“How are you doing?”

She is the critical incident counsellor for nurses working in northern communities.

“I have a pile of about six critical occurrence reports from your clinic dating back the last two weeks. How are you handling things?”

I laugh, because that’s what I’ve learned to do.

“I think I’m doing okay”, I tell her.

“The other day the shampoo bottle fell off the ledge while I was showing and I almost screamed. A  little sob of terror caught in my throat. So I’m a little jumpy”,  I explain. 

We talk some more.  About the last 20 months and all that that holds.  About the tragedy of the last week and the heaviness of everything. She knows. She’s been there too.

“But I’m leaving in two weeks”, I  say.

“Ah, so the light is started to glow at the end of the tunnel”, she says quietly.

Yes, in many ways it is. And yet in some ways I see all the light, the light of this experience fading as I most toward the beginning of the next.

Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about how these are my last two weeks. And how before I know it I will be miles away from the clinic instead of that short walk through the birches.  If I actually let it settle as reality I feel my heart squeeze, squeeze and I have to catch my breath.

I know I need to leave. I am looking forward to beginning a new season. I am burnt out and jumpy and tired. I have a lot of processing and sleeping and debriefing  to do.

Yet this clinic has become my world. And I almost forget what it was like to not have my life revolve around the health of these 40 homes tucked around the bay.  Slate Falls has become home to me, in many ways, but the clinic has become more than that–it has become my life.

I think back to what knew when I first moved up that March day, almost 20 months ago, and what I know now, and marvel.

I had no idea how all-consuming my job would become. I still had visions of hours spend in the bush or learning Ojibway or hanging out at duck camp. And I brought up scrapbooking material. I kid you not. I laugh now.

I hadn’t yet experienced how much just a phone ringing can send your whole body into panic.

I didn’t know how beautiful a small kind gesture, like a bag of chips or a cup of coffee could mean, on busy days. Or how satisfying it would be to care for people and know you made a difference.

I didn’t know that sometimes people don’t appreciate you, even when you do your best and you just need to grow a solid combination of an iron backbone and oiled feathers.

I didn’t know how important it was to sit totally still and listen to people. Not offer advice, or try to fix anything, or worry that you are not being caring enough. Just sit. Totally still. And listen.

I didn’t know that I would become quiet.

I never would have guessed that I would become good at administration and the thousands of details that come with keeping a clinic functioning smoothly, driven by the necessity of being the only long term nurse. Me? The disorganized, absent minded RPN who hates paperwork?

I didn’t know there was something called Compassion Fatigue.

I didn’t know what it felt like to feel sleep deprived for days on end.

I didn’t know that a community of 150 people and one small gravel road could open my world up so wide.

I didn’t know how much I would come to love this community and these people and my job, even though all three were very, very different than all my expectations.

Yes, the light is at the end of the tunnel , and I am thankful.

But at the same time, I’m going to miss the light as well. The light of Slate Falls, and the light of all my friends and patients and coworkers , the hard florescent light of the emerge room at 3:00 am,  and the light of the cold fall sun, splashed out over the lake.