So I get this phone call from my friend Norbert.
"Tony, can you drive me to Regina?" Which is 3 hours away.
An hour earlier he and I were enjoying a lunch at Rawhides in Stenen and I thought he seemed a little off. At the time I just assumed he was bummed out over some sheds he's been trying to get his hands on. Long story. He dropped me off in Preeceville and I got back to work in my studio.
I can tell by the timber in his voice that something very serious is happening. He's calling from the Preeceville Hospital which having suffered so many funding cuts/staff losses... can't handle his problem. They don't have a cardiac unit.
So much for Canada's much ballyhooed Universal Healthcare System.
They dosed him with 3mg of morphine for the pain so he can't drive his Jeep but I can. He's getting sleepy but he's angry. He's fighting the nurses and the doctor who are doing everything they can to convince him to take an ambulance. I tell him I'm on my way. My car is snowed in. I run...before you get excited it's a small town of 5000 give or take so I only had to run 5 blocks.
Several minutes later I'm standing in the hall outside the Emergency room discussing the situation with the only doctor on duty who is struggling to deal with Norbert's stubbornness. I'm not family, I'm just there. They've run tests and the results are conclusive; Norbert is having a heart attack.
The doctor tells me he's dying... that he has to get to Regina. Not even Yorkton has the facilities. By taking the ambulance they can get him on a drip so the moment he gets to Regina he's in motion. Assuming he makes it that far. That, frankly, if I drive him there's a good chance I'm delivery a body. The doctor is shaking. He's a young man.
The nurses are helpless, they give him some blood thinners and beg him to take the ambulance. They look at me with empathetic expressions hoping I can change his mind. I do what I can, say what I can. Norbert answers his phone one after the other as his kids call him and his mother and his sister and so on. He tells each he loves them.
It's clear he's made up his mind. Nurses leave and come back in turns; a few convenient delays hoping he'll change his mind as the minutes tick on. They try desperately to get a ministry to pay for the bill. They offer deals like 20 bucks a month and promises of followup later for reimbursement or grants. None of it makes a difference. I don't think they've ever met someone like Norbert.
His last words to them as we left the building were literally "I'd rather die than pay $3400.00." The principal that he had no choice but to go 3 hours away for heart attack care bothered him that much. Hard to understand and accept the reality of Canada's rose coloured view of itself.
"I've been through this grinder before." He says to me. They make all kinds of promises in the moment, but then find out he owns a couple of rental properties in small towns; and some collectible cars he's spent his whole life gathering. Then they want his cars to pay the bill.
"I'd rather have my kids get it than sell it to pay for a fucking ambulance!"
The doctor works the phone talking to the cardiac unit in Regina; the nurses draw together all the paperwork. They walk in with the release forms. One that says the Hospital is not legally liable for his death and the second that says do not resuscitate.
I say that if he crashes on the way that I'm gonna have to do CPR or something and they tell me that I can't do anything. His problem is so severe that CPR will do nothing and all I can do is watch him die as I get to the nearest hospital. These are the options without an ambulance because they don't have a cardiac unit.
A couple years ago in June 2015 a Preeceville area man died because he had a heart attack and the staff shortages had resulted in the ER being closed. After what I've seen tonight...now I wonder what could they have done for him anyway.
Norbert signs the papers and hands me his keys. I smile at the silver skull on his key chain. As we walk down the hall the senior nurse looks at me with such sadness. I nod that I understand. It is what it is. Nothing can change it now.