The Doctor’s Appointment

My elderly father recently had cataract surgery on one eye and the experience of that appointment and those before and after it were a sobering confirmation of the sad state of health care and our treatment of the elderly.

My father lives in Ontario in a seniors residence that allows him some independence while still under the watchful eye of fellow residents who look out for each other. I live in another province halfway across the country so it falls on my sister to attend to any needs my father has outside his home, and it’s a lucky thing she’s there because the medical system makes no allowances for the elderly. In fact, it seems they go out of their way to make it difficult for them. Maybe it’s an attempt to confuse and frustrate them to the extent that they simply forgo any medical treatment because it’s too hard.

The days leading up to this minor laser surgery were riddled with various appointments; one to ‘measure his eye’, another to test his heart, a third to do routine blood work, not to mention the routine eye exams performed in the weeks leading up to the day by countless staff, (each billing the medical system for their share ) just to make sure everyone was ‘on the same page’. No single appointment was conveniently located; rather each was to be held at various departments within a couple of downtown hospitals, where parking is at a premium, if you can find it at all, and the appointments offered were at peak rush hour, 7am or 5pm (for seniors, really?). My father was lucky (my sister not so much) because he had my sister to drive him. Other seniors were forced to take public transit or taxi’s, if they could afford them. And no appointment was less than 2-4 hours late so you had to plan to spend the day.

The day of surgery my father was instructed to be at the hospital by 6:00 in the morning and it’s a good thing he was on time because he only had to wait 41/2 hours to be seen. In the interim he was herded from waiting room to waiting room where seemingly busy administrative staff assured him the ‘doctor would be in to see him shortly’. The hospital is large, like a city unto itself, and each new waiting area they were ushered to was a good walk. My father is 88 years old and in frail health so by late afternoon he was exhausted and limping, but he was not alone because each waiting room was full of seniors like himself (who else needs cataract surgery if not seniors?) and many had no one to advocate for them. They made their way in walkers and with canes; some got confused and went to the wrong waiting areas. Several were booked for the same appointment time with the same doctor (ok, how does that work?) At the end of the day, my fathers surgery was complete and he was released into my sisters care, a mere 13 hours after they arrived. At least by then his limp was so visible he was offered a wheel chair to take him to the front door where he was unceremoniously deposited with a bag of medication and a list of follow up appointments.

One of the three follow up appointments was last week and I planned to attend while visiting. We picked my father up at noon for his 1:00 appointment – it was just up the road but he is unable to walk any distance so we drove. We arrived at 12:20. The waiting area had dozens of chairs and there was only a handful of people waiting. As I approached the reception area to check in a young woman looked up and asked if we were there for an afternoon appointment (no hello, just a hasty question) I said yes and before I could continue she replied, “We’re closed for lunch until 1:00. You’ll have to go somewhere” and she literally ushered us out into the hallway and closed the door behind us. (so I guess letting an old man sit while he waited was too much to ask)

Remembering I’d seen a sign in the lobby for a restaurant we decided to take my father there for tea and a snack to kill some time. At ten minutes to one we went back up and when the elevator opened we were greeted with a line up of seniors, all waiting for the office to open, all standing, not easily. Conversation started up and we discovered there was at least two other people with the same appointment time as us – so much for getting in and out in under four hours.

By five minutes after one and seeing some of these elderly were having trouble standing for long periods my sister pounded on the door. It was opened by the same jolly greeter I had previously encountered, and she said nothing, simply opened the door and stepped aside. While my sister waited to register my father I saw a middle aged man rapidly approach the receptionist. He said, “I’ll be back in a while”. She smiled, nodded, and returned to registering the patients at the counter. Now this minor encounter would be of no significance were it not for the fact this same middle aged man was in fact the doctor. It was 1:05. He had a waiting room full of very elderly patients, many with the same 1:00 appointment booking, and he was leaving. He returned 45 minutes later with a Starbucks coffee and a healthy glow that suggested fresh air.

