“I’m not planning to leave,” says Dr. Amgad Zake, one of three doctors currently working at the Ashcroft Family Medical Clinic. “I have my patients, I know the community, and my life is settled here. I have no plans to leave.”
Zake—who came to Canada from Kuwait—has been at the clinic since March 2016, when he completed the Practice Ready Assessment program at the Lillooet Hospital. He says he researched British Columbia before he came here, and was very well-supported by Lillooet’s Dr. Nancy Humber, who was in touch with him while he was still in Kuwait. “And I received lots of support from the members of the Wellness and Health Action Coalition.”
Nothing, however, could have prepared him for the situation he faced when, as the only doctor on duty in the clinic on July 7, 2017, the Elephant Hill wildfire exploded.
“I remember the day very well,” he says. “I could smell the smoke, and I asked people about it, and they said ‘Oh, we’re used to it.’” When the severity of the fire became apparent he—along with others—was asked to move his car from the parking lot because of the threat of the fire, on the hillside across from the hospital.
“There were people from Clinton here who were stuck because the highway was closed.” Zake gave some people transportatio into town in his car, so they could get away from the hospital, then helped with the evacuation of the residents of long-term care after getting in touch with Interior Health and explaining how serious the situation was. He wasn’t able to get back to his home on Hill Street to get a bag, and ended up getting the last hotel room available in Merritt.
He says there was some criticism about the hospital and medical clinic being closed for 10 days after July 7, but points out that even when power was restored, it was a week before Internet, landlines, and cell service were fully restored, during which time resuming operation would have been impossible.
The aftermath of last year’s fires, floods, and smoke have been very stressful for many people, including himself, and Zake says that he sees that stress in some of his patients. “People are still very stressed. This was a crisis. They have flashbacks, nightmares. The health authority has programs to help people. Or they come and see me, and I can refer them to the mental health nurse here.”
Zake says that doctor retirements in the area mean more people without a physician, and he wants people to know that he is currently accepting new patients. “Some of my patients might have family members who have lost their doctor, and I encourage them to see me. The doctors need community support; need patients to keep the doctors here and the emergency department open. People should be able to trust that their doctors are staying.”
There was a period in December 2017 when Zake worked 22 days straight to cover both his daily practice and the emergency department over three consecutive weekends, when no one else was available to work. He says that while patient numbers vary over the course of the emergency department being open (Fridays at 6 p.m. until Mondays at 8 a.m.), the busiest period tends to be Friday evenings.
Since arriving here, Zake has been making use of an ultrasound machine at the hospital which was previously not being used, to rule out serious conditions and in the case of pregnancies. He also does cortisone injections for cases of severe arthritis, and administers trigger point injections for cases of chronic, non-cancer pain.
“I wanted to use available resources, and I’m the only one doing those three things here. People are coming from Kamloops for procedures.”
His wife and two children love it in Ashcroft in the summer, says Zake; “Especially the pool. It’s very beautiful here. I don’t see myself in another community, another place. I know the patients here, and that makes the job that much easier.”