Fake It till you Make It

Trip Start Jul 13, 2013
Trip End Jul 16, 2013

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Like I mentioned, I agreed to this trip for adventure.  I also had to work.  As a front desk person responsible for all the charts, paperwork, and benefit eligibility determination.  Obviously, I am qualified for this and know exactly what I'm doing.  I am also quite familiar with all the Canadian government agencies involved in healthcare so I never get the acronyms wrong and say the wrong things.  I didn't even know that NIHB didn't stand for Native Indian Health Benefit until the last day.  No one told  me that's what it stood for.  I just made that up because that was the agency providing the coverage for the Natives....so that's what I said.  Turns out it stands for Non-Insured Health Benefits.  Oh.  Oops.  Then there's MSP and MHR and PHN's and Status numbers.  I thought PHN # meant Phone Number.  Vicky gently explained that PHN was actually a person's Personal Health Number.  Right, got it.  lol.  This would have typically been Vicky's job, but she had to help Angelo, the optician with glasses fittings and sales
About 3 minutes into this thing, I thought, 'there has got to be a better way'.  lol.  The amount of paperwork was staggering.  The amount of duplication and redundancy was also a bit much.  Government submission forms and copies of that form and the doctor's chart and the glasses order tab....all of which had to match each other and stay together.  I don't want to dwell on the particulars too much.  Suffice it to say that I got to live out my childhood dream of being a receptionist.  I had a blast stapling and copying and organizing...
What I want to visit are the people.  I have never been in a Native American community.  I am aware of the statistics indicating that Natives struggle economically and do not have ready access to healthcare.  This was readily apparent in the population we saw today.  Considering the remoteness of the band, this is not surprising.  Normally, a trip to the optometrist would require someone getting a medical referral for a medical condition and then the Healing Center staff contacting others that might need to 'ride-along' in the medical van to appointments such as optometrists, dentists, psychologists.  This ride is 3.5 hours one way to Kamloops, B.C. where there is one optometrist that will see them.  They cannot use the medical van for an eye or dental appointment alone.  Someone else with that medical referral must be going.  Individuals are welcome to drive themselves, but the number of people without cars was very large.  Catching rides with others was hugely popular.  Even our liaison, Angela, went to pick up patients that didn't have rides. 
The state of the majority of the teeth was deplorable.  Advanced tooth decay with most people missing one or multiple teeth was very common among the visitors.  I was intrigued by this and wondered if there had been a cause identified.  A little research found that prior to white settlers, tooth decay in the Native Americans was practically non-existent.  The major culprit has been identified as the introduction of European diets, specifically the recent huge surge in sugar consumption.  I have also heard about this affecting the isolated people in Appalachia.  Coupled with lack of available dental healthcare and lacking healthy individual habits, nearly everyone had oral issues.  The workers at the health center seemed to be faring better, which is no surprise as they were basically the outreach officers for the band. 
The sense of community was also surprising.  Angela, knew every single person signed up and if they missed their appointment, she was calling them to get in contact with them.  She knew all their phone numbers by heart.  She knew who was staying with whom.  She knew whether they had a car or not.  She was encouraging everyone to come in.  Her passion was admirable.  It was evident that she actually cared and wasn't just 'putting in face time' at her job.  I suppose that the folks working at the health center are more likely to be that way, but it was still amazing to see her zeal to get people taken care of.  I think she was more excited by the turn out than we were!  I got the impression that people respected her and knew she was trying to help.  She was also no nonsense though.  She wanted to know exact numbers of patients including the no-shows.  Those that simply didn't show without a valid reason were put on a list she created.  The people on this list would not receive priority to go out of town to Kamloops to the optometrist.  They would not get their lunch subsidized. 
Angela was friendly and outgoing.  This was not the norm for these folks.  Reserved.  Quiet.  A flat affect.  Hard to read.  All descriptors that I think fit.  This too was intriguing to me.  Was it us that they were reacting to?  Or, were these traits common in the Native American culture?  While I understand all bands and tribes are individually different, I did seem to find that in general, caution, quietness, and listening were all valued characteristics in the Indian culture. 
I also think that there is a bit of the reserved wariness of outsiders.  Growing up in the South, I saw this with small southern towns that weren't used to seeing visitors from the 'city'.  These folks didn't know us.  Why would they be all chummy when we're just a clinic up from Vancouver area to see them for two days?  But, never fear, I managed to get some smiles.  For example, one lady came in and said that she washed up just to see us.  I told her thanks for washing up and that I couldn't even smell her.  Well, when she left, Jared and Jonathan happened to be standing in the lobby as I called out, "Thanks for not smelling."  She laughed.  But, Jared and Jonathan hadn't met the lady at the check in so they both snapped their heads toward me with shocked, aghast faces that said, "Jesus christ Jasmine! You did not just do that!!"  Angela was there too and was laughing.  I explained that it was an inside joke and it was all cool.  They were still both in disbelief and shaking their heads.

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Matt on

Jealous again. Cool trip, amazing views and work for an admirable cause. Nicely done.

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