A rambly ode to the Canadian health care system

By Friday of last week, Lucas had been sick for three days. Fever, green snot, bad cough and most troubling, increasing lethargy. I gave up waiting it out and tried to get an appointment with our ped, but by the time I got through around 11 am, the answering machine said they were completely booked up for the day. (In seven years, I’ve never heard that one!) It offered the number of the after-hours pediatric clinic, which would take calls starting at 4 pm.

(This gets long. Refresh your coffee and settle in!)

At 4 pm, I called the them and the machine offered yet another number, which I called. The machine said they would start taking appointments at 5 pm.

At 5 pm I started dialing. For 10 minutes, redials alternated between a busy signal and the message that said they would begin taking calls at 5 pm. Finally, a real person answered the phone and gave me what I suspect was the first appointment of the night at 6 pm.

“And where are you located?” I asked, no longer sure to whom I was speaking after the long chain of referrals.

“Carling and Holland,” she answered.

“Oh, right, I’ve been there before,” I said, and hurried to throw together something mildly resembling dinner for Lucas and myself while tasking Beloved with feeding himself and the big boys.

We pulled into the parking lot across from the clinic with five minutes to spare and I was rather pleased with myself, despite the headlong rush through the evening. I bundled Lucas up in a blanket and headed into the clinic. To my surprise and relief, the waiting room was empty. I walked up to the reception desk and handed the woman Lucas’s health card. She looked at her list, looked at the computer, and asked, “Is this Olivia?” Um, does HE look like an Olivia? And why would Olivia have a health card that says Lucas on it? She asks for my pediatrician’s name and fusses with the computer a bit more, obviously flustered.

She asks me to wait, and steps away from the desk to consult with a tall, balding man with a stethoscope around his neck. She comes back and tells me there must be some mistake, as they don’t have an appointment for me. I assure her that I do, and repeat the gist of the 5 pm phone call. I can see the doctor listening, and turn my attention to him. He says, in a patronizing tone that immediately puts my back up, that I must be mistaken. I assure him that I am not. We begin to debate the state of my mistakenness, at which point I say, “Listen, I have a sick baby here who needs to see a doctor. Whether I have an appointment or not, can you please look at him?” He begins to huff about how he is booked solid and has his own clinic to run, and I gesture at the empty waiting room behind me. He continues to push back, and I say, “Listen, I called here and I got an appointment. Are you going to punish my sick baby because you guys screwed up?”

He asks me for the number I called, and I try to find my cell phone, still balancing Lucas and my backpack and the health card I’m still holding. While I’m doing this, he’s assuring me that I still have plenty of time to get to the right place and I’m arguing that no, I don’t, as my appointment was for 6 pm and it’s now past that time. I finally get the phone out and show him the number I called, and with smug satisfaction he tells me that’s not the number here. At which point four days of sick baby, second week back at work, two birthday parties in two weeks, out of town guests for the weekend, and about three weeks of sleep deprivation catch up with me and I burst into tears.

“For goodness sake,” I say through frustrated tears, “In the time we’ve been standing here debating this, you could have been done the exam!”

I press the redial button on my cell, and get a message that says, “The clinic is now full for the evening.” Click. I’m furious, frustrated and at the end of my rope. I’ve done everything right, I only want my poor helpless baby to stop being sick, I can feel the Tylenol wearning off and the fever returning, and I am completely out of options.

Eventually, the doctor relents and says he will see Lucas between patients. I am grateful, but can’t help but bristle at his tone of magnanimous exasperation. He’s placating the crazy woman. By now, there is another family – presumably Olivia’s – watching the drama unfold. Lucas and I sit through the arrival and departure of two more patients when I overhear a man at the reception desk replaying the same conversation I’d had earlier. Yes, he’s sure his appointment is at this clinic. I listen closer and realize his circumstance is the same as mine. He’s even called the same ped. I see the doctor in the background, also listening. I can’t help myself.

“See?” I say to the doctor. “I’m not crazy.” I’m sitting in a waiting room hysterical with exhaustion and crying my eyes out with a sick baby, but I’m not crazy.

Given the name of the man’s ped, they are able to track down the clinic. It’s across the street, on the other side of the parking lot I’d parked in. Turns out that neither I nor the doctor was wrong, but I was still in the wrong place.

To his credit, the doctor does see Lucas and diagnoses a whopper of an ear infection, and maybe the beginnings of a chest infection. I simply cannot control the tears that run silently down my face throughout the entire exam. He is extremely kind with Lucas, even tickling him to try to make him smile. I am humiliated and angry and did I mention exhausted, and can only mutter something half-way between apology and thanks on the way out.

