March 9 marked 50 years of your employment at the clinic. Looking back to that first day – March 9, 1970 – what was it like?
That is a vague memory – it was 50 years ago! I had just turned 21 years old three weeks before. My baby was nine months old.
The three doctors who hired me were Dr. Erwin Block, Dr. Art Laventure and Dr. Claude Morin. There were four full-time staff – Shona Shaw, the registered nurse; Evelyn Dacyk; Lenore Hemmingway; and Gerry Murphy. Doraine Roy was a student who worked two hours a day after school each day. I was hired to replace Lenore who was soon going on maternity leave. The girls as well as the doctors were extremely friendly and welcoming. I felt good being there and joining their team. Everyone was young and enthusiastic.
The waiting room was narrow with two benches on each side. There was a little cubicle for the receptionist. In there the patient files were all contained to just two filing cabinets – that’s all!
I worked at the back of the clinic, down the hall from the front. I was hired to do the billing, which doctors wrote on a little soft cardboard rectangular card with a carbon copy attached. We sent these cards weekly to Alberta Health Care by mail and kept the carbon copy. I also kept the books in a large ledger. The word computer was unheard of then.
Where was the clinic at that time?
The clinic was located on the west side of Main Street, which is now an empty lot next to the ATB. It was called the Dersch Building, which was converted into a clinic in 1964 and named Central Peace Clinic.
Did you work with the Sisters of the Holy Cross for a few months before the hospital was handed over to the government a few months after you started work?
I worked with the Sisters of the Holy Cross Hospital after graduating from high school in 1967 until I went to the clinic in 1970. In that same year – 1970 – the hospital was sold by the Sisters of the Grey Nuns to the Town of Spirit River, and the General Hospital District was formed. The hospital still operated in that same facility until the new hospital was constructed in 1972. (I found this last bit of information at the Chepe Sepe history book, which does not state who provided the information.)
When the hospital changed hands from the Sisters of the Holy Cross to the Town of Spirit River, can you tell us what it was like to work for the doctors at that time?
There was really no change that I can recall or am aware of. I have no knowledge of any of the Administration Department. As far as I knew, they were just the same doctors practicing the same medical services, just under Central Peace General Hospital instead of Holy Cross Hospital.
Were there other locations for the clinic before the current location of our new Central Peace Health Centre?
Yes there was, but I am only aware of the Dersch Building. Apparently, in 1961 Dr. John Pawlovich and Dr. Art Laventure renovated a two-story house into a medical clinic across the street from the back of the existing hospital, which is now converted into a residence again.
As I mentioned before, in 1964 the Dersch Building was converted into a clinic. Then in 1972 we moved into the newly constructed building that we worked out of until the end of April 2018, when we moved into our current facility built just next door to it at 4410-50th Street. Our prior building was demolished and removed, and the site was converted into a parking lot for the dental clinic and other medical and physical businesses on the north side of out present facility.
In order for this building to be constructed, the Anglican Church was re-located to the Spirit River Museum site, and the other homes and an apartment building were demolished to accommodate this construction.
How many doctors have you worked for?
Wow! I should have kept a thick “black book” – far too many to remember. I started out with Dr. Block, Dr. Laventure and Dr. Morin. Then Dr. Phillips came in 1971 to 1973, but returned in 1977 and worked through his retirement in December 2018. There were so many. A few that come to mind are Dr. Cox, Dr. LeRoux, Dr. Wagenaar, Dr. Scanga, Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Toane and many more that stayed quite a while, and some that didn’t. Dr. Spruyt has been here for almost 23 years. Dr. Kitagawa came in 1999 as a medical student under Dr. Phillips and then returned in 2005, so she has been practicing here for 15 years now, and our newest addition, Dr. Wolfaardt, joined us last year, taking over Dr. Phillips’s practice.
But when I consider all of the locum doctors in 50 years, it is impossible to guess and too many to count. Many of our locum doctors have come back numerous times so that they seem like part of our “clinic family,” and they are well known to the patients as well who look forward to their return each time.
You must have a lot of stories to tell. Can you tell us one that stood out to you?
