Dr. Dawg

Canadian health care system up close and personal

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A few nights of agony during an otherwise pleasing trip to Montreal with a close friend convinced me to avail myself of Ottawa medicare last night. My lower back would not stop aching, making sleep fitful, and I had developed a sudden inability to walk without staggering or, after twenty steps or so, without exquisite pain.

On my return to Ottawa, my amiga and I cabbed it to the Civic Hospital campus around 10:00 pm. I was quickly triaged and registered, and then I sat. And sat. Around midnight, several names, including mine, were called out.

We moved from chairs outside a door to chairs inside a door. At about 1:00 am I sent my friend home. Just as well. Eventually I was examined by a resident, who said he’d talk to the duty doctor. There was only one such animal on hand, for eighty emergency patients. I saw him breeze by from time to time, but never actually spoke to him.

Later in the wee hours I limped off to be X-rayed. Sometime near dawn, my hearing sharpened by stress, I listened to the resident and the doctor discuss my case. It seems that an MRI would be the only thing that could reveal, say, a tumour on the spinal cord. By this point I had been without sleep for nearly 24 hours, so I began, perhaps understandably, to fret a little.

I was not the only one feeling irritated by the hours we had already fruitlessly spent on what the duty nurse assured me was “a good night to show up.” One woman loudly said, “I hope no one here is voting for McGuinty.” The resident chatted briefly with me, suggesting an MRI later in the morning.

Could I sack out on a cot and be wakened? He said he’d ask a nurse, and then returned to say that beds were for patients. He was right to make that distinction, I hasten to add. I was clearly in the impatient class.

By about 10:00 am, I buttonholed him and asked when this MRI would take place. I hope later in the morning, he said. This was 12 hours after arriving at Emergency, and more than a day since I had last slept. I became a little insistent. This morning? This afternoon? Tomorrow? Where am I in the queue? He blinked and gulped and refused to be pinned down.

What do you know? At 10:15 I was off to get my MRI. When I got back to the main floor around 11:00, I was offered a place to sleep until the results had been analyzed.

But I couldn’t sleep at that point. Around 4:00 or so, the results were reported: two herniated discs, serious nerve compression, surgery indicated. Team Spine arrived, felt me up all over and arranged for a chat with the surgeon on Monday and an operation on Tuesday.

My loyal friend kept my spirits up, cooked us a scrumptious supper at my place and departed.

And I reflected upon Canada’s allegedly awful medicare system.

Mea culpa, I had bought into that myth, as I fumed in my tired and anxious state about all that wasted time, the “advance one space” Emergency board game, only one doctor on duty and so on.

And then I thought: Good grief, in less than twenty-four hours I had just shown up at the hospital, been given an MRI, my ailment was diagnosed, I’d been thoroughly examined by specialists, a plan had been devised, surgery was scheduled for four days hence, and I had in my shaking hand a prescription for Percocet.

That’s nothing less than amazingly good. I’m not sure a pay-us-big-bucks-up-front US hospital could have acted with any greater alacrity, and as an added bonus I got to keep my house.

Proud to be a Canadian, I am now about to catch about twenty hours of pain-free sleep. Goodnight everyone, and thank you, Tommy.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on September 23, 2011 9:57 PM.

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