In that 45 minute period we were herded from room to room and attended to by a variety of support staff. One checked the spelling of my fathers name and birthdate to confirm it was really him. (yeah, cause I bet there’s a host of seniors lining up to impersonate him) Another directed him into a semi dark room where he quickly tested the pressure in his eye, then ushered him hastily back out to another waiting area. A third, a young woman, led him into a cubicle where she instructed him to sit in an awkward chair, then turned her back to him for several minutes while she typed away on a computer. She then spun around, looked into his eye with some sort of lens, declared him healing nicely, and asked him to return to the waiting room to await the doctor (the one with the healthy glow and fresh coffee) This really was a meat market.

After another 30 minutes, we were finally ushered into a room where the doctor eventually showed up. (yes, we had to wait, again, cause nothing spells inconsiderate like a tardy doctor) He looked into my fathers eye, without any equipment, just a look, asked if he’d been administering the drops prescribed, to which my father replied in the affirmative, then said,  Good, I’ll see you in three weeks”, then rose to leave, dismissing us with a wave of his hand. (Now there are those who might forgive the arrogance of this kind of delicate genius citing they are a cut above the rest of us because they possess a higher education that entitles them to look down at others; after all an arrogant person is only smart around those who are made to feel stupid. Some might even label these insensitive louts as justified for their shoddy treatment of others. I prefer to label them ‘arseholes’.) 

I can appreciate that doctors, nurses, and technicians are highly skilled. They are in demand, perhaps too much, I get that. We are a growing population, the elderly in particular comprise a larger number of those requiring health care because we are living longer, but that does not give anyone, not even Doctor Specialist  the right to treat people this way. Society has a need, these people have the skills. Too bad they don’t have any compassion. I realize we can’t paint every medical professional with the same brush but the experience above is not unique. Twenty years ago when I needed minor surgery I recall this process of herding people like cattle. I remember endless wait times, double bookings, and disinterested support staff. What ever happened to the Hippocratic Oath? In addition to the stipulation of upholding specific ethical standards, there is the provision for Duty of Care (defined simply as a legal obligation to always act in the best interest of others) Surely that includes compassion, if nothing else, how about common courtesy? Oh, and here’s a thought, how about respecting our elders?

There are wonderful caring and compassionate professionals in the medical industry, of that I’ve no doubt. My own family doctor is amazing, sincere and dedicated. Unfortunately there’s also too many arrogant, self-serving, egotistical arseholes (for lack of a more fitting description) out there, who have lost sight of what it truly means to uphold the office of a medical professional. They overbook, double bill, and sadly overlook how their callous treatment of people affects society. In short, they do not respect others.

If you truly went into this profession for the healing of mankind, good for you. If you went into it for the money and prestige it brings, shame on you.  I can only hope you are one day on the receiving end of the heartless treatment you’ve subjected these elderly to. Get over yourself.

Super Doctor

Do we learn from past mistakes?

My 88 year old father was one of many who ran from, and survived, World War II, and for the past several months I’ve been working with him to document his family’s flight from Lithuania. This required me to do some research on the generalities of this war; dates, places, etc, to ensure my father’s recollection coincided with historical facts, and I must say, it was an eye opener.

As students growing up we all studied history as it related to our country and our people but somehow, at least for me, they were just words on a page, a story. Until I could relate it to someone I knew I didn’t fully comprehend what they actually went through. It was sobering and sad, often painful, and always unsettling.

Once I completed his memoirs, I decided I needed a break from the tragedy of war time stories so I went to the library and took out a book to lighten my mood. I tend to choose books by their cover and I’ve only rarely been disappointed so this method of selection was one I used again this time. Much to my surprise when I started reading I discovered the book was about a 93 year old woman recounting her experience in this same war. She was of similar age and her story rang so familiar. I debated returning it because I’d had enough of painful war stories but once I started to read I found I couldn’t put it down. It reinforced again, the suffering endured by too many during war time, and the impact it had on their whole life.

It was beautifully written and once I finished it I found myself wondering how something like war, any war, can happen, again, and again, and again. Did World War 1 teach us nothing? For that matter, did we learn anything from any war? Throughout the ages we’ve encountered countless dictators and ruthless leaders, many of whose patterns of destruction were repeated.

