"The personal is political."
That feminist axiom sums up the overall theme of this blog, and of all the activism I've ever participated in. Abortion, sexual assault, violence against women, war resisters: these are all events in people's personal lives that must also be seen in a larger social context. In our political work, we should never forget the personal, human side. And when we comfort and help people, we should always keep the political context in view.
Perhaps nowhere is "the personal is political" more obvious than in the realm of health care. When we suffer through an accident or an illness, it can't get more personal. Our bodies, the stuff we're made of, the shells that hold our selves, are hurting or in danger. Pain is frightening. It's debilitating. It hurts.
When we have health problems, our entire world changes. It changes us mentally, emotionally and socially; it changes family dynamics. No matter how well we cope, we are still forced to cope. Even if we deny and avoid health issues, we're still expending energy denying and avoiding, and eventually, inevitably, the body will win.
But what about financially? What if we simply can't afford to get sick?
What happens to people who can't afford health care? What happens to a society that allows people to go without health care? We know the answers. Lack of access to affordable health care one of the principal reasons the United States is falling apart.
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As you may know, we recently had a frightening bout with illness. Allan was in extreme pain, and we had no idea what was going on.
It turned out to be a kidney stone. I was relieved it was nothing life-threatening. He was relieved when his pain was treated! But the attack itself was enough to deal with. We didn't have to worry about how we would pay for it, or fight a bureaucracy to get treatment.
Here's a recap and update.
1. Emergency department treatment, pain management, plan for follow-up, prescriptions and instructions. (Waiting time: zero.)
2. Appointment with specialist. (Waiting time: five days, including a Sunday and holiday.)
3. Consultation with urologist, including on-the-spot x-rays. He thinks the stone has passed!
For those who like more information: The emergency-department CT scan showed the stone in the bladder. The severe pain was probably the stone entering the bladder. The doctor said that is the narrowest point; if the stone makes it into the bladder, it can make it into the urethra and out of the body with no problem. Good news!
4. Urologist orders some follow-up blood work and pee samples, to make sure all is well, and to make sure the stone was not a sign of underlying issues. Recommends follow-up with family doctor.
5. Out-of-pocket cost to us: $0. We have already paid for this with our taxes.
Thank you, Tommy Douglas! Thank you, Canada.
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Some months back, I noted to Allan that no matter how long he sleeps, no matter how late he wakes up, he always has a lot of trouble waking up, and always seems exhausted. We started talking about how tired he is, nearly all the time.
Allan has clinical depression and takes anti-depressants, and I was concerned this might be a return of symptoms. But he said it felt different than that.
My blog-friend M. Yass, in a different context, mentioned he had sleep apnea. I wondered if Allan might have it, too.
M. Yass wrote me a detailed email about his diagnosis, and how his life changed after getting help. It really resonated with Allan. I recalled how reading a personal essay about depression helped us recognize Allan's own depression, and began a life-changing process. Maybe this would be a similar process.
1. Appointment with family doctor. (Waiting time: maybe a week, trying to schedule a convenient appointment.) Allan tells her he is always tired. She does a physical, orders blood work to rule out other possibilities, and suggests a sleep study.
2. Blood work normal, Allan does overnight sleep study. (Waiting time: a few weeks, with earlier appointments being offered, but declined for scheduling convenience.)
3. Another appointment with family doctor. (Waiting time: until test results were in.) Diagnosis: obstructive sleep apnea. Treatment: C-PAP machine used overnight to increase oxygen flow to brain. This seems like a really good thing to me - non-invasive, no medication with potential side effects.
While this is happening, of course we discover that many of our friends have sleep apnea and use C-PAP machines. Most of them attest to excellent results. Allan has also gotten some good information through sleep apnea forums online.
4. Appointment with specialist from sleep clinic, who explains the options. (Waiting time: negligible.)
5. Second overnight appointment, to test one type of machine and to determine the proper level he needs. Depending on the results, this may be repeated.
Cost to us so far: $0.
Our provincial health insurance will cover a certain amount of the purchase of the machine. Depending on the price, that may be about two-thirds. Since we are fortunate to have supplemental health insurance through Allan's job, that will pay the remainder. If we didn't have that, it would cost a few hundred dollars.
This amazes us. It thrills us.
We pay our taxes. We receive health care. We pay our taxes, others receive health care. And we receive the same health care as people who earn much more than us and people who don't earn as much.
Last summer, I was unemployed for the first time in my adult life. I still received health care.
If you freelance (as I do) or own your own business or work part-time (as I also do) or work without benefits, you still have health care.
Thank you, Tommy Douglas! Thank you, Canada.
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I realize that not every Canadian has had as positive experiences with their provincial health insurance as we have. People are waiting for hip replacements and MRIs, they can't find a family doctor, they want treatments that Health Canada considers experimental and won't fund. (I must note that if you do not have a family doctor, you can use walk-in clinics, which are easy to find, and free. Not as good as a family doctor, but you do have access to care.)
It is certainly not a perfect system. I can't imagine that such a thing exists.
But it's a very good system. It's sane, rational. It's egalitarian and accessible. It's responsive. It focuses on prevention. It focuses on patients. It costs less than health care in the United States because it runs without financial profit. The only profit is fostering health, because healthy people strengthen our society.
Canadians are always discussing and debating how to improve the health care system. And no matter how much the Fraser Institute tries to convince us otherwise, any politician who talks about dismantling the public health system is committing political suicide.
I'm not writing this because I fear Stephen Harper's Conservatives will destroy public health care. But the system is a very good one. We need more of it. More funding, more programs to attract doctors, more access, more upgrades. The system needs more public funds, and it needs protection from people who believe otherwise.