Sick of Doctors

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A walk-in clinic in Ottawa, October 2017

“How did it go?”

“About as well as you can expect.”

Feng shrugs. He knows what I mean. Regardless of the problem prompting the visit, going to the doctor in Ottawa—in Ontario? In Canada?—is often an unpleasant experience. Accessing healthcare services is difficult and very often, I’m not treated like a person, but rather like a child who needs to be chastised. It’s dehumanizing and exhausting.

This is how my last visit to my family doctor went.

I’ve had a cold for a month and since I’m sick of it (pun intended), I decided to go see my family doctor. Just as well, I thought, I have questions about birth control.

I can only book my appointment online. I do have the clinic’s phone number but you don’t get to speak to a human, you have to leave a message.

I filled out the appointment request form. “Are you currently registered with a family physician or nurse practitioners?” Yes. Next. “By clicking on the agree button below, you are agreeing to the following statement: I am requesting an appointment with my family doctor. Should he/she not be available, I understand that I may be booked with the nurse practitioner who works with my doctor’s Health Team.” Then I had to give personal information—name, sex, birthdate, preferred language (English or French), phone number, email, health card number, etc.

It’s a complete waste of time since I’m already registered with a doctor. It would have been much faster to call and talk to a human.

I submit the form. The next screen informs me I’ll be contacted soon.

Twenty-four hours later, I receive an email from a “no-reply” address—you’d think I’m a secret agent, not a patient. My appointment is a week from now. Good thing it wasn’t an emergency.

On the day of the appointment, I arrive fashionably early because I respect doctors’ time and because I walked faster than Google Map predicted.

There are three patients in the waiting room, nobody in line at the reception desk.

“Hi! I have an appoint—”

“You have to take a number.”

I pull a number from the dispenser behind me and I’m called right away by the same person who told me to take a number. I’m handed out a tablet. I have to confirm my address again—it takes so long to get an appointment that I may have moved, after all. The next screen is a list of questions: “Do you smoke? What do you smoke? How often? Do you exercise? How often? What type of exercise do you do? How many minutes per day?” Then comes a long list of drugs I may be tempted to take and I have to state if I did.

I don’t see why I have to answer these questions. I’m not a new patient and this has nothing to do with the purpose of my visit. It feels like a test—are you at least trying to be healthy, sucker?

I admit I smoke, I swear I don’t take drugs and exercise regularly. Hopefully it balances out but I’m already bracing for a lecture. I don’t mind, I expect it. However, I don’t want to spend the few precious minutes I will have with the doctor bowing my head in shame and acknowledging that smoking is bad.

I give the tablet back. The last screen instructs me to use hand sanitizer since every single patient held it. That’s easy. I count six giant bottles of Purell in the waiting room.

I take a seat and worry that I may not look sick enough. I am feeling a bit better. Damn.

“Madame Bôôôôôssard!”

Right. It’s me. I never use the “Bossard” part of my hyphenated last name but somehow, it ended up on my health card.

The nurse wears a shirt that says, “have a fairy good day.”

“Symptoms?”

“I can’t seem to get rid of my cold.”

“You have a cold? And you’re not wearing a mask? What are you thinking!”

I’m thinking I don’t want to live in a society where we all walk around wearing surgical masks—at least, not until zombies attack us. I’m not coughing much, I wash my hands, I don’t have the plague but the same cold everybody seems to have these days.

The nurse enters my symptoms on the computer then leads me to another room. I wait there for five minutes before being taken to a third room. Finally, the doctor shows up. She must have been briefed on my symptoms—I can’t understand her very well because of the mask she’s wearing.

“So, I can refer you for a chest X-ray and then if needed, they will refer you back to me and I could give you antibiotics. Or you can skip the X-rays—some people don’t like to be exposed to radiation—and I’ll prescribe antibiotics right now.”

I’m not particularly scared of radiation but I don’t see the point to have an X-ray done.

“I’ll take the antibiotics. I also had a question about birth control…”

The doctor frowns. “It’s a different issue, you should make another appointment.”

I’ve been sitting in the patient chair for less than 90 seconds and I waited for a week for this appointment. I fucking deserve two more minutes.

“I’ve had my IUD since January 2013 and I was told to change it after five years. How does it work? How do I get a prescription and a referral to an ob-gyn?”

“You’re 34 … in five years, you will be 39. That’s a bit late…”

I’m confused and I wait for her to complete the sentence.

“—to have another child,” she adds.

“I don’t want another child, that’s why I use birth control. And even if I changed my mind, it can be removed.”

