Monday, August 24, 2009

Health Care Stories: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Lisa is an English adjunct instructor in Texas and a wife and mother. This story is about her experiences under the Canadian health care system.

Four years ago, my husband quit his job as a professor in the U.S. He was deeply unhappy with the college teaching system, but finding a job in research was not an easy thing. So, in August of 2005, we were on our way out to Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he had a temporary worker card and a job as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia.

I was worried about many things, but the health care was honestly not one of them. As it turns out, I would get a chance to see just how good our northern friends have it. We loved the health care system even in those first months. Our family of three was covered for $108 per month with no co-pays for doctors' visits. We also had free dental care through my husband's employer. Our dental visits ran for at least an hour and fifteen minutes. I received the most thorough, careful dental work I have ever had in my life from Dr. Mah--a smiling woman of Chinese descent who was learning Mandarin in her spare time.

My daughter, Gracie, was two at the time of our move and seemed normal to me-- talking, walking, smiling; that changed right around her third birthday. The first indicator was a screaming fit she had when Stephen and I tried to cut her fingernails. My husband had to hold her down to do it, and from then on, I would sneak in while she was sleeping and cut her fingernails. Then, the tantrums--violent and terrible began in force along with a loss of words. This was within a month or two in 2006. I started doing research on the Internet and saw the dreaded word, "autism." And I knew that was what my little girl was exhibiting. I also knew I was in a race against time since children with autism need immediate intervention as young as they can get it.

So, I got my Canadian health care card out and called a pediatrician. I got in to see him in a week. He listened to me, asked good questions, and referred us on to the Sunny Hill Centre in Vancouver--a place where various diagnoses are given to children like Gracie. That was in October. We had to wait until February to begin the process, but I was assured it was thorough--an evaluation by a panel. During this time, I enrolled Gracie in a wonderful preschool, and they did wonders with my daughter who got "great climber" on her progress report the first months in.

In February, we arrived at the Sunny Hill Centre, right there in Vancouver. First, we saw the lead team member--Dr. Dua. He was a psychiatrist who said he was unsure about Gracie's diagnosis after seeing her. Next, it was on to a physical occupational therapist, a psychologist, and finally, a speech therapist. These evaluations were two hours or longer each time, and they stretched through April. Then, the team deliberated.

In early April of 2007, we got our diagnosis from Dr. Dua. He offered me a box of Kleenexes and said, "Your daughter has autism. It is mild. I think she will be fine with therapy--mainly just quirky." I smiled to finally know what I had known for months and cried at the sheer enormity of it. I remember how grateful I was to all the doctors at Sunny Hill.

A month later, Gracie was receiving treatment in our home--four times a week. Under the provincial health care mandate, she received $20,000/year for the treatment the parents chose. We chose one-on-one play based therapy. It worked wonders for her to laugh, blow bubbles, choose options on a chart, practice simple questions, and just have fun. She learned to respond to the question: "What is your name?" She smiled by the end of May every time, and said, "My name is Gracie." And that was only the beginning.

Gracie is flourishing today, and we are back in the U.S. now. I know she is doing so well because of the Canadian system of health care. If we had had to finance treatment on our own at that point, there is no way we could have. We were barely getting by with my husband's salary as a postdoctoral researcher and mine as a tutor.

So, when I hear the lies being spewed about health care in Canada and how dangerous socialized medicine is, I shake my head, get mad, and pick up the phone to call my representatives. I will not stand by while they lie and other children like my daughter are caught in the crossfire.


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g said...

Bill, thanks for this series of stories. I came here from a link at

I emailed you my story.

Shaindel said...


Thanks for sharing your story. Brilliant last sentence. And so, so true, and (I hope) helpful to people who are believing the lies about the Canadian system.

Watson said...

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