For example, in the year 247 BC Qin Shi Huang ruled as the first emperor of the China. He was a ruthless and single minded ruler who commissioned the construction of a wall to protect his dynasty. (Granted he didn’t hold his own people in financial ‘hostage’ to enlist their cooperation – he just forced them into labour and worked them to death)  Sound like anybody we know today? (what  is it with these power hungry leaders and their walls?)

Wars of religion, or trade, or acquisition have replayed since the beginning of time. From the early days of Viking invasions to modern day revolutions the pattern repeats itself. Power hungry rulers brainwash or overpower citizens, forcing them to ‘cleanse’ their world of those they want to dominate or deem unworthy of existence, and they succeed only long enough to severely cripple humanity for decades to come.

We’ve evolved as a society in so many ways with advancement in industry, technology, and philosophy. We have fine-tuned our brain capacity to act in an intelligent, conscious, and moral fashion, but when it comes to conflict in the masses we resort to school yard bullying behaviours. How can we call ourselves the intelligent species when we don’t learn from past mistakes?

I realize this is simply my naïve struggle with something I fear will never change. As long as there is man, there is conflict, and it seems we will never learn that no resolution ever comes from conflict. It appears we are destined to repeat destructive patterns. We acknowledge our mistakes, after the fact, and we might even ‘learn’ from them, but if we don’t put into practice that which we ‘learn’ how can we say that we have, as a civilized society, progressed? I  will never, ever, understand the wisdom of war. Peace be with us all.



A Day of Love

St Valentine’s Day is approaching and retailers are gearing up for major sales. Restaurants are almost fully booked, florists and jewelers are overwhelmed with orders, and chocolatiers are working overtime to stack their shelves with heart shaped boxes filled with sweets. The Christmas holiday aside, more cards are sent for St Valentine’s Day than any other holiday in the year. It is, after all, the day for ‘lovers’ right? Not quite,,,,at least it didn’t start out in the mushy romantic sense in which we’ve come to know it. In fact, there no official documented theories around the origin of this day.

There are however, several ‘stories’ as to how it came about and none are pretty. The ancient Romans celebrated the ‘feast of Lupercalia’. This was the celebration of purification and fertility, held annually on February 13-15. The men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, skinning them, then using the bloodied hides to whip women. (boy, those Romans sure know how to party!)  It was believed that this ritual would make the women more fertile. So strong was this belief that the women actually lined up in the streets to have the men belt them. (ok, these are not bright women)

Another legend contends that Valentine was a catholic priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families so he outlawed marriage for all young men to maintain his force. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the law defied Claudius by performing marriages in secret for young lovers. When his activities were discovered he was put to death. He was one of three saints by this name who were martyred. The other two weren’t quite as romantic in their feats, rather they displayed various acts of heroism in celebration of the day. (still, having to marry in secret is lot easier to take than getting slapped around with a bloody hide)

Another theory stems from Europe in the Middle Ages where it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season, adding to the notion that the day should be reserved for romance of all species. (ok, that’s a bit of a stretch. I can’t ever recall getting amorous from watching a bunch of birds, but to each his own)

Regardless of where the actual holiday originated the general theme was one of love, and by the middle of the 18th century the practice of exchanging tokens of affection on this date was common between friends and lovers. It’s only modern society (and greedy retailers) that turned the holiday into the circus it is today where ‘small tokens’ have become new cars, 3 carat diamonds, and 10 pound boxes of chocolate, but the commercialism aside, I take issue with the notion that the day should only be celebrated by lovers, the romantic kind.

There’s a whole world of single people who love and are loved but because the nature of these relationships isn’t ‘romantic’ they aren’t included in the celebration. They aren’t the target audience of retailers, i.e. florists aren’t advertising that you should send a bouquet of roses to your sister, and yet, what’s wrong with that? Everyone likes to be reminded that they are loved, even by friends or family. Even something as simple as buying a cup of coffee for a buddy at work with a “Happy Valentine’s Day’ message is sure to bring a smile and let someone know they are loved and appreciated.

For too many this holiday is difficult to get through, not unlike Christmas, because not everyone has a close circle of family and friends with whom to celebrate. I say we revamp this holiday to include everyone in society. Let’s celebrate the love not just the romance. Surely for one day a year everyone deserves to feel as though they are special to someone? Send your dear friend a note, send chocolates or flowers, if you feel compelled to, just go out of your way on this one day to make someone feel as though this day of love and appreciation is for them as much as it is anyone else.

