Commentary – Take two and call me in the morning

Joe McWilliams

At least one useful thing came of a series of medical tests I endured on a trip to the city recently. Probably more than one, if I think about it hard enough!

But the thing that stands out as the most interesting is learning that I’ve lost a bit over half an inch in height. Not that I needed to drive all the way to Edmonton at -30C to find that out. I could have measured myself any time, I suppose, but I stopped doing that quite a few years ago. It was enough for me to know that at five-foot-seven and one-half inches, I was the tallest male in my family.

Apparently, I’m losing ground. Don’t tell my little brother!

But going to the city to make the rounds of the testing labs is how the health care system works these days, apparently. You go to your local doctor, tell him or her what’s bugging you. The doc will prescribe all sorts of tests – mainly to eliminate various possibilities – and off you go.

My first one was at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, at eight in the morning. I was born there and it was nice to be back after all these years. It must have changed a lot, because I didn’t recognize much of anything.

It’s a busy place, the Royal Alex, even that early in the day. One thing making it even busier is that it provides all kinds of opportunity for homeless people to grab a bit of warmth. It had warmed up to about -18C by then, but still uncomfortable.

From the waiting room in the fluoroscopy (don’t ask me what that means) lab, I could see the Polish hall, the old armory and a bit of Rogers Place, where the Edmonton Oilers were getting ready to make team history. A few minutes later I was drinking a barium shake and getting X-rayed. Or some kind of rays. They might not actually have been the X-type.

As a rule I have faith in the health care system. More, I think, than a lot of other people do. As far as I can tell, the good folks in the system are as well-trained and competent as it is possible to be, and get it right more often than they get it wrong. The diagnostic equipment and know-how is top-notch; if there’s something amiss, they are likely to find it.

Having said that, it seems to be the case that for a very large range of maladies, the only thing the ‘system’ can do is prescribe drugs. Fair enough if it suppresses intolerable symptoms and makes life livable, I guess.

Of course, there’s the whole ‘unfortunate side effects’ aspect of the equation. And the other side of the coin: the unfortunate side effects of not taking the drugs, i.e. everything up to and including death.

What to do?

What I prefer to do is stay the heck off drugs as much and for as long as I possibly can. Good for me if I can do it, but I’m aware my willingness to put up with (whatever) only goes so far.

I suppose I’ll eventually have to get on the prescription train, and ride it wherever it goes. Until then… I am constantly raising eyebrows when I tell people at various appointments, “Nope, not taking any medication, for anything.”

Judging by their reaction, they don’t hear that very often. Judging by the shopping bags full of drugs I see people carrying out of the local drugstores, there’s an awful lot of it going on.

All the best to everybody in this difficult thing called life. What can you do except try to find some workable balance.

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