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Conference on the Move to Marathon, Ontario

Friday, October 12 and Saturday October 13, 2012

A Perspective from a Delegate on Conference on the Move: Marathon

By: Dr. Hoffie Conradie, Stellenbosch University, South Africa and Rendez-Vous 2012 Participant

Marathon is a small community 300 km east of Thunder Bay, Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Ten Rendez-Vous participants ventured on the three-hour bus trip with our very friendly hosts, Ms. Kimberley Larkin and Dr. Sarah Newbery, one of the family docs in Marathon. The trip took us along the shores of the lake through the boreal forests with the last remnants of the autumn colours. The bus driver was made to stop along the way for the Africans and Indians to experience a snowball fight, with snow left from the recent snowfall.

Participants at Wilson Memorial General Hospital in Marathon.

The participants represented South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada, and India. On arrival, after a warm welcome from the doctors in the local hospital, we started with our program on Pain Control and Addiction presented by Drs. Sean Moore and Jim Ducharne, both emergency physicians with a special interest and experience in chronic pain management and addictions.

After the session, some participants toured the hospital, others left for the local golf club, the venue for supper, but first we had a 30 minute “chair yoga” session with Ms. Leanne Wierzbiscki that had us all breathing deeply, stretching, and relaxing. The locals joined us. We had a wonderful supper with Dr. Barbara Zelek, one of the local doctors, introducing our hosts. The local mayor, Mr. Rick Dumas, gave us a short history of the town, which was established around a pulp mill. The mill closed four years ago. The economy now revolves around the gold mine established 27 years ago.

Mr. Roger Souckey, the HR manager of the local gold mine, described the workforce as very stable, but with an average age of 50. The nurse practitioner at the mine, Mr. Chris Crawford, told us about screening and health promotion efforts. Ms. Carol Rowan, a community developer with vast experience in Northern Ontario communities who now works in two reserves close to Marathon (Pic Mobert and Pic River) gave us a fascinating insight in the devastation caused by alcohol and opiate addiction in these communities. Hope is provided in the belief that the return to cultural customs can generate healing.

We booked in at the Harbor Inn for a much needed rest. The morning started with a quick breakfast and a walk, for some, in the chilly autumn air to the hospital where our program resumed. Our presenters brought us up to date with guidelines on the initiation of opioids in chronic pain and the subsequent management. Treatment of addiction was then discussed at the hand of patient scenarios. The presenters discussed management with very practical suggestions. We all left with a much better understanding of the management of chronic pain and addiction with practical tips for our patients.

After lunch we visited the local health clinic. One of the local doctors took me on a mountain bike trip on single tracks alongside a local lake. On our way back, when we stopped at Nipigon for a leg stretch, a pickup truck pulled up with a dead moose on a trailer to the delight of all, with photos being taken with the moose legs as background. Just before arriving back in Thunder Bay, we stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial. This young man, whose leg was amputated due to cancer, attempted to run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. After more than 5000 km he had to stop due to recurrence of his cancer. Needless to say he is a national hero in Canada.

Terry Fox Monument outside of Thunder Bay.

The Conference on the Move to Marathon gave us a wonderful insight in the challenges of rural health in Ontario, but also of the commitment of the rural physicians.