A medical solution? (I’m back, slowly)

1870s photo of American orthopedic surgeon Lewis Albert Sayre observes the change in the curvature of the spine as a woman patient who has scoliosis self-suspends herself prior to being wrapped in a plaster of Paris bandage as a treatment for the curvature of the spine. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Sayre#/media/File:Lewis_Albert_Sayre3.jpg
1870s photo of American orthopedic surgeon Lewis Albert Sayre observing the change in the curvature of the spine as a woman patient who has scoliosis self-suspends herself prior to being wrapped in a plaster of Paris bandage as a treatment for the curvature of the spine. Source: Wikipedia

I’ve meant to blog for a while. An illness I’ve been facing on and off for over a year got so bad a few weeks ago I headed to the emergency department at the MUHC here in Montreal.

Today I received a call from a medical clinic offering me a chance to see a family doctor. I was thrilled at first – until I researched online and learned their brand spanking new clinic is tied to the private system. What this means is even though seeing a doctor is covered under medicare, any tests will probably come out of my pocket because I don’t have private health insurance and the clinic’s affiliated private lab does the tests. This is exactly the problem I faced with a previous medical clinic. Because I have to pay out-of-pocket for tests, or in some instances, wait a very long time if I use the public system, my health problems remain unresolved.

I’m feeling conflicted because if I had private insurance I would choose this clinic. Their fees are lower than the previous clinic I visited in Westmount which charged $20 for a urine test (they’re charging $10) but I fear the same problems. I went to the CLSC for blood and urine tests, which were free of charge to me since they were covered under medicare. The CLSC sent the results to my clinic but it took the walk-in clinic in Westmount over a month to give me the results. Had I paid I would have had the results right away or within a few days. This makes me angry because previous family doctors never charged me for tests and always referred me to the public system. We definitely have a two-tier medical system in Quebec. This illness is affecting my ability to earn a regular income and I feel I’m caught in the middle of a nightmare. I’m not sick enough for a hospital but whatever this is, it’s affecting my energy levels and because I don’t have private health insurance I can’t easily access the tests I need to find out what’s wrong.

It’s been a strange journey. For over a year I’ve had unusual symptoms. My abdomen is distended and I gained 20 pounds practically overnight. I’m not a big person and the extra weight is uncomfortable. I had a hard finding a family doctor until a friend recommended a walk-in clinic, one that is part of the Quebec government’s Réseau system, clinics that are supposed to make it easier for people to see a doctor. When I visited the clinic the doctor ordered blood work, a urine test and an ultrasound. The problem was this clinic had its own private facilities and was geared to people with private health insurance. If you weren’t insured and you couldn’t afford to pay the clinic for tests you might have a hard time. Sure medicare covered the doctor’s visit and I could go to a publicly funded CLSC clinic for the blood work and urine test,  but I was told it could take anywhere from six months to a year to get an ultrasound  in the public system. If I’d had private insurance or enough money to pay for everything out-of-pocket the private clinic would have done the tests right away.

I tried a lot of things to combat the bloating and fluid forming a doughnut around my abdomen. I changed my diet, following a low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet, started drinking warm water with lemon juice in the morning, drank smoothies and drank juiced veggie and fruits and sometimes followed a belly soother, low FODMAPs diet. I did yoga. For a while this seemed to work so I procrastinated on the blood work and urine test. But in August the problem came back full force and got so bad sitting was sheer agony. I was exhausted all the time and writing anything would knock the stuffing out of me. I had energy early in the morning and late in the afternoon and sometimes late at night so I would work odd hours to get things done. By the time I finally had the blood work and urine test I was worried. I had read about ovarian cancer and I had many of the symptoms associated with it though I wasn’t sure I had it. I’m a carrier for kidney disease and the carriers sometimes get sick.

It took the walk-in clinic over a month to tell me my test results. I had phoned and written to them, leaving messages on their voice mail, sending them emails, filling out their website contact form and finally sending the doctor a letter in the mail.  But no one got back to me. When I asked the Quebec government what to do, they suggested filing an Access to Information request for the test results!

It was late on a Sunday afternoon a few days after I’d spoken with the government that the clinic finally told me my test results revealed my blood tests were normal but I had an infection. They had me come in the next day to do another urine test and see a doctor. That doctor prescribed an antibiotic, more urine tests and an ultrasound. When I took the antibiotic my abdomen swelled up more than ever before and became hard. My mother used to work as an emergency room nurse and I told her I was worried since the problem was worsening and the antibiotic didn’t seem to be helping and should I go to a hospital? She suggested I give it a few more days but to go in if things didn’t improve. I called the Lakeshore Hospital and learned the average waiting time for an ultrasound there is 10 months.

I didn’t get better, my abdomen kept swelling and hurting more, so I headed to the MUHC’s Royal Victoria emergency. The first doctor I saw took me seriously and ordered an ultrasound for the following morning. Through that ultrasound I learned a lot of what worried me could be ruled out. I don’t have ovarian cancer or uterine fibroids. My reproductive system is fine. After discussing the ultrasound with a doctor, I was sent back to emergency where an annoyed resident physician at first lectured me about not having a family doctor and ultimately determined I was simply constipated since my blood work was perfect, as was my blood pressure and urine test. He prescribed a month’s worth of laxatives.

This doesn’t seem to be the answer. I’m taking probiotics and they seem to be helping a bit, I’ve learned about colon massage and read about how to reduce colon inflammation. I learned from reading online message boards that if you have scoliosis as I do, you may be susceptible to these sorts of problems. The doctors didn’t appear to be aware that scoliosis can affect the digestive system.

I’m still searching for a family doctor connected with the public system, i.e. with a hospital and not with a private lab, private radiology clinic etc. So if you live in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area and you’ve heard of such a doctor and they’re taking new patients, please let me know.


One thought on “A medical solution? (I’m back, slowly)

  1. Stephanie, I’m sure that I and all of your other friends wish you the best in fighting this problem.

    I actually needed an ultrasound of my abdomen about 2 years ago. It was ordered by a doctor at a clinic on Cotes-des-Neiges. He sent me to St Mary’s and I asked him why no the Jewish General. He said the referral was good for any hospital. It turned out that he was right to send me St Mary’s because their wait time for an ultrasound is much less than it is at the Jewish. I think you did the right thing in going to a clinic or emergency hospital in the core of the city.

    I thank you for bringing this problem to everybody’s attention. Now that the Stephen Harper era is behind us this sort of issue has more of a chance of being heard.

    On a more individual and practical level I think that what you need to do is get a doctor in the center of the city, he will be able to send you to a hospital for timely tests. I think that part of the problem is that doctors and clinics on the West Island and environs are geared for people with suburban style incomes.

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