Siorapaluk: Medical visit

At 77°47′ N , 47 km north of Qaanaaq, Siorapaluk is the northenmost settlement in Greenland as well as one of the northernmost permanently inhabited settlements in the world. 68 people live here permanently. There is a school, a church and a small library, all combined in one building. The doctor from Qaanaaq visits approximately every 3 months. Health services in these small settlements are provided by a health assistant, employed for a couple of hours a day, and with only a couple of weeks training. Thus all health issues are normally discussed either on phone or telemedicine with Qaanaaq. Siorapaluk is connected with Qaanaaq by twice-weekly helicopter flights.

It is February. Windy and around -30 °C. We travel with two snow-scooters over the frozen fiords and .bring rifles in case we encounter a polar bear. We wear special polar suits including protection glasses. In the middle of the polar winter, the sun is never up, but nevertheless there is a shimmer of light in the horizon. I have no idea about the direction we are taking and have to trust the local driver. In this hostile environment, all it takes is one wrong turn and we will never be seen again.

We leave Qaanaaq at 7am and arrive in Siorapaluk a couple of hours later. With me is an assistant nurse, who also doubles as interpreter, and the plan is to work as we possibly can in one very long day before returning. I see all the children and vaccinations are brought up to date. Dental status is checked. In fact I end up seeing most of the inhabitants and those not on the list, turn up queuing at the door once the rumor had spread of our arrival.

A tragedy struck this remote community in 2013: An old man died, presumably of food poisoning. What no one knew at the time of his death, he did indeed die from botulism, from the traditional meal kiviak. At his funeral, several of the guests ate from this sane meal, and subsequently his 46-year old daughter died and five additional guests were seriously ill. A case report on this event was later published in a forensic science journal.

On the way to Siorapaluk via the frozen Robertson fiord

A 25-year old Japanese man happened to pass by this place 40 years ago in search for extreme wilderness. He never left, and founded a family there. His reputation as a hunter is widespread and as I was looking to buy a polar fox fur, I went to see him at his storage facility in the basement of his house. He immediately apologized, he did have polar foxes, however they were brown and not white.  The white were sold out as confirmation season was approaching.

At 5 pm we wrap things up and travel back over the frozen Robertson Fiord to Qaanaaq.

Other posts on Greenland:
Doctor in Greenland – the basic facts.
Doctor 24/7 on call in Qaanaaq.
A typical day as a doctor in Nanortalik.
Life as a doctor on Thule Air Base.
A visit to Alert, northernmost settlement in the world.

A photogallery of my time as a doctor in Qaanaaq is available on flickr.

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