Prescription clutched in my hand, I cry as I load Lucas into the car. I cry as I drive up Fisher to Prince of Wales, and cry the whole way down Fallowfield. By the time I drop Lucas off at home, I’m nominally under control, but I’m crying again in the hair products aisle of Shoppers Drug Mart as I wait for his prescription. The pharmacist, to her credit, only gives me a long look and says nothing.

The moral of the story? We live in a country where you can show up at any random doctor’s office with a sick child and pitch a fit, and they will provide professional medical care whether they are under obligation to do so or not. It’s a good system.

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

12 thoughts on “A rambly ode to the Canadian health care system”

  1. That’s certainly one of the morals of the story … but I can think of a few others, like the fact that in my humble view, all med students should have to spend time in a mother’s shoes, preferably for a week, but I’d settle for a day. This was brought home to me twice in September when our second was almost born at 31 weeks (in the end, we managed to keep him in until 34 weeks) — I had a med student at the Civic first ask me if I’d had sex in the previous 12 hours (I was doubled over in pain, although even if I hadn’t been, good god, who’s interested at 31 weeks with a two year old?!), and then casually say that the baby was ‘probably viable’ although you never know. An awesome thing to say to someone with blood pressure already over 200/120!!

    Anyway, all that to say you have my huge sympathies – even if it turned out okay, that doctor sucked.

  2. I’ve been in your situation, both with my kids and just for myself.

    This includes the tears and the feeling that I was “the crazy woman” crying in front of everyone.

    I agree with the moral. It is a great health care system.

    What is not a great system is how busy our lives are. I’m not trying to sound like “all moms are martyrs” but, boy oh boy, a few more hours a day (or at night) would be nice. Or how about some sort of EI that allows us to full-time parent until all of our children are in school?

    You are doing a great job. Hugs.

  3. You certainly did not have the best week ever but you always seem to handle it all, even through the tears. Could be, that as a Mother, you have no choice but to soldier on. Good on you.

  4. dear god, Dani, what a week, what an ordeal, I could feel your pain with this whole situation/frustration.

    glad all ended well and you definitely get my Mom Of The Week award.

    many hugs

  5. That is a very bad ordeal! I have been there, Dani. Just the fact that my son has been in CHEO 3 times with 3 different infections that required IV and countless x-rays and ultrasounds and yes, even surgery for pneumonia – (and he is only 3 years old) that was the hardest thing we have ever been through – most nurses and doctors were fantastic, but there were a few people who drove us nuts as we were already going nuts because of everything we were going through.
    I hate calling the after hours clinic. Sometimes it’s almost worth it to just go to CHEO instead!

  6. OH God Dani!
    I’m would do the ame thing hunny. I would break down in tears too.
    Thank God he took him and thanks God for a medical system though not perfect does work in a pinch.
    When I Nathan had his fingers crushed I could not but be overly thankful for the care he got a CHEO. And the parents that let us on through after seeing his bloody fingers.
    Is Lucas better, he must be by now?

  7. You guys are great. Thanks so much!

    And Sharon, thanks for asking, he is better now. The PS to the story is that he reacted to the amoxicillin on Saturday morning, so we ended up in a walk-in clinic after all, about fourteen hours after this visit to the after-hours clinic. But since he’s been on the new antibiotics, his eyes have brightened up and he seems a lot more like his old self. And, quelle surprise, I’m getting sick now. Oh well, better me than him.

  8. {{{Dani}}}}

    What a story.

    While I’m glad the doctor did see Lucus eventually, surely the clinic has seen this mixup before if they saw it twice in the hour you were there. I hope from now on when someone walks in confused it occurs to them to suggest the other clinic right away.

  9. Given that there were two mix-ups in the short time that you were there, you’d think that this would be a common event to which the doctors at the clinic were aware. Nice that he saw you regardless.

  10. What an ordeal. But how lovely to be able to be seen regardless.

    I do wish you hadn’t felt so frustrated and teary. Mac and Cheese is right — this must happen all the time. Couldn’t they suggest the other clinic immediately?

    I mean, it’s fantastic that they squeeze you in — but how much easier to have a little note at the reception desk, with a back-office contact number for the other clinic so they can get you to the right place before it’s too late.

  11. I know this is article is almost 3 years old. The pediatrician on-call group rotates in different doctors’ offices day-to-day, not necessarily daily in the same location on Holland and Carling. Therefore, to assume that someone at the 1st clinic should have just automatically pointed the lost mother to the building across the street is too simplistic

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