If you want to get somebody all fired up, start tinkering with their health care. Canadians have come to rely on a certain minimum standard as a basic human right. This includes access to family physicians, timely emergency care and the latest in research and treatment.
The word “crisis” was bandied about at the Alberta Legislature this past session, most specifically when former Tory MLA Dr. Raj Sherman (also an emergency room physician) called out his party (and Premier Ed Stelmach) for “breaking (Stelmach’s) promise not only to the ER doctors, but also to the seniors, the 1.8 million Albertans who present for emergency care and their 2 million family members, and to all frontline healthcare professionals.”
The fallout from Sherman’s email led to his expulsion from the Tory caucus and opened the door to a long line of critics who roasted the Stelmach government for its management of Alberta’s health care system (and in some cases rolled out their own solutions).
We all know hyperbole goes hand-in-hand with the political machine. So how bad is our provincial health care system…really?
I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with a health care system of sorts within our own household. My dad has 35 years under his belt as a family physician in Calgary. If anybody knows the state of health care inside out, it’s the front line workers (doctors, nurses, EMTs and other staffers) who operate within the system on a daily basis. In the spirit of understanding different perspectives, I thought I’d share this letter (below), penned by my dad for the publication Vital Signs.
Feel free to leave a comment here on my blog!
From the Barber’s Chair
”Stick with what you know” was the gist of my young barber Z’s take on the latest furor in health care over ERs. More precisely he said he doesn’t believe what he reads – “seeing is believing” for him. His scissors danced a hair’s breadth from my scalp as he digressed from the business at hand. I thought of the red-striped barber’s pole performing its optical illusion outside his shop. A few hundred years ago he might be doing my bloodletting too. And I thought about what he said.
What I know – what I know I know – I’ve come by doing General Practice in Calgary for 35 years, including until recently, acute hospital care and ER visits. Added to this are countless stories of patients, in my office after an acute, sometimes life-threatening illness landed them in hospital under other physicians’ care. And because all of us start as someone’s children and eventually, as the table turns, inherit frail, elderly parents, I’ve added that agonizing, personal experience too, from the other side of the patient chart.
And that’s it – no political experience, not an economist, doubt there’s an administrative bone in my body. But I know that the dire warnings of an imminent “collapse” of our ERs and characterizations of our “crumbling” system are not so. They simply fly in the face of both my experience and that of so many of my patients who have been seriously ill and received the timely, skillful care they needed. Nor do they do justice to the smart, dedicated people working there or the enormous resources we spend on health care in our Province. It seems like a moment for a cheap, time-honored remedy – a brown paper bag and a few slow, deep breaths – and then to emphasize three things we will always need:
1. Advocacy. Not only the poor, but the sick we will always have with us. Their weak cries need amplification by family, friends, physicians, interest groups, even plucky politicians who still know how to speak their language. The message may get distorted and hard to listen to but they guarantee the vital human element that makes our society a humane one. God bless them.
2. Patience. Because “everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”. This seems especially true in health care these days. The battle is to make it better and it takes its share of casualties. A colleague with that strange gift (/curse) for administration once rightly described health care to me as a complex business. We can act as if it were not.
3. Confidence. I’ve rubbed shoulders with plenty of ER docs over the years. They’re cut from a cloth well suited to the work – equal parts cool, compassion and competence (think Clint crossed with Oprah, who cut their teeth on chaos). They are not alone in representing perhaps the strongest argument in the ongoing debate about health care – the kind of people working in it.
I’ve seen and I believe. Thanks Z.
Dr. Bruce Jespersen