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My Father and Socialized Medicine

August 25th, 2009 by Embedded I · 31 Comments · Culture, Socialized Medicine

Yes, he is in the twilight of life, but he is my father.  More importantly, for 61 years he has been my mother’s lifelong love.  They went through WW2, they immigrated to a Canadian farm from S. England.  Dad pursued several means of employment to provide a comfortable living while raising three boys.

On Monday, Aug 17th, he stumbled, fell, and broke his elbow.  An ambulance took him to the local hospital.  There the emergency doctor told Dad they could NOT set his arm.  He would have to be taken to a larger hospital (a half-hour’s drive), when there was an opening in the Orthopaedic Surgeon’s schedule.

Dad was to wait, in the local hospital’s bed, numb with morphine.  Imagine —uncertain days of pain, medicated fog and dysfunction, imposed upon you because Universal Health Care could not ‘fit you in’?  My mother lay awake, alone, for two nights, sharing his discomfort, and fearing his death, until that opening appeared on Wed Aug 19th.

An ambulance van drove Dad to the scheduled appointment with the Orthopod.   “We’re sorry, an emergency came up”.  The window of opportunity had closed.  At least Dad was now at the hospital where the Orthopod worked.

It was not until the next day, and another empty night for my mother, that Dad’s elbow was set!

The recovery time for an aging person’s injury is many times longer than that of the young.  Time IS life.  This delay will extend Dad’s recovery even longer than it might otherwise have been.  Dad knows his days are numbered, and now he will spend a substantial portion of those days in achingly slow recovery.

Many Canadians, when waiting for treatment, simply assume that someone else was suffering a more urgent crisis… and of course, that is true.  But, note the altruist lean their view reflects:  “someone else’s need was greater, so we should politely wait.”


Dad’s simple broken elbow was not set for three days & nights, at a time without a flood of injured people from a wrecked passenger train or airliner (imagine if there were).  It was NOT that a greater emergency took precedence,  it was because the Health Care system could/would not accommodate him.  For all intents and purposes, Dad’s experience was routine.

Sure, all the medical staff involved were trying hard, and cared, but all of them were content to work in that state run system.  Yes the doctors accepted such treatment of their patients/customers as being the nature of ‘health care’. As Dr Hendricks put it: people must discover that, “it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it—and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.” (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand)

The politicians that put this system in place in Ontario, in 1985, gave it the Orwellian name, “The Health Care Accessibility Act”.

I predicted that it would be 15 – 20 years before it brought about a publicly noticeable decline in health care.  Yes, in the first five years, or so, lots of money was pushed into the system.  That ‘flush’ period is characteristic of socialist funding of any portion of an economy.

Then conservative journalists publicized the sky rocketing costs of Health Care.  The same Liberal government that pushed through “The Health Care Accessibility Act” insisted that it could contain provincial Health Care costs by reducing the number of doctors. (Think about that one!) Even as facility improvements were common, the Ministry of Health set about limiting per-student funding to university medical programs!

Then Health Care ceased to be news.

In ~1995, through a Chief of Staff, I learned that a major hospital was using an entire ward for equipment storage rather than patients.  At the same time there were patients lying on gurneys in the halls, until beds became available.  The hospital is located in a rapidly developing city of 750,000 people, and an entire ward is closed!  Why?  Because the government would not provide enough funding for extra nurses to staff the closed ward.   Clearly, health care was experiencing certain forms of decline.  I knew it, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel knew it, but it was not newsworthy.  Politicians kept announcing that we had The Best Health Care System in the World.

The first complaints large enough for the media to report started appearing about the year 2000: someone had noticed that thousands of Ontarians could not sign on with a Family Doctor.  No matter what their medical concern, they could only go to an Emergency Ward.  Family Doctors had too many patients. If they took on more patients, an MD risked billing more than the established caps, and the government would not pay. The MD would have to work for nothing if s/he were to accept another patient.  Thus, no health expert was tracking the health of thousands of people, except insofar as Emergency Wards keep records.

Now, after 24 years, most functioning Ontario doctors do not resent socialized medicine enough to speak against it, and a great many promote it.  Dr. Hendricks would not feel very safe here.   “Health Care Accessibility”? —in a pig’s eye!

31 Comments so far ↓

  • Carol

    Anyone who quotes Ayn Rand, the 20th century’s cheerleader for corporate greed and individual selfishness, isn’t likely to view objectively anything organized for the common good.

