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The ‘Ol Knee and Ontario Health Care

(Warning: This post is not necessarily related to snowboarding, and in fact may be slightly political in nature. I apologize in advance.)

As I have mentioned several times in the past couple of weeks, I recently screwed up my knee. I did it playing basketball. The summary of the problem: every time I moved to the left quickly on my left foot, my knee would buckle and I would fall over. This happened several times before I went to Whistler. Each time it hurt, but I was able to get up and carry on with whatever I was doing. To make a long story short,  I saw my doctor. He told me to chill, relax, build up the knee and avoid strenuous activity for a couple of weeks. I complied, but went right back to sports after the minimum time had passed (two weeks). Of course, the first thing I did upon returning was re-injure the knee. But this time it swelled up and I couldn’t walk.

Once an orthopedic surgeon saw my knee, he said, “There’s too much swelling to figure out what’s wrong. You have two options. I can drain it know, or we can wait a week to see if it doesn’t clear up. If it doesn’t… (*makes draining motion with pretend needle*)”

Of course, I opted to see if it would clear up. It didn’t. I iced the goddamn thing all the time and it was still swollen like a watermelon when I went back to the hospital Wednesday. And I knew what that meant: draining.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the needle they drained my knee with was goddamn huge, and was filled entirely with blood. Even the orhopedic surgeon was surprised. At that point, he was 100% sure I had torn my ACL, and that I would need an arthroscopy. But once he drained the knee he was able to examine it, and was surprised at what good shape it was in.

So that’s good news: it’s likely not related to my ACL.

But now things get interesting: no-one can tell me what’s wrong, exactly. And why is that? Because I need an MRI.

Well, that’s not a problem, you think. Get an MRI. Here’s the problem: the waiting times for an MRI are insane. At North York General (the hospital where I have been going) the waiting time is 55 days.

55 days? I have to wait 55 days to find out what’s wrong? So then someone can figure out whether I need physio, arthroscopic knee surgery or otherwise?

I have to say, this is the first time I’ve really needed to rely on Ontario’s health care system for something beyond a trip to the doctor in quite some time, and a 55 day wait is a joke. And really, I’m just a jackass that screwed up his knee playing recreational basketball. There are people waiting for treatment/procedures related to things much more serious: for cancer, bypass surgery and more.

And for better or worse, I still don’t have an appointment. This is because it’s taken two weeks for my file to get sent to the MRI clinic, reviewed, and then presumably put on some sort of schedule. I was told they’ll call me back next Wednesday with an appointment. Maybe the appointment will be for next week. But given the wait times and the stories I’ve heard, I doubt it.

It’s really, really tempting to go to Buffalo, Montreal or somewhere else to get an MRI sooner, so I can get on the road to recovery sooner. Is recouping my summer worth shelling out $500 to $1000? (Though I must say, now being able to walk in the meantime is a big plus.)                                           

Finally, do you know what else pisses me off? That there’s not a human around in the process to get pissed off at. The emergency staff at North York General, the administrative people at the hospital’s fracture clinic, the x-ray technicians and the orthopedic surgeon who was juggling me and three other patients with a staff of himself and two nurses: they were amazing. Friendly, knowledgeable folks who seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs despite the fact that the place was packed, they were extremely busy, and jerks in the waiting area were getting pissed off at them for having to wait longer than expected. Do you think it was their fault? They were busting their butts while some folks upstairs unveiled a new logo using money that could have been spent on, oh, I don’t know.. more doctors? Nurses? A larger fracture clinic? Or maybe even put the money toward another MRI machine!

It all drives one to want and volunteer and help out in one way or another.

As I was getting my knee drained, I asked one of the nurses how he dealt with the constant chaos. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon.”

It’s been an eye-opening experience so far.


  1. Damn dude. I thought Canadian Healthcare was free and the best thing since sliced bread. 55 Days to get an MRI? Hope you don’t need a lung transplant or something.
    Needless to say, get well man. But damn. WTF is up with Canadian Healthcare to make you wait 55 days? I am throwing a trackback to this.

