This has been on my mind since the day I found out I was pregnant. I realized that I never did tick the “pregnancy” box on my health insurance plan through work. And of course you can’t buy fire insurance after your house has burnt down.

Why did I not even contemplate ticking an extra box? Cause in Canada, we never have to worry about the blasted things. We never worry about insurance plans and basic health coverage. I’ve never once thought about the fine print or whether or not I can afford medical care. Because, thanks to Tommy Douglas, Canada has a quality {universal} health care system.

We thought about heading home to Canada for the birth. But living in Canada for six months (to qualify for health care) didn’t feel like a reasonable option with both of us committed to jobs in Cambodia. We opted to go to Thailand instead where health services are far superior to the Cambodian alternative and where our nearest Canadian embassy is located. It meant 6 weeks away from Cambodia (instead of 6 months), and it meant safe medical services in the event of an emergency.

And so we began our foray into the private health care system.

The care was fantastic. High quality. Good doctors. First-rate services. Our first prenatal check up at the hospital in Bangkok was the equivalent of walking into a five star hotel complete with a pianist drawing Mozart + Beethoven from the glossy white and black keys of the grand piano in the lobby.

But it was also a wake up call to how good we have it in Canada. While the experience was a safe and healthy one, we always felt as though money was fueling decisions the doctors were making. Extra ultrasounds here and there. Extra procedures. Upselling drugs and services. Baby Aya was moments from being born when the doctor asked me if I wanted forceps or a vacuum to help the baby out. One big contraction and push later, and Aya fell into the world without any help from medications or devices + tools. It’s not that any of the things are bad. It just makes you wonder in the private system, if medical practitioners are doing things in the best interest of the patient’s health, or if there is some ulterior, financial motive.  And when you’re in the middle of labour, you’re certainly in no position to advocate for yourself! You have to trust health care providers.

On the flip side, my uncle has had a completely different health care experience. One I juxtapose with Bangkok and remind myself of how incredible universal health care really is.

A few weeks ago, my dad took his brother to the emergency room because vasculitis was attacking his kidneys. It has taken weeks of specialized treatment and care at the University Hospital in Edmonton to control the disease. Countless sessions of dialysis. Medications. Doctor’s rounds. Even a plasma transfusion which is still in the research stage. Thousands and thousands of dollars have gone into saving my uncle’s life. Thousands of dollars that we could never have afforded as a family. Unlike many of our neighbours south of the border, we never had to dig deep into our pockets or dig ourselves into debt with a bank – to pay for it.

And I don’t think people should have to. Universal health is a bit like an insurance policy for a nation. We all contribute to it every month through taxes. And we hope, against hope, that the only things we’ll ever need it for, is to get a prescription for antibiotics for an irritating cold.

But when the going gets tough. When an accident requires a trip to ER, or playing sports results in a broken leg, or your uncle’s life is threatened by a disease that attacks his blood vessels, that’s when you want universal health care. Cause it takes care of you. Your fellow citizens of the country you call home end up supporting you (and you pay into it yourself) through taxes.

I never realized how important it was until I didn’t have it. Living in Cambodia surrounded by very poor people who can’t access health care cause they can’t afford it, having to pay out of pocket for my baby to be born, and seeing the complete opposite for my uncle under the Canadian health system have cemented it in my mind. Universal health is so important. It is a way to ensure justice – just access to life-saving health care for all people.  I won’t take it for granted again.


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