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COVID-19 Health care?

I ran out of eye drops. Finding a doctor to prescribe them was harder than I expected.

It’s a weird story. I hadn’t visited my ophthalmologist in ages. When my pharmacy informed me the prescription for my eye drops was expired, they gave me a one-month refill. I stupidly took for granted the idea that my ophthalmologist was still running his clinic. I hesitated to see him because of the pandemic but figured I could simply ask his office to renew the prescription and arrange for an annual checkup later on.

It was usually easy to get an appointment with my eye doctor. He would see me the same day I phoned or only a few days later, unusual in the specialist world where appointments often take months to arrange but something I greatly appreciated.

I never expected to find his phone number out of service.

When I phoned last Wednesday and heard that message, I was in shock. I Googled his name and noticed comments on a review site that said all the patient files were transferred to Quebec’s Collège des Medecins (professional order of Quebec physicians).

The Collège des Medecins website confirmed the worst. A September 2019 Collège ruling states my ophthalmologist is not allowed to prescribe any type of drug. Patient files are temporarily in the care of the Collège.

I wondered why patients were not informed of this.

The way Quebec’s medical system works, to see an ophthalmologist you have to get a referral from a doctor or from an optometrist. There is no way around it.

Getting a referral can be difficult. Because I needed new eye drops I was in pain. The pressure in both of my eyes was rising and I knew that if I didn’t get more glaucoma drops I would end up in hospital.

So I phoned my family doctor’s office thinking he would be able to help.

No such luck. His medical secretary told me I could have a phone appointment with him the next day. The time she cited for the appointment was nearly the same time as a vet appointment we had for a sick pet. I told her that time would not work for me. She stressed that the doctor was very busy and his time slots were filling up. She didn’t suggest another appointment time. Frustrated, I told her I would try my luck with doctors in my area.

My family doctor does not use Quebec’s public medical appointment system. Like many Quebec family doctors, he’s on the Bonjour-santé appointment system. When I searched for him in that system, he had no availability at all on Thursday and Friday. Searching for and booking a phone appointment with another doctor on Bonjour-santé would cost $18.95.

On Wednesday I used the Quebec government’s free medical appointment system to book an appointment with a local clinic in my area. It was for 10:20 a.m. on Thursday.

I waited patiently on Thursday morning. Nobody called. I kept checking my phone. I phoned the clinic. I couldn’t reach anyone. So I texted their answering machine and filled out the form for patients who don’t have family doctors at their clinic.

No one called me back. I phoned the R.A.M.Q., the Quebec government department that manages Medicare. I told them I’d made a phone appointment but the doctor never called. I wondered if perhaps they had a wrong number on file? I removed my old phone number from the file and double-checked that they had the correct cell phone number. They did. They told me try again and book an appointment with the same clinic the next day.

Just to be 100% sure the R.A.M.Q. had the right phone number for me, I emailed them my cell phone number.

The pain kept getting worse and I wondered if I should go to a hospital. In the wee hours of Friday morning I booked another phone appointment with the clinic in my neighbourhood. For good measure, I took screenshots of what I typed in the phone field on the government’s medical appointment system. I definitely typed the correct phone number.

They were supposed to call me at 11:30 a.m on Friday. No one called. I texted them. No one responded. Later on Friday I once again filled out forms on their website.

I am still puzzled as to why I never heard from them. Before the pandemic happened, I went to their clinic and they provided excellent health care the last time I saw them. There was definitely some sort of miscommunication. If I typed my phone number incorrectly that first time I sort of understand but the second time? I don’t know what happened. I waited for them and expected to hear from them.

I phoned 811 and explained the situation to a nurse. She told me to look for an emergency optometrist. I phoned an optometrist in Dorval that advertised eye emergency services during the pandemic. No answer and their website suggested they’d gone back to regular hours. I called my optometrist. They suggested the Jewish General’s ophthalmology department. I left a message on the office voicemail at the Jewish. No one phoned me back.

Another optometrist’s office was sympathetic but could only fit me in for an appointment a week later.

I tried Bonjour-santé. From what I could see of the site results, there were no doctors available at Montreal clinics for phone appointments anywhere on Friday afternoon.

I phoned the Royal Victoria Hospital and they transferred me to a regular ophthalmology clinic. No one answered. The line for the emergency department at St. Mary’s Hospital was continually busy.

I phoned a hospital in Hawkesbury, Ontario, where many people in my area go because there is almost no waiting there, the care is good and it’s about as far as traveling into Montreal. They didn’t have an ophthalmologist on staff but said I could come in. They would call someone in if they needed to.

I was about to head to Hawkesbury when I remembered the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex had a clinic that was patched in to many other resources.

I wish I had phoned them earlier. They were amazing. The medical secretary was friendly and empathetic. She told me to book an online appointment with their clinic via the government’s medical appointment system. When I tried, the system refused to let me book because I had already had my appointment for the day (the one where I was strangely stood up a second time). When I called her back and explained the system wasn’t letting me create an appointment, she booked me for 2:50 p.m..

A nurse called right on time. The doctor called about an hour after the nurse. My story was weird but this kind doctor was there for me. She gave me the prescription and referral for an ophthalmologist I desperately needed.

I feel incredibly lucky I was able to reach the Queen E’s Urgent Walk-In Clinic. Without their help I would probably have ended up in hospital.

Through all this it occurred to me that our sick bird has better access to medical care than I do.

Emails from the government’s appointment system inform me I may be charged for both Thursday’s and Friday’s appointments because I was not there when the doctor phoned. Most likely, the doctor dialed a wrong number and now I will have to get logs from my cell phone provider to prove they never phoned my number and I don’t owe $50.00 for two appointments I never got.

I believe in public medicare. While I won’t pay for telephone appointments I never got because a doctor phoned a wrong number, I would be happy to pay something if paying made it easier get access to a doctor who truly looks out for you.