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Dr. Jen Gunter

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is a nationally and internationally renowned obstetrician/gynecologist.

August 27th, 2012 11:11 AM

The one horror story that’s missing when Canadians talk about health care

I just spent a week in Canada. Most days were spent enjoying the glory that is a Manitoba summer on the sandy shores of lake Winnipeg, the kids playing in the water and building sandcastles while the parents chatted.

As often happens, when people find out that I’m a doctor, the conversation turns to medicine. I don’t think this is because I’m special somehow, but since everyone requires health care and almost always has a friend or family member struggling with some health issue it’s a common ground. People are eager for insider information. Unfortunately, most of the times people recount horror stories, although I suspect if I were a pilot conversation would veer to the travel industry and we’d all talk about the longest time we sat on the tarmac or the worst flight we ever endured.

I heard a story about a young woman, age 42, who felt she had to bully her doctor into an annual mammogram instead of every two years. She had no specific risk factors for breast cancer, but wanted a yearly screen. She was successful, and at her yearly mammogram a cancer was diagnosed (fortunately stage 1). Unfortunately, she was going to need chemo and radiation, but thankful it was caught and that she had advocated for herself. I have heard very similar stories south of the border as well.

I heard a story about an elderly father with a severe gastrointestinal bleed while he was in the hospital. How the bed filled with blood in front of the family. How the brand new Intern muffed explaining the DNR and the agony of deciding whether or not to surgically intervene in this situation. This too is familiar territory.

I heard about transfers to hospitals because more acute care was needed.

I heard about post-operative infections.

And I shared my own mother’s issues, a hip replacement in December where the fracture was missed on the post operative x-ray. A few days after coming home the fracture grew and her femur shattered. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital and needed both a second hip replacement and the fracture required an intricate system of pins and wire. I spoke about how she spent 6 weeks in an inpatient hospital getting intense rehabilitation and eight months later was still getting physical therapy.

I heard nothing about co-pays, nothing about fighting with an insurance company to get a drug or procedure approved, and nothing about limits to the allowed number of physical therapy visits a year.

Money was startling absent from every conversation about health care.

I got back to the cottage and poured a glass of wine from the $9 bottle that cost me $16 at the Liquor Commission in Winnipeg and reflected on the conversation at the beach.

I’d rather pay more for my wine and not worry about affording health care than the other way around.

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