O Canada

I have a confession to make. When I lived in the United States, I was a have. My teaching position provided me and my family with Lexus like health benefits. The co-pays were manageable and even the prescription drug package worked more or less within the budget.

My doctor was actually a nurse practioner, but she was fabulous. She listened and accepted my googling and input into my own care. Same day appointments were almost never a problem and the clinic she was attached to even had limited walk-in clinic hours on the weekends. There was never an issue about getting refills over the phone or her faxing the pharmacy with orders.

Now I live in western Canada. The province of Alberta was one of the few that charged an annual fee to its residents for the universal health care they received. I was a bit stunned to discover that for a single person, it was about $525 CAN a year. I don’t think a U.S. citizen could find an insurance company which would charge so little per month. However, most Albertans disliked the fee and come this January, the province is eliminating it completely. Health care will be a right of residency.

But having coverage is one thing and finding health care is something else. There is a chronic shortage of all things health up here. In our little town there are more dentists – one on every street corner – than there are doctors, and finding a personal physician is next to impossible. Younger doctors aren’t enamoured of the small communities and the isolation that comes with living in the West.

We have one walk-in clinic. It’s hours flex, the staff changes on call days and shifts on a whim and during the summer, they are actually open less often. There is no such thing as a weekend clinic, so Mondays at the Walk-In are affairs for which one must prepare and fortify against by bringing plenty of busywork and snacks.

Although I know what I had back in Iowa was not the norm for most other Americans, and was elitist and so very wrong on many levels, I really miss those days. It makes me feel like a celebrity who can afford, and even likes to wear fur, but doesn’t simply to avoid being pelted with sacks of flour.

Recently I was ill and our family doctor, a kindly old Asian with quaint notions and a low tolerance for googling, was away for the week at a convention and had no one covering for him. Since my condition could not wait the week out, I was forced to venture to the clinic.

The flu season well under way here, and it being Monday to boot, the waiting room was wall to wall with people sitting almost knee to knee and as sucked in as possible to avoid spilling over onto the occupant of the attached seat on either side. There wasn’t a sound but the television, and two cheery women who clearly knew each other. Grim silence is never a good sign.

I took the only remaining seat near the magazine rack. And here I will give credit where it is due because that rack always has the most current editions unlike my reuglar doctor’s office where none of the reading material is more recent than last Christmas.

Knowing that I was going to have to wait at least an hour, and probably closer to two, I brought along a notepad and writing utensils. In the past I have taken my laptop, but the clinic’s neighborhood is not good for “borrowing” Internet signal, so I have long since give that up. I tried to work on my memoir, but it was hard to blot out the sound of animated conversation, and I soon realized why everyone else was so quiet and wearing such pained expressions.

The cheery chatty women I noticed earlier were engrossed in a conversation that had there been anywhere to flee, would have sent most of us to that safe zone. Well, anyone but a blogger like me and you never know when one of us is nearby.

I am fascinated by the things some people feel free to discussion, loudly, in public. These two were a perfect example of lack of discretion as they rambled through the complications of their various pregnancies complete with bladder infections and vivid labor descriptions. I wondered idly what tidbits their perimenopause would inspire in mixed and completely strange company and then was glad I wouldn’t be around for that.

For forty-five minutes we were a waiting room of desperate people, peering hopefully at the nurse whenever she would appear to call out names until we were blessedly released when the one whose husband can knock her up from a distance with just his penetrating stare was called to an exam room. And then it was back to merely waiting.

And waiting and waiting.

All in all I sat an hour for each of the three minutes I was with the doctor and then the anti-biotic made me quite ill, requiring me to waste a second day in bed while I waited for the doctor to change the prescription to something appropriate yet digestible.

Although I smugly assert that the Canadian way of inclusive health coverage is best, I miss the service driven ways of my country of birth sometimes. Like when I am really sick and just want to feel better yesterday. But I came from a privileged position which was not right. Everyone should be able to feel better and afford it. So, I will focus on gratitude for having access and be nostalgic for pristine exam rooms and church like waiting areas while knowing that former is better for us all.

This is an original 50 Something Moms piece.

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