By TheOttawacker

“Dad, I’ve got chicken pox”

Admittedly, having spent the past five weeks as a single parent, I couldn’t blame Mrs Ottawacker for rolling over and asking me, albeit blearily and somewhat tersely, to deal with it. But still, Ottawacker Jr picks his moments to self-diagnose.

At first glance, as he stood there, shining a torch into my face, it was hard to agree or disagree. So out of bed I got. Five minutes later, having had a rather more than cursory inspection of parts of his anatomy, I realized I hadn’t actually studied to become a doctor either, so made the initial, lengthy and rather irritating attempts to navigate Ontario’s health system. All I can say is this: Never-Ever-Under-Any-Circumstances-Ever-Vote-Conservative.

Telehealth told us there was an 8-10 hour wait for a call back. This, you might remember, is the system designed to relieve emergency rooms and cut down wait times. Fortunately, at this time, I felt it was late enough in the day to call our neighbour, who, in addition to being very nice, also happens to be a nurse. She ruled out, reasonably confidently, measles, chicken pox and leprosy – that’s the last time I listen to Ottawacker Jr at 6.30 in the morning – but felt there might be some sort of strep throat and a viral rash. So, she said, the best thing to do would be to go to a walk-in clinic and see a doctor, who could do a swab and confirm or rule out.

Did I already say Never-Ever-Under-Any-Circumstances-Ever-Vote-Conservative? If I didn’t, then let me say this now: Never-Ever-Under-Any-Circumstances-Ever-Vote-Conservative. Our nearest walk-in clinic was only a 15-minute drive away and was scheduled to start at 9. Of course, anyone going to walk-in clinics knows that, even when it is -19ºC like today, the best chance of actually getting seen in the allotted six-hour time slot is to get there an hour in advance and wait outside the building. This helps you avoid the Dickensian horrors to which we were subsequently privy at 9:15. The waiting room was not only full of people waiting to register to see a doctor, they had formed a three-lined conga queue, winding around the waiting room, coughing and spluttering and, rather politely I thought, shuffling forward to be abused verbally by quite possibly the rudest receptionists this side of Prague (which has, in Olga Maškova, the 33-time winner of the Rudest Receptionist in the World competition, held by Rude Receptionist magazine every year).

“Name? Problem? Pro-Blem? Address? Wait. WAIT. Where is your health card? Your Health Card? Is that how spell your name?” Oh, it was a joy to be around such compassion, such concern.

We shuffled forward, and circled the room twice, dreading the inevitable moment when the voice, feigning shock that another person should have presented themselves in front of the window, would simply pull down the shutter and put up the sign saying “Walk-In Schedule Full. Go Somewhere Else.” Every person in the queue, which had continued to grow inexorably behind Ottawacker Jr and I, looked at the window every time someone walked away, waiting for the twitch of the thin-lined mouth and the forced rictus of a smile as she pulled down the shutter. It was like a massive game of Jenga: when would the wait suddenly become a wait in vain?

Still, we shuffled, for an hour almost, until we were second in line. And then, as the person in front of me walked away, I saw with horror, what was about to happen. The receptionist’s face was twitching; there was, definitely, an upward movement at the corner of the mouth; she was about to smile. My heart sank – as behind me, every person in the queue sighed in unison. I rushed forward, thrust the health card over the counter before she could move, and gave Ottawacker Jr’s name before the smile could fully form and the shutter be lowered.

Then came the shock: she completed her smile, and, unbelievably, inexcusably, asked me how I was doing. This, I thought, THIS is why Olga Maškova is the undisputed 33-time repeat winner of the Rudest Receptionist in the World competition. She would never, NEVER make the mistake of asking someone how they are and of wasting a smile. Then I realized we were in: Ottawacker Jr could possibly see a doctor before the strep turned into Bubonic plague.

“Cell phone number?” she said, after the mandatory grilling.

“I’m a married man,” I answered. She looked at me, and my testes shrivelled under her gaze. Whatever the question might have been, humour was obviously not the answer.

“No,” she growled. “We will text you when you are going to be seen. I don’t want you waiting in the waiting room.”

“But it is a waiting room,” I said. Then I gave her the cell phone number. You never know when you go too far with these people.

That was three hours ago. As I write this, we are both sitting at home waiting for the text to fall, alarm-bell like, in the message system. Needless to say, I am refreshing it every 30 seconds, and am paranoid of missing it.

*  *  *

At around 2.20pm the message came: Report back to the clinic. We reported back to the clinic. We waited some more. Finally, Ottawacker Jr’s name was called and we headed out of a door, along a small corridor, and into another room. Again, more waiting. Then came the doctor’s assistant, a man with a beard so implausible, I had to do a double-take. It was a couple of seconds before I realized he was talking to me. And then it took me a couple more seconds before I realized it was in English.

When we had sorted out the lines of communication (his accent being somewhere to the south of Alabama), he told me the doctor would be along shortly. This, of course, meant more waiting. All around the room were signs of decrepitude, of the appalling state of Ontario’s health system. If you need another reminder, Never-Ever-Under-Any-Circumstances-Ever-Vote-Conservative. There was a list on the wall of all the things that were no longer covered by our provincial health insurance: wart removal (except on genitals); doctor’s notes; school notes… the list went on. There were reminders that, in the interests of keeping wait time to a minimum, patients could only ask treatment about one issue; holistic medicine, it appears, is no longer possible under your health plan. I started to worry: does this mean I couldn’t tell the doctor about Ottawacker Jr’s sore throat and his rash? What would happen if I did? Would the doctor walk out under the burden of too much information?

Eventually, there was a knock on the door, and in walked a man in tight chequered trousers, a waistcoat, and quite possibly the most astounding haircut I have ever seen. It wasn’t so much orange, as neon bronze. At least it was in parts. They must have been highlights, and they put my feeble attempt at a Donald Trump tribute act to shame. The man positively oozed colour. Ottawacker Jr must have agreed, because his eyes were wide open, and his bottom lip had dropped below his mask. The examination, though, was thorough, and he didn’t walk out when faced with more than one piece of information. Instead, he said he suspected strep throat, but needed to do a test to be sure. Did I want the rapid one, which gave a result in 5 minutes, or the more complete one, which would have to be sent off to a lab and for which the results would not be available until Tuesday? He recommended the rapid one.

“Fine,” I said.

“It’s $20,” he said. “You have to go and pay at the desk out front.”

“You mean in reception?” I shuddered.

“Yes,” he said. “Sorry.”

So out I went. There I was informed by Attila the Hen that they only accepted cash. I, of course, had none. Well, I had $10 as a secret coffee stash, but it wasn’t enough. This, I was directed out of the clinic, into the car park, and across the road, to a barber’s shop, where a cash dispenser would churn out some money. Was this where the doctor got his hair done? Was the cash dispenser part of an elaborate pay back scheme? Was his hair sponsored by the place? All these thoughts crossed my mind as I navigated my way back to the clinic.

There, the test was quickly administered and the results conclusive. “That’s a strong positive,” said the doctor. “You’ll be off school for a couple of days.”

And with that, we were out. It was 3:35pm. A day spent waiting for a five-minute test. We drove to the pharmacy and dropped off the prescription. Home. What a day. Never-Ever-Under-Any-Circumstances-Ever-Vote-Conservative.

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