Retiring to a lovely country town of 30,000 west of Toronto and having been advised by our previous doctor of 20 years that he was also retiring, we casually began a search for a new doctor, underscored with confidence in the medical system of one of the most privileged countries in the world.

Unlike many people, we have some notion of the breadth of that privilege, since we have lived in a variety of countries of widely different levels of material well-being. We departed the starting gate of inquiry comfortably possessed of full confidence in “the system”.

It didn’t take long to find that there was only one doctor accepting new patients. Still the sea was calm and the horizon clear. Having lived in widely varying conditions and used to going with the flow, we took only casual notice of the fact that it was a walk-in clinic — crowded, long waits, a grey corridor of doors fading into gloom and numbered on photocopy paper taped to the doors. 

Fully confident in silver linings, I enquired if there was a day that might be less busy and requested the first appointment on that day. Though at first unnoticed, the mist of life began to reveal its lessons. Number one:  ALWAYS make sure your doctor is at least 10 (if not 20) years younger than you are.

I arrived on time for my appointment — the first of the day — and waited over an hour for the doctor to arrive. No explanation was offered. Life lessons were now being revealed in full sun.

I went home and started looking further afield, even offering one doctor a homemade dessert once a month and with a strategically unspecified end to the duration of the offer. No reply.

Tried another town and found a wonderful, well-organized, one stop, very professional medical centre. Upon enquiry, found a new grad who was accepting patients. Asked for a “meet and greet” appointment. Advised that we couldn’t register directly and needed to register with “Health Care Connect”, a government service that, concluding from the name, was intended to facilitate the procedure. I tried not to think about how this might be easier than asking the doctor directly for an appointment.

Called “Health Care Connect” and was told that they couldn’t help us if we already had a doctor and that we would need to deregister from the current one by calling him directly or calling “Service Ontario”. Asked (foolishly) if the two procedures could be handled in one go. No go.

Called the current doctor’s office to deregister. I am a visual person and my mind’s eye saw a grey reception desk in a grey waiting area with a row of grey people peering into the gloom of the grey corridor and wondering if one of the ignominiously numbered doors might open to reveal some light, some hope, some humanity.

I conveyed the request to deregister to the person at the desk who had no idea how to initiate this process and asked for my name and number so her nameless manager could return the call. Realizing she was scribbling my info on a piece of paper and thinking about my previous hour’s wait……

Called Service Canada and deregistered.

Called Health Care Connect and, negotiating the multiple levels of a long grey corridor-like list of options, was connected to a live person who, after confirming that this was the correct connection, took my name and number and told me that a “Registration Navigator” would contact me. Began repeating, “patience is a virtue,” as a mantra.

A while later, the “Registration Navigator” called and said she would help us find a doctor. I explained that we had already found one who was accepting new patients. This had no effect. Information was gathered. I wondered if she could smell smoke. She then informed me that the said gathered information would be sent for processing (presumably into the ether) and that someone would contact us at an undefined time. Not sure why. The only further information I could think of that might be added was the make and model of our car. After asking whether this would take an hour or a day or a week, while simultaneously noting that it might be time to make funeral arrangements — which might solve the whole problem — I was given the number for “Care Connect” (apparently different from “Health Care Connect”) to call to pin down the timeframe.

Called “Care Connect”. Was informed that I had been given the wrong number and was provided with another number.

Called the new number. The person was puzzled why I had been referred to this number and gave me yet another number.

Called the yet another number and noticed, as I was punching (vigorously) the numbers into the phone, that it was the original wrong “Care Connect” number.

Called the “Registration Navigator” back and was greeted by a message that said this number didn’t accept return calls. Imagined the tips of my fingers burning the screen on my cellphone.

Called “Health Care Connect” and was told that I just needed to wait. An image came to mind of Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film telling a surgeon who had given her a long waiting time for a hip replacement, that she no longer bought green bananas.

Started thinking about a line from Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens….

When they coughed, they coughed like people accustomed to being forgotten on doorsteps and in draughty passages, waiting for answers to letters in faded ink . . .”

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