  • Bill Brown

    What is this common good of which you speak? You mean the one where some are looted to pay for the many? Where no one is allowed to be better off than everyone? Those are neither common nor good.

  • Mike

    THERE’S that Dr. Hendricks quote I was looking for from Myrhaf’s post before. Excellent work sir. You are right on point, and I wish your dad and your family well.

  • Jim May

    Anyone who pays attention to the likes of Carol, who plainly has never been sick in Canada, isn’t likely to view objectively the principles of individual rights.

  • TW

    An excellent blog post. Is it correct what I have heard? That Canada is one of three countries in the world where private health insurance is illegal, the other two being North Korea and Cuba?

  • Jim May

    TW: This is true, however there seems to be some leaks developing in that dam; there was a recent Supreme Court case that struck down that law in Quebec.

    I’ve heard indications that there is an increasing amount of private medical transacting going on “behind the system’s back”, and the authorities are being a bit lax in enforcement.

    It reminds me of the story told to me by a Romanian friend, about how things worked under Ceausescu: her family would wake up before dawn to go into town and trade chickens for food and other goods at the *back* door of a government outlet… while those who later queued up at the front door were told sorry, we’re all out…

  • Grant Jones

    Re: Carol,

    I didn’t know that cartoon characters could type. Sadly, she is representative of the mentality of “humanitarians” with a guillotine who now run the Western world.

  • Embedded I

    Grant: That’s good reference to Robespierre followers, who never read or think enough to know they were obeying the twisted ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

    Jim: yep, they had to legalize walk-in clinics to accommodate the hordes without a family doctor, and are now allowing more and more techniques to be used in those clinics.

    In a conversation with a Vet (so it is second-hand) I learned of another, truly obnoxious, aspect of Ontario health care. Dogs can get MRIs and CAT scans more quickly than many people. Since the machines are rarely used after hours, certain Veterinarian groups have obtained permission to pay for, and use, these facilities. The hospital and technicians are paid, of course. When the daytime crew arrives everything is sterile and clean for the soon to arrive human queue. The dog queue is much shorter. How much this occurs I cannot say.

    Those who value their pet sufficiently are free to pay for diagnostic techniques for which we plebeians are not allowed to pay. Queue jumping is not allowed unless one is of the patrician class or is clearly in greater need. Patricians include family members of well liked hospital staff, doctors or famous and political figures.

    [BTW: My father was finally given a full CAT scan. I am afraid he has a cracked pelvic bone as well. His legs cannot be weight bearing for 4 to 6 weeks. Even with his elbow in a cast, he would have been able to get walking exercise, because there are forearm supporting walkers, but that is a moot issue now. ]

  • Linda Morgan

    Dad’s simple broken elbow was not set for three days & nights

    This is just unspeakable, horrifying! That people — even the doctors! — tolerate — even defend! — such and don’t raise shrieking unholy hell bodes nothing but unthinkably worse for the future.

    Just look at the past.

    My heart goes out to your Dad, along with best wishes for his recovery.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Richard

    My Dear Linda,

    Thank-you. Your wording/diction shows you understand how awful it is. My mum is astonishingly stoic, much more than me (am I not masculine enough, or do I just value deeply?), but I know she suffers. At 86, sleeping only two or three hours a night must be killing her (if not literally so).

    You know, I know longer think of my parents as “old people” I think of them as the vibrant beings they were, even before I was conceived. Even as I see my Dad struggle with a walker, I do not think of him as the man before me, but as the man who threw bales of hay onto a trailer, for hours and hours, on a hot afternoon. I ran from the house to my Dad, with pitcher after pitcher of ice water or iced lemonade. He worked so hard and so well.

    Now, after all those years, a broken elbow? ….You can wait, you are just an old man.

    Welcome to socialized medicine.

  • Greg Paulhus

    Your opinion about ‘socialized medicine’ simply isn’t based on facts. Your dad’s experience is hardly routine. Canada spends less money and has better outcomes than the US re: healthcare. A single payer government-run system is by far the most efficient way to deliver healthcare. That’s just a fact. You can not like it, but it doesn’t change the truth. No system is perfect, but single payer is clearly the way to go.

    Sounds like you live in Ontario. Well, you’ve got an expansion of private healthcare in that province which actually puts more load on the public system. There’s lots of data showing privately delivered healthcare is less efficient, costs more, etc. So it’s the expansion of private healthcare that is the root cause of your dad’s poor experience.

    Here in Saskatchewan there’s much more of a co-op approach, and it’s fantastic. I don’t wait at all to see my doctor. My dad, who is 75, has seen a bunch of specialists, had injuries treated promptly. I actually don’t know anyone with a serious complaint about healthcare here.