I hope you are showered with love on this day, from all who know you,,,,, then spread it around. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentines day

A Dreary Day

I awoke on a Monday morning to drizzle and fog – another do nothing day, or so I thought. I had an early morning physiotherapy appointment so lounging about wasn’t an option. I showered, ate a light breakfast and headed out the door. Once on the road I got a burst of energy and decided to make good use of this otherwise dreary day, so when I reached my appointment I sent a text to my very good friend Jo to see if she was up to meet for coffee. This is the same friend I continuously start my diet with – too date neither of us has lost a pound, but we sure plan a lot!

After my physio appointment, I check my messages and see she’s agreed to meet in half an hour for coffee. I make my way over to the coffee house and note I’m a little early, so I shop on route – no sense wasting time! By the time we meet I’ve already got a new pair of shoes and two sweaters – Jo reprimands me for my lack of self-control.  (ok, she’s not that good a friend, really)

We buy our coffee and settle for a good chat and the conversation invariably returns to our dieting woes. We decide that a new year deserves a new plan. I suggest that we change up our routine, maybe take a yoga course to motivate us, and she’s on board! Jo also suggests that we meet a couple of times a week to walk for the exercise. I remind her that we walk fairly frequently already but she’s quick to point out that wandering the shops for sales is not technically exercise so I grudgingly agree to a twice weekly walk outdoors. (killjoy – She’s really more like the friend of a friend)

New plan in hand we decide we need to get new workout wear and head to the local shops. After two hours of trying on every form of spandex available, we head to a nice Greek restaurant for lunch this planning an exercise regimen really works up the appetite.

While inhaling our food the conversation moves to other activities we can enjoy to fill our days (and keep us away from the fridge) Jo admits to a love of music and suggests we join a choir. I agree that it’s a great idea, but most of the singing groups I know of are church choirs or seniors. Jo and I are retired but only newly so, and we’re on the younger side of retirement so I don’t see the appeal in joining a group of eighty year olds that warble like old hens, and I tell her as much. “We’ll start our own singing group” she announces, then reprimands me for my less than flattering description of ‘elderly singers’. She’s always harping on me about being too direct, but honestly, have you listened to a choir of seniors trying to croak out a tune? It’s not like the gentle sound of a songbirds trill or the melodious tones of a childrens choir. This is the ghastly sounds emitted from aged throats and a rusty voice box  – hardly the stuff current radio stations are tuning in. (I barely know her actually, she’s just an acquaintance really)

I suggest we start a book club – that would be fun. I can think of a few people we could invite, meet once every couple of weeks to discuss the book. My only stipulation is that I get to pick the books cause if I don’t like it, I won’t read it. No history, no politics, no drama, no sci-fi, no mysteries. I just like happy stories, comedy, romance, biography (only happy ones)   “Ok, this could be a problem” Jo says, “you need to be a little more flexible”. (Bitch, I never really liked her)

Jo suddenly lights up and excitedly suggests we join a bowling league! Her elderly mother bowls twice a week and loves it, she gushes, and we’d get to wear those cute little bowling shirts! (sure thing Wilma, and maybe we can get Fred and Barney to lend us their bowling bags) I think I’d rather warble with the hens. (What was I thinking befriending this loon?)

We explore various potential new hobbies throughout lunch and after a good round of laughter we determine it’s best to take small steps. We’ll meet to walk twice a week (no stores, no shopping, no lunch – this seems to be cruel and unusual punishment, but ok) and we’ll scout out a good yoga studio to enroll in some beginners classes. After lunch we continue our shopping cause if we’re going to act fit we’d better look it! Finally with matching spandex outfits sure to impress, we stumble across a lovely leopard print dress that we laughingly label our ‘choir uniform’, then stop off for a bottle of wine to warm up the old vocal cords.

Heaven only knows where this new routine will take us but if you should pass two women walking down the street in spandex (or leopard print) warbling like two old hens, you’ll know it’s us, and if we don’t lose a pound or read a book or bowl the perfect game, at least we can take comfort in knowing we made good use of an otherwise dreary day!