Shirley Howatson-O’Driscoll has been living in Labrador West since 1966. She came to work in the hospital, met her late husband and has been here ever since.
She’s lived most of her life in Labrador and loves the people and the place. The one thing she doesn’t love is the cost of travelling back and forth to other centres for medical treatment.
“Sometimes I have to travel three times a year for medical reasons,” she said. “One trip I was four days in a hotel; it can get expensive.”
She has travelled for a variety of reasons, from heart surgery to checkups, some of which she said should be available in Labrador.
“Usually I go out for a checkup that should be available here, really,” she said. “I went out last time because I had a nodule on the thyroid. It took a couple of trips before I found out there was a bit of cancer there. It was the third trip when I had my thyroid removed.”
She said she couldn't guess how much she has spent on medical trips but it’s a lot. There is some assistance available through the MTAP program for medical travel from Labrador but it doesn't cover all costs. It covers the first $1,000 at 100 per cent, 50% coverage up to $3,000, and 75% of the remainder of eligible expenses. For a widowed senior living on a fixed income that simply isn’t enough.
“I went a few times to see a urologist. He asked me to come back for a third time and I told him no,” she said. “I only get out there long enough to sit on the chair, not even long enough to even warm it up. I told him I wasn’t going back again for that.”
Originally from Cape Breton, Howatson-O’Driscoll has considered moving back to Nova Scotia to be near family but there are numerous reasons she stays.
“I’ve lived here most of my life now, I was a young woman when I got here,” she said. “My late husband, a few years before he died, I asked him where he wanted to be buried and he said ‘I want to stay here, this is our home.’ I followed his wishes and buried him here. If I moved somewhere else it would always be on my mind.”
A previous version of this story stated the MTAP program only covered two trips a year for medical travel. That information has been corrected.