Hey, remember that scene in Sicko, the Michael Moore documentary, where the director visit a Canadian emergency room and discovers short waiting times, thorough care, and happy patients pleased as punch with our tax-based universal health care system? Well, it bore little resemblance to my own experiences but, given that it’s been years since I actually visited an emergency room, I chalked up the disparity to a sudden and inexplicable improvement in the fundamentals of patient care here in Canada. Somehow, seemingly overnight, we had managed to get our shit together and become the envy of, if not many Americans, then Michael Moore at least. And, really, what more could you ask for?
Oh, I know! How about short waiting times, thorough care, and a tax-based universal health care most would be happy with? Because, as it turns out, the reality is a lot less kind than the Michael Moore version, especially if you’re, say, a 75 year old woman, living on Montreal’s West Island, suffering from a possible case of diverticulitis. If you are, then your mileage may vary. Considerably. In fact, it might go something like this:
My mother went to the hospital two weeks ago complaining of pain on her right side (abdominal area). After a 12 hour wait in the emergency room, she was told she had a kidney infection and sent home. My sister questioned the diagnosis since a) mom hadn’t had any bladder infection or that type of discomfort, and b) kidney infection is usually accompanied by back pain, not pain in the lower abdomen. But they were dealing with professionals and, really, they should know, right?
Well, following a full round of antibiotics, the pain persisted. So, last weekend, she went to a clinic where she waited a mere 5 hours to be told she did not have a kidney infection, that the doctor suspected diverticulitis, and that she had to go back to the hospital for tests. The next day, she returned to the hospital where, after 11 hours of waiting, she was eventually sent home. No ultrasound was done because, alas, apparently they don’t do ultrasounds on week-ends. Before sending her on her way, they informed her that she would have to call back the next day to book an appointment.
So, yesterday, my mother finally had her ultrasound appointment. They scanned her bladder and found… nothing. All well and good except for the fact that her bladder wasn’t the issue. Mom reiterated the doctor’s suspicions, diverticulitis, and asked why they hadn’t performed a more thorough scan. She was told that the doctor had not requested it in his file and that she would have to come back to the hospital to get another referral before they could run anymore tests.
Interestingly enough, during one of her lengthy waits, she was sitting next to an elderly American couple who had been vacationing in Montreal when the wife had taken ill. They had gone to the hospital in the hopes of receiving some timely treatment (“Hey, let’s go to a Canadian hospital, just like in that Michael Moore movie! We’ll be in and out in time for dinner!”). Their wait proved so interminable that the outraged husband booked a flight to the U.S. that night so they could return home for proper treatment, promising to sue the hospital if it attempted to charge them for the visit.
So, there you have it. I provide this insight, not in order to support either side of the burgeoning healthcare debate south of the border, but to offer up a personal experience with our presumably admirable Canadian system. All-in-all, 28 hours of waiting with no diagnosis to show for it.
Where’s Michael Moore when you need him?