I’d been living in Canada for about 4 months before I realised that “how are you going?” is a funny, Australian thing to ask.
Further enquiry with colleagues and patients revealed that “how’s it going?” or “how are you doing?” are perfectly acceptable. But the hybrid “how are you going?”… Nope. That’s just weird, apparently.
It has caused me to reflect on the evolution of language, and whether we really say what we mean. Despite my words and accent becoming gradually more Canadian-esque with time, this is one phrase I’m going to hang on to. In my mind, it reflects my genuine desire to know about that person’s experience, both in this moment and in their broader life journey.
Or maybe it’s just my Aussie stubbornness that’s resistant to change. But whatever. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.
Regardless of how the question is asked, I think we are all guilty of brushing it off as a mere superficial greeting. Responding with the ubiquitous “fine”, “good” or “OK, thanks” deprives us of an opportunity to really connect and be open about what’s really going on in our unique, messy, complex lives.
On that note, a lot of people have asked me about how I’ve been going in Canada, and I, too, have often responded with a generic response. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about my experiences, but it’s just so hard to articulate in a socially acceptable time frame. Really, it would take almost as many months as I’ve been in Canada to describe the experience of it. But… let me try.
So, how am I going in Canada?
I’m going, generally well, thanks for asking, but to be honest it’s been pretty up and down, and damn hard at times. My first few weeks were a mixture of delightful discovery and immense frustration at the incomprehensible local way of doing things. Thank goodness for fairy tale animals that always seemed to cross my path and lift my spirits just when I was ready to bang my head against a brick wall.
Bureaucratic organisation unable to give me a straight answer? Oh look there’s an OTTER! Having to learn how to write a cheque in order to pay my bills!? Oooooh a DEER crossing the road! Unpredictable tax surprise added to every purchase? WOAH was that a RACOON…?! Being publicly shamed by a barista for requesting a single-shot latte? YAY another otter!
I’ve got to admit, this internalised “otter exchange rate” was an emotional lifeline in those tough first weeks.
My first day at work rolled around, and it was without doubt one of the most traumatic days of my career…. and there wasn’t even any blood! We think we go to med school and do speciality training to learn how to do medicine. In reality we learn how to work within a system. When that system is gone, we become helpless. I was right in the deep end, barely able to stay afloat, questioning the judgement that had brought me to this place.
What followed was several weeks of early morning insomnia and unprecedented weight loss. It was at that point that I wondered if maybe I was maybe really not OK. That is a pretty scary place to be when you don’t have access to a GP and you’ve come to a place where you literally know no-one.
Bit by bit, things got better. It was my amazing colleagues and their endless patience with my questions that helped me through. And my wonderful patients who have been so tolerant of a doctor who is fumbling her way through.
Now, at the 8 month mark. It’s still bloody hard. It’s hard when the things you think are universal truths in medicine, are, in fact not. It’s hard when both your credit history and your professional reputation are reset to zero, and you have to start from scratch to prove your worth. It’s hard when you don’t have those old friends you can drag out for a drink on a Friday and debrief with.
I cried all the way home in my car when I realised it was already my twin brother’s birthday, the day ahead of mine. I cried the next day at work when everyone was so kind to me. I cried again on Christmas in the privacy of a hospital call room, worrying about my family all scattered apart.
But, there have been plenty of smiles and laughter, too. I have frolicked in the fall leaves and marvelled at the mountains. I have explored the beaches of Tofino, the wilds of Whitehorse, the peaks of Whistler and the cafes of Kitsilano with a bunch of Aussie mates. I’ve hiked and biked the island trails with some of the most beautiful Canadian souls. I’ve seen the salmon running and bears prowling and the snow falling. I’ve sung on stage in moments of choral bliss. I’ve loved and been loved. I’ve played volleyball with Unicorns. I’ve eaten apples that are pink on the inside and seen dahlias bigger than my head. I can drive equally awkwardly on both sides of the road. I have had the satisfaction of providing good care to a group of patients who truly appreciate it.
So how am I going in Canada? Well. I’m going. And learning. And living. And this journey is far from over.