Mon 31 Mar 2008
i figure, if you tally up the days i’ve spent in hospital due to complications of pregnancy and the ultrasounds and procedures i’ve had done due to complications of pregnancy and the NICU time and attention and machinery my offspring have hogged due to their early arrivals – which in turn were due to complications of pregnancy – you’d come to two logical conclusions: one, pregnancy is not my calling and i need a new hobby, and two, in a country that provides universal health care, i’m a frigging drain on the system and a threat to freedom everywhere.
or at least, the latter is the conclusion i begin to come to every time i wade into the soup that appears to be the American electoral conversation regarding health care. and then i get down on my faithless knees and thank the good lord – in tongues and Esperanto and whatever bad French i can summon up from the nation’s shaky thirty-plus-year experiment in bilingualism – that i live where i do, and that some semblance of universal health care survives in Canada.
not that there aren’t problems with our system. there are. waits for family doctors and “elective” surgeries, even long waits for life-saving diagnostic measures like mammograms and MRIs, particularly in some centres. my local emergency room parking lot fills up some nights and people wait, listless and in pain, for hours on end. sometimes. other nights i’ve been seen in ten minutes. but when you’re the one waiting, it still sucks.
however, no one is turned away, deflected to another hospital further away in a crisis situation because they cannot pay. everybody who walks in is seen. there are no co-pays to tally, no lists of what is and isn’t covered, no dehumanizing rejections or anxious re-applications. you present your provincial health card – even if you’re visiting from another province – and you take your place in the line, and once you’re seen you walk out…so long as your age or medical condition don’t preclude walking. there is no exchange of cash. if you came by ambulance or left with a prescription, there will be a bill down the road, from the province or your pharmacy, but that’s about it. if you need physio, you get referred, and while the wait for hospital physio can be long, it’s free. Oscar’s asthma clinic appointments? free. my hearing test last year when Dave was sure i was going deaf and not just, erm, not listening? free. the referral last year about a possible cyst in one breast? free, and fast. i was seen by the specialist in less than a week. all was well. and none of these were even complications of pregnancy.
when it’s come to my attempts to procreate, the Canadian taxpayers have been generous. i guesstimate – though the billing numbers can admittedly be specious depending on how governments or corporations choose to subsidize or inflate the costs of running and staffing hospitals – that most adult, taxpaying citizens of my fair nation have likely spent at least 1.2 cents each on me and my universal health care over the last three years of this baby-attempting circus. if this pregnancy leads to further hospital bedrest and, far more costly, NICU time for wee Hughloise, those costs could rise to upwards of 1.5 cents each. Canadians, i thank you personally. seriously. i am your tax dollars at work, me and Oscar and the stitched-in one and the dreams that ended in an urn upstairs and a D&C in November. i don’t know how to tell you it was worth it, in financial terms…but i can tell you even after all the heartache, i would do it all again. does that count for something? is it worth a penny and a bit’s lifetime investment? i dunno. to me the two don’t exactly make for a natural equation, because i am not accustomed to valuing human life and grief and joy in pure dollars. and that’s why i’m grateful for universal health care, above all else. because it doesn’t force me to contort myself until i begin to see that equation as natural.
if universal health care didn’t exist, Dave and i would still be nearly $100,000 in debt, with no real hope of digging our way out no matter how many fancy Masters’ degrees we conjure up on our home printer. Finn was born fourteen weeks early, only three months after we moved back home from Korea. we were substitute teaching, working our butts off to get a mortgage, and taking short-term contracts where we could. we had jobs, but no insurance. in Canada, this meant we ended up on the hook for $750 of a thirteen thousand dollar airlift, which outraged naive moi…and i just missed out on qualifying for the fifteen weeks of maternity leave pay i would otherwise have gotten from the government in spite of the baby’s death, because i hadn’t worked quite enough hours. so we spent that summer broke and grieving and i had to hustle for a new job before i was really up for it and it was hard. but…but. i did not spend that summer contemplating a bottomless, hopeless, helpless pit of debt in hospital bills, the weight of them crushing. i did not have to ask myself if that eleven hours was worth the cost of the desperate machines, the specialists, the medication, the wires, the tubes. i only had to ask myself if i had the courage to try again.
and so i sit, agog, watching the vitriol spew from pundits and bloggers and BabyCenter board posters every time the subject comes up, and i shake my head, because i just don’t get it. freedom? um….has the word ‘free’ in it, folks! seriously, if you want to talk freedom and health care in the same sentence, talk about freedom to. freedom to see a doctor when you’re sick without worrying whether you can afford it. freedom to focus on healing after injury or loss, freedom to try again after the death of a child without worrying that it will financially cripple you. freedom to see specialists for your child without your husband having to take a pay cut to qualify for insurance because hers was cut off and she has a pre-existing condition.
i guess i’m just slow coming to terms with how scary this whole concept of socialized medicine can be for a lot of people. i grew up in a country where most citizens take pride in our universal health care system, much as we love to bitch about it out of the other side of our mouths – heck, we still acclaimed our long-dead Medicare founder Tommy Douglas as the Greatest Canadian ever a couple of years ago in a national contest, and not because he’s Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather. but i suppose, in the end, where a people’s collective sense of belonging and pride is located is a subtle, touchy thing…and it is in this one place that i see huge and real differences between the self-identified average American and the self-identified average Canadian.
so just let me say that i’m grateful to the True North, strong and free, while i sit here nursing the fishing line they hitched into my cervix last week, on twelve hours notice, gratis. i am eating right, and working hard, and doing my best with your 1.2 cents, folks. and if you ever need my 2 cents, well…help yourself.