The value of the health-care system

So the premiers and the prime minister are once again haggling over the cost of Canadian public health care ...

By Dan Ferguson, Black Press

So the premiers and the prime minister are once again haggling over the cost of Canadian public health care with some people talking about how the current universal model is not sustainable.

We need to tighten budgets, we are told, because the current spending on care for the sick and elderly is not sustainable.

The talk is about money and budget bottom lines and the demographic challenge of an aging population.

These are all nice, bloodless terms that avoid the visceral reality for people already struggling with the de facto rationing of health care.

Like the 92-year-old man I met during a recent hospital stay.

We were sharing a ward in Richmond Hospital following our respective surgeries.

Mine was an elective procedure that I’d had two years to prepare for.

He had fallen and shattered his hip.

A surgical team had repaired the damage, and the next step was going to be learning to walk again.

It was his second broken hip, so he knew what he was in for.

Sometimes, he would cough and make the pain even worse, then swear at it, then apologize for his mild profanity.

The hurt and the prospect of more to come made him impatient and irritable about the ghastly hospital food and the sometimes slow response when he would pull the cord attached to the call button.

On occasion, he would get snappish with the nurses on the surgical ward, then apologize and tell them that he understood they were understaffed and overworked.

When he was feeling better, he would flirt with them in the respectful, gentle way of an older generation.

He was waiting to be moved to another floor of the hospital with the needed physiotherapy equipment, but a bed hadn’t opened up yet.

To distract himself from the pain, he would occasionally sing to himself in a pitch-perfect high baritone that sounded uncannily like Burl Ives.

He’d been there for more than two weeks when two nurses, women young enough to be his granddaughters, dropped by for a pre-move assessment.

He’d been having a rough day.

The pain meds didn’t seem to be working and he was tired from the resulting lack of sleep.

He still hadn’t been able to walk.

That’s okay, they said.

They just wanted to see if he could stand up.

He wasn’t sure he could.

But they charmed him into it, helped him sit up in his bed and swing his legs to the side.

One on his left, the other on his right, they helped him get on his feet

As he stood swaying slightly, he couldn’t help remarking that one of them had the most beautiful brown eyes.

“Take a step,” she suggested.

“Just one.”

He hesitated.

“It’s okay,” she said. “We’re right here.”

“Just take one,” the other young woman said.

So he did.

A slow, uncertain shuffle forward.

“You did it.

Then another. And another.

He made about eight steps before he had to sit down.

“You tricked me,” he said.

He looked pleased.

That moment, I would suggest, deserves as much taxpayer-funded support as a toll bridge, fighter jet or football stadium.

Maybe even more.

Dan Ferguson is a reporter at the Peace Arch News,  a sister paper to The News.