I went to see the doctor for the same reason that I think a lot of people go to see the doctor: non-specific symptoms that are nonetheless worrying.
– lower back pain
– persistent numbness in my right hand
– slight numbness in my left hand
– stiff, sore neck
– massive headaches
– muscle cramps
I don’t have a family doctor in Toronto. So I went to that medical purgatory known as the walk-in-clinic. There are many, many walk-in-clinics in Toronto, some more derelict than others. All of them complete with that sterilized urine smell.
It’s defeat, that smell. A kind of death-but-not-quite-if-only. It’s a smell that it would not be unreasonable to raze an entire building afterward, just to be rid of it. Just to be sure.
A lot of Canadians and a lot of non-Canadians love to talk about free health care in Canada. Americans often look upon it in envy, while Scandinavians, I’m sure, just laugh and laugh and laugh.
If I were to explain it to Aliens: Our bodies are bags of guts and muscles and bone inside skin and people? They bruise, they break, they get sick. It happens, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes not, always in hindsight. Good health is viewed as a right, except when its not. Illness and wellness everywhere involve a lot of magical thinking that makes more or less sense, more or less. Words like “shaman” and “breakthrough”, and “evil-eye” and “biocultural” come up. Seeking relief from illness can be an admission of mortality, or an acknowledgement of the absurdity of immortality, or the illness itself can be a signifier of broken taboo, or the result of bad genes, or a harbinger of worse to come, or karmic retribution, or evidence of evolutionary inferiority, etc., etc., etc.
On and on and on…
If I were to explain it to Strangers: Here, it’s not like on our TV shows and movies. There is a lot of process to it, going to a doctor, involving tests and follow-ups and, if needed, specialists. This process can take weeks, or months, and is characterized by waiting and uncertainty, especially for people who do not have a family doctor. Lots of people do not have family doctors, despite overwhelming demand. In the Canadian health care system, there are tiers even though we’d really rather not admit it, possibly due to a misguided and/or overblown and/or superficial and/or simply fantastic sense of patriotism. Or indifference. Some tiers are better than others. There are Canadians who can afford it who sometimes go south, to the U.S., where the system is messed up too, but where the facilities are among the very, very best.
Here, preventive health care calls upon a retroactive magic, in which you should have known not to get sick in the first place and/or should have known that you needed to come in for help earlier. People who seek medical attention for Things that later turn out to be nothing or not much are troublemakers. Time wasters in an exhausted and overworked system. You can go in and come out feeling like shit on top of the shit you came in for. Shitty is the word.
Canadian Health Care. Yes. It is free. And my experience is that you get what you pay for.
And that nothing is free.
I have learned a lot about FREE CANADIAN HEALTH CARE these past few weeks. Every swipe of your health card, which you must swipe to be seen is worth anywhere from $58-$155 (the price of admission without a health card).
Wait times can range anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half to motherfucking infinity. The admin try to be as efficient as possible but of course this is a relative thing, here, deep within the cold hard bosom anus that is “first-come-first-served-unless” basis especially of a walk-in-clinic waiting room.
People will get turned away, sent home or to EMERGENCY rooms.
There is no follow up that approximates anything approaching sensible. You see whoever is available that day and not who you saw before. You cannot schedule an appointment with the person saw you before. In this way, and if you come in more than once, you get to watch your prognosis – the narrative of your well-being – change.
These are the doctors I saw:
1) Soft Talker Fuzz Face
Could not understand half of what this almost-bearded fellow breathed my way. He waved this hands around listlessly as he talked then pulled them back into his chest when he caught me looking. He sent me upstairs for blood tests and a neck X-ray (two more swipes of the health card), citing spinal injury, diabetes and nerve damage.
2) Kind Of Gregarious Guy
An affable if flummoxed young lad, he ordered another blood test after receiving the confusing results of my first blood test. The X-ray showed a neck spasm that he said could be treated with rest, most likely. He told me not to worry and to please have a nice day but oh, not to forget my health card when I came back for my results.
3) Big Knuckles, Sweaty Temples
With a wave of his giant paw, this doc dismissed all other explanations in favour of carpel tunnel and related back pain. He told me to “just get a brace.” His belly gut quivered as he leaned just a little closer and told me “losing some weight wouldn’t hurt.” He described complicated floor exercises for me to do at home. I felt like I should have taken notes even though that’s absurd, and it would be more absurd if I actually did take notes. I imagined him sneaking out during his break to smoke in front of the building.
The exercises didn’t help my back. They only made it look like I was having imaginary sex on my floor, and it was very underwhelming. I bought the brace.
4) Vaguely British?
If Vaguely British told me he, vaguely, was “from the colonies” I would find nothing strange about it, he being vaguely British? By the time I saw VB, I had already (on top of everything else) spent a whole day and a half with the stomach flu, putting all of my orifices to very good use. It was…incredibly thorough.
“All the things wrong with you could mean you have a lot of things going on and not just one big thing that’s wrong with you.” He meant that to reassure, to comfort. He said he doubted it, but let’s go ahead and see if I had West Nile (for real). He ordered more tests, more X-rays. More swipes of the card.
5) Lady Doctor
Lady Doctor is called Lady Doctor because she was the only Lady Doctor who saw me and she was the only Lady Doctor I saw working there. Lady Doctor asked me something all the other non-Lady-Doctors had not: “Have you recently had your period?” Given the anomaly of my test results, this could be important. Then again, maybe not, but it was not – in my current reality of ambiguously meaningful double negatives – perhaps an unimportant question. She ordered another test for me, her “mystery patient”. That one came out clean.
So what is wrong with me?
I don’t know.
I feel tenderized.
I took all my tests and papers and prescriptions an hour-and-a half bus ride to the West, to my family doctor. She is baffled and is sending me to another doctor an hour-and-a-half East, here, in Toronto, after more blood tests.
During a low point in my life, a friend once told me that, if nothing else, “at least you still have your health.”
He had a root canal recently, and it failed.
 The US is another tier in Canadian Health care.
 Unless there is a life-threatening injury or condition, TBD.
 There is a story in here somewhere about my mom, appendicitis and an 8-hour wait in the EMERGENCY room. There is also a story in here about my sister, stomach pains and a 12-hour wait in the EMERGENCY room. Not to mention the one with my friend and head injury and the 7-hour wait in the EMERGENCY room. They’re all there.