Canadian Health Care

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Minus 17 degrees Celsius to be exact and my poor thumb is splitting unhappily at the seams from several cold snowy days on top of hand washing every dish in the kitchen after our dishwasher frizzled out – again.

The day before my birthday is a crap shoot as far as winter weather goes. I remember my fifth birthday being gray with fall temps, but my university day birthdays it was being buried under mounds of white.

In 2001, I had just found out I was pregnant with Dee but the weather was more late fall than winter. It didn’t snow until Christmas that year.

Snow has flurried, flaked or dropped like feathers from an exploding pillow for the past couple of days. It piles up here once the temps drop and stay down. There is no melt off really. Slushy glop is rare enough to make me take note unlike Iowa where winter fights to overcome fall and then battles to hold off spring with barely a rest in between matches.

Life continues with only the barest hint of inconvenience however in spite of flu, which sent us to the ER with Dee on Sunday night and the fact that the reno is crawling along at a pace that is threatening Christmas plans a tad bit.

Dee’s fine. The Fort ER performed at its usual inefficient rate of speed. I don’t think anyone there knows, or cares to learn, about triage.

We waited for three hours before Dee was taken to a room and evaluated. In the meantime, two little boys a bit older than she with colds were seen as were two women with sprained ankles. Meanwhile, a nine month old baby with a temperature of 102.3, a very distressed looking pregnant woman and Dee, who hadn’t held down more than a mouthful of water all day, languished in the lobby.

Dr. Fortune Cookie was on call, which explained a lot. The man moves with the speed of a glacier. But the triage nurse wasn’t too swift and at the three-hour mark with a shift change looming, I walked into the nurses’ station and informed them that if my daughter wasn’t seen soon, I would take that as confirmation that her illness was not serious and take her home.

We were in a room within five minutes.

Most of the beginning for the week was eaten up being housebound with Dee. A bit more was taken up by feeling ill myself and now it is Friday.

Rob let nothing hold him back from finishing the duct work and putting down sub-floor. He even found time to track down a taper for the drywall, and with a bit of grace from the universe, we’ll be able to take down the plastic sheeting and open up the front of the house for semi-use by Sunday.

The new kitchen is going to be awesome, by the way. We are having it professionally designed and custom-built. Extravagant, I know. Very unlike us. But the tea leaves are predicting a long stay here and it makes no sense to live half-assed when we could have a functional kitchen and living area if our reality is being here in this house for another goodly chunk of time.

The last fully functional and modern dwelling I lived in was the first house I bought myself back in 1997. Built to replace a home destroyed by the floods in 1993, it was a townhouse design single family dwelling. Two bedrooms. A walk in closet in the master bedroom. It was a sweet little house in the old Valley Junction section of West Des Moines. Farmer’s Market in the summer just a few blocks over. Running paths all over. Close enough to the freeway to make it convenient but not so close that the noise tattooed itself on my eardrums.

The house Will and I bought was in a better neighborhood still but was very run down on the inside. It was okay. The plans for making it nice got sidelined almost as soon as we moved in.

Our home in J’berg has always been a work in progress. Rob counts his blessings in two wives who’ve been rather “c’est la vie” about the pace of progress. I don’t know really how much of a hand Shelley had in the plans and execution, but I know that Rob gets a bit frustrated with my lack of definite direction about nearly all things decor.

The problem is that I only really know if I don’t like something and then only after I’ve seen it. I have no vision. No color preferences. No interest in trim or curtains or flooring. The furniture just needs to be soft and squishy, and even than, I sit on the floor a lot anyway.*

Our conversation about the mantle for the new fireplace went something like,

“What do you think of red brick?”

“It’s nice.”

“Or maybe just wood?” Silence. “Or marble?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“You’re not even listening to me, are you?”

The fireplace will have a wood mantle and white marble-ish tiling. Very clean and tasteful and goes well with the hardwood – which Rob had a devilish time getting me to care about as well.

I just don’t have the DNA. The drawings the designer emailed us pique my excitement and I have definite ideas once I see concepts, but I lack whatever girly gene necessary to initiate.

My birthday will interrupt progress. Dinner and all. Rob thought we’d get a sitter and go out on our own until I reminded him there is really no place for a sitter to “sit”. We had to pass on his company’s Christmas party for the same reason.

So it’s dinner with the kids and cake – though I have no idea where we will do cake. It’s the no kitchen thing.

Rob got me a new laptop for my birthday which is sitting in the box on Dee’s desk. It arrived last week and I have patiently let it be. My poor old Macbook is beyond updates and since Rob installed the new router, it’s been more fitful than ever. I can’t get into iTunes and Firefox is rejecting me.