    Posted by Anonymous | March 26, 2006, 2:04 am
  2. Thanks. πŸ™‚ To tell you the truth, I was as shocked as you. Healthcare is a really touchy topic up here, and to be honest, I get the impression most everyone gets any immediate care they need; but a guy with a bad knee in a big city that needs an MRI is pretty much screwed. So now it looks like my summer may be shot, just waiting around to find out what’s wrong: no basketball, baseball, ultimate frisbee. But I should be good to go for next winter. πŸ™‚

    Posted by Anonymous | March 26, 2006, 1:52 pm
  3. I work in Germany as a paramedic, and it’s the same way here. Its nice that they have a socialist social-security net, but anyone who is not privately insured ends up on a wait list. Privately insured patients are always taken first, even though it’s not technically legal.
    On top of that, the hospital staff is always underpaid and over worked. A Doctor fresh out of med-school earns only a few hundred more a month than a nurse.
    The only way to get speedy medical service as a socially insured patiet for MRIs, CAT-scans, etc. is to be brought in as an emergency patient by the paramedics.

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 8:28 am
  4. I truely beleive that the lack of funding to healthcare is the cause for the doctors/nurses shortage and the long wait times (I’ve been searching for a family doctor for years since moving to Toronto).. and this lack of funding is a direct result of the people we continue to put into power in canada (yes, now it really is political).
    If we continue to elect politician with conservative views of a social safety network, we will continue to move towards a two tiered system. The politicians (mainly conservative and liberal) try to promote that the only way to ‘fix’ the wait times and shortages is to provide canadian citizens with access to private healthcare. But I believe that better funding, lower tuition cost for med school, more med school openings and so on, would all address this issue and bring back the public health network to something sustainable and reliable, FOR EVERYONE.
    But what the hell do I know?!
    Either way, I wish you the best.

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 10:06 am
  5. The concept of two-tiered healtchare kind of freaks me out. It’s sad that healthcare has reached a point where some people are fighting for viable alternatives.
    I bet lower fees would help. I also bet spending existing funds more wisely would help. Can anyone tell me why my hospital needs a new logo??

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 12:06 pm
  6. …Or why, as of last year, we now pay a healthcare tax and yet they have taken away coverage of eye exams and physio and several other treatments and surgeries.
    One answer my friend… and as an NDP supporter I fully believe it… it’s the conservative and liberal (which is just a slightly politer version of the conservatives) governments in power… as long as they control the power and the money, we will continue to pay more for less access to services but more fancy shmancy signs!

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 1:42 pm
  7. I don’t get it.
    I live in downtown T.O., and recently I needed an MRI to verify a potentially torn cartilage in my left knee. I saw my family doctor, and she filled out the forms to request an MRI. I only had to wait 2 weeks to get an appointment with the MRI machine!
    So, results vary! Maybe it depends which hospital you get the scan done at (mine was at Princess Margaret).

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 3:08 pm
  8. Hey JB,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I’ve noticed the times vary greatly. Check out the “Wait Times In Your Area” lookup tool:
    It seems like places downtown like Mount Sinai actually have shorter times than where I will have to go (North York General). I wonder what’s involved in trying to get it switched? Maybe I should talk to my doctor.. right now I’m dealing with North York General’s fracture clinic.
    Also, did you join a waiting/cancellation list? I’d be interested i nknowing.

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 7:18 pm
  9. Couple of other things: it’s taken them two weeks to give me a date. Also, when I *do* get that date (they will tell me Wednesday), it could be for, like, the next day I guess.. if that’s the case I’ll have to post a big-assed apology. But somehow I don’t think that’s going to be the case.. πŸ™‚

    Posted by Anonymous | March 27, 2006, 7:22 pm
  10. No, I wasn’t on a waiting list. I was really surprised at how fast I got in because I had heard that waiting times were bad for MRI’s.
    Funny thing is: my MRI showed a small tear in the carilage, but about a week later the knee started feeling better, and now it’s fine! Go figure …
    Good luck with the knee,

    Posted by Anonymous | March 28, 2006, 11:12 am
  11. If that’s the case with me, all above commenters are gonna get drunk with me on my tab!

