My Little Corner of Canada, April 17

Tuberculosis

By JOHN AMAGOALIK

When one is infected with tuberculosis, or TB, these days chances are good that you will be cured with powerful medication, some bed rest and isolation.

It was different for those of us who caught TB during the epidemics of the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, it meant many months or years recovering in a hospital in the south.

For many it meant surgery. A whole lung or part of the lung often had to be surgically removed to save their lives. For those whose sickness was too far advanced, it meant death. Hundreds of Inuit are buried in many parts of Canada, often in unmarked graves.

Sometimes their relatives back home were never notified after a loved one died. The hospitals or sanatoriums often did not have records of where a patient came from or who their relatives were. There are still some Inuit today who are still searching for the graves of their relatives.

Some have been successful. To them, finding the grave of a mother, a father, or a grandparent brings a degree of closure.

Fifty, sixty years ago, TB was a difficult disease to cure. It meant heavy medication, complete bed rest, and isolation. For many Inuit, the loneliness and homesickness were the most difficult to deal with.

Some never heard a word from their relatives back home because the family did not know what city or hospital they were in.

Many young children spent years in southern hospitals. By the time they came back, they had lost their language and did not recognize their family members. They had a difficult time relearning their identity.

In 1961, I was diagnosed with TB. I spent 14 months at the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton. There, they had four different routines a patient had to follow before they were released to go home.

Routine One was complete bed rest. You couldn’t even get out of bed to go to the washroom. A nurse had to bring a bed pan when nature called.

I usually sneaked to the washroom when the nurses weren’t looking. The nurses were not strict with this rule anyway because they knew it took more effort to use the bed pan than to just get up and walk a few feet to the washroom.

Routine Two meant you could get out of bed and walk around for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.

Routine Three gave you quite a bit more freedom. You could walk around the hospital and visit friends or other family members who might be in other parts of the hospital. You could go to the small canteen to buy magazines, candy, or gum. You could go to church service every Sunday.

Routine Four meant almost total freedom. You could even leave the hospital to go on day trips around the city. It was not long for your doctor to tell you that you were ready to go home.

I was lucky that my hospital stay was relatively short. I also did not get too lonely or homesick because my older brother, two cousins, an uncle and my mother were also in the hospital during my 14 months.

It is sad and frustrating to see that TB is once again threatening our communities in this day and age.

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