The real face of moving health care to Halifax

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Editor: Can you help me share this message? I wish that I had helped this man more but the least that I can do is share his story so  Islanders can meet the face of shipping patients to Halifax to see specialists. I took the shuttle from N.S. to P.E.I. last Friday and this is my story.

I have to tell you about a man that I met on the shuttle last week. I met a man from Georgetown who had been sent to Halifax to a doctor’s appointment but he had no means to get there. This is our health-care system? His day started at 6 a.m. when he hitchhiked from Georgetown to Charlottetown. Then he caught the shuttle which took him to the hospital in Halifax. The doctors told him there was nothing that they could do for him in Halifax so he took the shuttle home.

He just heard his working life is over at age 51. He has a “mangled arm” as he called it, has a Grade 7 education, was a laborer but now cannot do that with the loss of the use of his hand. He was hoping to gain more use of  his hand/arm but they told him there was nothing they could do.

I naively thought the shuttle was taking him to Georgetown but when we arrived in Charlottetown he got off. He asked the driver if he would take him across the bridge to Stratford because the bridge is a long, cold walk but the shuttle ends in Charlottetown. I looked at my husband who had come to pick me up and we asked him if we could drive him to Stratford. He was more than happy for a drive. As we drove towards Stratford, I asked my husband if my two-year-old son was asleep and he said no, he is home waiting up for you.

My heart broke, I had not seen my son all week and it was already past his bedtime, but here was a man who was planning to walk to Georgetown. He thought  he would probably get home at midnight or 1 a.m.  and he was OK with that. This was a normal part of his life. That is what I could not get over, it was a normal plan to get off the shuttle and walk for five hours, at night, in the winter, to Georgetown, after seeing a doctor in Halifax.

What else can you do if you don’t have any money? We chatted about our lives and our sons and the whole time my heart was breaking that this was his reality. We reluctantly let him off on the highway past Alexandra and went home to see our son. But I could not forget about him. Once we got home I stayed with my son and my father and husband went back to try to find him to drive him to Georgetown but they could not find him on the highway.

I also began to realize that he had not eaten that day. I pray that someone picked him up and drove him to Georgetown. Later that evening I read in the news about the P.E.I. government not needing a vascular surgeon and that specialists are not needed in P.E.I.,  that we can send people to Halifax for specialists.

But what about the people who cannot assume those costs themselves? Have you ever had to hitchhike and walk to your doctor’s appointments or walk there in the middle of winter? This is some people’s reality. Are we OK with that? Is it a two-tier health-care system when someone has no means to make it to see a specialist 400 kilometres away? How many people miss appointments for this very reason? I cannot stop thinking about this man and I am scared to think about how many other people are in his shoes.

 To the man in Georgetown, I am so sorry that I let you out of my car. You were so grateful to be driven across the bridge but you deserved to be driven right to your door. You also deserved appropriate health care. I am so grateful that we shared a shuttle ride to P.E.I. together because you have opened my eyes to the reality of so many.

Does my son need another toy when other people have nothing to eat? I am looking forward to a year in 2014 of exploring ways that I can contribute to my community and live with less. We have been blessed with so much and that means we need to advocate for and serve those who are less fortunate.

Can you help me do the same in your communities? I understand that we can not offer all levels of health care on P.E.I. but what we need to understand is that when politicians make decisions about shipping patients off Island for basic health care. There is a huge cost to some people. It costs them their health and their lives.

Sarah Clark,

Former Islander,

Valley, N.S.

Geographic location: Halifax, Georgetown, P.E.I. Charlottetown Stratford

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