Thursday, February 01, 2007


Woke up this fine snow-swept morning feeling as if somebody had wrapped barbed wire around a baseball bat and shoved it down my throat while I was asleep. My first thought was that whichever background kid’s mother has been sending hate mail to my blog had in fact put some kind of voodoo curse on me to drive me out of Montreal before finishing the movie.
I struggled to find the phone before remembering that it hasn’t worked properly since I checked into Barbie’s Soviet Whorehouse--constantly ringing and beeping for no apparent reason, and it was currently buried under a towel in the hall closet. So in a classic Hollywood Idiot moment, I used my home cell phone to dial our Set Doctor, listening as the connection sniffed its way across the three time zones from Montreal all the way to Los Angeles and back again to Montreal. I can already hear my mom saying “You’re wasting all that money on a local call when there are poor, phone-less children in Africa who can’t even afford to DIAL 411?” but I don’t care – I’m sick and I want somebody to make me better NOW!

Our Doctor, an endearing eccentric who knows more about me than my last seventy eight boyfriendspatiently listened to my hypochondriatic wailings and got me an appointment with a specialist at the Montreal Jewish Hospital, despite the fact that I’m not a Jew. I am, however, Jew-ish, so off I went across town in yet another disturbing cab ride – this time, the driver was a maniacal Jamaican lady who sang religious hymns at the top of her lungs as she drove, probably to make up for the fact that she was working on a Sunday.

Having been spoiled by my private doctor in California – a guy so hip he’s got a mid-century designed office inside a gym - it’s been a long time since I’ve visited a public hospital, and almost two decades since I’ve patronized the much-touted Canadian health care system. I am however glad to say not much has changed since the eighties.
The hospitals themselves usually have all the architectural charm of a Russian cellblock and smell like a cross between cheap disinfectant and day old baby urine. If you actually manage to find your way through the rabbit warren of hallways and torture chamber/examination rooms, you still have to fill out umpteen forms and then, in spite of having a fixed appointment time, you end up waiting anyway for about two hours in a dingy hallway, dodging the chunks of asbestos falling from the rotted ceiling tiles while sitting on plastic chairs deemed hazardous to your spinal health in at least a dozen government reports and thumbing through four year old magazines as your fellow patients wheeze and hack up phlegm balls the size of armadillos while they tell you about their last nine surgical procedures and how they’re thinking of launching a malpractice suit against their doctor – the same doctor you’re about to see.

But hey, at least it’s free.

When my turn at the chopping block finally came, the Doctor looked at me sideways and asked: “So, what’s the problem?” I started to tell him about my throat when the phone rang. He answered it, barked a few choice "mots francais" into the receiver, and then slammed the phone down. Looked at me again. “So, you’re from the States?”

I nodded, starting to explain what I was doing in Montreal, but he stopped me by shoving a form across the desk: “Sign this.”

I asked what it was and he sighed as if he was talking to a two year old hamster. “Legal form. Prevents you from suing me. All you Americans ever do is sue each other.”

I explained I was actually a Canadian and assured him I had no interest in suing him, but he wasn’t interested. I signed, he stuck a swab down my throat and gave it back to me in a plastic baggie. “Drop this at the lab downstairs on your way out. That’ll be a hundred dollars. Canadian.”

So much for my birthright. Apparently free health care is just for the locals.

There was another line up outside the lab door and frankly, at that point, my throat wasn’t bothering me as much as blowing a C note on a glorified Q-Tip had. I decided to cut my losses. I tossed the baggie into the trash, grabbed a bottle of "medicine" at the local boozery and engaged in a little home remedy of my own.


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