Opinion » Maxed Out

The secure occupation



I am loath to give anyone career advice. Loath and unqualified. My own 'careers' have followed the arc of a pinball, bouncing from bumper to flipper, kicked out a popper or two, and more frequently than I like to remember down the drain or gobble hole. Who am I to advise?

But if asked, I'd move close, answer softly and in a single word say, "Healthcare."

If there's a better recession-proof line of work, I don't know what it is. For the foreseeable future, certainly for the duration of most twenty-somethings' working lives, healthcare is going to be a secure occupation. You can thank the tsunami of aging, decrepit boomers for that.

Having spent the past week in the ICU of a large, university-affiliated hospital in Colorado watching my sister's broken heart recover from a procedure I'd prefer not to describe, I'm floored by the flow of battered, failing bodies and the incredible number of staff of all kinds. I know, it ain't Canada's healthcare system. But the demographics are only smaller, not different, and the jewel in Canada's social-safety net will rise to the challenge... assuming there are people to fill the jobs.

It got me thinking about the last time I dove into the healthcare pool for anything more serious than a checkup. With great trepidation, I found myself losing consciousness while unseen forces prepared to reattach the bits that make a finger, my finger, a finger. The next thing I remembered was....

"Are you comfortable?"

Comfortable? You mean comfortable like lying under a perfect tropical sun, sipping frozen daiquiris, having waves lap my sandy toes and pondering nothing more weighty than whether to reapply sunscreen?

Comfortable? Like when the ironic executioner straps a condemned man into the electric chair at Huntsville, cinches the thick leather belts securing his legs and arms and chest, places the polished brass skullcap electrode onto his shaved head, buckles the chin strap and asks, "Comfy?"

Comfortable? Like holding a warm, new, smoky-breath puppy, all ears, lapping tongue and oversized paws in your lap until you and it fall asleep for an afternoon nap?

The question was absurd. There I was, half-naked, surrounded by strangers, bound to a table. Two women I didn't know were buckling my left arm securely to a board I'd last seen imprisoning a death-row prisoner shortly before he slept the big sleep. One muttered inanities while the other searched inside the back of my hand, with a needle that looked like it belonged on the working end of a basketball pump, for a vein.

On my other hand, someone claiming to be an anesthesiologist poked around with what might have been a wolverine's incisor. At least the left-side women had been kind enough to shoot me up first with either Lidocain or Mr. Clean to deaden the pain. Dr. Right Hand knew no such niceties. He was searching for a nerve. I knew he'd found it when pain stiffened my paranoid body and the White Light appeared before me with Uncle Charlie's dulcet voice beckoning me to walk toward him, through the light... through the light... through....

"Are you comfortable?"

Comfortable? I hadn't been comfortable since the previous night when I ate my last meal: red grapes and Roquefort cheese. The sugar from the genetically modified grapes — picked some weeks ago in Israel — made the pungent mould of the French cheese all the more puckering. In retaliation, the cheese tried its hardest to turn the grapes' electrolytes into battery acid, the overall effect being something like chewing a stick of Juicy Fruit you'd left on the car's dashboard until the sun had fused gum and foil wrapper into one mass so that sparks the size of lightning bolts shot out your mouth when you chomped the whole mess down into fillings the dentist replaced last week.

Comfortable? I'd gotten up that morning, driven to the city, hadn't had my usual three cups of strong, black coffee, waited around for two hours wearing paper shoes and a surgical peekaboo robe while the firestorm of a caffeine-deprivation headache lifted the top off my skull and someone tossed in a bucket of tenpenny nails.

I wondered when the surgeon would get there. I wondered who he was, having never had so much as a conversation with him. I was cursing the best and the worse of modern medicine and the Canadian healthcare system — universal if anonymous.

I was wondering where the nurse was with my Demerol cocktail, Demerol being the only thing I've ever found that makes letting somebody come after me with a knife worthwhile, hell, worth looking forward to. Cutbacks I can understand, but I'll be damned if they're going to shine me on without ponying up a butt full of Demerol.

"Are you comfortable?"

Comfortable? I'm barely conscious. This is supposed to be a local. I'm supposed to be conscious. Would a conscious man be dreaming about wrapping his one good hand around an oozing steak sandwich, sipping ice-cold beer through a straw or wrestling a nurse best two-out-of-three in a vat of tepid, artificial strawberry ice cream for another fix of Demerol? But if I'm not conscious, it must be....


An angel of mercy smacks me awake and brings me a cup of black coffee. I'm not aware of the caffeine headache but then, I'm not aware of having been gurney'd into recovery, I'm not aware of time having passed and I'm definitely not aware of anything below my right shoulder except for something bearing a striking resemblance to half a front bumper from a '56 Ford truck wired to my arm.

The coffee kickstarts my heart and I'm praising the best of the Canadian healthcare system. When I ask when the surgeon is going to come see me and tell me he successfully reconnected the fingerbone to the handbone and the string to the pulley, I'm told he'd left for the day, something about meeting his Demerol connection. Surgery by proxy. Who was that masked man?

"Well then, when can I get out of here?"

"As soon as you can name the Fathers of Confederation," I'm told.

"Got me there," I said. "Settle for the Mothers of Invention?"

"We don't negotiate," she said, eyes narrowing, a tight, mean smile playing across her face.

"Sergeant Preston?" I guessed.

"That's one," she said.

"Bob and Doug McKenzie King?" I guessed again.

"I think you're guessing but I'll give you half points for confusion."

"I give up," I said. "Guess I'll just have to stick around for supper. What's on the menu?"

She tossed my clothes on the bed, shot me a condescending look and said, "Dream on."

Like I said, the best and the worst of 21st century, Canadian healthcare.


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