doctor who?

The doctor is often more to be feared than the disease.  ~ French Proverb

My BFF is a helluva strong woman. We’ve known each other for years and have been through so many things in life together. I remember so clearly when I moved to Manitoba how supportive she was of me and my new journey, always encouraging me to explore Manitoba and enjoy the many opportunities available in my new province. I have always admired her positive attitude on life. We are each others' support system and cheerleader, and do whatever we can to help each other out.

I was absolutely thrilled when my BFF and her husband decided to pick up and leave Nova Scotia and move to Manitoba. What joy it would be to have one of my Nova Scotia BFFs here in Manitoba with me! Except there was one small problem. Actually a big problem. A huge problem. At the age of 30, just as she was preparing to move to Manitoba my BFF was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a huge shock but being the strong person that she is she handled it extraordinarily well. In Nova Scotia she began the process of surgeries and procedures and at the same time began planning for the big move to Manitoba once her health situation improved. Things moved very quickly in Nova Scotia and she kicked some serious ass and was deemed cancer free within a few months. Her cancer follow-up care and reconstructive surgeries were still ongoing, but the bulk of it was behind her and she was given the okay by her medical staff to move from Nova Scotia to Manitoba. She was told she could have her subsequent surgeries and follow-ups transferred to Manitoba and complete the rest of the process in her new province.

This summer my friend bid farewell to Nova Scotia and moved to Manitoba. For the most part she is enjoying Manitoba and all it has to offer and is looking forward to the future here on the prairies. Except for one thing. One huge thing when you are a recent cancer survivor who still requires some surgeries and follow-up care. She has had difficulty finding a decent family doctor in Winnipeg, and has had difficulty getting her reconstructive surgeries coordinated from Nova Scotia to Manitoba. If she was just an average healthy Joe Blow off the street a walk in clinic would be fine for her medical care for the occasional ear ache or strep throat, but the reality she is halfway through her reconstructive cancer surgeries, basically the cancer is gone but things still need to be put back together properly and she wants some further information about her future treatment.  She has serious questions about her cancer care follow-up and wants to have some continuity within the medical system in her new province. This seems like a dream (or more like a nightmare now that she is here!) and it is proving to be very difficult and frustrating at this point in time in Manitoba.

Shortly after she arrived in Manitoba she phoned Manitoba Health to obtain a list of doctors in Winnipeg accepting new patients. She explained that she was new to Manitoba, was recently a breast cancer survivor and was in the middle of reconstructive surgeries and needed a family doctor immediately to coordinate her file transfers from Nova Scotia to Manitoba to continue her ongoing care and follow-up. She was given one name of a male doctor accepting patients in Winnipeg. She went to the appointment but it was an absolute horrible match. My friend is the farthest thing from a diva and her expectations were low, but this just wasn’t a good match for her and she just couldn’t stand the idea of him being her family doctor through the rest of her cancer recovery. She knew she needed to find a different doctor that was better suited to her needs to ensure her transition to Manitoba health care would go smoothly.

So my friend phoned Manitoba Health back and explained the situation again and what happened and asked for more information for doctors accepting new patients in Winnipeg. This time she was given one name, a female doctor, but she only saw patients on Saturdays. Okay, so that’s not ideal, but it will have to do and so my friend made an appointment to meet her. My friend liked this doctor quite a bit, and thought things were looking up in terms of her new Manitoba doctor situation. She was very optimistic her files and transition of care from Nova Scotia to Manitoba would begin to progress smoothly. Until this week when the office up and closed and the doctor's phone line was disconnected without any notice. Just vanished with absolutely no explanation. She tried emailing the office and managed to get a response back basically saying “sorry, we closed up, can’t help you, find another doctor”. Once again she was on the hunt for a family doctor in Winnipeg, eager to transition her files to Manitoba.

I spotted a billboard in Winnipeg advertising a clinic accepting new patients so she phoned this clinic, explained she needed to see a doctor right away due to her ongoing cancer issues and was hoping to obtain a new family doctor as soon as possible. She was told the wait time for a “meet and greet” appointment with a potential new family physician is two months. Two months is crazy! Especially crazy when you have just beat cancer and need a family doctor to act as a central point to coordinate the oncology and plastic surgeon files incoming from Nova Scotia and to help arrange appointments with these specialists. She begged them to try and get her in sooner, and after pleading her case with them for 10 minutes she managed to get them to agree to squeeze her in sooner. We are both keeping our fingers crossed this one works out. Third time is the charm right?

Then on top of the family doctor situation there is the struggle with getting a Manitoba plastic surgeon to finish up her reconstruction. Turns out there is a 2 year wait time for her next reconstructive surgery in Manitoba even though she is halfway through the process and has already had some of the necessary surgeries done in Nova Scotia. She is required to drop down to the bottom of the wait list in Manitoba. I understand if you are just getting a boob job because you want bigger boobs, but we are talking cancer reconstruction that is halfway completed! She can feel temporary plastic pieces sticking out the side of her breasts and into her arms, buried beneath her skin. It is bad enough to have your breasts removed in the prime of your female adult life, have temporary objects installed, but then to be told you must wait another 2 years to have them fixed up properly because you switched provinces is very discouraging. It seems very sad that one must consider attempting to fly halfway across the country, back to your old province of Nova Scotia, in order to complete the surgeries in a timely fashion. That is of course if Nova Scotia will agree to do them now that she is a Manitoba resident and no longer living in Nova Scotia.

No word yet on the oncologist situation in Manitoba. She hasn’t been able to get an appointment for that doctor yet to discuss her oncology follow-up plan so she is just sticking with the status quo for now until she can get a family doctor to try and arrange something. Fingers crossed it is a smooth transition.

I know the doctor situation in the entire country isn’t the best. I understand that many, many people are searching for a family doctor and I know there are many other women struggling to pick up the pieces from breast cancer and move on, forced to endure long wait times for reconstructive surgeries. I understand that switching provinces can prove difficulties and is not ideal amidst health issues. I don’t know the answers in how to make things better for people as they transition into Manitoba from other provinces and take on their new provincial health system. I don’t know who is at fault or if anything can be done to improve things. But I can see the frustration in my friend‘s eyes, and I feel the pain as she struggles to find her way through the Manitoba health care system, just desperately fighting to find a decent family doctor, coordinate surgeries to her new province, and advocate for her health to the best of her ability as she tries to make a new life in her new province. I wish that the Province of Manitoba could do something more to help their new residents make an easier transition into the provincial health care system. My BFF is so full of life, so eager to embrace Manitoba and all it has to offer, is ready to become a valuable member of Manitoba society and is prepared to make Manitoba home for many years to come. I just wish the Manitoba health system could help her out with a smoother transition.

Have you struggled to find a family doctor in Manitoba? How do you feel the wait times in Manitoba compare to other provinces?