The Plague-Ground – YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE CITY, BUT…

Jean and I have moved up north for the past month.

Last week I looked at my calendar and noticed I had a lunch scheduled that day in Toronto with an old friend. Had I cancelled that? Had he? No matter. Neither of us was going to turn up anyway. But this prompted me to search my calendar for other obligations I may have forgotten.

There….a dentist appointment. No, cancelled long ago.

A library gala….postponed till the Fall.

A fire drill in our office….. we’re all gone anyway.

Then I saw it:

Cysto – 8 a.m. April 22.

Every six months, I go to Toronto Western Hospital for a cystoscopy, which makes a colonoscopy feel like a walk in the park. Or these days, a walk in the kitchen. I had a scare a few years ago and I’d rather stay alive. So twice a year I do this to make sure.

As I’m lying there with my feet in the stirrups, I silently recite the great lines from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men: “The end of man is knowledge. But there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right. But he can’t know whether he will be killed because of the knowledge he has got or because of the knowledge he hasn’t got, and which, if he had it, would save him.”

True,  that’s a long and winding thought. But it screamed at me in first-year  English years ago,  so I memorized it. As  I grow older, it gets louder. I also found, in a sing-Happy-Birthday-as-you-wash-your-hands way, that if I recite it four times, not only will the message stick, but my procedure will be done.

Cysto – 8 a.m. April 22.

Hmmm…I hadn’t cancelled it, but surely Toronto Western would. It’s an elective thing. It’s exploratory. Besides, I’m 70 and Western is a COVID-19 intake hospital. Surely…..

It turns out, not. That same day last week, my doctor’s medical secretary called, all Scottish and chirpy, to confirm he’d see me on April 22. “Really? It’s still on?”

“Well, the doctor is postponing some procedures. But not yours.”

Hmm….

Then I thought again, what if postponing ended up costing me my life?

So it was that Jean and I headed down to Toronto the night before, and I turned up at Western early yesterday morning.  Inside the south entrance were two booths with a nurse behind each. They both wore full PPE including plastic visors. They asked for my OHIP card and who I was there to see. They called up for confirmation. Then they asked me to fill in a questionnaire about my health and recent travel. But this one I had to sign and date. They asked if I knew my way to the clinic. I did. They asked where I got my mask. I told them from my wife’s clinic. They said fine and waved me on.

I was impressed.

The waiting room I’d become so familiar with for 5 years now was empty. Three out of every four chairs were taped. I sat in one of the others, the only patient for the 10 minutes I had to wait. The receptionist, who also wore a plastic visor, asked me to sign and date the same questionnaire. Friendly, but firm.

Fine.

When my name was called, the doctor and I did what’s become routine over the years, and thankfully the results were the same as before. I was all clear.

I then put my clothes back on and walked out of the hospital to my virtually shut-down office. There, I picked up the mail and headed home along the Danforth to our condo where Jean was doing telemedicine all day with her patients.

So I had lots of time to compare life up north where we’ve been for the past months and would return to last night, with life in the city. I have to say, the city, whose teeming energy I love, drove me crazy. Who were all these people? Why was I so slow in seeing them come within 10 feet of me?

Living in the country had dulled my fear. My reactions were off, my paranoia in neutral. I needed to get vigilant, and fast. Which I did. By the time I made it home, I was walking out on to the street in order to avoid people, a strange thing made normal because there were hardly any cars on the Danforth.

I had time to think about the big difference between living in the country and visiting the city, and the reverse. Jean and I are confirmed, rabid ‘city people’.

But now, not so much.

I also had time to think about our health-care system and how our hospitals are coping with the pandemic.

I know I’m just one patient, and I wasn’t there for  COVID-19 symptoms. But I have to say I was duly impressed how buttoned-down and user-friendly Toronto Western was.

This got me to thinking about how Canadian health care stacks up against others around the world, and especially America’s which, in the words of George Packer, “We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal.”

So the next time you have a moment and you find odd thoughts rattling around your head, save one for the idea that we should get down on our knees and thank Tommy Douglas for giving us a health-care system that works when it needs to most.

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38 replies
  1. Avatar
    Frank says:

    I’m not sure how or why I arrived on your mailing list but I’m very happy for it. We’ve never met but I’m sure I would love having you as a friend. Your range of interests seems limitless, but always engaged with such civilized style. Keep it up.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Thanks so much for reaching out, Frank. I’m sure, as the Queen said: “We will meet again!”
      Or rather, “we will meet….” All the best, Bob

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Laird Saunderson says:

    I have a virtual phone call with my colonoscopy Dr. at Toronto Western next Thursday ..all is fine but this is a follow up ..very impressive and grateful! Glad your test is over and results were good!

