A Fond Farewell to Dr. Szelag

Having only arrived five short years ago, Dr. Marek Szelag is bidding a fond farewell to Tumbler Ridge as he and his family head east in pursuit of new life experiences.

Dr. Szelag trained and worked at Easton Hospital, a teaching facility of Drexler Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, before moving to Tumbler Ridge in 1999. Dr. Szelag remembers the move well. ?Moving from Philadelphia was a big move for me and my family in every aspect imaginable. We viewed moving to Tumbler Ridge as an excellent opportunity and to try something really different.? Dr. Szelag had to quickly switch gears from practicing in a very urban setting to a very rural, remote setting. ?On my very first weekend of duty, I had to stitch the back of a young girl who was attacked by a bear and I had to send a teenage girl, who suffered a broken neck in a car accident, to a hospital in Edmonton, Alberta.?

While living and working in Tumbler Ridge, the Szelag?s had a great time trying and learning new things. ?My family and I enjoyed skiing, both downhill and cross-country, and I tried fly-fishing, golfing, hiking, hunting (with no success!), and mountain-biking. I also took part in the Emperor?s Challenge three times,? said Dr. Szelag. As a doctor from the US, Dr. Szelag was required to pass a series of challenging medical exams required for licensing and certification in Canada, and in particular in the province of BC. Dr. Szelag?s wife also took advantage of Canada?s educational system and obtained her degree in nursing after four years of studies in Grande Prairie, Alberta. ?My wife Ewa wants to continue her studies at a university and I am very proud of her plans and determination. Our children are also approaching those turbulent teen years so as a family we decided to move to Barrie, Ontario, where we can experience the unique blend of large city amenities and small town charm.

Dr. Szelag?s new endeavors will include taking over a practice from a retiring family physician and working in a new state-of-the-art hospital. ?I have missed working in a hospital setting. Ewa plans to work part-time in the emergency room and continue with her studies. And our three children are really excited about all of the new opportunities that Barrie can offer them including an excellent variety of sports and cultural activities,? said Dr. Szelag.

Barrie is only a 45-minute drive from Toronto and only minutes from the Muskokas, Georgian Bay, and Wasaga Beach. ?I heard that the fishing in the Barrie area is great but I realize there won?t be any more grayling from the Wolverine River or perch or pike from my favourite lake, Bearhole Lake. Two years ago, we were fly-fishing in Bullmoose Creek when all of a sudden a terrible storm started. We had to run a few kilometers back down the stream to our car and in the process I lost my wallet. To my great surprise, two days later, I got my wallet back! Two young chaps from Tumbler Ridge found my wallet after the storm ? in another river, the Wolverine! After five years of trying very hard to catch a big fish, this is my biggest fishing story!

Dr. Szelag will be greatly missed by his colleagues and staff at the TR Health Center. ?I will remember well the flexible and amiable working relationship Marek and I had with respect to sharing on-call duties that allowed us to pursue our other interests. As a result, the lakes contain a few less fish, but more dinosaur tracks have been found. And the speed with which the nurses and I could depend on Marek to arrive for emergencies was outstanding,? said Dr. Charles Helm.

Dr. Helm will have some fond memories of Dr. Szelag. As a doctor, it is unusual to have a fear of needles, but leave it to Dr. Szelag to have a needle phobia. ?The nurses had to order a very special tiny needle, subsequently dubbed the ?Marek needle?, so that he could be given his annual flu shots, as he refused to be injected with the size of needle that he was good at giving to all of his patients,? said Dr. Helm.

Not only will Dr. Szelag?s departure have an affect on his colleagues, his departure will also create an opportunity for a new doctor. Dr. Helm has already started the process of finding Tumbler Ridge?s next doctor. ?We have identified one excellent candidate, a South African physician who is currently practicing in Saskatchewan, and we are currently working through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC to get the doctor licensed in BC. Unfortunately, this process is quite detailed and lengthy but if it is successful, the doctor might be able to start work some time in October this year. This would only leave a small gap of a few months from Dr. Szelag?s departure to the new doctor?s arrival and we would fill this gap with locums,? said Dr. Helm.

Dr. Szelag?s last day at the TR Health Center will be July 23rd and he leaves these parting words for his staff, colleagues, and patients. ?I was lucky to be able to work in Tumbler Ridge with a great group of people who made such a difference in my life and I learned a lot from Dr. Helm what practicing rural medicine is about. It was fun to work with everybody at the TR Health Center and I would like to thank all of my office staff, the wonderful and tireless nurses, the determined ambulance crew, and all of my patients for five years of memories that will last a lifetime.?