Off Topic Post: A Very Personal Bottom Line

Alpha Point (moderate)

The Intrepid Explorer has gone for a nap and allowed her personal typist (me) an opportunity to write a post. She loaned me these photographs so if you’d rather ignore the totally off topic content, feel free. I’ve been thinking about something way too much lately and I’m going to use this blog to express a personal opinion.

I live in Canada. It’s not a perfect country but we like it. One of the things we hold dear is the idea that people have a right to healthcare. Our system isn’t perfect either, but my own experience with both it and the alternative offered to the south of us convinces me that some rights shouldn’t be ignored and I’ll stay with what we have.

I’m going to tell you a couple of very different stories, not about what I encountered myself (although they’d make a good episode for Twilight Zone), but more dramatically what happened to two people I care about. Their (abbreviated) tales are illustrative of the different choices our societies have made.

Alpha Point (moderate)

About 12 years ago my brother-in-law started to have difficulty breathing. He was in his early forties, a non-smoker, social drinker, and recreational hockey player. The morning after this started my sister convinced him to see their Doctor, and this is a summary of what happened over the next 8 hours:

  • The Doctor examined him and rushed him to the local emergency ward.
  • They examined him and put him in an ambulance to the main hospital in Vancouver.
  • The team at VGH did a heart biopsy. The pathologist recognized something which at the time was typically diagnosed post-mortem↑.
  • Due to the advanced state of the disease, the medical team figured he had hours to live (my sister hadn’t absorbed the seriousness at this point and was asking how much time they should tell his boss he’d be off work).
  • The Doctor in charge of the team punted. He called the transplant team at St. Paul’s and asked if they had any suggestions.
Alpha Point (moderate)

  • The head of the transplant group said that they had a theory, but that’s all it was, they had never tried it. The Doctor said we’ll take it – so the guys at St. Paul’s put together an extremely expensive drug cocktail and sent it over.
  • It worked. Although it couldn’t be cured, the drugs stopped the progression of the disease.

He got attention from 3 different hospitals and his personal physician with no waiting time. He got an experimental treatment with no bureaucratic review process and at no stage did they have to fill out forms promising to mortgage their futures to ensure care.

He was transferred to St. Paul’s and about 6 months later had a heart transplant. I saw him last week – he’s doing really well.

A few months after they started him on the treatment (which is now standard for his type of this disease) the head of the team got a call from the provincial health ministry wondering why they were giving anti-rejection drugs (part of the experimental cocktail) to somebody who hadn’t had a transplant. The reply was “to keep him alive until we get a donor heart for him”. The answer was accepted without argument and there was no attempt to interfere or halt the treatment and all the costs were covered.

Alpha Point (moderate)

Earlier this year an American friend of mine started having radiating pain and numbness in his shoulder (he didn’t tell any of us, we only found this out later). He knew exactly what it meant but he didn’t have health insurance, and he was terrified of medical bills, so he didn’t do anything about it.

One morning he changed a tire on his car and then went to work. When he arrived he was bright red and sweating profusely. He went to the washroom, had a massive heart attack, and died. He was 34.

With that in mind, I find the second paragraph in this article↑ ingenuous and offensive.

I’ll say again that our system isn’t perfect. But, and it’s a big but, nobody avoids the Doctor because of money.

I don’t care if you want to call us socialists. My brother-in-law is alive because our system worked for him. If my friend had been Canadian, in a country that believes in Universal Healthcare, he’d be alive too. That, to me, is the bottom line.

Alpha Point (moderate)
Leave a comment


  1. Vicky

     /  September 24, 2012

    Speaking as a Brit , I think it’s a no-brainer.
    Glad your brother-in-law is doing so well.

  2. Wow, What a powerful article!! I read that Huffpost article earlier today too but haven’t really known what to say about it. In my ‘other’ life I work in an Emergency Room. I have worked in ER’s/hospitals for the last 25 years in the Los Angeles area. I totally believe in Universal Healthcare. In the ER we see all sorts of patients. Patients with no money, patients on state aide, patients with the best insurance possible. They all receive equal care in the ER. I have also seen so many different personalities. I know people with insurance who also don’t go for medical care when they should and I see people who go to the ER for Coughs and colds. I do believe that EVERYONE should have access to healthcare so they don’t have to even think twice about seeking medical attention. It is every humans right.

    • Thank you – I actually thought about you as I wrote it and the idea that you were supposed to be the first line of the system for the uninsured.

