Monday, 23 February 2015

On Health Care, Personal Experience, and Reasonable Arguments

I have people I love and respect in the USA who have objections to "Obamacare" and those objections are based on really reasonable arguments.  There's a component of US constitutional law that is in direct conflict with a "universal" healthcare system in the USA, and constitutional law is the highest form of law.  The constitution of the USA is equivalent to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, roughly (emphasis roughly) and people in Canada get pretty pissed off when they feel that their charter rights are being violated.  When the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of "Obamacare" it neglected to respond to the constitutional challenge.  It's still a problem.  So far as I can tell people on both sides of this debate are sensible people applying reasonable arguments - just very different reasonable arguments.  Personally, I'd say that if you can't see the sense in why someone disagrees about something like universal healthcare in the USA and you don't understand why, you should look deeper.  You don't have to agree on conclusions to believe that someone is rational, sensible, and basing their ideas on sound and reasoned thinking.

Having said that...  I was sick and scared and opted to just go back to Canada to see a doctor rather than risk some kind of exception in the States that an insurance provider would have used to deny coverage.  It's illegal in Canada to charge money for a medically necessary test or procedure.  We have had universal healthcare for quite some time, and I'm a fan of it.  I like it better than the alternative that I see in the United States.

While it follows the same rules as the rest of Canada broadly speaking, Quebec as a province is a bit different than the rest of Canada.  That's true in lots of ways and specifically it's true with the medical system.  If you have a non-emergency issue that requires urgent care but not a visit to the hospital's emergency room, it's like you're trying to pull one over on the medical system... as in (literally) you've gotta get up pretty damn early in the morning.

Walk-in clinics in Quebec are mostly government run.  They only take 12 walk-in patients in a day.  They open at 8am.  To reliably get in and see a doctor you have to show up 90 minutes before they open (6:30am) and sit on the steps.  If a mother with a child is in line before you, that counts as 2 people.  If you're person #13 it sucks to be you - either go to the emergency room or wake up earlier tomorrow and try again.  I imagine during flu season you have to wake up even earlier. 

So, that was me.  Once I actually got to see a medical professional I was treated very well.  They asked a lot of good questions, they were more conversational and more curious than any doctor in BC has been in a long time and I felt like they were really paying attention to what was happening for me.  I was queued up for a couple of simple tests and reassured that it was probably just a cold or flu that took a long time to go away.  It took me (in total) from 6:30am when I lined up until 11:00am just to see a doctor. 

I know I would've seen a doctor much more quickly in the US if I'd chosen to access my travel insurance, and I suspect the care would've been just as good or better, so the advantages of a totally privatized health care system were clear at 11:00am when I finally stepped away from that whole medical process... but removing the chance that my medical expenses would've been paid out-of-pocket on the off chance that an insurance company denied me coverage made the whole thing seem a lot more bearable.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Where Even the Graffiti is Beautiful

One of the best ways to get to know a place is by walking around.  When your feet are on pavement and your method of travel is your body the world passes by slowly enough that you can really take it in.  The way that people look at you tells you whether or not you're in the right neighborhood.  The way that the street smells points you towards the right kind of food.  The way that the streets are marked tells you about the spirit of the place.

One of the first telling signs - everywhere I went in the States the graffiti was present and ugly.  Even at its best it seemed like little more than a tag.  In Montreal, a stylized blue woman sat with a tranquil expression on sea serpents and stormy waves.

Even the defacement of public property was attractive.
It was also the heart of summer at the time.  There's a park in central Montreal called Mount Royal (Mont Royal) where there's a weekly informal "festival" called Tam Tams and on a hot, sunny day there are circus performers practicing and showing off doing slacklines and acro yoga.  There are LARPers doing sword fighting melees with padded weaponry in a gravel patch.  There's a market full of curios and charming items.  There's a drumming circle full of people who just show up to dance and drum - it varied between 20 and 50 people who turned up to drum in the few hours that I was there.

I had lunch in that park with a friend and her family and soaked it all in.  The thread of illness was still there but it felt like it had hit the high water mark and begun to recede.  Montreal was telling me that it loved me, and that everything would probably be ok. 

In British Columbia I had grown up without ever meeting someone who spoke French as a first language and to hear French spoken so consistently was still disarming, but so many things about being in Montreal reminded me that this was my home country.  It was less foreign than the United States despite the fact that the primary language being spoken wasn't English.

Here I was at home and feeling the heaviest part of the storm begin to break and fade away.  Here I was in a place where even the graffiti was beautiful.  Here I was in late September during summertime's last great effort, and beginning to feel that everything might just work out after all.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Beauty is in the Eye

Riding the Amtrak train from New York to Montreal was stunningly beautiful.  Penn Station in NY is the busiest train station in the country, and the ride from NY to Montreal is considered one of the most beautiful and scenic in the world.  Late September / early October the trees were burning with fall colours and the scenery was stunning. 

There was a beautiful, dark-haired French Canadian woman at the front-most compartment of the train who had crawled up underneath the plexiglass ceiling so that she could see as far forward as possible, and she audibly whispered "yesssss..." when the train was about to go through a tunnel.  Her excitement was infectious.


In the midst of all that beauty, I took one picture.  It was of an incredibly boring cornfield.  I was still sick, seeing everything through a blur of pain and nausea.  I could appreciate how beautiful everything was.  The *feeling* that came with it was like looking through a window at something far away.  My camera barely came up out of my pocket.


The first night in Montreal I was humbled by the kindness of friends.  A recent acquaintance from the burn had invited me to stay.  After being on the road for so long I had become accustomed to an insulated pad and a sleeping mat, or a hostel mattress with a handful of sheets.  This place felt like someone's home.  Books that spoke of my friend's interests stacked shelves, the living room was scattered with signs of his hobbies and technical curiosities, and the kitchen was both stocked with equipment that a real person would use and also decorated as if a human being who felt at home was there.  Sick, homesick and burnt out, I picked the key up from a hidden spot out front and felt immediately like I had stepped out of the cold into a place where there was a fire in the hearth and warm water in the bath.  It felt doubly generous that he let me stay while he was away himself, but when I landed I fell into a deep sleep and thanked my lucky stars to be in a place where I knew I was welcome.  Montreal and I started on good terms.