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Efficient Butt Spelunking

I had a colonoscopy earlier today. It was my first experience with socialized medicine — thanks to my OHIP card (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). I'd be lying if I said it was a good experience — the butt spelunking, that is. The socialized medicine was fine. But I did notice some significant, if subtle, differences between healthcare here and in the states.

First thing I noticed was that I just hand over my OHIP card to the receptionist, and that’s it. No more paperwork — other than what’s required for the doctor to review the case. No filling out countless and confusing insurance forms. No co-pay — I didn’t have to pay any out-of-pocket cash. (I said out-of-pocket — I’m not talking about taxes, which I’ll get to later.)

People’s attitudes were different: patients, support staff, administrators, and the doctors themselves. Everyone seemed…more relaxed about everything. The medical personnel were there to do their job, and everyone was very professional, courteous, no-nonsense and organized. Some even seemed to have fun, especially the doctor who, when he came into the room, was so easy and unkempt (in his own way) that I thought he was a technician of some sort. He said that when starting in the colo-rectal field he had done 20 colonoscopies a day, that some days were all just a blur to him. I bet. My wife asked him if he had strange dreams during that time. He said he did. And that he still does.

I suppose where I went today, the Rudd Clinic, is a famous clinic in Canada, if not the world. They do upwards of 180 patients a day there. Canada takes cancer very seriously, and they work hard to promote prevention, including early check-ups. Canada seems to accept that the social and financial costs of preventing cancer are preferable to the costs of curing it.

They asked if I wanted sedation. I assured them I did. Lots of it. The doc gave me a shot that made me instantly tipsy. The procedure was less than fun, and I could have used a lot more sedation. A whole lot more. In fact, I was begging him to stop. But he was efficient, and it didn’t take too long.

My wife was watching the action on the monitor. She was impressed with how “pretty” and pink and clean and smooth it all was in there. All good signs.

When it was over the doc took me to a lounge filled with recliners & hassocks. Several of the seats were already occupied. This was to allow time for patients to relax and recover from the sedation before moving on. The doctor offered me water and cookies, then asked the other patients if they wanted more. Everytime a doctor or nurse came to drop off a new patient they made sure to ask if anyone wanted more water and cookies.

At one point a doctor came into the room and discussed a patient's polyps with him. He was told that they’re shrinking. I was taken aback by this: this kind of conversation was supposed to be private, behind closed doors. But somehow, in this environment, it didn’t seem to matter — in fact it seemed ok. Because — and this is the biggest difference I felt — everyone in there seemed to somehow understand that we were all just shared a similar experience, that it was in some way communal. All of us in that room had just had some plumbing snaking through our large intestine, and there was no shame, nothing to hide.

And I liked this feeling. In some small way I felt like I was a part of my greater community. And I thought about how wonderful it was that my tax dollars were being used to benefit every person in that room. And that, too, made me feel like part of the greater community.

Medical care in the states is good — very good. Very professional. I have no complaints about the medical care I received there, and am grateful for all that I have received. But after my experience today I can see that it felt less communal, that whatever care I received was strictly for me and was not a shared experience. Medicine in America, to me, in comparison, feels isolating. Which is, perhaps, one of America's phenomenological realities: the myth of rugged individualism has become so internalized in Murkan society it pemeates every activity, every institution. Isolationism is not just built into the fabric of America, it is the fabric from which America is fashioned.

I won’t get into the issue of socialized versus privatized medicine. All I’ll say is that I’m glad to know that my taxes in Canada are used to provide health care for everybody, and not just those with jobs or wealth.

The healthcare system in Canada seems very efficient, unlike the hulking top-heavy mess in the states. Judging from this experience I’d say that healthcare in Canada rocks.