence and laughs as he is bounced around on the tiny aircraft. I, on the other hand, usually have my eyes tightly shut and am concentrating hard on not losing my breakfast. All northern airports look identical. Corrugated steel buildings, singular rows of chairs, a desk where the ‘agent’ sits to board passengers. In reality, getting onto a flight out of the community involves as little as the pilot yelling, ‘Anyone going to Thunder Bay?’ and people piling on at random onto the plane!

The airport in Neskantaga

Within minutes of our arrival to Neskantaga, acres of black spruce and bogland flash by on our dusty ride from the airport to the nursing station. Jason Derulo blasts from the pick-up trucks speakers, contrasting the very easy going, silent medical driver who is definitely a man of very few words. Once arrived at the nursing station, Henry, Blake and I drop off our bags at our apartment – a small two bedroom abode attached to the back of the nursing station. Our luggage, which includes a tupperware bin full of baby gear including Henry’s portable high chair, as well as a large cardboard box crammed full of frozen meals for our weeks stay gets piled by the door as we quickly settle into our new digs. Henry goes for a nap while I head to the clinic. The days go by quickly for me and slowly for Blake as he discovers the world of satellite TV, bound to the apartment while Henry snoozes. Our outings consist of walks around the community which is carved into the land in the shape of two semi-circles. Henry and Blake do their rounds multiples times during the day, while I attempt to join them as much as possible in the evenings.

Henry visiting me at work

The nursing station and community centre in the background

Our apartment at the back of the nursing station, Band Office in the background
My office – I took this picture to show the many many dead mosquitos that lay in a mosquito graveyard at my feet

Having a baby on your back or in your arms is an open invitation for conversation. I am so grateful that Henry has been with us for our trips North. Without hesitation, people are quick to say hello, ask us about Henry, coo at him, hold him and bounce him. Children touch his cheeks and hair. As a physician, it has really changed the way I feel that I am perceived. Less like ‘just the next white doctor’ and more like a person with a family, with a life and stories of my own.

A visit to ‘old Lansdowne House’ – the now abandoned church and yard

Ice in May!

Blake and Henry picking up garbage in the community

Still lots of snow and ice in May 

Without a doubt, Thursday evenings and Friday mornings are my two favourite times during our week in Neskantaga. Just after 9pm on Thursday nights, while I work away at my desk, I hear the doorbell of the nursing station ring. Soon, I hear growing chatter, the voices of women clucking away. Laughter erupts continuously all night, until well after 11pm. These ladies are the Thursday Night Sewing Group. From young to old, they sit around a table in the nursing station community room patiently sewing intricate bundles for new babies, bug bonnets for their small ones, and beautifully beaded moccasins. Every Thursday, I rush to try to finish my charting in time to join them. I am desperate to learn how to embroider as they do. On our recent visit, one of the ladies from the group presented me with the most darling bug bonnet for Henry. Hand embroidered with his nickname, ‘Hank’, the bonnet’s lace frames his perfect face. It is a beautiful gift and I am incredibly thankful that our family has been welcomed so.

Henry with Gloria, the very talented community health representative

Henry in his bonnet

On Friday mornings, at the end of our week, we gather for breakfast together in the community room. A spread of eggs, bacon, click, toast and donuts fills the bellies of all of the nursing station and band office staff,  patients and whoever else might be around. Henry bounces in an exersaucer while the ladies coo, clap and laugh with him. We chat over coffee and talk about the weather, fishing, upcoming events and how the week went. It is a wonderful way to end our stay.

Gloria & Henry at Friday breakfast

Then, Henry and Blake head out on the early flight back to Thunder Bay and go grocery shopping in the big city while I continue to work. We meet in the late afternoon before beginning the long drive back home to Sioux Lookout. Ada greets us with a furiously wagging tail and we are finally home, until we do it all over again in a month!

Ice on the lakes

Henry loving the flight from Thunder Bay to Neskantaga

A pit stop in Fort Hope

Future pilot? 
Waiting at the Fort Hope airport

Henry’s 360. Blake tells me he now can do a 540. I shudder at the thought. 

Adrenaline junkie baby

During my residency, I have been so fortunate to have made connections with communities in rural Canada. Tomorrow, we set out to reconnect with old friends in Haida Gwaii – a hidden gem on the West Coast where Blake and I spent four months in the town of Masset. This adventure involves many plane rides, 10-hour ferry rides and camping! I’ve never slept in a tent with a baby, nor have I had to deal with bottles while roughing it. I’ll keep you posted on how we fare 🙂

Much love!

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