And that’s kind of it for this snowy day update. The CP Christmas Train invades our little hamlet tonight but we are planning an escape which Dee heartily went along with. Her memories of the last time the train arrived are not filled with joy. It was bitterly cold. She couldn’t see over the adults who crowded her out and the hot chocolate wasn’t to her liking.** I think we are Christmas shopping. Proof that my husband hates crowds more than he hates shopping – although it’s a narrow window between the two.

Soccer and much-needed hair cuts for Dee and I tomorrow before the festival that is my natal day begins – although technically, I get the whole day being born in the morning and all.

I’ll sign off with a cute boy on boy rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Very Rat Pack and buttoned up sexuality in a Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of way.

*Absolutely drove my late husband to distraction that with a living room full of furniture, I sat on the floor.

**She is a bit like me with food and drink. Lukewarm. The drinks that long ago night were just this side of scalding without marshmallows to boot.

While I was kept waiting to see Rob (the wing had shut for quiet hours just before he was brought to the Cardiac ward (unit 24 room 14 – in case you should ever need the information yourself – god forbid), I witnessed a couple of medical dramas not my own by the elevator.

The first was a heated exchange between a tall dark-haired man in his late forties or early fifties, flanked by two equally gangly mop-headed late teens who looked at their boat sized feet most of the time and hid behind hair that obscured the top halves of their faces, and a nearly as tall woman who, judging from the badge, was some sort of social worker.

She was imploring the man to return and complete a test that “absolutely saves lives”, and it was then that I noticed the tell-tale wristband, marking him as an escapee.

He had a duffel that he gripped like an ax handle and sent both boys and woman into hasty retreat when in his agitation he began gesticulating with it.

“I’m hungry, ” he told her. “Don’t you understand. I haven’t eaten for a day and a half and they are telling me that a test I should have had 3 and a 1/2 hours ago is still another 3 to 4 hour wait.”

“Emergencies come up,” the woman countered. “I’m sure you understand.”

“No,” he said. “I don’t. This is ridiculous. There’s no reason why I should have to wait without eating for two days for a test that just a screening.”

“It’s a life-saving screening,” she corrected him.

“I’m done,” he said, hitting the elevator call button.

“What if you develop cancer, ” she pulls out the big gun. Cancer is a huge gun. I’ve had it pulled on me as I am adamant about the useless nature of mammograms before menopause for the majority of women. Health care professionals like to use fear even in the face of statistics.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he strains this through his teeth and turns to the opening elevator and barely restrains himself from clocking the broad as she hits the button causing the doors to close his face.

“You don’t know that,” she says with the smugness of someone who knows she will win an argument based on the fact that her point can’t be proven false unless her opponent submits to her will.

“I’m going to get something to eat,” he motions to the boys who shrug at the woman, whose dumbfounded look says she can’t believe that her normal browbeating tactics have failed.

He stalks to the stairs with boys slouching behind him and she follows like an avenging angel.

It’s only later, when the man and the boys re-materialize and I catch a bit more of the dialogue between them that I realize he was here to have the routine colonoscopy that’s forced on everyone when they hit fifty regardless of personal statistics.

I don’t know if the guy escaped for good, but he did look less cranky, so perhaps he’d eaten at any rate.

Not long after, another 50 something gentleman in a leather jacket emerged from Unit 24, fingers clamped to his wrist and looking a bit harried. I could make out blood and remembering Rob’s angio clamp on his wrist, I quickly guessed that this guy’d had one too but was being released stentless.

He hovered about the elevator. Agitated and peeking beneath his reddening fingers and looking about as though expecting to see hospital personnel coming to his rescue.

Mostly who you see in the unit halls of the Royal Alex are housekeeping staff though I am not sure what they clean. Rob reported that in the 18 or so hours he spent in room 14, he never saw housekeeping do more than empty the trash baskets.

“Can you bring me a clean pair of socks when you pick me up on Saturday, ” he told me on the phone Friday night. “The washroom floor is sticky with urine and my socks are gross.”

Later he told me that the nurses dumped the bedpans in the room’s only toilet.

“I think they toss the contents at the toilet from the doorway.”

Leather Jacket was definitely in a panic by the time the hapless cardiac resident emerged from the elevator. I would see this same doctor later in Rob’s room. He shuffled through a stack of files and practically ran over Leather Jacket, who clearly recognized him and thrust his self-clamped oozing wrist in the junior cardiologist’s face.

Junior’s expression? Aw, fuck.

“It won’t stop bleeding,” Leather Jacket. “What do I do?”

At the Royal Alex, they try to go into the heart through the main artery accessed at the wrist instead of going through at the groin. Part of the reason is that the incision at the wrist closes faster, requiring a 2 to 4 hour period of tight clamping and immobilization as opposes to the 4 to 6 hours of lying flat on the back with the groin. Turnover clearly being the goal.

Leather Jacket was turned-over a bit prematurely.

