Late last week, I started to feel crappy. Sore throat, hacking cough, low energy. I took a COVID test and passed. The next morning, I felt even crappier, took another test and failed.
I don’t know which strain it is — who cares what they call it when the main fact is that you feel terrible? The first day was bad, the second way worse, the third mildly better, the fourth a big improvement. The worst part was the afternoon throat: the simple act of swallowing became agonizing.
Forget about keeping hydrated when a sip of water is like lighting a fire in your throat. You’re supposed to rest, but try resting while constantly hacking up goop through a throat that feels like it’s been scraped raw with broken glass.
At one point, I pondered actually going to the hospital. I didn’t ponder too long, though, because the prospect was alarming. After nearly 2½ years of pandemic and the floods of articles that have poured forth on the horror story Canada’s health-care system has become, the idea of exposing myself to the dangers and indignities a visit to the emergency room represented was simply not worth considering. Better to stay home, try to sleep and hope it went away, which it did.
It’s obviously not a good thing, though, when an otherwise healthy person in their 60s is repelled by the very thought of entering a hospital for fear of what they’ll find. On Day 2, I read an article by Dr. Kashif Pirzada, a Toronto ER doctor of 15 years experience, on the appalling decline he’d witnessed and his pessimism about the future.
It wasn’t unusual — there are tons of similar pieces out there — but it was telling. Endless waits, even for critically ill patients. Hallways jammed with paramedics whiling away time until someone claims their patients. Urgent treatments were postponed because there’s no one to transfer patients to the right hospital. Patients with alarming issues left untreated for hours due to a lack of personnel. Doctors and nurses working crushing hours, yet constantly confronted by angry people who are justifiably enraged about their treatment.
It sounds like the Third World. Who would want to work there, or be put at the mercy of such a system? But that’s where we are in Canada. If you Google “Canada health-care collapse,” you get a slew of articles with titles like “health system on life support” and “health system collapsing around us.”
I’ve been in the news business for 45 years, so I know there’s no crisis the media can’t overplay, but these aren’t excitable journalists cranking up the headlines, they’re experts like Dr. Pirzada or the people at the Canadian Medical Association testifying to a crisis that is well underway.
And yet, does anyone get a sense that Canada’s politicians, at any level, are even remotely engaged in marshalling the forces the situation deserves? Far from it. The chorus of pleas for action are met with the same tired evasions. When the premiers met in British Columbia this month to confront the crisis, they came up with the same solution every other meeting of premiers has reached: Ottawa needs to send them more money.
Canada already spends profusely on health care. More is always welcome, but no one other than the premiers seems to think money alone is the solution. It’s a far bigger and more complex problem than that. We have a system that may once have served us well, but has become a rickety patchwork of remedies, practices and old ideas slapped together and held in place by bandages, even as the pressures and demands on it expand and accelerate with each passing day.
You might think an ambitious politician seeking a cause would seize on this and champion the need to finally begin taking serious steps toward a radical overhaul. Instead, we have a complacent Liberal government that’s more intent on extending its term, talking about climate change and flying off to summits; and a Conservative leadership race in the grip of a favorite who talks of little more than firing people, attacking “gatekeepers” and promoting “freedom.” It’s not clear how any of that would be of the slightest consequence for the crisis in the hospitals.
Maybe it’s not good enough for the system to be collapsing. Maybe it has to actually collapse. Then the various levels of government would be forced to act. Right now, they just seem overwhelmingly inadequate to what is easily Canada’s most pressing need.
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