Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Health Care

To begin, I consider myself a socialist – although others have accused me of being a commie (they usually don’t know the differences between socialism and communism).  I believe that the best societies provide welfare and a minimum social safety net for its citizens.  I don’t think there are any valid justifications for the huge wealth and welfare inequalities present in most modern societies.

That being said, the private health care I’ve received in South Africa is so much better than my experiences with Canadian doctors that it weakens my fervent belief in socialism.

About a year ago, I tripped and broke my foot.  At the time, I knew I’d hurt it severely but didn’t know it was broken.

A couple days later I went to the doctor and had it x-rayed.  He didn’t even look at the x-ray, but the report said nothing was wrong with my foot so he dismissed me.

“But it really hurts,” I said.

“The pain will go away on its own.”

“Is there anything I should do to help it?”

“Ice it.  Take painkillers.  Wear stiff-soled shoes.”

I wanted to question him further, but his mannerisms were dismissive and somewhat contemptuous: he made me feel ridiculous for continuing to ask questions.

I learned more about my injury from a Google search than I did from my two doctor appointments.  My injury is commonly called “turf toe” and can take a couple months to heal.

Right before moving to South Africa, though, a friend pointed out that it had been three months since I injured myself and my foot was still in a lot of pain.  I went back to the doctor and he sent me for gout tests, even though I told him I had turf toe, not gout.

I took the tests.  I didn’t have gout.  Then I moved to South Africa.

Once here, I ignored the pain as much as possible.  I have basically lived in Birkenstocks for the past year because they’re the only shoes that don’t make my foot hurt.  You have no idea how much I want to wear high heels again.  The thought of all my heels, packed away in a box, suffering alone in the darkness… oh my word it hurts my soul!

At the beginning of 2013, I mentioned my foot pain to a friend in South Africa and he insisted that I go to a new doctor.  He recommended a private sports clinic in Joburg that his father had used.

My new doctor was the exact opposite of my old doctor.  He asked questions and listened without ever making me feel rushed.  He wrote down exactly what sort of x-ray I needed and encouraged me to tell the x-ray technician to phone him if she didn’t understand his instructions.  He also sent me for an ultrasound just to make sure.  When I told him that I’d had it x-rayed originally but my doctor back home didn’t think my injury was serious, he was obviously frustrated.  He told me that if I had been diagnosed correctly, it would have been simple to heal me.  Now, though, it was going to take lots of intensive physiotherapy.

Canada, I tell everyone about how great our health care system – especially compared to the United States.  But in my experience you have rarely delivered!  I’ve been to a variety of doctors and barely any of them have seemed to care.

Another example.

Two years ago, I had a horrible sounding cough that I did my best to ignore.  After a month of it, my friends finally made me go to a walk-in clinic (as you can see, my friends forcing me to take care of myself is a common occurrence in my life.  One more reason than friendships are so important!).  The doctor told me to come back if I still had the cough two weeks later.

“It’s already been over four weeks,” I said.

“It’s nothing,” he answered.

Tired of sounding like I’d been smoking two packs a day for over 20 years, I decided to take my cough into my own hands.  After a Google search, I decided I most likely had bronchitis.  That meant I needed antibiotics.  When I was a teenager, I took a mild antibiotic for my acne.  I still had some of those pills lying around.  They were old, but I didn’t think they’d go off (despite the expiry date on the bottle).  For a week I took a double dosage of the old acne pills and my cough went away.

Even I realize that that story is ridiculous!  I shouldn’t have turned to self-medication… that’s how people can get seriously sick.  But I hate going to doctors and feeling belittled.  Maybe I have too much pride for my own good – but all I ask is that the doctor acts like he or she gives a damn!  Not that they’re just trying to fill their book so they can get their government paycheck.

So what’s the solution?  I don’t think I deserve better health care because I have money.  That being said, I’ve discovered that I’m 100% willing to pay for improved service.  I’m becoming one of those terrible hypocrites!

Canada, we need to improve our health care system.  I’m not sure how to tackle the problem, but I’m going to start asking questions and doing some research.  I’ve got a few friends in med school – they should have some interesting opinions.

We’re going to solve this problem.  We’re going to improve the system.

Are you with me, comrades?


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