Canada then and now: If you are sick, see a doctor!

I’ve been to Canada many times over the past few years, including a visit this summer to that stellar city of the prairies, the center of Canadian Siberia, Winnipeg. So cold, in fact, that while watching the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s weather map of all of Canada, Winnipeg came in at -39 degrees Celcius (like tax, wind chill factor not included). Yellowknife of the Northwest Territories, up on towards the arctic circle was only a close second.

Professor Steve Caplan - international man of mystery

RW’s artistic version of yours truly in action delivering a seminar. I’ve never looked better. Lysosomes evident in the background…

The cold notwithstanding, I recently returned from a terrific visit to fellow OT blogger Richard Wintle’s domain where I met him for the first time, over a nice Thai lunch–only the second OT comrade in arms that I’ve met in person. This was also only the second seminar I’ve given in Canada and my first real visit to Toronto (my other seminar was in Montreal).

Ricardipus, endogenously

Ricardipus, endogenously.

I had a great time, a lovely, vibrant city, wonderful hosts and a first rate scientific institution. Who can ask for more?

TO-from roof

The view from the rooftop fitness center at my hotel across from the university.

I recalled however, some of the rather quirky things that I’ve noticed on visits to Canada. Perhaps one of the oddest was the visitors’ customs/immigration form back in the 90s that I encountered on a flight from Tel Aviv to Canada. The form stated: “If you are sick, see a doctor!”

I can recall thinking to myself, what a superb suggestion. Somehow that never would have occurred to me. First choice would have been an electrician–or maybe a plumber. But a doctor? I suppose there was concern that any 4th-world citizens, those without a valid Canadian passport, might be bringing in new and untreatable STDs and other such foreign treasures. I’m not sure where the attitude originated, but it struck me as strange.

Now in 2013, I sort of envision Canada as a haven for those in need. Unlike the US, whose safety net for those who are weak, sick, poor or otherwise in trouble, tangles and chokes rather than breaking the fall–Canada seemed to me to be a place that looks out for its own. It probably does. But that wasn’t the impression that Pearson Airport presented to me as I arrived from Detroit.

Albeit not as cold as Winnipeg, the small jet plane was not connected to a “sleeve,” but rather deposited us passengers a short walk outdoors to the terminal. Not a big deal, although it was -13 outside. But there was a rather steep set of stairs attached to the plane that wouldn’t have embarrassed the Mayan pyramids that I visited in Belize. Again, not a big deal for me, but a cane-carrying 80+ year old couple in front of me probably had not recently done any rappelling or Andean Treks.

Once inside the terminal, a sigh of relief. Until arriving at the two sets of escalators leading UP to customs. Neither was working, and for me it wasn’t a big deal with my light pack. But the older couple struggled with their canes and carry-ons, trying to ‘portage’ the escalator, as people trapped behind them were anxiously trying to pass to make their connections.

Other quirks–the cold water tap works backwards. It’s rare that you open anything by turning it clockwise–clockwise is usually reserved for closing. Not in Canada–or at least that hotel. But my brain is plastic after all, and after splashing myself by inadvertently opening the cold water tap to full steam, I got the hang of it. Until I needed the hot water. The brilliant concept was that each tap worked differently, with the hot water turning on counter-clockwise. So much for my brain plasticity. I did not master the sink during my visit.

Finally, there is Newfoundland. This picture is a little blurry, but if you look closely, you can see that the time is 5:15 in Halifax (an hour ahead of Toronto, and two ahead of Omaha). But the hotel clock for St. John’s in Newfoundland has 5:45. And no, that’s not a dead battery in the Halifax clock–those are the real times.


Canadian time zones, recently.

All in all, I enjoyed the visit very much, and would go back tomorrow if I were to be invited! How do Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s Free Man in Paris lyrics go? “You know I’d go back there tomorrow, but for the work I’ve taken on, stoking the star maker machinery, behind the popular song…”


About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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3 Responses to Canada then and now: If you are sick, see a doctor!

  1. Great to meet you Steve. 🙂

    To interested readers – I can vouch that Professor Caplan looks exactly like that photograph, even in the absence of lysosomes.

    And I think the hot/cold tap issue is more a hotel thing than a Canadian thing… although maybe it’s a Canadian hotel thing. I don’t travel enough to be sure. As for Newfoundland… well, yes.

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    Cheers, Richard!
    I wonder how your photo of me was influenced by the hot Thai food we had for lunch! There were evanescent waves of chile emitted from every pore on my body–must have been the green curry…

    Having now visited Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, and of course Toronto, I will have to recalibrate my thoughts about Canada, which have been snowed under by Winnipeg…

  3. Pingback: Black and White, Silver and Gold | Adventures in Wonderland

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