Canada’s health care not all it’s cracked up to be

Canada is supposed to have one of the best health care systems in the world.

Canada is supposed to have one of the best health care systems in the world. Though I don’t doubt the benefits of having universally accessible health care, my experience with Argentina’s system was an eye-opener to the limitations of our own.

About three weeks into my time in Argentina, I got a nasty sore throat. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything, because it hurt too much to swallow. However, besides taking a few painkillers, I ignored it. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get a sore throat. The first time I got one in Canada, the doctor told me to wait it out and take some Advil in the meantime.

I talked with my mom on Skype the night my throat started hurting. She commented on how I was talking differently, and with further prodding I told her about my situation. She told me to see a doctor. I refused. There was nothing they could do, I said, and I didn’t want to get involved with the medical system in another country.

I woke up the next morning feeling awful. My throat was burning. My whole body ached and my muscles felt weak. I felt too hot, then too cold. I dragged myself over to the bathroom, opened my mouth, and looked in the mirror. There were white spots on the back of my throat.

I went to my wallet, searching for my traveller’s health card. There was a phone number on the back I could call to find where to get treatment.

My roommate Andrea came home from surfing as I was heading out. She was from Northern Mexico, and spoke English and Spanish. She saw me — exhausted, with a hoarse voice — and offered to come with me, even though she had class in an hour and a half. Feeling very grateful, I accepted. Though I could speak Spanish, I didn’t know how to explain how I was feeling to the doctor.

The hospital was a large building of several stories,  with a help desk at the entrance. A sign provided directions to each floor’s facilities. Staff and visitors entered and exited a row of rickety elevators, which closed with a manual door.

We made our way to what looked like a walk-in clinic. A team of nurses sat in a row behind a window. I approached one, who gave me a clipboard with a form. I cast an eye over it, feeling helpless. What information was I supposed to give her? My provincial health card was useless outside of Canada. I had no idea how the health care system in Argentina worked.

I filled out the form as best I could, and gave it back along with my passport, explaining the situation. She did not seem bothered by the fact that I was foreign, and accepted the forms and photocopied my passport. She charged me the equivalent of $25 for the entire visit, and instructed me to sit down and wait until my name was called.

I took my seat next to Andrea. After some time, I heard my name, and looked up to see a nurse waiting for me. She took Andrea and I to a private room. After asking me some questions, which I answered in English and Andrea translated, she left. A doctor entered in a few minutes. After hearing my symptoms, she took my temperature and showed it to me. I had a fever of 38.5 C.

“This is why you feel weak,” she said in Spanish.

She continued to examine me, and finally diagnosed me with strep throat. After receiving a prescription, I left with Andrea. The entire trip and visit had taken an hour, and Andrea still had time to go to class.

I was shocked. In Canada, I would have easily waited several hours to see a doctor. I don’t know what can be done about wait times here, but my experience in Argentina showed me it is possible for them to be reasonable — and they should be.