THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Canadian Health Care: Five "Terrifying" Testimonials

I married a Canadian, which got me, among other things, some pretty awesome Canadian in-laws, a bunch of friends who think hockey is actually worth watching (not for the same reason I do, which is to nerd out on the fascinating phenomenon of mob psychosis), and two kids who are fiercely proud of their dual citizenship. It also provided me with a window into the Canadian health system, that bloated bureaucracy of ill-repute, which for some bizarre reason provided my father-in-law with an implanted defibrillator and solid, timely medical care during his final years.

Canadians, in my experience, follow American politics more closely than Americans do, and some of them even sign themselves up for my mailing list. So when I sent out my latest lament, "Ode to Health Care Reform: An Absurd Poem about Absurdities," one of the things I got back was a testimonial from the Middle America of the Great White North:

As a Canadian, I have comfort in the system being provided even with its imperfections. I lost a wife to breast cancer. All the treatments (diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) cost me NOTHING. I am willing to pay an extra tax so I and others can benefit from health care. May I sadly add that what the US has spent on recent wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) can build a nation? It is obvious that those who have less or no voice to voice are not on the 'to do list' of political leaders. - Ibrahim Sumrain (Edmonton, Alberta)

Reading Ibrahim's note, it occurred to me that maybe we should expose our own Middle America more to the horrors of the socialized medical system under which our northern neighbors suffer out their shabby lives of quiet desperation. So, I solicited a few more comments from acquaintances and friends. They should terrify every blood sucking insurance lobbyist in D.C.

Dorthea Hangaard (Sointula, British Columbia)
Ten years ago I required surgery to have fibroid tumours removed. Because I live in a remote community, I was concerned I would end up in a rural hospital under the care of a second-rate surgeon. The Canadian health care system allowed me to choose my surgeon (I found a top-rated surgeon), and the hospital (I chose a teaching hospital in Vancouver that I knew would be well-resourced). Not only that, but my compassionate surgeon allowed me to extend my stay in the hospital because I had to travel such a great distance to get home again. While in the hospital, I received the best care available, including radical new procedures not readily available elsewhere.

All of this cost me nothing more than the small monthly premiums I have been paying in to the medical system since I began a career (those on a low income are exempt from paying premiums). To this day I feel overwhelmed with gratitude whenever I think of the experience. Canadians can't even grasp that people are refused medical treatment in the U.S. because they cannot afford it.

Bill Jamieson (Mayne Island, B.C.)

At age 76, my dad had an abdominal aneurism, and, down the road, complications related to that aneurism ultimately killed him. If we were in the US and didn't have health insurance the amount of care that my father received probably would have cost a million dollars. He had the provincial specialists working on him. It didn't cost us anything. He was being fed through a TPN line through his neck, a liquid diet. It costs a thousand dollars/day, and he was on that for at least a month.

Most of the interventions that were done on Dad were like rocket science. They were the same techniques that would be done in a top hospital anywhere in the world.

He got timely care. His surgery was scheduled based on his ability to respond to the surgery and his strength at the time. We felt that his original surgical date, last spring,--if it was in the States it would have been done sooner, but it didn't need to be done sooner. That is one of the differences between the US and Canada in my mind. You can get surgeries done faster in the States. But if you have a crisis there is no delay.

This fall, on a hunting trip with my brother, it became apparent that Dad was very sick. In the last surgery my dad had, he had three vascular surgeons, two anesthesiologists, a bowel surgeon and a kidney surgeon working on him over a period of thirteen hours. They were incredible. The ICU team was incredible. I would like to stress how compassionate the care was all the way through. There was real caring that was part of the reason he survived as long as he did.

Gloria Lee Clark (Vancouver, B.C.)
Anna's experience: My sister Anna was at a climbing gym and fell over 25 feet. She managed to break her left femur and hip, smash her left heel, ankle and wrist, and break her right ankle in 2 places. She was taken to the local hospital where she was promptly x-rayed and diagnosed. She was in the hospital for 4 weeks and had a total of 4 surgeries to repair all that was broken. After she was released from the hospital, there were nurses, physiotherapists, and doctors who made house-calls to care for her. When she was able to leave the house she went to the hospital's out-patient physiotherapist twice a week for many months. A year later she had to have a 5th surgery to remove some pins that were bothering her. Except for the rental of some of the equipment she needed; hospital beds, wheelchairs, etc. her entire care was covered by our Canadian medical system. As horrible as the accident was, and no she will not fully regain all her strength and flexibility, she had the best care possible at the cost of her regular monthly MSP (Medical Services Plan).

My experience: Nine years ago I was pregnant with twins. I was under the care of an Obstetrician and had monthly ultrasounds. At 30 weeks the ultrasound revealed that I was 1 cm dilated and was promptly hospitalized and placed on bed rest, apparently the best prescription for avoiding pre-mature birth. I spent 5 weeks in the hospital under the care of a team of nurses and doctors. At 35 weeks the doctor determined that the babies needed to come out as they were not growing at the expected rate. After their birth I spent 1 more week with them in the hospital, and they stayed for another week. Between me and the babies there was a total of 7 weeks of hospitalization. The total cost for me was zero. Was it absolutely necessary for me to have stayed in the hospital for 6 weeks I will never know. What I do know is that I have 2 beautiful healthy children and I would never have been able to afford the cost of the hospital care had I not had the Canadian medical system supporting me.

Kent James (Toronto, Ontario)
My dad waited exactly 9 weeks after deciding that he wanted a knee replacement. My son has been treated for asthma since he was 18 months old. My mom is type 2 diabetic. None of them has ever had to wait for anything. None of them has ever had to worry about who would pay for anything. And none of them wants to pay a few less dollars in tax for the privilege of taking on those risks and responsibilities.

The Canadian system isn't perfect. Do people die there from oversights or botched care? Of course! -- just like they do -- to borrow Bill's words -- in top hospitals anywhere in the world. But what is more terrifying, apparently, to half of our senators, is that our northern neighbors' government-managed semi-socialized system works. In fact, for most people most of the time, it works great. Oh, and did I mention the premiums? Dorthea's costs her $54/month. ("[It] gets me EVERYTHING I need. The best care I can arrange for myself. I choose the doctor, the hospital, my treatment.") Anna's is $114, for a family of four. That's Canadian.