A carpenter by trade, James had a perfectionist streak that served him well for his chosen line of work. He showed pride on the job because it meant the task was done right the first time and he could walk away with confidence. James quickly lost respect for those in the field with a penchant for shortcuts. Although, I’ve a sneaky suspicion his competitiveness played a mean part of how and why he performed his duties the way he did. He was an independent, proud man, showing nothing but strength, control and something else that was unique and hard to miss – he prominently sported a wry sense of humor.
As soon as James was old enough to read, you never found him without a book close enough to pick up in his down time. He preferred stories with historical accuracy and his love of reading contributed to his aptness for storytelling and the grand game of trivial pursuit. What he enjoyed more than reading, was where he could read – in a hammock on a bare bones camping trip after a day of canoeing and portaging. He loved nature and the outdoors and I swear nobody was more observant than he was. If some cool artifact was to be found, James was the person who found it. When he was young, instead of trading baseball cards as boys often do, James was trading Indian arrowheads and other treasures he’s sifted through the dirt to unearth.
Actually, I think James could have had horseshoes stuck up his butt, if I counted all the money he found and the numerous times he cheated death throughout his life. I’d have to say he was quite lucky. Once, he somehow got hung in his bunk bed instead of taking a nap, swept by an undertow before he could swim, slammed into a combine that severed his toes – only naming a few occasions where he miraculously got help before it was too late. He’s been beaten and left with a concussion, suffered broken bones and had even been stabbed. Adults in his life would say he was accident-prone.
For reasons unknown, James never did settle down to marry or have kids. Perhaps he let the right one get away while he was focusing on something else, or the right one just never came along. The reason certainly couldn’t have been a lack of interest from the opposite sex…there were always plenty of interested females trying to attract his attention.
Then again, James didn’t know he had such a short window.
In 1999 at age 43, his newest family physician finally referred him to an Orthopedic Surgeon who then scheduled a back surgery appointment. James had suffered for 18 years with random, excruciating muscle spasms, set off by certain minor physical movements. Progressively, the spasms increased, spawning from something as innocuous as sleep – rudely awakened in the night or early morning by the exact wrong movement. A spasmodic episode during the day could mean hours spent on the floor with limited (if any) ability to move, sometimes moving anything more than his little finger would create secondary spasms of intense pain, like aftershocks following an earthquake.
X-rays showed the cause of James pain, he was inflicted with a disintegrated spinal disc between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. The surgeon had planned to replace the disc with bone tissue taken from his hip and kept it in place with a plate on either side of his spine, secured with pins. James wasn’t told the success rate for most back surgeries. He should have been told the chances of eliminating his constant back pain and spasmodic immobilization were generally considered slim, with a mere 10 – 25% recovery rate. They only communicated he needed surgery and all will be back to normal – if he were lucky. Why wouldn’t he be lucky?
Of course, it wasn’t very lucky to find a family Doctor who upon meeting him for the first time, walked up behind him and greeted him with a good hearty slap in the back while saying, “so, you’re having back problems, huh?” He wasn’t too lucky having to be faced with the task of proving to this PhD, like the ones before him, that he actually needed help. I guess this doctor thought James looked like the stereotypical young junkie looking for a narcotic fix, and his back ache was only a ruse to get to the drugs. Perhaps they all thought that, or they just conveniently misdiagnosed it as a pulled muscle. After all, one can easily complain of back pain without actually being able to prove it. By all accounts, and all the evidence, this doctor just found it easier to feed him narcotics and have a little sadistic fun with him for the duration.
On this issue, the last thing James had anticipated was the roller coaster of emotions when his surgery appointments were scheduled, then bumped time after time. He imagined the reason was somebody else was in more dire need. If given the choice, he’d gladly give up his time slot for somebody else (even if the other patient wasn’t more deserving, he’d have been convinced otherwise).
While truly happy for that somebody else, and as much as James was careful not to wear his heart on his sleeve, tears forced their way through that steely, controlled exterior anyway, each time he got the bad news. It was a two-year waiting game as the surgery kept getting cancelled – each time the operation was as highly anticipated as the initial drink of water after dehydration set in from going days without. Each time, he’d wait about 8 months, and the date got as close as the day before his surgery when he was subsequently disappointed by the dreaded phone call.