    Posted by Anonymous | March 28, 2006, 11:27 am
  12. any way you look at it, government controlled healthcare is going to be a pain the butt. i’m from the U.S., and am a forensic nursing/criminal psych major, and i’ll tell you right now the most trouble we have with healthcare providers is when it’s government regulated, like social security and medicare. while free healthcare for everyone sounds great, it never really works out the way it’s supposed to, like the paramedic from germany said. my cousin’s grandparents live in germany, and several years ago when Opa had some health problems, he got put on a waiting list for several months and by the time he even got in for a preliminary examination with the doctor he had gangrene in his feet and ended up losing some toes and was stuck in a wheelchair for the last few years of his life. and even in the U.S., it’s worth paying for the ambulance if you need immediate care because of the healthcare professional shortage- and even though salaries are pretty good (i’m looking at a couple hundred thousand a year after grad school- thank god i can pay off my loans) the malpractice insurance is through the roof and the insurance companies are insane. some government regulation is necessary, but it shouldn’t be federal- each state (or province in your case) would be better off going on individual cases and determining what regulation is needed so people don’t have to wait for necessary treatment- like my 3-year old brother who had to waith six months for treatment because he had Lyme’s disease, which isn’t a “politically correct” disease because most general physicians (and neurologists) don’t understand one hell of alot how to treat it, and insurance companies don’t want to pay for something they don’t understand, even though it’s at epidemic proportions in my area and a six-week old baby has seizures for over half a year for “unexplained reasons.” but enough with the horror stories, good luck with your knee, hopefully it was just a pinched blood vessel that ruptured and caused it to swell like that and the actual damage isn’t too bad.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 4, 2006, 9:12 am
  13. So this is my story…. I went skiing in Feb and busted my knee. I couldn’t walk for about 1 week. Apparently I broke my ACL and type 2 tare on my MCL my leg kept giving out to. I went to physico for 2.5 months 3x / week and was doing well. my GP sent me back to work when I still didn’t think I was ready beacuse I was still in pain in the morning. so here I am working at a coffee shop 40 hours / week and my leg gives out constintly at the worst times. I am expected to stand all day. So I said I can’t deal with this anymore and called my doctor. I was told in Nova Scotia to even hear back when the MRI will be takes 3 months and they usually take 6 months from that time so that is 9 MONTHS!!!!!! and my legs HURTS I am only 23 years old and I have to literally pull myself up to the 4th floor every day. One thigh is 2 inches smaller than the other one. I can’t swim, I can’t run, jog, walk up/down hills/stairs. and I’ve been told I have broken cartlege in my knee (miniskis(bad spelling)) so what to do. It is about 9-12 months for the surgery and they don’t even have the MRI. It is summer time i’m going to get fat now because stupid easy shit is so friggen hard to do. I want to move!!!! where are the shortest times to wait in Canada someone help me I hate this place!

    Posted by Anonymous | June 28, 2006, 9:51 pm
  14. Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. Your best bet, I think, is to find a private MRI clinic.. though that is expensive. (I know they exist in Quebec but I don’t know where else in the Maritimes.)
    Amazingly, apparently Ontario and Manitoba lead the way for shortest wait times. Check out this link:
    Good luck,

    Posted by Anonymous | June 29, 2006, 6:59 am
  15. Wow, maybe you guys just need to improve your research skills. The College of Physicians and Surgeons can give you the name of family doctors accepting patients in your area. Also, I work in healthcare, Orthopedic Rehab actually, and I’ve never heard of the wait times you described. We have people coming in every week, and I’ve never seen anyone wait as long as you. Maybe you were unlucky?

    Posted by Anonymous | May 4, 2007, 4:35 pm
  16. Hey Starbuck21, try reading the Romanow report to get an understanding of the pros and cons of government funded healthcare. Aren’t medical bills the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US?
    To the rest of you – Grow up. Maybe someone would give a damn if you all didn’t come off as pouty teenagers.

    Posted by Anonymous | May 4, 2007, 4:39 pm
  17. Hey, I had to wait *no time* for ortho rehab. That started right away. The waits were a) for an MRI (and you can check the Ont. gov’t website and it’ll tell you most Toronto hospitals have quite a wait) and b) for the surgery itself (I was looking at six months.. others I’ve met were waiting the same.. I ended up delaying mine PAST six months in order to time it properly between snowboarding seasons).

    Posted by Anonymous | May 6, 2007, 9:44 pm
  18. Health care is an emotional subject that brings out some of the worst economic thinking. In some sense we’ve always been in a health care crisis and we always will be in a health care crisis. The nature of health care, because it’s always changing and it’s getting better all the time, means that we can never completely resolve the problems that we’re facing today and that we never have resolved them in the past.
    Cash Advance, Turn your future sales into immediate business cash!

    Posted by Anonymous | June 21, 2007, 1:17 pm
  19. […] getting a knee drained – been there, done that. […]

    Posted by Highly Obsessed: The Snowboarding & Cycling Blog | November 11, 2007, 12:07 pm