I can’t believe I’m explaining this to a doctor. And I can’t believe I have to discuss my reproductive organs that she has never seen because follow-up appointments after Mark’s birth were simply two minutes of “all right, doing fine down there?”

I know what you’ll probably say—“find another doctor!” But it took me ten years (!) to find a GP and based on my experience and feedback from friends, most doctors are like this here—judgmental and rushed.

“Well, think about it. You have time. We say it’s effective for five years but some women keep their IUD for ten years.”

“But how do you know if it’s still effective?”

“Oh, we really don’t know! It’s up to you if you want to change it.”

Feels like I’m talking to an FBI agent—”we can neither confirm nor deny…”

I look at my phone when I leave. Total time spent with the doctor? Six minutes.

Do we have the worst healthcare system in the world? No.

Can we do better? I hope so.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

23 Comments

  1. Tu déroules parfaitement, du début à la fin, l’illustration parfaite d’une consultation sans aucune éthique, et en plus sexiste. C’est fantastique ! Déjà qu’on est pas bien au point en France de ce côté-là (sur la “bientraitance” du patient par le médecin), mais alors là, c’est pire que tout… 🙁

    • Le pire, c’est que “ma” docteur est une femme qui a eu des enfants récemment. En fait, ils doivent avoir le même âge que Mark, elle était en congé de maternité quand j’étais enceinte. Donc les femmes ne sont pas mieux niveau sexisme et idées du 3e siècle :-/

      Mais, le pire, c’est le système et je crois que les docteurs en sont victimes. C’est juste déshumanisant de passer au plus dix minutes avec un professionel de la santé, de se blinder à l’avance parce que les docteurs sont obsédés par certains trucs de santé publique (genre, le PAP test, le vaccin contre le grippe, le poids etc.) et complètement nuls sur d’autres problèmes.

  2. I thought the Dutch GPs are bad but no way i could tolerate such service. In Holland, GPs like to prescribe paracetamol for everything ( it is the magic pill) and say to come back in a few days if it doesn’t get better. Once my husband had an eye infection for one month and he thought he could get some treatment by the GP. But he was told to take 2 paracetamols 2-3 times a day for a month!!! Of course he didn’t follow that advise, or else he would get kidney problem from all these drugs! Therefore i avoid GPs as much as possible. Most of the time it is just a waste of my time. I have lots of homeopathy medicine that i can’t live without. Many are ordered directly from France.

    • Yes, same thing here. No matter what you have, take a Tylenol (over-the-counter medicine). It’s SO frustrating. I don’t want to overuse antibiotics but Mark had pneumonia for a MONTH when he was 3 and it took several doctors to prescribe antibiotics.

      I also bring my homeopathy from France. I wouldn’t use it for everything but hey, whatever works for me.

      • I’m not getting into that debate! To each his own. I use it too sometimes and I don’t think there anything wrong with it unless you ONLY rely on homeopathy and refuse to take drugs.

  3. Oh my… this was painful to read!
    Who are these people?
    I still don’t have a family doctor but my kids have one, each kid is own doctor, one in a hospital, the other one in a very busy clinic but I never had this kind of experience. Usually the doctors take time to seat with you, yes they ask all kind of question but more importantly they always ask if we have any concern on any subject, if we want to talk more about anything… and some of them actually asked if we, the parents, were fine because they said that as a part of our kids life, they got to take care of us too, to make sure we are okay. Like I love most of the doctors I have seen here, even the one I see when I go without appointment.
    This is so scary to me that they treat people like that.
    As for the IUD… that a doctor can tell that is crazy to me. I mean, yes some women kept the IUD 10 years instead of 5… and some got pregnant because of it too. And the remark about your age, I can not imagine my gyno telling me that when I changed mine. She did not mention anything in fact, she only made sure I was in good health and had no problem with IUD. And she also notice I was WAY overweight, and she just told me to take care of me, try to loose weight but don’t go too far, checked cholesterol, blood sugar and things like that and since everything is fine said as for her she had no problem with me. LOL. No judgment, nothing. What I would expect from a doctor.

    • You know what, I’m actually relieved you had a normal experience with your doctor(s) here. It gives me hope. It’s not just me, many of my friends had pretty shitty experiences too. Is it an Ottawa thing? Feng said he never had issue with doctors in Manitoba. Even in Ottawa, it used to be much easier to see a doctor about ten years ago. I remember going when I first arrived in Ottawa and it was okay. What the hell happened?!

