I was supposed to be travelling and exploring new parts of this country, but ended up here in Ottawa exploring difference facets of the Canadian health system. It seems that what bothers my son is not serious after all, but getting to this preliminary conclusion required a visit to his doctor, a call to the Telehealth Ontario, and two emergency visits to CHEO.
A country’s health system is always a topic of animated conversation among expatriates and immigrants, trying to make sense of its workings, and searching for an assurance that should something happen to them, there will be a way to make it better. I have heard mixed reviews of the Canadian health system. Immigrant doctors reassuringly tell me of the availability of resources and fairness of the system. But patients complain of long and uncomfortable waits for non-urgent cases.
My own experience reflects this ambivalence. To start, I am very grateful to the Ontario health line. It was comforting to discuss the case with the nurse before packing up and driving to the emergency room. I would have probably waited until the morning pacing around the bedroom, unsure of what to do. The nurse’s guidance helped to clarify things and prompted me into action. I can see the relevance of this system to calm down stressed mothers, cut down on unnecessary strains in the emergency room, and to direct hesitant patients. Thumbs up for that.
Our experience at CHEO was reasonable. We were received promptly, preliminary checks done right away, and sent to a room to wait for the doctor who arrived reasonably soon. The pediatrician was reassuring but unsure about my son’s problem. We were sent home on wait and see mode with strong warnings to go back at the smallest sign of change for the worse. It was an uncomfortable wait and see. I am not very good at waiting and was not sure what I had to see. I would have liked an ultrasound right there and then for a little more certainty.
It is difficult to compare systems, as each case is unique. I have to say I was glad not to be worrying about how much that visit was going to cost me or what the insurance company was going to say about it, as I usually did in the U.S.. I wished I were back in Belgium where we never left a hospital before several exams were performed. And I was pleased not to be amidst the Brazilian randomness of care, wishing for the good luck of falling in the right hands at the right time.
Our wait and see mode lasted for two days when I finally decided that what I saw was different enough to warrant another emergency visit. We were back at CHEO and the experience repeated itself predictably and reassuringly. This time the doctor was more confident about the causes of the problem, and concluded that it was less serious than previously anticipated. She requested an ultrasound, to be done sometime this week, and a visit to the surgeon to be scheduled when a surgeon became available. The continuous wait is the biggest drawback of this system where eliminating discomfort is ‘elective’ and can wait until the short supply of professionals go through more urgent cases.
And this is the biggest weakness of this system that just does not have enough health care professionals to go around. I find that puzzling given the high number of immigrant doctors admitted in this country that are not able to practice. I appreciate a system of quality control and like to know that every practicing doctor will apply similar protocols and understand the culture and workings of health care in this country, but maybe there are things to be done to increase the odds that those immigrant doctors admitted in this country can succeed.
We are now home, waiting for appointments while the summer slips away. All I can hope for is that my health care exploration ends soon.