Monday morning, 9 a.m. There are a hundred of places where I’d rather be but it’s too late, Feng is already parking. We brought the survival kit: tablet, water, phones, Kindle. And Mark’s health card, of course.
Mark has been dragging a cold for weeks now. For the third time this month, we go to the walk-in clinic trying to score drugs or something that can help him other than the usual “wait it out and come back if it gets worse.”
The walk-in clinic opens at 9 a.m. and we checked the wait time online before we left to pick the location with the most doctors and the most manageable wait.
It’s 9:05 a.m. and the fifteen seats are all taken.
We register, a process that doesn’t involve talking to a human being: we simple swipe Mark’s health card in a terminal and confirm the information on screen. The machine assures us they are “only” four patients ahead of us but that a doctor will see us soon. Quick math—fifteen minutes per patient, a least an hour’s wait.
Feng and Mark find two seats and I stand by the window.
The room is painted institutional beige and there are printed signs that advise people not to “PUT CHAIRS BY THE WALL”. In the corner, a CCTV plays the same commercial over and over again. People check their phone, chat a bit, one guy even brought his laptop and he sitting on the carpet, watching a movie.
From time to time, the one door to the holy grail of exam rooms opens and a name is called.
There is a bell at the reception. Technically, if you ring it, someone comes over to answer your question or help out, but six people have been waiting around for twenty minutes. One elderly patient sights and sits on his walker.
I know what’s coming, I can see Mark doing the need-to-pee dance. We’ve been waiting for 90 minutes already. Hell, I need to pee too.
The bathroom is past the locked door, in the hallway where all the exam rooms are. I walk to the reception with Mark and ring the bell. “I rang it a while ago”, a woman informs me. “No one is coming.”
I know. I’ve seen the crowd waiting.
“He needs to pee,” I explain.
“Maybe if you’d knock on the door…?”
I knock on the door. No answer.
“Look, I think there is a bathroom in the pharmacy,” another woman chimes in.
We’ve all been in a situation where we had to take a kid to the bathroom or needed to go, people sympathize.
“Yeah, but if she goes, she loses her spot,” a guy adds.
Exactly my fear.
The door finally opens when a patient leaves. I walk in with Mark, find the bathroom and we return to the waiting room.
We have yet to meet or speak with anyone from the clinic at this point.
Two and a half hour later, Mark is called. We go to the exam room. A nurse comes in and ask for basic information. There is no introduction, no small talk. There is no need for that, we won’t see her again.
We wait for another thirty minutes for the doctor. Mark is so bored, he is begging me to read him a story, except the “book” he wants is one of the brochures on STD testing.
The doctor comes in. Again, no introduction needed.
“Okay, he has to take antibiotics for five days.”
This is sad but I’m actually happy we are finally prescribed antibiotics. I’m fully aware it’s not a magical solution but I want to give us a chance of getting better. In a country where it’s frowned upon to take sick days and where seeing a doctor pretty much requires to take a day off, many people rely on over-the-counter drugs and viruses go around.
“This one really doesn’t taste good, most kids hate it,” she adds.
I roll my eyes. I can already picture a fight with Mark and above all, we can’t waste a single drop of the antibiotic since only the required amount in given.
I hate myself for it but I’m about to become that difficult patient, that annoying mother.
“Ahem… Can’t we get the same antibiotic as usual?”
I don’t want to question the doctor’s prescription. I respect her training, I really do. I don’t think drugs are supposed to taste good. I think she knows best.
Yet, I’m not coming back here again in a few days.
Eventually, the doctor switches to the other kid-friendly antibiotic.
We still have to queue at the pharmacy for the prescription but it can wait, now Mark is hungry. No wonder, it’s past mid-day.
There is something wrong with our healthcare system and I say it as a Canadian, not as an immigrant. This is not a case of “boy, it was sooo much better back home!” It’s not. I’m not comparing both countries. And I know how cliché it sounds to complain about the healthcare system. I mean, who doesn’t have a bad experience with it? It’s like complaining about the government, your boss, your parents if you are a teen.
Yet, I have grown to dislike the Canadian healthcare system. Sure, I’m grateful we don’t have to deal with insurance and medical debt like in the US. Yet, I find our system so inefficient, so dehumanizing…
Strike one, for me, was the year spent looking for a doctor who would take Feng’s back pain seriously and the long wait for the subsequent MRI and surgery.
Then came the pregnancy. Nine months of being chastised, of being treated like an incubator. Mark was well taken care of. I wasn’t. Looking back, it sounds so crazy that after a night spent delivering a baby I was sent to a shared room with Mark, that no one let me rest and that we were sent home less than 24 hour later. I started my job as a new mom not having slept for 48 hours. Meanwhile, all the hospital team cared about was how secure our car seat was.
This was just the beginning of being constantly patronized. Yes, we have carbon monoxide detector and yes, we are feeding our son—would you mind taking a look at what we came for today, please?
And now with Mark, who, like any young kid, occasionally gets sick. “Well, of course… if he is going to daycare, het gets sick!” said one of the doctors we saw last year. Oh, I’m sorry, how long should I have shielded it from—gasp!—people for?
So much emphasis is put on prevention here. We are targeted by an endless stream of commonsensical messages: eat healthy, exercise, get your flu shot, don’t drink, eat this, don’t smoke, eat that, drive carefully, get tested for this, get screened for that… Sure, great. But how about a reliable healthcare system for when we need it?