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Jane Minett says:

    It seems that things we have always known, we are destined to take for granted. Like good health. As an ex-American by choice, I could not agree with you more about being thankful for our healthcare system. It is a key part of social infrastructure, like education, that is the foundation of the well-being of a country’s citizens.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Thanks, Jane. I would hate to be an out-of-work American living in a big city. A terrible contrast. All the best, Bob

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Susan Stern says:

    Bob, I really enjoy your missives. They’re enjoyable and informative. Lift my spirits. AND you know I don’t say things I don’t mean! Life is too short to waste it. And, luckily for humanity, I don’t say everything I mean for surely they would lock me up and throw away the key! I’m glad that your hospital visit had a happy ending.[!] Reminded me that I should book a colonoscopy. Wishing you and Jean good health and happiness! You are good people and you deserve it.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Mary Bird says:

    To Tommy Douglas I would like to add the names of Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw representing women physicians who pioneered in the profession and ministered to their often overlooked women patients’ care and Dr. Bethune a forerunner of the doctors who work “without borders” on health scourges like tuberculosis.

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Louise says:

    According to my husband who has also had multiple cystoscopies, the best cystoscopy is the one that ends with: you’re all good. See you in six months! And between his multiple bouts with different cancers, and me with my many broken joints we have nothing but praise for our medical system and our access to a most caring crowd of professional health care workers. For this we are eternally grateful to Tommy Douglas.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Yvonne Worthington says:

    I have had to go to hospital twice in the last month – Mt. Sinai and Women’s College – for CT scans, and both times, like yours, Bob, it was the same sort of quick in and out procedure with virtually no waiting time and very efficient. Made me feel the same way as you do about health care providers and our flawed, but amazing health system.
    Glad your results, like mine, were reassuring!

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Linda Hapak says:

    Thanks, Bob, for the reassuring words as I am due there for an ophthalmology appointment Monday and was concerned about hospital precautions. Take care and enjoy the north!

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    Janice Janz says:

    HI Mr. Ramsay! My name is Janice and I work at the Toronto Western Hospital in the Operating Room. Thank you for your kind words and appraisal of TWH! I could not agree more about our beloved country’s health care system. I just wish that Politics and Politicians would give it the proper funding that it deserves and leave it alone . May you and your family be of good health, and please keep all of us in your prayers!

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Janice — How very thoughtful of you to reply! We are safe so far, as I trust you and your family are as well. Here’s to Tommy Douglas.
      All best wishes, Bob

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Sarah P Hastie says:

    Over the years I have had many discussions (Arguments?) With friends from the USA about our healthcare system. The misinformation is rampant, and mostly it’s impossible to convince them otherwise – we can choose our own specialist, we don’t have to get in line forever for any procedure, they are not rationing healthcare based on age. There are certainly things that can be improved, but God bless Tommy Douglas indeed, and all the people who provide our healthcare and manage the facilities for us.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Sarah — I share your pain in talking with American friends. For the, it’s all just ‘socialised medicine.’
      Cheers
      Bob

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Ian says:

    Bob, The good news you got is indeed great news! As a Canadian living in the U.S. well, don’t get me started. I’ve had endless conversations, perhaps better characterized as arguments, with American’s of all stripes about the benefits of the Canadian health care system. The problem is that the Canadian approach to medical care has been so demonized that people are afraid to give up what they know. That trumps the.over 50M people who don’t have anything to give up.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Ian — I agree; explaining healthcare to Americans inevitably ends up arguing healthcare with them. I’d hate to be an unemployed American with a health problem
      these days.
      Cheers.Bob

      Reply
  12. Avatar
    DAN LYON says:

    Such a timely blog for me. I have an annual quick check-up with my cholesterol doctor, which is scheduled for early May and as far as I know has not been cancelled. But it requires a blood test 2 weeks in advance, which normally involves a 2-hour wait at the hospital clinic. My risk analysis is that it would be safer to postpone this test (and therefore the annual appointment) for a few months. Feeling lucky to have this option!

    Reply
  13. Avatar
    Constantine K says:

    Great note, Bob. Many thanks for your daily comments. Congrats and happy for your results. As far as George Packer’s article goes, all I can say is that my Canadian smugness that was running rather low lately (and perhaps more than just lately), is getting restored. A Belarus-like failed state where stupidity and injustice are lethal. And this is George Packer in David Frum’s Atlantic. Not Noam Chomsky in Counterpunch! Darn!!!

    Reply
  14. Avatar
    Charmaine says:

    Just to say, Bob, that of the many many emails I receive (and often just delete), I read yours, daily! In fact, I look forward to getting it…. a form of daily dharma!! Thank you. Stay Safe. Hi to Jean.

    Reply
  15. Avatar
    Clinton Wark says:

    Bob, I can so relate to your blog yesterday, and agree with your commentary. We too have escaped a downtown condo environment in Vancouver to Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island where I have a summer home. I share the same feelings city vs. country. The living is so much easier in the rural areas right now. I had open heart surgery 18 months ago. I felt like a 5 star guest during my eleven day stay at Royal Jubliee. My Mom recently had two stents put in at Kelowna General. It was business as usual, with all the protections in place you describe. Clint

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Clint — We can double-relate then ! I’m glad we’re all alive, let alone well, and the fact that I can take a two-hour walk in the woods today is a godsend.
      Thanks for writing. Cheers. Bob

      Reply
  16. Avatar
    Elizabeth Hugessen says:

    Bob, I so look forward to your missives every day. So grateful you are keeping us all entertained, and happy you are well.

    Reply

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