Nursing in the North II

Phyllis Austman, a nurse who worked in northern Saskatchewan for ten years, remembers winter as posing special problems for nursing in the north. Winter created problems which effectively isolated some northern communities. First, it could get very cold which would cause problems for many residents in their day-to-day living. Second, for patients that needed to be evacuated to larger centres with better equipped hospitals, large amounts of snow could create great difficulty for getting into or out of the community.

Austman remembers some of her more trying times as a nurse in a small northern community. She remembers many attempted suicides and three that were "successful." Deaths in the smaller towns were difficult as everyone knew one another and had for a long time.

Nurses were often the sole health care provider in town (traditional healers notwithstanding). This meant that any possible health problem could walk through their door. Nurses working solo have to have confidence in their decision-making ability as their judgment can mean the difference between life and death. But nursing alone also can pose problems to a nurse's safety - Austman remembers being put into a "choke hold" late one evening by a man who was intoxicated.

Despite some of the trials of her time in the north, Austman looks back on the experience fondly. She remembers working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), teachers and elders to create a better community. Furthermore, she remembers that the people were wonderful and friendly and even though Saskatoon was her real home, the people in the small villages where she worked made her feel at home there too.