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Photo Inuit watching arrival of the Eastern Artic patrol vessel C

From the trap line to the Edmonton Hospitals

Abraham Okpik
Tuberculosis was all over, in Coppermine and Cambridge Bay, everywhere. From all down the Mackenzie, Indians like Dogribs and Chipewayans started coming in to the hospital. That’s how I got to understand them. There were Blackfoot, Sarcee, Piegans, Brochet and Crees from Northern Saskatchewan. The place was just full!

They had a staff of experts that all came from the war, x-ray technicians and surgeons. Some of the patients were cut right open and part of their ribs were collapsed together. I had pheumothorax in my lung and every week they put some air in it with water pressure. I could feel it for two days after. I spent three years there. When I came back everybody knew that I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, but I never accepted that and I just kept on going.
Abe’s father noticed that the young man was constantly reading: packaging, directions, et cetera. He subscribed to two newspapers, Star Weekly and Life magazine. He asked Abe to read to him about current events, about heroes from the war, and about the sports figures of the day. The community got its news through such publications and from veterans of WWI living in the North, and later from radio broadcasts. Radio dramas and sports programs captivated Abe’s imagination, especially programs such as The Shadow, Superman, and The Lone Ranger.

Abe remembers when the community was struck by tuberculosis, how they learned together to deal with death and grief and comfort. In 1942, a flu virus came in with the mail plane, and a clerk at the post office got sick, got “the bad flu.” The whole community was sick, with very high fever, something they weren’t used to. Thirty-five people died that Christmas season. Abe was injured that same year bringing in the caribou meat for the winter, and the doctors detected tuberculosis in his bone in 1945. Abe’s father paid his airfare to Edmonton and back home, and Abe ended up staying three years in the hospital.