  3. Thank you for this post.

    Last June, I had an involved kidney stone problem. I went to the ER just like Mr Romney says. Because I had no insurance, I had to wait 6 hours in vomiting-agony to even be seen. Afterwards, my paperwork seemed to have vanished. I got bills for $8000 for an examination & two shots of morphine.
    After two more weeks in agony, I was gotten on to a state indigent program. I was given drugs until “the paperwork cleared.”
    After two weeks, I was given an appointment 4 weeks later & given high-powered drugs for the pain.
    I ended up taking 6-10 oxycodones a day, getting sleep of no more than 3 hrs a day (more like passed-out). This went on for 5 MONTHS. I used the net to research my own health. Some of the drugs they gave me were “emergency only” stuff that shouldn’t have been used longer than 3-4 days. They also failed to notify me of the immensely-addictive nature of oxycodone.
    5 months later, a surgical procedure was done that should have been done in 72hrs-1 week after my initial ER visit. My liver functions have been assaulted both by the long period on a synthetic morphine (oxy) and backed-up uretic acid from the delay.
    On the day of the surgery, which I had been told would be untrasound, NOT surgical/cutting, I had to fight with them because I had signed releases for non-invasive ultrasound; the only way I got people to pay attention to me was threatening to sue for non-agreed-on surgery until someone told me wth was going on.
    I didn’t feel “right” again until January of this year. The hospital never even informed me of what type of stone I had, which is needful to try to avoid them. I never had any followup. Once the surgical was done I seemed to fall off a shelf and disappear. Knowing more than most people would about drugs, I arranged to cold-turkey the addiction through the December holiday season.

    From speaking to other patients at this hospital who had similar stories, I gathered that if you do not have a huge insurance company backing you up, you’re a nonperson. If you DO have insurance, it is likely you will have procedures stopped by the accountants because of cost.

    That is how primitive it is in “the greatest nation on Earth” if you are sick.

    *disclaimer – Many of the details of this horrific experience have been omitted because it would be too long and recalling it all is making my stomach acidy.

    • omg *hugs*

      I’ll share this although I don’t want you to feel worse.

      Last June I, as well, got kidney stones. I woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache which gradually intensified. I took a cab to the er. They made me wait 5 minutes and put me in a bed. I had morphine dripping into me within another 10 minutes. In the morning they wheeled me to a (whatever the test was, I was really stoned) and confirmed the diagnosis. Later that night I had stone surgically removed. I saw the surgeon a few weeks later for follow-up and a list of things to do to prevent another one. (he said my stone, btw, was a very unusual flat disk)

      The inital 5 minute wait was due to me fumbling to show my Care Card. We too have health insurance, and if you can’t pay the annual approx $750 for single coverage (for example) then you get what assistance you need to ensure you have the same coverage I do.

      I’m trying to imagine myself waiting as long as you did for that surgery and can’t fathom it.

  4. I lived in Europe when Hillary Clinton was trying to reform healthcare. When he visited my dad used to rant on about it. I told him that was fine with me, but he should probably restrain himself elsewhere because most people there thought it was one step away from barbarism towards civilization.

    • It’s one of those blind spots Americans have that much of the world can’t fathom.
      /me grins imagining you having that conversation with your Father. :)

  5. daleinnis

     /  September 25, 2012


  6. It’s strange to me… a nation that prides itself on how “Christian” it is allowing people to die if they don’t pay for insurance. The Good Samaritan was always a big part of my early childhood religious indoctrination, I would have thought most Christians would know that one. I’m not a “Christian” but I would not feel happy about poor people being deprived of basic healthcare, it just seems inhuman.

    • I agree – I keep thinking of those who campaign on the “sanctity of life” platform – apparently only some life is worth caring about.

  7. Being a fellow Canadian, I too am proud of our healthcare system. Sure, it has its downfalls, but I see it helping more than hurting. I have had many American friends complaining of ailments and when asked “why are you not seeing a doctor?” I always get the same reply…”I dont have the cash”. Well, they soon might have their lives! (I know, dramatic).

    I hope someday soon, those south of the border will come to see univeral healthcare as prolonging HEALTH and not just increased taxes etc. Every cent put in helps someone in our country heal.

  8. As an American, I envy most of the industrialized world its healthcare system. Frankly, when the audience in a debate hollered “Let him die.” and cheered at the idea, I wonder how we can ever expect sane public policy. Social Darwinism seems to be an idee fixe for a large portion of the American public – and ironically enough strongest amongst those who most vehemently reject evolution in biological terms.

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