Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 @ 6:07 pm
When I moved to Prince George, I anticipated certain hardships such as cold winters (currently -28 degrees Celsius). What I didn't anticipate was how frustrated I would be with the healthcare system.
As a Canadian, I am privileged with access to 'free' healthcare. What this promise doesn't guarantee is that there will actually be anywhere to access healthcare services in your community.
After living in PG for a few weeks, I marched into the hospital and asked the receptionist for a list of doctors accepting new patients. I had done this in North Vancouver and in Victoria and was handed a multi-page print out each time. This time, the receptionist sat there with a blank look.
After asking around and calling a few offices, I learned that not only are there no family doctors accepting new patients, but that there are 20,000 other people also waiting for a doctor.
OK, no big deal, I'd been to walk in clinics before. So I pulled out the Yellow Pages and flipped to the section that lists the clinics. On this page was listed exactly ONE clinic.
I first visited the clinic needing to get a refill on my birth control pills. I went and got on the list and sat in the full waiting room. There were about a dozen people waiting there, so I didn't think that it would take that long, but then I realized that most people leave to go shopping once they have their name on the list.
After waiting an hour and a half, and then another twenty minutes in the room, I saw the doctor. He breezed in, asked what I was there for, and was writing the prescription the moment that I was telling him what type I was on before. He handed me the note, opened the door, and was gone. It was easily less than a minute - seriously - more like 20 seconds, and he was gone.
What about taking my blood pressure? What about a PAP test? What about..... WHAT?!
I left with steam coming out of my ears. This is healthcare?? This is my constitutional right?
Over time, I have accepted that this is the way things are around here. The day of the 15 second doctor visit I was ready to organize a protest at city hall, but now I am just thankful that the clinic exists at all. Because without those doctors - who do not have any obligation to put in a shift at the clinic - there would be nowhere for me to go.
The next time I needed pills, I went prepared for the 15 second doctor visit. I steeled myself and was prepared to block his way out the door should he be making for a quick exit. This time, though, I got an older doctor who sat down and actually talked with me. I could see that he had a bad day and that he just needed to sit in a room with someone sane and normal and intelligent. So we talked and joked around, and he wrote out the prescription with no hurry or grimace. He said, "You're in good health, right?" To which I replied, "Oh yes." And then I realized why the first doctor never bothered to take my blood pressure.
I asked this doctor if the clinic could do PAP tests. He said no. I asked where I could get this done then, as it's recommended annually for women of my age. He paused, cocked his head to the side, half smiled and said, "I have been working in this community for 35 years and nobody has ever asked me that question."
He had no answers. The assistants in reception did not know.
I went to a youth sexual health clinic, and they turned me away because I was older than 25. There's a geriatric clinic, and a native health clinic, but I'm neither of those categories.
And then I found out that my cousin's son has Cystic Fibrosis.
I sighed. If I couldn't get a simple PAP test done in this city, how on earth was I going to tackle genetic testing?
My first try at the clinic was a failure. The doctor turned me away, saying that they can't do follow up care at the clinic, therefore he couldn't request genetic testing.
I called the Medical Genetics Lab in Vancouver, and they said that I'd have to apply to the system, which would triage me to a genetic counsellor who visits PG once or twice a year.
Instead, I asked my cousin to have his son's doctor to send up a blood test requisition form. I took this form to the clinic last night. I waited about an hour (no complaints here) and presented the form to a different doctor. He wasn't phased in the least. He took the form, had the receptionist attach my patient label to it, and gave me his family practice phone number. Victory!!
Today when I was looking up information about the blood testing lab, I stumbled across the AIDS Outreach clinic. There it was - the words PAP test - under the list of their services.
I blinked. I read it again. I picked up the phone.
"Needle exchange, this is Patrick."
"Uh, I read something that says that you do PAP tests. Is this true?"
"Yes. The nurse is here until 7pm."