My Canadian Healthcare Horror Stories A Message for Americans

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I was born
in the same year that my government adopted socialized healthcare
in Canada. I am an educated, middle-class woman and I have never
known any kind of healthcare but the kind that is provided by our
government-run system. It has been a nightmare for my family and
me. The following stories, told in second person and based on my
personal experiences with socialized healthcare in Canada, constitute
my personal warning to Americans.

that you and your spouse, and three children under the age of six
move to a new city and must find a family doctor. You are told at
the local clinic that the doctors there are not accepting any new
patients. (Canadian price controls have created shortages of everything
when it comes to healthcare). The receptionist suggests that you
go through the yellow pages and try to find a physician whose practice
is not "full." You spend days, and weeks, doing this,
and are repeatedly told "Sorry, we are not accepting new patients."
You put your name on several waiting lists and persist in calling
doctors' offices.

a receptionist tells you that, while the doctor is still accepting
new patients, he requires a full medical history and an interview
with each family member before you can be added to his roster of
patients. Based on the questions asked during the interviews, you
come to understand that he is screening out sick or potentially
sick people. You are all healthy, fortunately, so he takes you on
as patients. Others are just out of luck.

There is
a chronic shortage of doctors in Canada because price controls on
doctors' salaries have resulted in a "brain drain" where
the best and brightest practice medicine in the U.S. and elsewhere,
after being educated in Canada. In addition, the Canadian government
cut medical school enrollment in half in the 1990s as a "cost-cutting
measure," making the problem of doctor shortages much worse.

Next, imagine
that all of a sudden your six-year-old begins showing what seems
to be signs of an appendicitis attack, shortly after recuperating
from chicken pox. You take him to a hospital emergency room and
carry him in because he is unable to walk. There is no one to help
you as you enter the building, so you must lumber along to the reception
area. A nurse interviews you for a couple of minutes, asks you for
the reason for your visit, and then takes your son's government
health card and asks you to fill out paperwork while your son writhes
in pain in your lap.

You tell
the nurse that your son must be seen by a doctor immediately
— it's an emergency! — as his condition is worsening by the
minute. The nurse tells you, stone-faced, to go and sit in the waiting
room to wait for a triage nurse. Having no choice, you do what you
are told and join twenty or so others in line in front of you. You
are given nothing to help make your son more comfortable — no damp
facecloth, no bedpan for the vomit, nothing.

When a
triage nurse finally strolls in a half hour later your son
is too weak to respond to her and you begin to panic. Finally, a
doctor appears and says it's just a "bug" and that you
should not be playing "armchair doctor" by "diagnosing"
appendicitis. He orders some time-consuming tests anyway, because
you have shown him that you are very, very angry. Six hours
later the test results come back positive for appendicitis.

Your son
is whisked away for an emergency appendectomy, after which the surgeon
tells you that, had the surgery been delayed by another few minutes,
he would probably have died. Your son's appendix was gangrenous
and on the verge of bursting. It reminds you of reading in the local
news of three other people who were sent home from the emergency
room, only to have their appendices burst and die. You are grateful
that you were much more persistent and ornery than they apparently

Our Soviet-style
emergency rooms have waiting rooms equipped with hard metal chairs,
vending machines that sell junk food, and maybe a television in
one corner. There is no access to any medical equipment, beds, or
even stretchers. In the emergency room everyone passes through triage
and is given a code based on a nurse's cursory evaluation of their
affliction. If you are not satisfied with the "care" that
is provided there is nowhere else to go, except to an American hospital
if you are close enough to the border and can afford to pay cash.
Canadians know that if you call an ambulance you can bypass the
10–12 hour wait in the emergency room, but this drives up the
costs of healthcare even further.

If there
ever was a good fight, Americans, this is it. As we say in Canada,
"Youse guys just gotta give 'er, eh!

11, 2009

Cathy LeBoeuf-Shouten
lives in Hudson, Quebec, Canada.

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