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Your Typical Walk-In Clinic Experience in Canada (It Sucks)

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 practitioner?” 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 Maps predicted.

There are three patients in the waiting room, and 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.”


“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 and 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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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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