SWAN, Alan

Author Tags: Biography, History, Medicine, Physician Author

Dr. Alan Swan (1928-2011) was a graduate of Queen's University who set up a medical practice in Pender Harbour, B.C. and spent his entire career there and in nearby Sechelt. According to publicity materials for House Calls by Float Plane: Stories of a West Coast Doctor: "When Dr. Alan Swan took the job as doctor at Pender Harbour's 13-bed mission hospital in 1954, his first challenge was locating the place. Almost as soon as he arrived, Dr. Swan was called out to attend a logger who had severed his leg with a chainsaw and was holding the parts together until help arrived. Swan was a city boy and had intended to find a nice suburban practice but became so fond of the rural coast and its oddball residents he spent his whole career there." Swan passed away in 2011, but not before he had meticulously written down his stories and left the manuscript with his family. Float Plane: Stories of a West Coast Doctor (Harbour $24.95) briefly made a surprising appearance on the BC Bestsellers list.


House Calls by Float Plane: Stories of a West Coast Doctor (Harbour 2013) $24.95 978-1-55017-604-9

[BCBW 2013] "Physician Author"

House Calls by Float Plane
Review (2014)

Review by George Szasz

Alan Swan was born in 1928 in Toronto. His father was a parson, and the family moved where his father was needed – so Alan grew up in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Kingston. He graduated in Medicine at Queens University in 1953, married his life time partner, Rosa and moved back to British Columbia intending to find a suburban practice. He ended up practicing in the rural Sunshine Coast of BC for some 20 years and in Northern British Columbia for another four years. “House Calls by Float plane” is a series of stories about the people in the costal region’s logging camps and anecdotes about his visiting medical practice in the North. Loggers lived in isolation and often died in the woods. “I came to know just how many ways there were for these highly skilled men…to be severely injured or killed”. As often as not there were no roads to many logging sites. Reaching the injured and sick by float planes or boats had its hazards. “The wind was rising… I could see the tops were being ripped off the waves…a tremendous gust caught us…we were laid right over the beam…the [patient] found herself lying on the side of the boat instead of the bunk and my medical bag was turned upside down…”. Doctor Swan recalls his lack of training in such area as surgery or radiology, that were expected of a rural doctor of the times. While over the years by experience and some extra training he became more and more competent, the isolation, long hours, total responsibility and lack of backup took a severe toll. “I loved the area and life and I was particularly blessed with Rosa who tolerated the stress“…but… ”by the mid-1970s I had achieved a severe and total burnout… I realized that I was coming to the end of my life if there was not a drastic change in my career”. In 1977 Dr. Swan left his rural practice on the coast and for the next four years he was the visiting doctor for Native people in the isolated communities of Kinclith, Kitkatla, Hartley and Telegraph Creek in Northern B.C. Driving 500 miles from Prince Rupert on gravel roads or flying in on float planes were the only ways to get in or out: Clinics were usually held in Nursing stations that had most of the necessary instruments and all the necessary medications. Visits lasted usually two days. “As the village people got used to me, the number of patients gradually increased to about sixty per trip, and this number really kept me on my toes.” “When the time came to leave town I tried to have everything under control so that the nurse, who was really the community’s doctor, wasn’t left with any mysteries such as a possible appendicitis in a child. On these occasions I usually called in a plane and medevaced the sick person out.” Once “I was called to see a recluse in his cabin….He was desperately ill…it was apparent that his ulcers had perforated…I phoned immediately for a plane but was told that an approaching blizzard had grounded everything. I started and IV …and medications…an hour later I saw his eyes roll up…Father Bulliard gave last sacrament and my patient was gone…All his male relatives were seated along the walls…I took out the IV and arranged the body and then to my surprise all the men lined up on their way out and shook my hand”. Dr. Swan retired from medical practice after his Northern experiences. He died in 2011.