    But I have heard stories like yours from people in Ontario and Alberta, the two provinces that have a good deal of PRIVATE healthcare. Think about that for a while.

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  • Greg Paulhus

    My uncle just had an experience which relates. On a Tuesday morning recently he fell off the back of his farm truck and broke his leg (near the hip). He is 69 years old. The accident happened 25 miles from a small rural town. He was in the small rural hospital being treated within two hours, after an ambulance came and got him (50 mile round trip). The next day (Wednesday) he was taken by ambulance to the nearest city with appropriate facilities to repair his broken leg, a 120 mile trip. A doctor and specialist consulted on the best course of treatment and he was operated on late Thursday, they put screws in the leg to set it. He was up and around by Saturday doing some physiotherapy, and came back home Sunday. And what did all this cost my uncle? Zero. In my life experience this is what is routine in Canada’s healthcare system.

    Also, I have to correct an error many of you posting here have been repeating. Canada’s system is not socialized medicine. Healthcare is privately delivered by doctors and hospitals in Canada (and overseen by private boards), but instead of me paying the doctor/hospital personally or my insurance company paying, it’s the government that pays.

    All you’re really arguing about is who pays. Your care in the US is privately delivered and so is my care here in Canada. So we both have privately delivered healthcare. You just pay more for yours because insurance companies want more profits and you have no power to stop them. Which is strange because I thought you folks were all about individual rights and power. Why are you letting insurance companies control your healthcare?

  • Greg Paulhus

    Just FYI, I used miles for your benefit, since the US doesn’t use the metric system yet. What’s up with that anyway? As far as I know there are only three countries on the planet not using the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the US.

    I’d be interested whether objectivists are for or against more accurate measurements.

  • Bill Brown

    There is no Objectivist position on what units to use when measuring things, only that units serve an epistemological purpose and must follow some general principles in order to be useful: consistent definition (e.g., saying that a ton is 10.5 Bill Browns wouldn’t work because my weight fluctuates) and small enough to be useful (e.g., saying that my commute is 1.07577909 × 10<sup-7 AU is meaningless). There is no difference in accuracy inherent in either system: some things are more convenient in metric because they don’t require fractions but that’s really not a problem of accuracy, only representation.

    I can only speak for myself but I don’t care a whit that everyone else uses the metric system. The only time that it has any particular importance is in trade with countries that use the metric system; within the United States, a change to metric would be completely arbitrary and very counter-productive. It might raise our estimate in European and Canadian eyes, such as yourself, but again why would we care about that?

  • Greg Paulhus

    There is no difference in accuracy inherent in either system

    Actually Bill, you’re wrong. Or I should say you’re theoretically right but wrong when it comes to practical application. And as an objectivist you should be concerned with describing reality.

    Metric is more accurate when you’re dealing with science, technology, medical research, engineering, etc. Using the English system can easily introduce errors when converting units, sharing information, collaborating on research, and so on. You say it only matters in trade with other countries, but you have overlooked the collaboration of researchers, scientists, academics, and more. Metric is the common language in those cases. There are quantities and measurements that the English system simply doesn’t cover. Surely you’re aware of that.

    Just the time/productivity savings on converting between units should be more than enough to justify the switch to metric in the US.

  • Bill Brown

    I am concerned with reality. Most Americans are not scientists or collaborating internationally outside of trade so I didn’t mention it because it has *nothing* to do with converting our entire country over to the metric system. Unit conversion is an important issue in research, which is why metric has taken hold there even among American researchers. But it could have been standardized on the English system instead of metric: there is nothing inherently inferior about our system of measurement.

    There are quantities and measurements that the English system simply doesn’t cover. Surely you’re aware of that.

    I wasn’t aware of that and don’t call me Shirley. I cannot even conceive of something that isn’t measurable by our system—inconvenient and unwieldy, sure but non-measurable?

    Just the time/productivity savings on converting between units should be more than enough to justify the switch to metric in the US.

    I can tell you that the amount of time I spend in a year converting to or from metric possibly totals 5 minutes. It’s mostly done in my head as a rough estimation and only occasionally using Google to get something more precise. Or are you talking about the time and productivity savings that the rest of the world would enjoy? If so, I’m not interested in destabilizing our $14 trillion economy so the rest of you won’t have to waste your precious time doing unit conversions.

