The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What's Croatian for Help?

by Tricia Dower

I have an aversion to doctors because I saw how poorly they served my mother. Some would call my aversion neurotic. I can’t remember the date of my last mammogram or Pap test. I have no idea if my blood pressure is too high, too low or, as Goldilocks would say, just right. I take no prescription drugs. Needless to say, I’m not a big user of the public health system. Recently, however, I developed a “condition.” Nothing requiring me to recline on a chaise, Camille-like, and cough into a lace-edged hanky, but it’s more worrisome than the eye infection I had a year ago for which a drop-in clinic worked just fine. I’ve decided it’s time, at long last, for a proper check-up. Time to see if my spark plugs and fan belts need replacing and which of my tires should be rotated.

My dentist recommended an MD who practices holistic medicine. I liked the sound of that. Unfortunately, the BC health plan for which we pay premiums doesn’t cover holistic practitioners.

I called a few doctors recommended by friends. They’re not taking new patients. One might have considered me if I was abusing alcohol. It was tempting.

I went to the Victoria Medical Society site for a list of doctors who are taking new patients. There were none in my immediate neighbourhood. Of the nine not too far away, three take only maternity patients and young families, two specialize in sports medicine, one has office hours only from 1 – 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and another just graduated this year. (I know, I know, somebody has to give the new grads a chance.) That left two at the same address who speak English and Serbo-Croatian and describe their practice as: Family medicine for patients 55 plus and do not have a family doctor or whose family doctor has retired and who are within the geographic location south of McKenzie Ave and east of Douglas St. Could that be me? I’m terrible at geography.

I called. After providing my address and swearing to my age, I passed the initial screening and was told to expect an application for care in the mail.

“I have to apply?”

“Oh yes.”

There’s something scammy about the government charging for scarce or unavailable services and refusing to cover the ones you can get.

The application came a few days ago. It’s a detailed medical history form. A friend told me she had to apply, too, and was advised by someone in the know not to come across as too medically needy. “They don’t want sick people,” she said.

A letter accompanying the form reads: If your needs meet our criteria, we will place your application on our waitlist. Our staff will then contact you to book your initial appointment with our registered nurse. Please note that we currently have a waitlist of up to two months.

According to one article I came across, more than four million Canadians can’t find a family doctor; we make do with drop-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms. Our doctor shortage is partly due to a 1991 commissioned report in which two health economists predicted that Canada was facing a physician surplus. In response, provincial governments cut first-year enrolment to Canadian medical schools by about ten percent. There are other factors, as well:

  • Doctors are aging and retiring like so many others.
  • Fewer med school grads select family practice, in part because many of them are coming out with big debts and see greater financial opportunity in other specialties.
  • A growing group of family doctors take care of their families as well as their practices and are choosing to work fewer hours a week.
  • One in nine Canadian-trained doctors migrates to the US.
  • Doctors from commonwealth countries can practice in Canada right away, but others must requalify and then complete a residency program. The number of residency spots is limited.

I’m ashamed to admit I was unaware of this predicament until it affected me. For years, I’ve defended Canada’s universal health system. The few times I needed it during the 24 years I lived in Ontario, I had excellent care with little waiting. I was not prepared for the shortage in Victoria. It’s a wonderful place to live. Why aren’t doctors storming the ferries? BC’s premier seems a little too willing to introduce private health care as a band-aid. I believe in the ideals behind a single system for all. We just need to fix that system.

I will send in my application and wait. If I knew Serbo-Croatian, I’d throw in a few words to strengthen my case.

Image by Swedish illustrator Tesa.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Good luck, Tricia! I've lived in Ontario for the past thirty years and have had to change doctors every four or five years it seems. It gets harder and harder to find one. However, I've been blessed with great doctors- one after the other, once I've managed to connect. No complaints about the doctors, just the underfunding of the health and education system.

Thu Sep 20, 02:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Great post, Tricia. We had a doctor when we lived in Ottawa, but it did take us awhile to find one. What about walk-in clinics? I used those for years for sports injuries or vaccinations. Never had any problems, and my parents use them now. Any special requirements and they get referred to a specialist.

And we have a Canadain doctor here in Hawaii, how funny is that? I think universal health care is the way to go. Like any huge government system, universal health care has its problems, but it is still better than the alternative of no health care. The US system is no cheaper, either. I still pay for medicare, and companies pay huge monthly amounts for health insurance for their employees.

Thu Sep 20, 03:12:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks Andrew and Steve. Yeah, Steve, I do have a drop-in clinic nearby and I will go there if I find I can't wait any longer. My kids are in the U.S. and luckily they have coverage through their employer but their contribution to the premiums is pretty stiff -- up to $12,000/year.

Thu Sep 20, 04:19:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I'm right in the middle of a medical Mecca, with a hospital a few blocks away, several medical buildings absolutely packed with doctors and specialists. We just happen to be in a centre that needs it, I suppose.

My doctor has been with me since I was a teen, and she's also my children's family practitioner. She'll be retiring in a couple of years but I think she has backups lined up for her list. The same thing happened to my husband. His doctor (oddly enough, my doctor's ex-husband) retired and sent his records to a new doctor in the next town.

If a new doctor doesn't pan out, we have four walk-in clinics within four kilometres.

Thu Sep 20, 08:02:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Good to hear from you, Chumplet, and glad to know of your Mecca. I think Ontario's in better shape than BC except in rural areas and parts of the north. Also, people here who've had doctors for many years don't have a problem until their doctor retires and many retiring doctors make an effort to place their patients elsewhere. It's us "immigrants" who are up the proverbial creek.

Thu Sep 20, 08:44:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

I hope you're feeling better soon, Tricia.

For a dozen years or more, I've been going to the same clinic; it is ostensibly a walk-in clinic, but it's rather progressive, in that it's predominantly women doctors, and very pro-women's issues. It's very friendly, and many of the doctors are open to suggesting alternative health options and they are not chintzy on the outside referrals as some clinics are, plus their referrals are always to like-minded doctors.

I've had, over the years, several doctors there, but I've never felt like I was 'without' a family doctor. But just recently, I've been needing to take care of something specific, and as it happens, both doctors I usually see were off on mat leave, and now one, the one I've had for years, is not returning. For the first time, I felt hooped.

But at least I'm familiar with everyone at the clinic. Adjusting is hard. As for having a 'real' doctor... I must admit, at this clinic I never feel rushed, whereas I hear so many of my friends complain their personal doctors are too busy. So I think I'll stay where I am. It works pretty well for me.

Fri Sep 21, 04:18:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Your clinic sounds great, Tamara. I like the doctor at my walk-in clinic, but you can't make an appointment with him, and the wait is often several hours. Of course, what else do I have to do!

Fri Sep 21, 05:31:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Our family GP's situation falls into your bullet #3 so I cross my fingers everytime I call in. To make matters worse (for me) she often muses about moving to Nova Scotia. Don't know what I'd do given I'm there so often. Hope you get in with someone good, Tricia and soon. Take care.

Sat Sep 22, 08:21:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tricia...

I speak some Croatian. I can be your translator. Help in Croatian is pomoc.

Kate in MPLS

Wed Sep 10, 05:42:00 pm GMT-4  

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