Alberta Health Care – Right or Privilege?

Lately Alberta hospitals and medical specialists have seen me cross their threshold more often than usual. A close friend is in palliative care, fighting cancer. Yesterday I visited with old neighbours from my childhood who came down to Edmonton for open heart surgery. I’ve accompanied family members to orthopaedic surgeons and the like.

Joanne tells me how she’s continually amazed at the level of care and caring on the palliative care unit. I’m so glad she can be at a place where her pain is managed and she is comfortable.

Our neighbours were very grateful for the staff and medical attention at the University of Alberta hospital.

And I appreciate the access we have to knowledgeable specialists.

It’s easy to think that level of medical access is our right. I suppose in a way it is – we pay taxes for health care. We’ve worked hard for those taxes. But maybe it would be more correct to see it as the privilege of citizens of a developed nation.

The thin metal grate is the least of the barriers these children have to the privileges we take for granted in our developed country.

The thin metal grate is the least of the barriers these children have to the privileges we take for granted in our developed country.

Zambians wish! This fall I put my newsletters from Zambia from 2005-2010 in a book (“Greetings from Zambia – letters home from an overseas volunteer”). I tell one story of a mother who died giving birth to twins. One of the twins died within the next two weeks. I know that most likely both would be alive today if they lived in Canada. Another mother who gave birth to twins lost one after childbirth because it fell off the birthing table.

I write of a young woman we visited in Mpongwe hospital, who was dying of AIDS. Just a few months earlier she’d lost her three month old, likely also to AIDS. As so often happens, she didn’t go to hospital until it was too late – there was no money, even for transportation. In Canada she would have been taking antiretroviral medicine and both would most likely be healthy.

Another entry tells of how we tried to take Enoch’s mother to a hospital on a Saturday. She was very sick and the Canadian doctor with us felt she needed an operation. The one hospital wasn’t even open on Saturday. The other wouldn’t take her because there was no one at the desk to take admission money and anyway, the doctor wasn’t interested in seeing her. We took her back home. She died a short time later.

Not everyone there dies of course. I’m sure doctors and hospitals do amazing things with limited resources. But there’s definitely a very wide discrepancy compared to our medical system.

Alberta is having some heated discussions about health care again. I’m thankful for those who are fighting hard to make the system better. I know it is far from perfect. I know people don’t always get the care they want or feel they deserve. But ‘deserve’ is a relative term, isn’t it?

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