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  • Greg Paulhus

    I wasn’t aware of that and don’t call me Shirley. I cannot even conceive of something that isn’t measurable by our system—inconvenient and unwieldy, sure but non-measurable?

    Let’s try measuring anything at the atomic or sub atomic level. Or how about gamma rays? How about the wavelength of light? Shall I continue? There are a number of modern measurements that the English system simply can’t deal with. Surely you don’t think science has stood still for the English system and not discovered anything that can’t be measured by it? 🙂

  • Embedded I

    I can say, having been involved in research biology for a substantial portion of my life, that the Metric system offers considerable advantages in what Bill Brown will recognize as Unit Economy.

    The Metric system is based (with some shocking exceptions) on the decimal system. That basis does some very handy things… one that comes to mind with respect to water 1 cc = 1 ml = 1 gm. Try doing that with cubic inches, teaspoons and ounces!

    Whilst Bill is 100% correct about the equivalencies between the systems, each being perfectly accurate and precise, the epistemological benefits of the Metric System adds a certain important mental convenience.

    The real problem is the switch over from non-Metric conventions to Metric. Here in Canada, no one buys the metric equivalent of an 8′ 2″ x 4″, (rough cut) and nor do they place those 2×4 studs at 40.64 cm ‘centers’s always at 16″ centers. Would 50 cm centers be sufficient? Perhaps, with 5 x 10 cm x 250 cm studs. But imagine the retooling that would require in the lumber industry? It would be ridiculous.

    The same epistemological value of the metric system applies, across the board, but economically there are places where it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. 🙂

  • Bill Brown

    Light wavelength can be expressed as 1.49606299 × 10-5 inches or 380 nm. So it is possible to measure such things, but it’s unwieldy to be sure (I said as much in my previous comment that you quoted). But had the metric system not been adopted by science and the English system prevailed, people who need to deal in such things would create a new unit to express themselves precisely and conveniently.

    For example, you don’t hear anyone talking about interstellar distances in petameters even though that is possible. Instead, the use a much handier unit like a light-year (or a parsec for greater distances). But you could express the distances in any of those forms because in the end they’re all measuring the same reality. Measurement is an epistemological issue more than a metaphysical one.

    By and large, people don’t deal with such edge cases of measurement. They deal in human scale quantities and there is no justification for arbitrarily up-ending their unit world just because the metric system offers some rationalistic advantages. Every time it has been tried in the US, it has been at the behest of the statist/planner mentalities and overwhelmingly rejected by the citizenry.

  • Embedded I

    Hi Bill, in the contexts you describe I completely agree.

    My only concern is that a parsec poses the same, over the long term, epistemological hassles. When one needs to convert to a different scale, the *base* of the former, is ‘odd’ (non-decimal) with respect to the latter. Thus each odd base must be memorized and applied… think of switching between Fahrenheit and Celsius (Fahrenheit being -17.222222 Celsius)? If no conversions were necessary, there are still (potential) confusions in the non-metric systems, for example:
    1 tsp = 0.00006 cubic yards, &tc.

    Perhaps that is not your point, but I suggest it is of epistemological importance (for the sake of simplicity), regardless of whether it is the point Pauhus is pursuing.

    Perhaps petameters makes no sense to us in the early years of this millennium, but in due course (100’s or more years) would Mankind not find it more computationally convenient to reduce (again for the sake of Unit Economy) parsecs to a standard that readily scales to every decimal base, so that it is consistent from Yoltas to Yoctos?

  • Bill Brown

    At the boundaries you’re discussing, it’s likely useful to standardize on a decimal base and for the most part science has settled on the metric system for precisely the reason you and I have suggested. However, I’ve honestly given the subject no thought and philosophy of science is not an interest of mine.

  • Embedded I

    Absolutely, Bill. No more need be said?

  • Greg Paulhus

    Here in Canada, no one buys the metric equivalent of an 8′ 2″ x 4″, (rough cut) and nor do they place those 2×4 studs at 40.64 cm ‘centers’s always at 16″ centers.

    I can tell you from doing a fair amount of building projects that the current state of measuring lumber is quite annoying. 2x4s aren’t two inches by 4 inches for example, and measurements in carpentry are generally imprecise. Anyone who’s done work like this will know you end up with things that are a 16th of an inch off, or you’re measuring something as X amount ‘and a smidge’. There’s a lot of small errors in the building industry when you deal in inches and feet (take a real close look around your house and you’ll see what I mean). It’s an imperfect system, it would be a lot easier and more accurate to measure in cm, mm, etc, but I agree it’s unlikely to change. And generally for the building industry, that’s probably fine, because it’s a fault tolerant system for the most part. It doesn’t really matter if you have some gaps, if a wall is slightly off square, if you have to use shims. But that’s my whole point, it’s a system with limitations and weaknesses, and shouldn’t we strive to embrace systems which work better?

