The real invisible hand that keeps us going

Sheila Martin

THERE ARE TWO “INVISIBLE HANDS” AT WORK IN OUR DAILY LIVES. One is mythical and one is very real. The mythical one excites Bay Street. The real one lives in places like Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia.

CEOs and their pet economists and politicians go gaga over the mythical invisible hand. They say it works like magic to give us a “free market”—the one that is supposed to keep capitalist economies in balance, and deliver the greatest good to the greatest number—something it never, ever does.

‘A shadow system of kindness’

The real invisible hand is at work right now in Sheet Harbour. It’s a perfect example of the working of “the other invisible hand” author Rebecca Solnit writes about in her eloquent 2010 essay “Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves: Further adventures in the territories of hope”

Solnit says the other invisible hand exists because of “a shadow system of kindness” rooted in our faith in ourselves, and in others. It is this shadow system of kindness—not the ebb and flow of money—that she says keeps the capitalist system workable.

When the capitalist system fails us, when their great plans and policies leave many of us to fall between the cracks, we don’t fall to bits. We don’t panic. We simply carry on. We see what needs to be done and we do it.

That’s what some folks in Sheet Harbour are doing right now.

Life on the ‘forgotten coast’

Sheet Harbour is off the beaten track on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, the “forgotten coast”. It’s a good 90 minute drive up the Atlantic shore from Halifax. About 800 people live there. They need more doctors.

The Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour is supposed to serve a region with 3000 people. It has three doctors; two work the emergency room at the hospital. The ER has erratic hours posted on the hospital door or announced on local radio stations. It is sometimes closed for days at a time.

Sheila Martin heads a group of community members determined to change that. Sheila is retired. She was a nurse the hospital for 35 years. The committee is not content to just leave it to the provincial health authority to do something for them.

The committee is actively looking for more doctors to practice in Sheet Harbour The goal is to have a collaborative care system, where physicians work the ER from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. while Emergency Health Services work overnight shifts. A team of doctors, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, and more will work to make sure patients are seen.

“We need to find a physician who wants to live in rural Nova Scotia, who’s on call one-third of their life,” says Shelia.

Sheila says, “It’s very challenging for the physicians who are here. They are treating their family, they are treating their friends, they are treating their community. The smaller you get, the more intimate that is.

Sheila recalls the time there was a serious car accident in the community. She and other nurses stabilized the patient. Sheila remembers walking into the waiting room afterward where dozens of community members and the RCMP officers were waiting to hear how their patient was doing. Everyone in the community knew someone in that accident.

The committee convinced the Sheet Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs to develop a marketing program including a website that can be used as a recruitment tool at healthcare job fairs.

‘Putting out our own fires’

Elected representatives haven’t helped much. Their MLA, MP and the mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality that includes Sheet Harbour all have bigger fish to fry. The way Sheila sees it, “in a lot of ways people who live here feel devalued.

“Everyone is too busy putting out their own fires to pay attention to us. So, we got pretty good at putting out our own fires.”

The committee had one lead on a physician, who ended up choosing another location. But they’re still looking, working on that marketing program, and spreading the word about Sheet Harbour, its lifestyle, and opportunities to practice medicine in a downhome way.

“I don’t have any easy answers,” says Shelia, “but we keep plugging away.”

The other invisible hand keeps working.


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