My ankle, and the Canadian medical care system.

April 16, 2008

Broke my ankle 10 days ago …. Skating around the park, first outdoor session of the Spring, kinda winding down … just rolling in and popping out the wall on the other side looking to successfully roll out. One try my board slides back into the bowl. I slide down the wall to get it (about 6 or 7 foot wall, close to vert at the coping) like I’ve done about a million times. Somehow on the way down my foot gets caught under me weirdly, and I hear a snap. Say, “fuck, I broke my ankle” to myself … roll over and my foot is flopping around in a not normal way …. “fuck, fuck, fuck”. (I can’t censor this … would you believe me if I wrote “Darn, I broke my ankle”?)    Kid grabs my board for me and says, “you alright” I say, “I broke my ankle, can you get my hat for me”. Use my board like a crutch and hop out of the bowl and down to my car.

Taking my shoe off is educational, but I want to take my pads off now, instead of having someone cut them off later. (Pro-designed …. things cost $150!) Manage to do it, with some weird motions of my foot included … I can tell that I broke something on the outside of my foot as any pressure out there meets no resistance … as such, can’t put my shoe back on, (because when I push on it my foot has no resistance, just kind of flops over unpleasantly) but I don’t care.

Have a 45 minute drive home, and no gas at all. Drive away thinking that full serve gas stations no longer exist, do they? Nope, they don’t. Finally stop at a self-serve thinking about the alternative of running out of gas and hopping around on the side of the highway. Hop around the car with my ankle swelled up like a bowling ball and hop to the store … people don’t even look twice at me hopping around and I have to hop in line because nobody even bothers to get out of the way. Get home, pull into the driveway and honk the horn a lot. My wife sticks her head out the door and I yell, “broken ankle … could you get the books for me that are on the bedside table and then drive me to the hospital”? She complies … I hop into Emerg and find myself a wheel-chair … have my first lesson in using a washroom while one-legged. Sit around with all of the people with sniffles.

Canadian health care … I know, I know, your filthy rich insurance companies have told you what a nightmare our communist medical care system is … well, I’ll tell ya … I f*&king love our medical system. I have to wait, yes, but there are some people pretty much dying and some sick little kids ahead of me, so that’s cool. I get my books and settle in. A little bit later I show my health card to the check-in person and she does the first examination … is impressed with the injury and sets me up for x-rays. About a half hour later I’m called in for the x-rays and no longer return to the waiting room (now, I’m on a gurney in the hall) … doctor comes by another half hour later and says it’s broken … looks bad … you’ll have surgery, plates and screws and it looks like you ripped apart the other side of the ankle too and will need some big screws to hold the whole thing together along with the screws to hold the fibula together. I say … okey dokey … he says, the bone surgeon is here, you’ll probably get into surgery tonight if no other emergencies pop up … once again, that’s cool, someone’s dying, I’ll wait.

I get admitted, wheeled up to a room, put on I.V. (I have to do nothing whatsoever to get admitted … nothing … I don’t even see a piece of paper … they treat me like royalty and wheel me up … the system knows who I am wherever I go in Ontario … it’s one big system that knows my entire history). It’s been about 4 hours now, but I haven’t actually been in pain. Should be in surgery by 9. Talk to old guys in my room, who are all getting knee replacements … those who have already had surgery take frequent breaks to puke a lot. Learn how to pee in a bottle …. I like it, want one at home … successfully peeing in a bottle, I’m informed, eliminates the need to be threatened with a catheter. Cool …

9 PM … time to go to surgery. I always like the part where you sit outside the room waiting and they wake up the person before you, who goes “Arrr, arrghh, blargggg …. ahhhhhhgggg” … then goes wheeling on by you. (I love this stuff, strangely enough) The operating room is way modernized since my last visit in 1999 … all white and computer screens. Then the magical anethesiologist (sp) puts a mask over my face and tells me to breathe in deeply (I do happily). I did have a moment of apprehension … I was thinking about my kids outside the OR and that made me sad …. otherwise, I really don’t care what happens. Wake up in recovery at 10 P.M. and am happy that I don’t feel as bad as I remembered last time being … that was wisdom teeth, maybe having your face jack-hammered and having someone kneel on your chest is a little more traumatic.

Wheeled back to my room … excited to hear that I’ll be on morphine. Wake up the next morning, get another morphine shot … close my eyes for the next four hours and go on an interstellar adventure while listening to my room-mates puke some more. (by the way, could have had semi-private room, but just really don’t care) Get fed … pee in a bottle more, which is even more important post-surgery … yeah for me! Physio people come around with crutches and I have my first crutch lessons. The things are ridiculous, but I pass my lessons. Now, I just wait until 8 P.M. when my full course of antibiotics is over. Doctor comes, tells me that things went really well. I only have screws holding my fibula together (not a lot of other screws as well), and will be moving the foot in two weeks, putting weight on it in six.

8 P.M. comes, family comes, I hobble out of the hospital with Oxycodone prescription (which would also be free, except it’s too late to go to my local pharmacy so I have to pay a dispensing fee … that’s it). I never take the pain-killers. So, 30 hours later I’m at home all repaired and will never see a bill. (oh, I have to spend $30 on the crutches) This in a part of the Canadian medical system which is actually very busy. Yep, you’ll have to wait your turn and they practice triage, so if you’re not dying and someone else is, you’ll have to wait no matter how rich you are or how poor they are …. we’re all in the same waiting room (well, I’m sure that the super rich find some way around all of this). For me, the system makes perfect sense and I’m proud to wait my turn …  



  1. I’m gonna miss that (sigh); trying to get health insurance down here in TX right now. Reading though a sea of details about co-pay, deductible, exclusions….. Really hoping Obama can deliver what he promises. I think americans are starting to not see the Cdn system so much as “communist” anymore, but regardless, the cost here excludes so many from coverage.
    I recently heard about an ex-pat Cdn musician/producer friend in NY who was in a car service, got broadsided by teens in a stolen car doing 90mph, broke his back, partially paralised now, no health coverage. I feel like this would be cause for a revolution were we in different times.


  2. Dude…you had Oxycodone and you didn’t take them? I’m just HOPING to hurt myself again so I can have another best 14 days of my life.

    But seriously…I had a friend in the early 90s living in NY who practiced karate competitively. Broke his leg badly, couldn’t afford anything but the most basic treatment and that was the end of his career.

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