  • Embedded I

    Paulhus answered his own question about non-metric systems right before he asked it.

    Q: “shouldn’t we strive to embrace systems which work better?”

    A: “it’s a fault tolerant system ”

    Even with a metric system, fault tolerance will be needed, and instead of being ‘out’ by 1/16″, measurements will be ‘out’ by “1/2 mm”. Similarly, metal machining precision focuses on so many thousands of an inch, metric would only change the units. The choice of units for house building & metal machining is not accuracy, it is precision; the distinction is nicely demonstrated by this diagram:

    One does not need greater precision if one is satisfied with the degree of accuracy for the application. In fact, greater precision is a cost to be avoided. Greater precision is a Platonic ideal that has no bearing on the real world. I used to explain to my students that there is no point in Ford putting a brilliantly machined, engine capable of lasting 10 million miles, into a Ford Focus. Such an engine might cost a million dollars, and would certainly be marvelous, but it would immediately wipes out the practical value of the Ford Focus.

    The most significant benefit of metric is epistemological, which is a great value in many contexts, but not all.

    Why are we talking about measurement, in comments to a post on socialized medicine??

  • Greg Paulhus

    Why are we talking about measurement, in comments to a post on socialized medicine??

    Because I am Spartacus 🙂

  • Tom

    Actually, the fact that the metric system has all of those useful prefixes based on factors of 10 is only the secondary reason for choosing it.

    The main reason for using the metric system over the old English system is repeatability. How long is 1 inch? How do you measure 1 degree Fahrenheit? Are you sure? Calibration with the old English system is a mess. Off-hand, does anyone know the English unit of mass? The English system units were made up in medieval time and calibrated based on the body parts of royalty. You know the whole relationship between inches, feet, and yards is only now said to be exact whereas they were actually made up separately from equally ridiculous and unrepeatable calibrations(a dead guys foot, arm, or finger).

    The metric system however is beautiful. 1 meter can be calibrated because 1 cubic meter of water has 1000kg of mass. Also, 1 liter of water weighs almost exactly 1kg. It takes 1 Joule to heat 1 gram of air up 1 degree Celsius. This is all at standard temperature and pressure.

    I am an engineering student in the US. Working with English units is virtually never done in class except on occasion to keep us familiar with them. This is because English units are absolute hell when you’re constantly converting between units and dealing with massive and nanoscopic orders of magnitude. You will not find an engineer, aside from maybe some very old and stubborn coot, who prefers English units.

  • Embedded I

    I agree. In fact, I drew the same conclusion about the metric system back in the 1970’s; which was before Pierre Elliot Trudeau imposed the metric system on Canadians.

    Bill Brown wrote, “There is no Objectivist position on what units to use when measuring things, only that units serve an epistemological purpose and must follow some general principles in order to be useful. . .

    His view is also correct, technically. Still, your description of the origin of British measurement standards reflects its more arbitrary roots and computational nuisances.

    The decimal nature of the Metric system often gives us inter-relatable values, e.g. a gram of water (its mass) is one cubic centimeter (its volume). It also scales from yoctometer to yoltameter (10^-24 to 10^24).

    However, attempts to identify a real world standard for some SI units may be worse, for the average person, than the British system. E.g. Wikipedia explains that since 1983 a meter is defined as the distance traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299,792,458 of a second. (It has to be a short time interval to avoid the influence of Relativity.)

    Isn’t that handy!

    Whilst that is a very convenient relationship, there are oddities in the metric, or SI system, as the link reveals.

    Perhaps in a few more decades the Metric system will be applied to galactic and inter-galactic measurement. I think it plain that a “parsec” is a ridiculous unit, akin to the “inch” being standardized as the width of King Henry the VIIIths thumb.

    I agree with Bill Brown, that if a standard exists then a measurement of any size can be as accurate, or as precise, as is needed for any particular purpose.

    However, when standards simplify are chosen that enable the interchangeability between basic units (1gm=1cc), much of our understanding of the World is simplified.

    I do not want to know that the Earth’s circumference is 300,000 “cat leaps”, no matter how standardized those leaps may be. By thev same logic, I do not want my wealth to be measured in government-printed paper. I want an unalterable standard, such as gold.