This editorial might have been my obituary. A couple weeks ago, I nearly died from what two doctors said was the worst case of tonsillitis they’d ever seen.
My throat was nearly closed. I couldn’t even swallow spit. My saliva, as a matter of fact, was keeping me awake. Anytime I tried to sleep I would awake to the sensation of drowning as the saliva blocked my constricted breathing passage.
I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker. My life was literally slipping away with each breath. It’s hard to explain how helpless I felt. Because of the lack of sleep I couldn’t think straight. The lack of food and water further sapped my strength. It was too painful to force more than a couple mouthfuls down my throat. Water would send me into choking fits.
Finally, I could do no more. I wanted to see a doctor, but because my Quebec health insurance card had expired, I felt I would be refused.
Naturally, I turned to the one place I was sure would help me, the Cree Health Board. First, I tried to see someone I knew, Solomon Awashish. Talking was very difficult because of my constricted air passage, so I sounded mentally deficient. But Solomon had stepped out. I explained to the secretary that I needed someone who could guide me through the bureaucracy of getting a new card and access to medical care. She pointed me to the CHB’s Montreal Patient Services section.
There, however, a nurse informed me that there was nothing they could, or would, do to help. It is Health Board policy, he explained, not to help any Cree beneficiary who is not at that moment residing in the communities, even if I was a Cree beneficiary.
I nearly gave up at this point. I hadn’t slept, I hadn’t eaten and I was dehydrated. But I gave it one last shot and phoned the Régie de l’assurance maladie. Even over the phone the person could hear how badly I was doing. They have a policy of not giving out temporary numbers, but the person told me to collect my receipts and they would be reimbursed. This would be noted in my file and new documents would be sent to my home to ensure I got a new card.
I then went to a doctor, who sent me straight to the hospital. He said my condition could be fatal if left unchecked.
Worried about the cost, I phoned my mother to see if I could use her credit card to pay for the hospital stay. The answer was yes and I don’t know why I expected it to be otherwise, but I felt alone and isolated at the time and the Health Board only reinforced that.
At the Jean-Talon Hospital I was rushed through admitting. I explained my card had expired and was told not to worry about it. “Just bring in the new card when you get it and we’ll use it then,” I was told. I nearly cried in relief. Here were people in the business of saving lives rather than blindly following policy.
Everyone was so helpful and professional. I was moved a few times during the night, each time closer to the observation room so they could keep an eye on me.
I would like to thank everyone at the Jean-Talon Hospital, especially the people at the Observation Clinic.
Throughout this ordeal I learned never to expect what you think you should. I expected help from the Cree Health Board and was given a cold shoulder. I expected no help from non-Native bureaucracies and was welcomed with open arms.
The Cree Health Board does many good things for the Cree people. The Nation supports the board on such initiatives as Wellness Walks, November is Diabetes Month, Sadie’s Walk, helping to find transplants, and so on.
But the residency policy stops some Crees, based on criteria other than need, from accessing our own health system. Part of the pride in having our own system was that it meets the needs of the Crees better than the non-Native system. In my case, I know which system helped me and which one wouldn’t. I feel this policy was almost the death of me.
If it’s a matter of money, then say so. The Cree Health Board should say clearly that it can’t help all Crees with current funding levels. The Cree Health Board must be strong and vibrant and most importantly, there for every Cree.