I Always Knew Quebec Lack of Healthcare Was Slowly Killing Me

(Post 86 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

So as way of background, I was in Quebec for most of my life. The Quebec healthcare system failed me at every turn. I’ve never had a checkup or any sort of history with a doctor. Because of how oversaturated the system is there, most people have to rely on walk-in clinics for their medical needs. That would involve getting in line at 5 or 6AM and sometimes waiting all day to see a doctor, only to be dismissed as a hypochondriac. If I got referred for a blood test, I never knew if results had been received or if the test simply got lost because there was never any follow-up. I tried off and on for years to get tested for hypothyroidism and digestive issues and never got anywhere. The only thing I ever got out of that hot mess of a lack of healthcare system was a breast reduction, and the amount of self-advocating I had to do to finally get referred to a plastic surgeon was shameful (I’m so tired of old male misogynistic doctors who “know better” than women).

I finally left Quebec in 2008. By 2011, I was off the initial high of setting off on my adventures and my symptoms were back — I was mired in a depressive episode, perpetually exhausted, cold-intolerant, and more. I was not doing well at all. Since I was settled in Alberta for the foreseeable future, I got Alberta healthcare and, lo and behold, found a family doctor! But while he did indulge me with a sleep apnea study, like every doctor I’d met in my life in Quebec, I was dismissed as a hypochondriac when it came to my hypothyroid symptoms. I gave up.

A decade passed. The symptoms that led me to that Alberta doctor persisted. I pushed through life, saving my energy for what mattered, letting go of the rest, and became increasingly strict with my diet and exercise routines as I began to struggle to maintain my weight at a healthy level. I reached a breaking point this past month of feeling like utter crap while doing everything “right.” I was also concerned with the fact that I was starting to have disordered thoughts around food and eating. With the house purchase imminent, I knew I needed to improve my stamina for work, but there was so much trauma associated with dealing with doctors that also I knew that if I didn’t go to the right one, that would be it for me. Never, ever again.

So I got a referral from some friends and went to see Dr. E with iron and thyroid level results.

(As a side note, just getting blood work here is like magic. There’s a lab right across the street from me that I go to regularly to check my iron levels as I have problems with anemia. I can leave the house at 7AM, be home by 7:30, and the results are in my inbox by 5PM. Wow.)

Dr. E looked at the test results and said that everything was normal, as they always were when I went to see a doctor in Quebec and Alberta. There, normal test results mean the patient is a hypochondriac.

Here, it means the doctor will dig deeper. What are you experiencing? How is this? How is that? He finally ordered me a whole battery of tests and said that worst-case scenario, everything was going to be normal. Best-case scenario two of the results were going to come back as meaning I had pituitary gland issue that was exhibiting the same symptoms as hypothyroidism. He was so confident in his best-case scenario diagnosis that he prescribed me the necessary medication (levothyroxine, same as for hypothyroidism) and told me to start taking it after the tests were done, even before we had a chance to go over the results together.

The tests were not inexpensive, 2,000 pesos, but easily done. Curious, I checked the results again baseline normal levels and… he was spot on with his best-case scenario result numbers! I did some more research and confirmed that the medication was appropriate for these numbers. So after a quick Whatsapp conversation to confirm the test results and my prescription, I started on levothyroxine.

That was two weeks ago. I was a new person within two days of starting on the levothyroxine — improved focus and stamina, no more muscle aches and weakness, better sleep, less depressive, improved intolerance to cold… And the last two weeks have been absolutely brutal at work. I would never have made it through this workload without getting sick pre-levothyroxine. I can’t wait to see how I will be after I’ve had a few days of rest.

I had another checkup yesterday and I’m going to continue on my dose for the next three months, with careful monitoring. We may then increase or even decrease the dose as needed. He said that some people can come off the meds, but that I should brace myself to be on it for the rest of my life. Brace myself? Are you kidding? If all it takes is a tiny pill first thing in the morning (and then waiting an hour for coffee) to cure all my ills, hurray for modern medicine!

(I’m also on some meds to help with my digestive issues, because Dr. E is a genius who figured out without my saying anything that I needed help in that area!)

I’m trying not to think of the decades that I’ve lost to my issue being untreated. It’s only because I am very hard on myself that I accomplished anything, always pushing through fatigue and depression to get done whatever needed doing. Dr. E says that I’m the first patient he’s seen with my numbers who didn’t come in morbidly obese and with no diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, etc., and he’s shocked that the only lifestyle change recommendation he had to make is that I eat more (!). He said that I’ve done an amazing job of self-medicating positively to compensate for what my body was failing to produce.è

I get that a basic healthcare safety net like you find in Quebec or here in Mexico with Bienestar and IMSS are better than nothing for those who can’t afford better. But such systems are not inherently superior to the U.S. model of having to pay out of pocket or be self-insured. Neither extreme allows for proper care of the patient. The ideal is a hybrid system like Mexico’s where you can mix up being treated by the government safety net system, pay out of pocket for some things, and have private insurance. At this time, I’m paying out of pocket for routine care and I have catastrophic coverage for accidents and major diagnoses. I thought I’d be okay with using Bienestar for routine things, knowing that it could not possibly be any worse than my experience in Quebec, but now that I’ve seen how the other half gets treated, there’s no going back!