Still, I saw some aspects of the system that need improvement. At LGH, the woman in the bed next to mine had a full colostomy bag: "I stink!" she declared. The nurse attending her couldn't do much about it because no replacement bags were available, but he tried to reassure her that the smell wasn't so bad.
At Burnaby I again found the involuntary intimacy that patients must often share. Some were lying on gurneys in a main corridor just steps from the cafeteria. Others, some in hospital gowns, waited their turns for a CT scan; they looked either grim or anxious as they contemplated what the scan would tell them. As I learned only later, Burnaby has had recurring problems with outbreaks of Clostridium difficile, an antibiotic-resistant bug that's believed to have been a contributing factor in the deaths of 13 people from 2010-2011.
While we all faced our own mortality, we were not, at least, wondering how the hell we were going to pay for all this treatment.
Counting the cost
Politicians moan about the growing burden of old folks on our healthcare system, not to mention the way we soak up CPP and OAS. So I wondered how much I was costing the system. What, for example, was the cost of my afternoon in LGH emergency? And what about those three CT scans?
Considering the politicians' angst about health costs, the numbers were hard to find. I finally got some from a very nice PR person at Vancouver Coastal Health. She couldn't estimate an average cost for a visit to emergency; "That comes out of block funding."
But uninsured and out-of-country persons who show up in a Vancouver emergency department are looking at a per-visit fee of $500, plus an emergency doctor's fee of up to $500 more. These rates are closely aligned with those in Washington state hospitals, to discourage uninsured Americans from crossing the border in search of a bargain.
As for CT scans, she told me that they range from $650 each for an uninsured resident to $1,325 for a nonresident. So if I'd been a foreigner, diagnosing my mini-stroke would have cost me around $5,000 -- not counting whatever the neurologist would have charged me.
I'm aware that fewer workers are available to cover the costs of more seniors. Back in the 1980s, I was writing articles and giving speeches about just this demographic crunch. I don't feel remotely guilty about imposing this burden on younger taxpayers.
After all, I've been paying taxes for almost half a century to cover their education costs (and their parents'), not to mention their own medicare. My own demands on the system over that time have been few and far between.
The value of young Canadians
Sure, older folks will need more support as the baby boomers retire. The answer is not to cut back on seniors' pensions and healthcare, but to ensure that young workers are as productive and well-paid as possible. Young Canadians have the value of scarcity, and we shouldn't let a single one drop out or drift into a dead-end job.
That means (as I used to say in the 1980s) that they need a major investment in their education, so they can earn high incomes. After all, they won't just be supporting the old folks. They'll have to support themselves while bringing up children whose education will be equally critical.
We can and should bring down healthcare costs wherever possible: using generic drugs, limiting needless tests, and especially practicing preventive medicine.
But we should never simply "cut costs," least of all on the pretext of a generation war against seniors who live inconveniently long. That doesn't make the costs go away. It only downloads them onto the old, the young, the sick, and the poor -- and those remarkable healthcare professionals who look after us all.
We need to remember that -- sooner than we expect -- it will be our turn in the scanner.