March 31, 2010

Floating away

You're snowmobiling across the thick-frozen Beaufort Sea, up near the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. You've made it this far. You think you see - yes! - there's a polar bear in the distance! You go after it, but you're not close enough yet and over the engine you almost don't hear it: the crack. Wait. Stop. Feel that? You're moving. And there's water. You aren't supposed to see water, not up here. But there it is, welling up all around the sheet of ice. The wind is pushing you, drifting the ice pan further from shore. You're trapped.

Can you imagine?

That's what happened to a group of sport hunters and guides looking for a trophy off the coast of Paulatuk one night last week. Melting ice is all-too-common cause of death/injury/missing bodies in the North. This group was rescued by helicopter early the next morning, thanks to an emergency GPS satellite 911 signal, but not before one of them slipped off the edge of the ice floe and got hypothermia. I covered it for the paper and since then I haven't been able to shake the story from my mind, wondering how I'd deal in such a circumstance. Such wonderment requires intense introspection and self-scrutiny. So, instead of intro-scrutinizing, I decided I can't possibly know how I'd cope unless (UNTIL?) I'm in that situation.

Not that I'd go looking to get myself in such a dangerously helpless predicament, but I'd also not turn down a hunting expedition (anyone want to invite me along next time?) for fear. The guarantee of a fantastic adventure pretty much outweighs the possibility of an icy death.

Still, the whole thing got me thinking about how the hunters must have felt at that moment of realization when the ice broke away, how I'd feel, how anybody would feel. Overwhelmingly out of control. And what's it like to feel that way in daily life, even if you're nowhere near the Arctic Ocean? Some people do. (Get ready for a rocky segue).

The top three medical conditions in the Northwest Territories, based on the types of drugs most frequently claimed through the Government of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services department*, are:

1. Diabetes
2. Asthma
3. Mental illness
*also the source of this information.

Anti-depressants are the government's highest health claim expenditure, after medicine/equipment to treat diabetes.

This was news to me. (See what I did there?) We hear about the diabetic epidemic in the North, but we still don't hear/learn/know so much about mental health issues - not as much as we should. And I know it's too early for some kind of public service announcement (plus I generally loathe PSAs) about National Mental Health Week (which isn't until May 3-9, sandwiched between National Hospice Palliative Care Week and Naturopathic Medicine Week - now you know) but....whew. (Too many brackets.) Where was I going here? Right. Out of control.

Point is, and I sometimes forget to remember this, we're not all trapped on ice floes. And even if we are, there's GPS.

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