The Sick Reality of Canadian Health Care

What does it take to get a clean bill of health in our two-tiered health-care system? Luc Bouchard found out first-hand why being a "patient" patient could be a life-threatening decision. 

By Luc Bouchard (Reader's Digest, Dec 2009)

We have to operate, Mr. Bouchard. Your arteries are clogged in five different spots."

The cardiologist is talking to me, but his eyes are fixed on a screen. "In some places, the blockage is up to 80 percent."

A cold sweat comes over me. This can't be happening, I think. I'm naked under a flimsy blue hospital gown. They've stuck electrodes to my body; a catheter in my arm. I didn't sign up for any of this. All I wanted was to do my job.

The doctor turns away to confer with his staff. I'm overwhelmed by a fantasy of a scalpel slicing into my chest. "Please," I cry out, my voice trembling. Everyone turns to stare at me. "Be careful," I say. "As careful as you'd be with your wife or your child."

"I'll do better than that," the doctor assures me, solemnly. "I'll be as careful as I'd be with my own body."

Three months ago, I was just a journalist setting out to answer a very simple question: How easy is it to get a medical checkup in our two-tiered health-care system? The idea for the article came to me after a friend of mine suffered a massive stroke and died. I am 45. He was just a few years older than me.

I like to think I'm relatively active for a guy of my age, although lately I have spent more time watching sports than playing them (and typically with beer and some chicken wings). At my last checkup, over two years ago, I learned that my triglyceride level was dangerously high and my blood-glucose level put me at risk for diabetes. My doctor also seemed concerned about my family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer. But to be honest, I wasn't really paying attention.

Then my friend died.

Overnight, I became desperate to see my family physician. And, since journalism is in my blood, I started to wonder: What if I didn't have a doctor? After all, that's the case for more than 1.8 million people in Quebec, where I live — and 4.3 million in Canada overall. How long would it take to see a doctor? Would the wait times be shorter at a private clinic, and if so, at what extra cost? Would the quality of care be better?

Next: Bouchard tests the system as
a patient without a doctor.

Published in : Magazine » True Stories
Find more about: RD Reader | Longreads | hospital | health care | health
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