The True Price of Free Health Care

herb-capsules-in-a-glass-bowl-fotolia_351543112I live in Canada, which is reputed to have an amazing and free system for health care. Although its health care system is certainly much better than it is for poor folks in some parts of the world, many aspects are far from excellent.

My most recent experience of this was when I was suddenly inflicted with severe pain. I was unable to sit to use a toilet, climb a single step, and so on. Any effort was agony. At the emergency room, my lower reflexes were tested and then I was sent on my way, alone, with a single dose of painkillers.

Services such as acupuncture and physiotherapy are said to have good results for this type of pain. The province of British Columbia claims to cover up to ten such appointments per year for folks with low income. In fact, BC will reimburse only $23 per session, while the sessions cost $70-$150 each and the pain demands one at least every two days. Only so long as I was able to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket per week, could I reduce the pain through this avenue. Happily, as a result of the strategies I share in my book, I was indeed able to pay for treatment, resolving the last of the symptoms within a month.

Just as in the United States, many people in Canada pay health insurance premiums not only for the “free” medical care, but also for extended coverage, or else they go without any.

Yes, we can see a general physician without charge, but in many regions of BC, no doctor is accepting new patients into their caseload, which is the equivalent for us of doctors not existing at all. Likewise, we will not have to pay for a visit to emergency, but we may well stand in agony for up to three hours waiting to be seen, then dismissed without any assessment, scan, diagnosis, or treatment plan.

For pain, medical marijuana has been making headlines, but this is again largely inaccessible to most people. Dense nutrition and/or the infusion of vitamins and minerals have resolved symptoms of mental illness in many, yet neither of these paths are covered under any program I know of.

What are the options, then, for the person with low-income who is suffering?

Many of us will rely on over-the-counter or prescription medications, as needed, to cope with symptoms. We will live with the side-effects: overexertion as a result of the pain being merely numbed, an imbalance in the gut flora (leading to a host of other issues), foggy thinking, impaired driving, or isolation. There is an irony in this: In having low-income, we are pressed into using cheap options, which in turn cause issues that lead to having low-income!

If I were a Hollywood starlet with endless financial resources, I would go the natural route for pain relief. A hyperclean diet, a tub for thrice daily therapeutic baths, 4-7 sessions of physio and massage per week, individualized prescriptions for Chinese herbs, and a personal driver would all be part of my pain-recovery repertoire. Heck, I would throw in a personal chef and Pilates coach, too! For those of us who are not a Hollywood starlet, what path do we take?

Personally, I believe the answer is “balance”. While I truly believe that most physical issues can be resolved through natural means, and that natural means are generally preferable, I know this isn’t an option for everyone. When we’re relatively poor, or even only relatively wealthy, we need to make some tough decisions in the health care of ourselves and our children.

For us, I recommend approaching health care in this order:

1. Physical peace. Living with an abusive partner, noisy neighbours, cruel family members, invasive landlord, and so on can result in a downward spiral in physical and mental health. Conversely,  one can experience incredible gains in health when apart from such factors. I know distance is, unfortunately, much easier said than achieved. Physical moves cost money, separation even from an abusive loved one can trigger profound anxiety, and we may depend on people who are rude to us to provide child care so we can go to work. I talk more about this in my book, but for now, finding even 15 minutes of physical peace per day —a walk through a safe park, an interval of silence in an unused stairwell, walking to work vs using crowded transit— can bring great gains to one’s health. When you are ready, you might subsequently relocate to a transition house, a home in the country, or into a suite with your best friend as you prepare yourself for even better options.

2. High quality diet. Personally, I’m most excited about the effects of paleo, primal, GAPS, and so on (these are all very similar to each other). If I were a committed vegan, though, I would specifically seek to follow a program in which starches have a tiny presence and leafy greens have the strongest one. In any case, I would commit to the cleanest diet I could afford long term. A quality diet will cost more than a mainstream one, but if at all a financial option, the effects will be worth it.

3. Therapeutic baths. Many low-cost suites are absent a tub, but if you have one, make use of it for physical healing and psychological respite.

4. Trauma therapy. I recommend we all resolve the effects of the trauma that most humans, including almost all of us with low income, have experienced. In my book, I present ideas for accessing quality therapy on a low-income.

5. Meditation. Yay, it’s free! Simply spend up to 15 minutes, once or twice per day, resting your mind. Books and the internet offer countless methods, some of which will resonate for you more than others.

6. Fitness. Basic, yet precise, movements to strengthen the core and then other muscles. (One friend found infinitely better results relying on a book vs videos to show every step.) Walking. Tai chi. Low-impact cardio. Activities you find fun, such as hiking or ice skating.

I have found all of the above wonderful for recovering from chronic conditions and maintaining my health.

In responding to sudden, acute issues, though, we’ll be making decisions on very short notice. This can be tricky. When I was living in Central America for some months, I became very ill. I had terrible diarrhea and profuse vomiting. I became very skinny very fast, as well as incredibly weak. I finally decided to spend some of the very little money I had to see a doctor. On my way, a neighbour asked me to tell him precisely what was wrong. When I told him, he urged me to simply take Pepto Bismol. I did, and my symptoms immediately resolved!

Always keen on natural approaches, this was eye-opening to me. Sometimes, those “big pharma” medicines resolve symptoms with fewer side effects than natural ones do. I didn’t starting downing pink liquids on a daily basis, but I did allow this experience to inform my perspective. I still see natural approaches as preferable but, especially for those of us needing to consider finances, I have appreciation and room for conventional ones, too.

In last summer’s first ever bout of pain, I spent hundreds of dollars on a combination of physiotherapy and acupuncture. My body returned to severe pain after just two days without. The cost of preferable health care in Canada was, for me, not sustainable. I resumed use of a cheap over-the-counter painkiller as needed. (I’m lucky in that I’ve never developed a dependency or addiction, so this is an option for me. It obviously wouldn’t be for everyone.) That tided me over between the semi-weekly appointments until a joint-support belt arrived and allowed me to begin effective exercise at home.

It’s a balance.

While living with low-income, we want to honour and protect our brain, our liver, our gut flora, and our ability to perceive pain so that it can guide us as to when to pause an activity, so we’ll want to go natural as much as possible. Protecting these vital body systems is critical to, among other things, remaining well enough to improve our finances long term.

In acute experiences, we’ll also want to remain at least somewhat functional and financially solvent for our longterm well-being. We might decide to utilize non-natural options that are, simply, the only affordable ones.

The balance will be different for each person. For me last August, that was a single pain-killer at bedtime, plus copious rest and use of my custom orthotics during the day, until the stabilizing equipment arrived. In the meantime, I continued investing any cash I could so that in future I will be able to gift myself, my child, or a stranger with an all-natural program for healing what ails them.


The image used in this post is from a wonderfully helpful natural health blog found here:

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