An Iqaluit Christmas for boarding home patients

Out-of-town visitors fill all 40 beds as holiday approaches



Noo Atsiaq didn’t expect to visit Iqaluit this month.

But when the left side of his face began to swell and cause unbearable pain, he had little choice. The 19-year-old was medevaced from Cape Dorset to the Baffin Regional Hospital, where nurses poked a needle with anesthetic into his hip and hooked an IV drip to his wrist.

By 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 13, he found himself standing in the main foyer of Tammaativvik, Iqaluit’s medical boarding home, with a white bandage still wrapped around his wrist.

It turns out that eight cavities in his teeth caused the swelling. “It just keeps coming. It’s killing me,” he says. His next appointment at the hospital is this afternoon.

When he returns to Cape Dorset in a few days, he’ll be missing a few teeth, but he’ll be back in time for Christmas. Others at Tammaativvik won’t be so lucky.

The boarding home has 40 beds, which are always full.

“We’re overflowing right now,” said manager Oleepeeka Gordon. She knows of about 20 patients waiting for operations who are on a wait-list for a bed in Tammaativvik. For now, they stay with friends or family in town instead.

Some years, the boarding home has closed for the holidays, but it doesn’t look like they will this year. Boarders will be served turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

“A lot of them would rather stay,” Gordon says.

Behind Atsiaq in the foyer, four people chat on a sofa near the Christmas tree. One, a 19-year-old woman from Arctic Bay, who is expecting a child, still wears her pyjamas. “Most of the people here are pregnant,” she says.

She’s already picked out a name for her daughter: Gloria. She says she’s due any day.

The girl in pyjamas doesn’t want her name in the newspaper, but she doesn’t mind saying that she misses her parents the most, and she hopes she can return to Arctic Bay for Christmas.

“I wish I could go home right now,” she says.

A few minutes later, a worker arrives with a half dozen grocery bags full of donated children’s clothes. The girl in pyjamas joins other women in the room to pick through the items, inspecting tiny pink overalls and colourful t-shirts.

As for Atsiaq, his unexpected trip to Iqaluit could actually help him connect with family. He lives with his grandparents in Cape Dorset, apart from his mother and sister, Ruth, who both live in Iqaluit.

He hasn’t spoken to either yet, he says, reaching into his wallet to pull out a picture of Ruth, who’s going to Inuksuk High.

“I’m going to call her this afternoon,” he says, with a smile stretching across his swollen face.

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