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.”
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.
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.