Register Thursday | July 2 | 2020

Scene from a Montreal Clinic

Montreal, Quebec. Monday morning. Downtown doctor's office.

A patient finds herself in a sterile doctor's office, earbuds in, dangling her legs over the side of the paper-covered patient examination bed. She has spent the last six months navigating Montreal bureaucracy as part of an ongoing struggle to find a family doctor. After finally locating a downtown clinic accepting new patients, scheduling a checkup and waiting the heartbreakingly long time between making and actually attending the appointment itself, she is now waiting the multi-song length of time it takes for her (hopefully) new family doctor to appear.

An overworked, underpaid man appears with a chart.

Doctor: My name is mumble mumble. Do you take medication? How your blood pressure?

Patient: It's low. It's always been low.

Doctor and patient undertake a fast back-and-forth. Doctor does not take notes during the exchange.

Doctor: When was the last time you check it?

Patient: A few months ago.

Doctor: It usually low?

Patient: ...yes. Athlete's pulse. (Laughs self-consciously.)

Doctor goes through standard questionnaire on his clipboard. Patient tries to get Doctor to focus on what she thinks are the important issues, such as the fact that she has just came back from South America, where she was horribly stomach-sick. Doctor seems uninterested in Patient's recent travels, until he reaches appropriate part of questionnaire.

Doctor: Have you been out of the country?

Patient: Yes, Peru.

Doctor: (Ignoring Patient's response) How your blood pressure?

Patient: (Thinking, We covered this) It's low. It's always low.

Doctor: You have allergies?

Patient: Well, I'm lactose intolerant.

Patient initiates usual "it's not an allergy, I know, just an intolerance" speech. Mentions that she didn't have any dairy in Peru, so that can't be the problem. But Doctor not looking for connections or reasons—just going through list.

Doctor: How your iron? Are you dizzy when you stand up?

Patient: I'm taking an iron supplement.

Doctor: Your blood pressure probably low.

Patient: Yes, my blood pressure is's always low.

Doctor: You probably have low iron.

Patient: Yes—again, iron supplement.

Doctor: Okay, I will go give your chart to the other doctor and he will see you again.

Patient: But I haven't seen any other doctor yet...

Doctor's eyes scan completed chart in his hands.

Doctor: Everything is okay here. I will take your blood pressure now.

Patient: I feel it's rising...

Doctor: And then you wait here to see the other doctor again.

Patient: But I've only seen you so far.

Doctor: Yes, you have seen me, and now you see the other doctor again.

Patient: (Tired now) No. I haven't seen another doctor yet.

Doctor: Yes, you are seeing me, and now you see another doctor again.

Patient: No, I don't think you understand me. Was I supposed to see another doctor before?

Doctor: No, you are seeing me now, and after you see another doctor again.

Patient is visibly confused.

Doctor: Maybe it's my English.

Patient gives Doctor Mumble-Mumble tight smile. She is Canadian, and anger is not what Canadians do. Doctor is clearly trying, after all. Canadians sits meekly; they are good at that.

Patient: So I will see another doctor now?

Doctor: Yes, you see the other doctor again.

Patient: (Deciding to be helpful) In English, when you haven't already seen someone, you don't say "again."

Doctor does not pause to consider Patient's words or take notes. Patient becomes convinced that Doctor will not remember what she has just taught him if he does not take notes. Patient now considers herself a humanitarian, feels she is looking out for future patients.

Doctor: Yes, you see him again.

Patient: No! (Reconsiders strength of exclamation; maybe a little too strong.) Oh, fine. Never mind.

Doctor: So you see him again now.

Doctor stands up to leave. Patient feels perennially low blood pressure rising.

Patient: No. If you haven't already seen somebody, you can't say "again." I will be seeing this other doctor for the first time. Future tense. I am seeing you now and I will see the other doctor after.

Doctor: Yes, "again."

Doctor appears proud, as though he has cracked the code. 

Patient: No "again." You can't say "again." I will see him for the first time.

Doctor: Yes. (Nods.)

Patient: Yes. (Nods.)

It seems Doctor and Patient agree, but Patient is still pretty sure Doctor doesn't get it. Fortunately, Doctor leaves, and miraculously, only four songs on Patient's playlist later, a second doctor arrives.

Doctor Two speaks mildly better English and immediately congratulates Patient on having him as her new family doctor. Yay, Patient, Patient thinks.

Doctor Two tells Patient she can get her blood tests done in five minutes here in the clinic for $150.

Patient: (Confused) Can I get it done somewhere else for free?

Doctor Two: Yes, but you can get it done now, here, for $150.

Patient: Where can I get it done for free?

Doctor Two: Any hospital or public clinic.

Patient: I see.

Doctor Two looks at the questionnaire that Dr. Mumble-Mumble somehow managed to complete, and skims it.

Doctor Two: Yes, fine, fine. That's fine. That's good. Your blood pressure is low?


(Photo courtesy of US National Archives.)


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