Junior Heartman tried to fob the guy off, but he was persistent in his fright, so the doc sat him down and patiently explained that Leather Jacket needed to keep the pressure on for a few more hours and all would be well.

And if not, he should stop by the ER.

At this Leather Jacket began peppering Junior with questions while Junior nodded and made polite vocalizations. He was busy flipping through charts and really was just waiting for Leather Jacket to calm down, catch a clue and then an elevator.

When I told the story to Rob on Monday, he remembered Leather Jacket too. He’d burst into room 14 in search of a nurse before I’d even seen him.

The nurse admonished him.

“I can’t be checking you. You’ve been discharged. Go to the emergency room.”

But after a bit of whining, she tightened his clamp a bit and sent him down the hall – where I would see him.

The incision at the wrist is not stitched closed but merely tightly clamped. I am not certain how people on blood thinners manage to clot the hole in a major artery closed, but they do – provided the clamp doesn’t come loose too soon.

I haven’t heard any tales of dead men in leather jackets being found in the Royal Alex parkade, so I will assume that all’s well that ended well for him, or that he spent 7 or 8 hours in the ER.

At least that’s the advice the Huffington Post’s Ryan McCarthy had forreaders yesterday because while the United States is mired in the economic equivalent of the Biggest Loser, Canada put on a hefty 93,200 jobs last month.

And our housing prices do nothing but rise!

Plus we have free universal health care, gay people can legally marry and unicorns roam wild on the prairies.

Okay, maybe we don’t have unicorns.


But the rest? True. Except that health care is not really free when the tax rate is put under the microscope, Canadians could care less about marriage in general as the majority live in common-law relationships for the most part, housing prices are so outrageous that the average person can’t afford home ownership and all those jobs? Service sector. Think Wal-Mart greeters and working the drive thru at Timmie’s*

I emigrated to Canada just a tad over three years ago. I met a Canadian on the Internet. We fell in love. The U.S. had way more archaic immigration rules and he had the better paying job anyway, so I moved north.

Since then, I have heard nothing from my liberal left-behind friends but how lucky I am to have escaped the imploding American Dream for Canadian Utopia.

And Canada is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I love it here. But in many ways, it’s no different from the U.S.

The government is conservative and more interested in business interests than people. Money is the driving factor behind public policy. Education is being savaged when it’s not just overlooked or neglected. Health care hangs on by its teeth but only because the average Canadian would riot in the streets if the provincial governments did away with it, so they nickel and dime it to death in the hopes that people aren’t really paying attention (they aren’t). Our housing is ridiculously over-priced and long overdue for a sharp correction.

Even though some Canadians like to promote the idea that Canada is the anti-America, the reality is that Canada is much more like America than it realizes.

It’s just lucky. For now.

Luck. That’s all that separates us from being you.

People here in Alberta, where I am, live dangerously on the idea that the oil in the sands will last forever and that the damage done by the foreign companies exploiting our resources won’t leave us with polluted fields and undrinkable water.

The spice oil must flow, eh?

My husband just rolled his eyes at the thought of Americans sneaking across the thousands of miles of largely unprotected border like Mexicans in Arizona.

Canada has a points system immigration system which basically has no use for anyone over the age of 42 who can’t speak English and/or French and isn’t skilled and/or a college graduate.

I actually squeaked under the wire on the points thing but fortunately marrying a Canadian meant I was able to get into a completely different immigration line – one that was no less tedious, incomprehensible and arbitrarily humiliating – but it was faster.

But I still can’t find work in my field – education – because the government has slashed funding and there are no teaching jobs to be found just about anywhere a person would want to live and work or anywhere they would die first before considering.

So I write for a blog that pays me peanuts and is, ironically, based out of California, and I teach yoga – not exactly Fortune 500 paying gigs.

Yes, there are jobs. Canadian Tire (think Kmart) is perpetually hiring as is the local Wal-Mart. You can wait tables just about anywhere and the 7-11 in town can never keep night managers. Hotels need housekeepers and if you are really a go-getter, you can probably hobble together two or three part time jobs which will just about pay the outrageous rents with enough left over to eat, pay utilities and cloth yourself. Just yourself. Try not to marry and especially don’t breed because daycare is scarce to non-existent and quite expensive.

But … you love Canada … right?

Yep, I do. But I am not average. I wasn’t an average American either. I live in the upper edges of the middle class. I am skilled and have two university degrees. My husband is an engineer in a field where more of them are retiring than entering.

And I didn’t come here for any reason other than being in love and wanting to spend my life with a guy who happened to be Canadian.

I know some people would regard that as something akin to winning the lottery, but life can be livable anywhere as long as your expectations are aligned with your reality and you don’t make the mistake of believing that salvation lies outside yourself.

*Tim Horton’s. Think fast food but waaaaay better than anything in the States. Seriously.