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The Waiting Room

February 1, 2013

Yesterday I ventured into the cinematheque to view The Waiting Room, a documentary on a hospital waiting room in the US. What struck me most wasn’t the long line ups, or the distress and frustration that the people there suffered. I couldn’t help thinking about what happens to the people there once the cameras stop rolling.

In Canada, we are lucky enough to recognize that the best, moral choice for our healthcare is to have universal coverage for non-elective surgeries, which is to say anything that you need to have a decent quality of life. Everything from broken bones to pregnancies to cancer is taken care of free of charge for the individual, as we as a society have agreed to spread the financial risk around.

The United States views things differently. Down below the border, healthcare is treated as “just another business,” something I know many Canadians (and Europeans, Australians, etc.) find baffling. How can one put a price on human health? How can anyone seek to profit off human suffering?

In the documentary, there was a young couple showcased, with a young man having been diagnosed with testicular cancer. In the film, the financial suffering this person is going to go through is touched upon, but not fully explained. A quick perusal of the internet revealed this (admittedly out of date, but costs have only been rising) page detailing the costs of testicular cancer treatment:

~82 000 dollars.

The man in question has had trouble paying rent. Where is the justice, the humanity, in ruining a person’s financial future for getting cancer?

Through a stroke of luck this Reddit post appeared on /r/canada soon after I viewed the documentary. I’ll quote the initial post, full of relevant anecdotal evidence.

Today I am very happy to be living in Canada, specifically due to the provincial government health insurance. My father was slowly loosing vision in his left eye. Being as how he kind of old school, he just kept it to himself until he was completely blind in the peripheral vision area of his left eye. He went to see an optician, who immediately sent him for diagnostic imaging. One CT and one MRI later, he was diagnosed with Pituitary Macroadenoma[1] .

Now it has been about 4 days since this diagnosis, he has already seen a specialist in brain surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. He was told that the tumor is growing upwards, which apparently is rare. It has pushed his optic nerve to the left by almost 1cm, and is starting to press on his carotid artery(the main blood supply to your brain). The artery issue is that it can lead to a stroke. So he is now on the top of the list for having surgery to remove the tumor.

On to why I am happy to be Canadian, is that thus far….$0…..I am proud to have served 11 years in the Canadian Forces reserves so far, and get to see the positive effect of my tax dollars. Also being in school for health care makes me happy to see a system working well. The person that needed the care gets it… waiting for weeks to see if your insurance clears, or getting bumped by people paying cash upfront. Just the person in need, gets the help.


This was taken as an invitation to talk about individual experiences with the Canadian Healthcare System:

My best friend survived a rare form of ovarian cancer at a fairly young age, and even though she is completely clear of cancer now and prognosis looks excellent that she’ll be able to live a complete life… it’s never 100%. And she still has a lot of ongoing health problems as a result, and a lot of other shit to deal with on top of that. She basically had 5 years of her life stolen from her, and huge setbacks to her schooling, her finances, her personal life, and her career all trickled down from that.

I cannot stomach a system that would then go ahead and send her tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars of bills after the shit she’s gone through. That would literally be the insult upon the injury. The ultimate expression of kicking someone while they’re down.

I am also very, very thankful that we live in Canada. What a fantastic country. Liberal, Conservative, French, English, I don’t care. You’re all Canadians, and I love you all.


As an American living in Canada. This rules. People here find it odd that in my first 23 years living in Texas I refused to visit the hospital or doctor for anything. I’ve broken both of my hands and who knows how much other crap I’ve dealt with along the way that I never had checked out due to the high cost of healthcare in Texas. Not to mention my parents or I ever held down steady enough jobs to afford any health insurance. Heck I’ve only been to the dentist one time in my entire life.

Having kids now, I have no plan on ever moving back.


Best wishes for you dad. Mine suffered intense pain in his groin/hips that left him unable to work and barely able to walk by the time he was in his early 50’s. After visits to specialists, extensive testing and double hip replacement for aggressive arthritis he can walk pain free without a limp and just went back to work. Our taxes may be higher, but it’s money well spent.


I had a ruptured appendix and was rushed into emergency surgery the day before my first son was due. Wife had the baby a week later, the day after I got out of hospital. None of this cost us a dime. So glad we weren’t living a hundred miles to the south!


Fully agree with you. In the country I come from originally, you can sit outside the doctor’s office all day while the rich get to see him right away. And then when it’s time for hospital procedures, the same situation again.

Yes. In Canada, whether I’m rich or poor, I get medical attention right away.


Yeah, really. I feel ya here. My mom had a brain tumor removed. A damn brain tumor!

Free brain surgery man! Free! By an actual doctor even! I guess it’s not totally free, taxes and all. But yeah, people who live in countries without socialized healthcare really suffer more than they should.

I’m very conservative politically – far more than Harper, but no, healthcare is too good, too moral, to give up.


So here’s my story. I had just dropped out of college and moved back to my hometown, and hadn’t found work yet. Don’t drive, so there was a lot of walking and public transit involved. Suddenly I start waking up in the middle of the night in horrible pain and nausea. The pain doesn’t go away.

So what did I do, as a poor ex-student with no job and no nearby family? I walked to the clinic, got sent to the hospital, got scans and a morphine drip, and within a couple weeks got surgery to have my gallbladder removed. Uncorrected this problem can become lethal, and if I were down south I probably would have had to wait too long, or go untreated entirely.

I think I had to pay like $10 for some antibiotics and weak painkillers after and that’s about it. A week of bedrest later and I was good as new. To me, this seems like a common sense thing in a modern society – dying to something which can be corrected with a minor surgery or treatment seems barbaric to me. What’s the point of having a civilization if it doesn’t actively try to keep its people alive?


I’ve been in various hospitals for over 12 months total. I feel the same way. Most of the equipment and every single specialist/hospital stay was completely covered. I’m damn proud now to be off of disability, working and paying into taxes again. Almost every other place in the world, I’d be dead. I am Canadian!


When I was a kid my teachers noticed that I seemed to have a hearing problem and recommended me see my doctor, who recommended that I see a specialist. I don’t recall exactly what the problem ended up being, but it was something along the lines of my ear canal not growing properly which was preventing fluid from properly draining from my ear, causing infections and would have led to me going deaf.

I had to have tubes put in my ears 8 times over a period of 10 years. From what I understand, the bill for an operation runs over 10k in the US and although insurance covers a large portion I’ve read about families with good insurance still being stuck with a 1-1.5k bill.

Had I not lived in Canada I probably would have eventually gone deaf because my family wouldn’t have been able to afford me having the operation so many times. But because we lived in Canada I was able to get all of the operations at no cost to my family, and I can still hear because of it. I’m extremely grateful to live here.


There are plenty of others, but they all boil down to the same thing: a true appreciation of having free access to life-saving care.

What will happen to the man with testicular cancer? Or the carpet-layer with bone spurs that has two other mouths to feed? Or the man with bullet in his leg? The divorced couple with the strep-throated child, just how much are their finances going to be impacted because of a hospital visit?

America is going about their healthcare system in a horribly inefficient, backwards manner. Nurses and doctors do their best, of course, but the system itself prioritizes the wealthy over the poor, essentially holding the well-off in a higher regard than the rest. Many in America rail against “class warfare,” and if they hold their ideals honestly, would push towards universal healthcare as a way of treating all equally.



From → Real Life

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