Spirit Quest

Health care for all
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

  Image: Cover of Regina Leader-Post announcing CCF victory in 1944.
Regina Leader-Post announces CCF victory in 1944. Image via Wikepedia.

21 June 2013 — Thanks Tommy, wherever you are. Your spirit and that of your cohorts is alive in spite of your detractors who continue to advocate private, for profit, medical care .

I recall our sense of perplexity when, upon arriving in Canada in the spring of 1939, we discovered that doctors in this land were to be paid for their services out of our pockets — which were largely empty.

Luckily we were a healthy lot and passed the first three years without resort to medical intervention. True, mother stepped on a rusty nail that entered deeply into her foot. No one was home at the time. There were no telephones within at least 10 miles of our log cabin and the nearest clinic was in a hamlet 15 miles from our farm over rugged roads.

Mother recalled advice from her mother who was a bit of an herbalist, that there was a plant whose leaves had an antiseptic and healing quality. Mother had spied that plant in the woods in one of her rambles in the bush. She crawled on her hands and knees and searched for the herb. I don’t know what it was called. Luckily she found it and plucked the leaves, made a poultice of them and applied them to the wound. She experienced no adverse effects and the wound healed quickly. In those rather primitive circumstances some knowledge of home remedies was most helpful.

Doctors in that part of Saskatchewan at the tail end of the depression were rich in goods but poor in cash. Their reward was often in kind, a bag of potatoes, a cord of wood, a side of beef and such. With the arrival of medicare practitioners were assured of an income, nevertheless, many deeply resented government intrusion into their profession. A bitter battle ensued that lasted for many months but succeeded in bringing in medicare to the province and later to the whole country.

I was reminded of all this recently when I spent the better part of the day with my spouse in the emergency ward of an Ottawa hospital. She had taken a tumble. After much waiting in a variety of venues, the emergency waiting area, consulting room, x ray clinic and plaster room, the resulting crack in her wrist bone was immobilized and we were released to go home bearing a heavy cast but not empty purses.

I spent most of my time watching the steady procession of customers in all states and conditions being received by an efficient and kind team of clerks, nurses, technicians and doctors.

It occurred to me that during this entire time I had heard no reference to payments. It wasn’t until we were on our way out and confronted the parking machine that we were informed by a disembodied voice that $15 would be the cost for our sojourn on its domain.

Of course medical care isn’t free. Each patient that I observed had the same green card that they surrendered at the registration desk. This was not a credit card but proof that they were eligible for coverage by the provincial health services. Henceforth no one asked or mentioned cost. Treatment was not according to ability to finance the various procedures required.

An American friend of mine described the systems south of the border. Practitioners wore lab coats festooned with all sorts of price tags that they had removed from packages of bandages or drugs to be used, later to be assembles into a bill to be paid by the patient. On arrival in a medical facility one had immediately to prove that they had the wherewithal to finance treatments, a generous credit card, proof of private insurance or some form of government coverage.

I was born in 1929 in 10 year old Czechoslovakia and was covered like everyone else in that young country by the public health plan. I was a cheap baby. Doctors, dentists and other medical practitioners did not have a cash register in their office. Thus it was a surprise that in this land that had welcomed us as refugees paying for medical care was a private concern.

Nevertheless, there are those in this blessed country that seem to yearn for a system of mixed private and public systems, who believe that government alone should not bear the entire health care costs and corporations that were dying for a share of the health care pie.  

Tommy Douglas and his confreres had a different vision for the people of this country. Health care was to be a “given” like education to which every resident of this country was entitled which was to be funded by a just and progressive taxation system.

The system which I viewed from my chair in the emergency waiting room was not perfect by any means. Waiting times were often much too long. There is also a need for a program of pharmacare to protect from high prescription costs. There are a host of medical proceedures that are still left to the patient to finance e.g. Prolotherapy, (a minimally invasive injection procedure that stimulates the body’s natural healing mechanisms to repair chronically damaged ligaments and tendons, recognized by the American Orthopedic Association but not in Canada.)

We are grateful to Tommy Douglas and his daring initiative in what was then a have-not province. His spirit cannot rest until each Canadian is assured of the best and most efficacious health care available, including dentistry.

His spirit must not be aborted by those whose eyes are on the tax burden rather than the health of the whole nation. I believe that his spirit was inspired by that universal Spirit that inhabits all creation and its creatures.

Previous writings can be found at SKOUTAJAN’S PAGE: hansfelix.blogspot.ca