It was disappointment to an extreme measure.
His physical disability and consistent pain put his life on hold, it was indeed difficult to manage, and just as difficult to wait. He arrived at the point where he couldn’t work to support himself and wasn’t able to do most of the things he otherwise loved to do. This life unraveling experience was a devastating blow to his pride, and that complicated matters too.
September 12, 2001 was the third time his back surgery was scheduled. If he learned nothing else by this time, he learned not to get his hopes up. It was certain this surgery was also going to be cancelled – after all, it was the day following 9/11 and thoughts about the supplies and blood that could be needed elsewhere…well…of course it didn’t look good.
However, September 12 turned out to be the date James did get his surgery. Some convalescing and all would be well again – oh happy day, because on that day he could reclaim those horseshoes again.
On the other hand, James’s convalescing took weeks, then a year passed…the pain never ceased. The surgery failed to bring him relief, although, grateful the spasms have stopped, he still went down hill from there. Among other things, he has since developed an intestinal disorder and it became quite unbearable to digest food, bringing a whole new level and intensity to his pain repertoire. Visits to his family Doctor (which was generally the case) were fruitless as the willingness to take him seriously just wasn’t there. James would complain about symptoms like urinating tar and his doctor would counter it with, “everybody has a little blood in their urine.”Did he think James was a hopeless hypochondriac not worthy of his attention?
Well, as a matter of fact – No.
The good Doc had no incentive to care for this difficult patient. James was a patient that by sheer chance, picked the wrong Doctor before the health care system teetered on its last legs of bankruptcy. James lives in Canada, he is a victim of the Canadian, socialist healthcare system. A system that seemingly worked well for a while but eventually ran full cycle and isn’t good for anyone, let alone everyone like it was intended.
The severe Doctor shortage suggests James is extremely lucky to even have a doctor. He can’t look for a new Doctor because he has one, those are the rules. Furthermore, if he’s lucky to get someone else’s physician to agree to look at him, they interview him first and select patients on the criteria of time investment. Easy patients get selected and difficult patients get rejected. A patient on narcotic pain meds is difficult with a capital “D.” Nobody wants a patient in chronic pain or someone with a preexisting condition.
James’s healthcare system has given up on him, his own doctor has given up on him. More accurately, his family physician never did care if he lived or died. For the last year he’s been slowly starving himself to death on a self-imposed liquid diet. He now weighs a paltry 126 pounds and his skeletal features are highly pronounced in his once good-looking face. 126 pounds is exactly what his skin and bones weigh, no muscle and no fat. Anybody with a heart would consider the situation absolutely heartbreaking.
For those that deny what this scenario is called, here are your “Death Panels” at work.
When quantity over quality to make the maximum amount of money in a day, overrides the challenges of medicine and a Hippocratic Oath to have the patients needs first and foremost, you can be certain doom is on the horizon. When opening up a text-book to read up on obscure disorders is bothersome enough to be entirely out of the question, your healthcare system has become nonfunctional. When it stops being profitable for the health professionals, this is exactly what to expect, and precisely what happens.
Is this where you want to go America? Are you really going to damn the generations that come after you?
If this is what you want, the same thing will happen here as it’s done in other countries like Canada. And, it will all start when the expense of the system is forced to cap salaries and everybody gets the same rewards and none of those rewards are worth the effort. Canadian doctors fled south en masse to capitalize off the free enterprise system of the US. No longer was it feasible to keep practices open in Canada. The health care industry was no longer lucrative. Doctors and Nurses bailed and students stopped choosing to go into the industry, it was no longer worth the educational time investment because the chances of making a good living and/or being rewarded for excelling was eliminated.
They unwittingly created a system where it didn’t matter how good you are in your field, and it didn’t matter how bad you are. It mattered how many patients you could see in a day.
Unfortunately, there is so much more ugliness to this story than what I have written. I’m privy to the shameful details and the logical end result, that reeks of a social engineering stench that can’t be prevented from going bad. I know because James is my brother.