In September of 1959, freshly minted physician Eric Paetkau and his new bride travelled the narrow, winding road on BC's Sunshine Coast. The road suddenly ended at a twin-gabled, two-storey building perched on a bluff overlooking picturesque ocean bays dotted with islands. The young doctor gazed up at St. Mary's Hospital and thought, "this is for me."
Paetkau's humorous and sometimes harrowing stories of his career in this rugged place begin at a time when the doctor often travelled by car, boat or seaplane to patients in remote homes and logging camps. Paetkau recalls those early days when he was confronted with an unusual situation, his partner advised him to "just wing it." When he told a patient that he wasn't trained to extract his bad tooth, the man replied, "the doctors here pull teeth." Before he knew it, the new doctor found himself administering to the offending teeth of both man and beast. In fact, veterinary care was another hat that he would learn to wear in his new position. Paetkau recollects the unique characters who inhabited his community--the female trapper suffering from a "peculiar" stomach (she was seven months pregnant), to the logger with a deep cut on his forehead who refused anaesthetic because he wanted his twelve-year-old son "to see how a tough man handles a thing like this."
Paetkau's career began in a frontier age of medicine in British Columbia, when patients' expectations were pragmatic, physicians had more autonomy and community support was enormous. As time passed, the local doctor was motivated to explore politics as a way to meaningfully improve his community while facing increasing challenges brought on by bureaucratic upheavals and physician shortages. After witnessing many tragedies, some miraculous outcomes and accumulating a physician's bag of engaging stories, Dr. Eric Paetkau officially retired in June 2002, but kept on doing locums for the next nine years.