Oh my goodness! Do I ever have memories and stories over 50 years. That would be quite an interesting “Memoirs of Central Peace Clinic” history book. But to limit it to one . . .
Years ago, when Betty Rymhs was our nurse, she went out to the waiting room and called this patient’s name. She called again and then again. He just sat there in his chair, looking straight ahead. She thought he couldn’t hear her, so she walked over, touched his shoulder and said his name again. He gave a start and fell to the floor, stretching out on his back and clasped his hands together over his chest, blinked his eyes and looked up straight at the ceiling. I went screaming down the hall, calling for Dr. Scanga, “Something is wrong with J. . . !” I yelled.
Dr. Scanga ran out to the waiting room, checked this young man’s vitals, assessed him and said “He’s just having an ‘Absence Spell’. He’s OK. Just leave him alone until he ‘comes back’. This happens to him a lot.” Well, patients are coming in the front door, patients are leaving their examining rooms and returning to the waiting room, and everyone is pointing at this 6’3” young man lying prone on the floor, with faces of bewilderment and shock. “Don’t worry,” Dr. Scanga kept repeating. “He’s fine.”
“Look,” I said, “Can’t we at least prop a book open in his hands? This is poor advertising for the clinic.”
Sure enough, in a few moments, J looked around, got up off the floor and followed Betty down the hall as if nothing had happened!
How has technology changed your job over the years?
Tremendously! As I mentioned at the beginning, when I started in 1970 the word computer was unknown in our little clinic. Throughout the years, we eventually got one big boxy computer that had a totally black screen with orange writing, and the printer had huge rolls of paper that spit out continuously. I had to enter the billing onto this and then submit all of this by phone – called a “modem” to a billing service in Edmonton.
Now, absolutely everything is done on a computer at each employee’s desk, and very soon we are going “paperless” with Electronic Medical Records. Doctors will have a computer in their examining rooms, and will look up patient reports on this with the patient as well as all other patient care.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? Has that changed over the years or has it always been what you have enjoyed most?
The most rewarding part of my job always has been and always will be the patients. I have been honoured to have associated with the great grandparents, the grandparents, the parents, the kids and grandkids and on down the line. I love the people! They are all so friendly and appreciative, bearing gifts, kind words and hugs. They make my day worthwhile. Most are very understanding and patient with the waiting times and chaos. Many are sick, hurting, worried or scared. It must be difficult for our partients to be so patient!
What do you enjoy in your spare time?
All I really do is read, read, read. Oh, I love to sip on white wine while I’m reading.
If you were to retire, what would you do?
That is the big question. I don’t know! I have always worked ever since I was 15 years old on weekends in Jack Bird’s store at Blueberry Mountain, except for a short maternity leave when Sheila was born in 1969. I don’t even think maternity leave was three months back then.
But I am finding all the new technology harder to grasp as I get older. My job has changed in 50 years. But I believe that when God shuts a door, He opens a window. I will have to look for that open window. But it will be difficult. I will miss the patients, the doctors and my co-workers so very much.
Final question: where does your love for peanut butter come from?
Where did that come from? When I was a little girl on the farm, my parents didn’t have money for store-bought things except for the basics. Everything was homemade, home-grown, canned, pickled and preserved.
One day, I was thrilled to go with the neighbours to Spirit River from our farm in Blueberry Mountain. That was a huge adventure. Mama gave me a little money to buy myself something “in town”. All that caught my eye was this bright blue little plastic pail of peanut butter. What a treat for Mama, Daddy and myself.
When we got back home, I walked proudly home from the neighbours’ place carrying my bright blue plastic pail of peanut butter by the cute little white plastic handle. Well, the handle broke, my pail hit the frozen ground and busted into pieces.
My peanut butter was gone. On the ground. Broken up and gone. I bawled all the way home. Since then, peanut butter has been my soul food, my comfort food, my favourite food to start the morning and, very often, end my day.
Years ago, we had a general surgeon, Dr. Cox, working here, who loved doing surgery. He would come into the clinic, stating “A morning without surgery …” And I would finish “is like a morning without a peanut butter.”