The Canadian Health Care Battleground: One Soldier’s Story

I’ve talked about the interesting quirks in our marvellous Canadian health care system before. I got lots of comments from people with stories of their own experiences with our system, the American system, the UK system.  None of them are even close to good.  I also got at least one very vehement comment  uncategorically defending the Canadian health care system as the best in the world.

Okay, so those of you who also follow Zoom’s blog know she has been living a health care nightmare for a long time now. She’s pretty much at her wit’s end and needs help – help that they tell her is still years and years away.

First, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through months and months of waiting and a whole passel of crazy tests that scared the shit out of her with “indications” of more widely spread cancer and/or more severe tumours. Then they let her wait for what seemed like forever while thoughts of imminent death ate away at her psyche. Then “oops” turns out all those tests where false positives. She then she was actually happy to “only” have a little breast cancer.

Meanwhile, and concurrently (perhaps because of the unimaginable stress) a chronic back problem shifted into turbo gear and she began experiencing excruciating and ongoing back and leg pain. A protruding disk in her back has grown to such an extent that it is almost entirely blocking her spinal cavity. (We won’t even discuss the years of off and on back pain that went before which no one bothered to address).

So they’ve been giving her hundreds of dollars worth of pain killers and anti-inflammatories (Because it’s all free in Canada!) and a shiny new handicapped parking sticker because she can’t really walk anymore. In her own words:

So I don’t walk. I lie on my couch, eating painkillers and anti-nausea drugs and anti-inflammatories. I sleep when I can. I read. I think. But mostly I just lie around, waiting.

Waiting for what? Well. This is the crazy part. I’m waiting to either get on a waiting list or to become permanently disabled as a result of waiting too long.

My doctor’s been trying to get me an appointment with either an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon, but she’s being told that here in Ottawa, orthopedic surgeons have two-year waiting lists. I’m not even on a waiting list yet.

My doctor says my situation is urgent but it’s not yet an emergency. I will be escalated to emergency status when I lose bowel or bladder control, or when I lose the ability to voluntarily lift my toes toward my knee (foot drop, it’s called, and it’s not as innocuous as it sounds).

It’s insane.

I’m going to end up addicted to narcotics because of this. (Zoom has had issues with addiction in her youth) The painkillers don’t eliminate the pain, they just dull it as long as I’m lying down. Walking is still excruciating. The painkillers are addictive, so I have to choose between addiction and constant severe pain. What kind of choice is that?

She can’t work. She can barely look after herself. She’s going to lose her house and end up on welfare and/or disability.  She’s still a young woman and this is all so unneccesary.

She needs to see a surgeon and have the surgery NOW. By the time she gets on  a waiting list in 2 years (if she hasn’t offed herself in desperation by then), she’ll have consumed so many chemicals that her body will never recover. She will also have developed so many other health problems by then that she’ll be on waiting lists for every specialty under the sun.

This is health care?

So now she and her friends and family and fellow bloggers are going to make some noise  – write some letters, make some calls, complain and find some options somewhere — anywhere else if none of that works. (Contacts, suggestions, advice, assistance are all gratefully accepted).

Sadly, she’s not the only one in a situation like this or even in a situation worse than this, but she’s the one we know.

She’s the most patient person I know and would never dream of trying to jump a queue to get attention ahead of someone else. And she never gets angry. But she’s angry now and she’s suffering enough and frightened enough to step on and over whoever she needs to in order to get that surgery.

That’s a horrible image.

But it’s how our system works. Athletes, politicians, those with connections are getting the care they need and quickly. For the rest of us it’s a savage free-for-all. And what interesting nuances that phrase has.

Fuck you, Best Health Care System in the World.