albertans should demand improved health care

When I was 11, I woke up on the last day of school with an earache. Being a rough-and-tumble farm girl, I ignored the pain and headed off to school. By the time the day was over I was in tears on the couch and my mom took me to the doctor that night.

With one look into my ear, the doctor hospitalized me, concerned my eardrum would burst. By the next day, my ear was feeling much better, but it was another four days before I finally went home and started my summer holidays.

Times have changed.

I called a clinic recently to ask if a doctor was taking new patients. I was told that on a certain date, anyone wanting this doctor would need to line up at the clinic, and at opening would be allowed in to obtain a form. The completed form would be reviewed by the doctor, and, should the patient be accepted, they would be called for an appointment. It reminded me of a door-crasher Christmas sale, only getting a throat swab rather than a Blu-ray.

Pockets of acceptable, even outstanding, health care exist but the fact remains our average experience is getting consistently worse. Think about conversations you’ve had with friends and family about their encounters. “I waited for eight hours before I saw anyone.” “The guy beside me was throwing up and there was no place for him to go.” “The whole event was just a gong show.”

This week I called my doctor’s clinic, which had referred me to a specialist to ask how long I could expect to wait. I had been told possibly up to a year. On the phone, I was urged to just trust the system and wait until I got a call. I finally convinced the nurse to give me the name of the specialist and called his office. I found out they had never even received my referral! Trust the system? I’m going to need surgery, but how will it happen if the specialist doesn’t even know I exist?

I am leery when a research poll indicates overwhelming satisfaction in the health care system, because, quite frankly, I haven’t seen it in years. I suspect the satisfaction is in the final care we receive — not the entire process. But we’ve grown complacent and continue to lower the bar on our expectations. Plus, as patients, we are isolated from each other’s stories, unaware whether the contradictions we hear are of our own making, or constitutionally systemic.

I understand staff do the best they can. I know health care costs are increasing and there are people out there in worse shape, but what will it take to change?

Occasionally a story hits the media about the person who waited so long for treatment they succumbed to their treatable illness. No doubt we’ll hear one day of someone who died of old age while waiting in the emergency room! Throwing more money at the system is not the answer. But significant change is scorned by people afraid of losing free services. There are places where it’s done better than here. What’s keeping us from making it happen? Who is to blame? Is it our politicians, health providers? Is it us?

No one likes to think they are part of the problem, but when we make excuses for the state of our health care system we delay needed change. It’s time to set aside our fears, our excuses for bad service, and our long-standing ideas of how it’s supposed to be done. We’re Canadians. We can figure this out. But we have to be willing to correct what we’ve lazily come to accept. This means we need to share our stories. The lack of forum breeds isolation, but honest narrative conceives community, so let’s speak up!

Dee-Ann Schwanke was born in the Viking Municipal Hospital, which was converted to a veterinary hospital and is now a museum.

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