10 June 2013


It's the ultimate luxury problem, and I am certainly glad to have it. I don't mean to brag about it, and I can't think of anything I would have done to deserve this particular predicament. But it is as it is: I am in rude health, and I have been for what must be at least a decade. So long, in fact, that I can't recall the last time I had to see a doctor for an acute condition.

Knock on wood. I have no desire for the above to change.

And yet, the situation finally came to a head. Over the last few years, a growing number of friends and relatives started suggesting that I have a little check-up. Just in case. No harm, you know? I think it was when the analogy was drawn with my old car, which served me faithfully and which I had serviced regularly, that I finally accepted that I should go in for inspection.

My last one, it has to be said, was only two years ago. That examination was particular however in that it took place as part of my application to become a permanent resident of Canada. As such, it was performed by a physician retained by the immigration authorities, and although I was very much the subject at hand, the results were not actually shared with me. It is only by implication (I got my desired permit) that I believe not to carry any mortal condition.

Now, time has come to be sure. So I called the only clinic I have ever visited, and asked for an appointment. Without hesitation, I was told that all the clinic's doctors were fully booked, and no more appointments would be available for new patients. Confused, I hinted at the private health insurance provided by my employer. "Well, in that case", the tone suddenly changed. How would I like the coming week? And that would be $650 please.

Unsettled by the amount, I deemed it wise to check with the health insurer whether they would really pay. And they wouldn't. Why? Because I was healthy. No condition, no payment. However, I could always go see my family doctor, where annual physicals would be covered by the régie de l'assurance maladie. Other than that, it's either pay or wait until you get sick.

Family doctors are a rare breed in Québec, so much so that one of my favorite Canadian movies is about attracting one. Politicians like to claim that they can magically make more of them appear, but a recent study found that 46% of immigrants to la belle province have to survive without one. The fabled Canadian public health system is admittedly excellent at treating emergencies regardless of a patient's origin and financial prowess, but when I filled in the borough's form to go on a waiting list, it didn't lift my spirits. Thanks to my luxury problem, I answered all the questions promising a fast track (chronic conditions? recent accidents? drug abuse? smoking? family illnesses? pregnancy?) in the negative. As one friend succinctly put it, the best way to have a family doctor after four years in Québec is to start looking four years ago.

Imagine my surprise, then, when less than a week later, my phone rang and a friendly nurse from a private clinic down the street was on the line. I was baffled to learn that the government had forwarded my application, and I was kindly invited to come by this week for an interview with the nurse. Whoa!

Less than half an hour after I'd arrived at what seemed to be a bright, modern, well-run establishment, my initial examination was over, and the competent nurse started an apology. Due to the upcoming summer vacations, it would take her a bit longer than usual to get me my family doctor. At worst, it could take up to two months. Would that be acceptable?

Despite all the horror stories I'd heard, Québec for once seems to redeem itself. I'll hold my judgement until after I've actually met my family doctor. But as far as the two month wait is concerned, after a decade without one, I feel confident to say... I'll survive!

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