  4. T’as vraiment pas de chance avec les médecins ! Je sais que mon amie va encore à Ottawa pour voir le sien bien qu’elle ait déménagé, tu veux que je lui demande ? Aucun de ceux que je vois n’est comme ça, et je change tout le temps car mon Medecin de famille est bien trop loin depuis que j’ai déménagé. Alors que ce soit la clinique de ma Ville, un groupe de jeunes médecins sympathiques et intelligents qui prennent leur temps, ou la clinique de la Ville à côté où je tombe toujours sur le meme Medecin près de prendre sa retraite qui me fait des blagues, ou encore la clinique de la gare en bas de mon bureau où j’ai agréablement découvert que je pouvais m’inscrire le matin et être appelée dans la journee à mon travail quand c’est mon tour, je n’ai jamais eu de telle expérience. Les seules fois où c’est arrivé, c’est dans une clinique sans rendez vous qui était un véritable fast food de la médecine. J’y allais toujours pour la même chose (cystite) alors ça ne m’effrayait pas mais c’était 2 minutes avec Le Medecin montre en main, pas d’auscultation ou presque et t’avais intérêt à rappeler les choses qui pouvaient interférer avec le médicament qu’on te prescrivait (genre moi ils m’ont prescrit un antibio sans me demander si j’étais enceinte, ce que j’étais). Mais c’est le seul cas. Par contre tomber malade plus gravement et devoir être hospitalisée m’inquiète plus. Autour de moi je n’ai pas eu de bons retours à ce sujet, du moins concernant les adultes. À suivre donc…(je touche du bois lol)

    • By the way my own doctor is pretty inefficient, nice but … inutile lol. That’s why I don’t even try to go through the entire city to have an appointment with her, always one or two weeks later of course. I just call her to sign forms.

    • Écoute oui, si tu peux demande lui!

      La plupart de nos expériences merdiques ont eu lieu dans les cliniques sans RDV. Là je me demande si ce n’est pas l’environnement de la clinique où est ma docteure (je veux pas être plus précise pour le coup, j’ai pas envie de donner son nom et tout). Pour les hospitalisations, c’est rock’n’roll. Feng a eu une opération assez bénigne il y a une dizaine d”année et j’ai halluciné sur la salle de réveil façon “hôpital de guerre” avec genre vingt lits d’opérés de la journée :-/ Et pour mon accouchement, disons que je suis revenue à la maison moins de 24 heures après… ahem, c’est limite quand même quand j’y repense.

      Par contre, supers expériences avec un ophtalmo récemment pour Mark (première visite) et pour Feng il y a cinq ans (accident euh… domestique, Mark bébé lui avait griffé la cornée).

      • Oh boy tu as un petit tigre à la maison ! Je suis rentrée au bout de 36h pour Tempête mais je crois que le délai est un peu plus long quand c’est ton premier. Je lui ai posé la question je te dirai si elle connaît qq un.

  5. I think with doctors here is a hit and miss. My first family doctor was brutal, he will prescribe antibiotics without at least checking me to see if that’s the problem, plus I had to wait 2 hours with an appointment made. I changed doctors and my new one is awesome. I go there like it’;s my house. They have 2 receptionists and when i call they already know my name (2 kids will make you see the doctor often) Many times I get an appointment on the same day. Now I just hope she will stay here and not move somewhere else cause it’s really hard to get a good doctor.

  6. I am almost finding it hard too believe. I have moved to Canada years ago and I’m in Toronto, having visited several doctors and sex health clinics with regards to birthday control and service was outstanding. My GP and the clinic I go to is fantastic. When I had my first visit she referred me for blood checks just to know what my stats were and did thorough check up. If I were you I’d change the doctor and perhaps write a complaint about clinic’s practices.

    • I’m glad you’re having a better experience than me! Maybe it’s different in Toronto? I used to have more positive experiences in Ottawa about ten years ago. It changed around… I’d say 2008. I can’t explain why, though.

  7. OMG what a rude doctor !! I hate when you just want to ask them a fucking question and you have to make another appointment for a question can be answered in fucking 2 minutes !!!?! Ridiculous ! I am happy to have free healthcare but damn some doctors are dicks !

    Were you able to figure out when you can get your IUD changed?

    So far and a few annoyances here and there with mine, but doing good 🙂

    • Nope, I still haven’t figured it out. I think I’m gonna wait and ask around in France next time I go there. Glad to hear it’s all good with yours!

      • Try the Asclepios Medical clinic in Orleans. They have a few doctors that specialize in IUDS and that’s where i got mine done because i was waiting a bit too long to hear from OB GYN to schedule my appt. The clinic does drop in and appt (but the IUD clinic is by appt), but you can call and leave a message for the nurse for your questions and they will call you back in a 1 or 2 days.

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