Saturday, 5 January 2008

A Healthcare Test

I did not have the flu. Unfortunately. I had a kidney stone in transit, together with a kidney infection. I realized the inaccuracy of the initial diagnosis after I began to pass blood and clots – not a usual symptom of a healthy Canadian flu.

Over the last few days I have therefore been able, once more, to sample the Mexican health care experience, including emergency hospital care at night. Being sick in a foreign land is one of my pet fears, which is probably why I have been so lucky as to experience it this year and last.

But is healthcare here as bad as a casual tourist might fear? I would say definitely not. The key issue (and it is a big one) lies in having to deal with your medical condition in a foreign language, and the associated stress that this causes at a time when you need it least.

Todos Santos does not have any local facilities to deal with anything beyond basic care. There are doctors, however, who are easy to access and, based on my experience, quite capable of diagnosis without extensive scientific tests. In fact, the reduced reliance on tests, and greater emphasis on experience and human observation appears to be one of the key differences between the Mexican and Canadian systems.

Our hospitals are in La Paz, the capital, and Cabo, both an hour or more away. The one we chose, the violet-painted Fidepaz in La Paz (which, to my confusion, uses a different name on all its signage!) has a curious mixture of high technology (automated IV pumps and an MRI) and antiques (such as the X-ray machine, which would not look out of place in a museum). The care is individualized and excellent, and access to specialists is easy.

Now compare that to Comox. Comox does (at the time of writing) have an excellent hospital (unlike many communities on Vancouver Island), but it is desperately in need of improvements, and it may be replaced with a distant larger hospital to “better” service residents across the North Island. Getting your own GP is, however, a badge of achievement, and many new residents (and all tourists) have to rely on walk-in clinics or taking their chances at the hospital emergency. Access to specialists appears time-consuming and bureaucratic. On the other hand, if you need a dentist, the picture is different. Comox appears to be a gathering place for dentists, who compete with hairdressers to see if they can better the Starbucks approach of an outlet at every corner. In terms of ordinary health care, though, I am not sure the services offered in Comox are better. But at least I have the illusion of being in control as I understand more of what they are telling me!


As the light fades from gold through violet
Sucking life from the vacant sky
The Judas accretion skulks from its secure home
Slinking its way intermittently to birth
Rending flesh wherever it touches
And turning urine into wine

Straining to comprehend an alien prognosis
Delivered through the street babble of distorted music
I’m ricocheted from a hasty consultation
Under the dreary monochrome light of a single sad fluorescent
Projected toward a distant hospital the colour of dying sky
An unknown place soon to envelope me intimately

Cocooned in a quiet bubble of light
Suspended from reality for an hour
The strangely unfamiliar desert flashes by
In static snapshots
Of cacti
And washouts
And cows

Mind racing faster than the desert
Multitasking in multiple tenses
Imagining futures, and maybe no future
Dissecting the past for clues for this punishment
But still watching the present, in this suspended state
Watching the stillness of the stars above
Blissfully above this pathetic drama
Constellations prescient harbingers of
The diagnostic images to come

And watching the patient stars
Accompany me with perfect precision
I surrender
To the inevitability of the unknown.

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