If the Present is today's move into the Future,
things don't look good!

FTLComm - Winnipeg - Monday, July 8, 2002
A persistent cold that looked like it was turning into something else sent us looking for a twenty-four hour clinic in Winnipeg last night and when that failed we went to Grace Hospital's emergency room.

Grace is a modern facility just North of Portage Avenue on the West side of the city. It was almost midnight when we went in and there were half a dozen souls awaiting medical attention. It looked like colds and fevers, no bleeding injured folks and one nurse handling people at the desk and a huge security guard.

After an hour, I went out to plug the meter ($2/hour) and as I made my way to the car, I thought the parking lot lights would make an interesting picture. Jumbo, the security guard wanted to know what I was taking pictures of and I told him the parking lot.

In the second hour four of the folks from the waiting room had been taken in for treatment and it looked like two of them had been admitted.

An ambulance arrived with a young woman on a stretcher with her attending spouse, she was motionless but conscious and after spending about ten minutes doing paper work, she was wrapped in a sheet and transferred from the gurney to a wheel chair and brought into the waiting room.

At the end of the second hour we realised that seeking medical attention was bad for the sick person's health, as he would need sleep far more than seeing a doctor and waiting in the mosquito infested waiting room was not doing anything for his condition.

The picture below shows the silent entrance to the admitting and emergency areas of the hospital. Approximately three to four patients arrived each hour and during the two hours we were there, two people appeared to have received some treatment and left. For the others it was merely a waiting process.

I am not a person who can not easily handle the suffering of others and had to restrain myself in the waiting room as I was overwhelmed with the need to start a career of practicing medicine without a license I was able to admire the stoic ability of the desk nurse to interview each individual and not do anything to help them, that must really be hard.

A glass of water, an aspirin or two, a warm blanket, some words of encouragement, or an offer of hope that it would not be long until someone saw them, all would have gone a long way toward making these people, all suffering, feel a little better. But the environment seems almost deliberately constructed to induce utter and total hopelessness, right down to a bank of vending machines that during the two hours stole money from two people. One complained to the big security guard who reported the problem to a supervisor on his radio but did nothing for the fellow who lost the money.

It struck me as ironic that the security guard asked me why I was taking a picture when the area in which we were standing at the time and the waiting room itself, are all monitored with security television cameras.
Above us in the waiting room there were several air conditioning vents, I pointed the camera up at this one and captured the image of the filthy grill on it and wondered if this is what we are to expect of our civilisation?

Science fiction writers and movie makers have all taken a shot many times at wondering about the future and even television series like "Dark Angel" refer to this time as the time when there was some serious problem and since then the world has had to make do with much less.

What kind of world is it that we are heading into?

Over the last few years we have all be treated to the distress of Canada's universal Medicare system crumbling as we hear of insane waiting periods for people needing "elective" surgery and at holidays emergency rooms collapsing and patients turned away. In Saskatchewan a patient died last Christmas due to some confusion over treatment and there is no shortage of these stories, new ones are created all the while. This is not how things were and yet we are being told that this is not only how things will be, but so many "tax cutting, cutback, down sizing experts" advocate privatisation and unworkable systems that we as a society abandoned decades ago.

Canada's universal medical coverage costs a fraction of what medical care costs in the United States where it is a private system that offers no coverage whatever to a huge fraction of the society. If we as a country spent twice as much on medical care as we currently are, we would have a system serving every Canadian and doing so for less money than Americans spend.

My experience last night at Winnipeg's Grace hospital is not one of those horror stories, as I was told this morning that the average wait for a non-life threatening illness at a Winnipeg emergency room is five hours. What mastermind came up with the idea of calling a waiting room designed to delay a person seeking medical care for five hours an "emergency" waiting room?

Let us consider the money that you earn and turn over to the government in taxes, either as income tax, or a tax on goods and services, and then wonder what is done with that money. Certainly some of that money must be spent to keep up those things that we consider part of the country. Our defense system, our harbours, ports and transportation system, a weather service, a communication system, welfare for the needy and Medicare for all. Not a big list, but no where on the urgent list is there anything about money for Quebec businesses, advertising for the government of Canada, or subsidies to private airlines and multinational corporations.

From our essential list of things, we as citizens of a country know that the tax dollars are not being spent. Defense is so severely under funded that we are an international embarrassment, harbours and transportation have been neglected, turned over to poorly funded municipal government and taxes for highways are siphoned off to go to other government schemes. The weather system has been automated and no long produces results as good as a coin toss, the telephone companies raise rates and increase profits and charge the public more and more while our own government broadcasting network continues to shrink. Unemployment insurance is no longer available as its money is used for other things and the regulations all but eliminate all unemployed people, so that people are forced to work in minimum wage service jobs, thus lowering the country's standard of living. But the bottom of the list, medical care has been beaten into the ground as the Federal government concentrates only on the most populated part of the country and reduced its support of medical care from 50% to 15%.

Ultimately, if we allow government to take tax money and give it to large corporations, while cutting taxes to the rich, the hospitals of this country will slowly slip into private operations, universal medical care will be gone and the wealthy will get instant service and the poor will die. Since the fraction of the population who are wealthy continues to shrink and the difference between wealthy and poor increases, the apocalyptic desperation of the science fiction writers is not in the distance future but is almost here.

As I wondered about this I found it hard to understand why this is so. Then I realised that the evil is not the greed of the corporate world, or the stupidity of the politicians, because they are like us, we elected them. The problem is in the religion of political ideas. As long as politicians of what ever stripe continue to rely upon "faith" in unfounded, unscientific political and economic dogma we are simply going to be victims.

Welcome to the future.

Timothy W. Shire