Archive for April 2010
Dying generally sucks, but you do get a few perks: things like a 24h VIP direct line to a nurse you can call when weird things start happening to your mother’s cancer-ridden body.
The thing is, at night the system is rigged up so that you have to go through the Montreal General Hospital’s internal operator to get to the nurse. Not the public operator used to communicating with the taxpaying public. The internal switchboard lady.
Dispatch. What service?
This being one of Montreal’s “bilingual” hospital, in-house communications are in English. It takes a few seconds for the operator to switch gears into French and a little bit longer for her to figure out French acronyms and terminology.
Selles? Selles? Shit! What are selles?
Eventually I get the nurse on the phone. The situation I’m describing is kind of gross and she recommends I take my mom to the emergency.
My mother used to be a patient of the Montreal Neurological Hospital’s Docteur Olivier, the French-speaking successor to the legendary Dr. Wilder Penfield who revolutionized brain science, and the living proof that Montreal’s English hospitals are, according to the Montreal Gazette, nothing but a “mischievous myth”.
“There are French ones and there are bilingual ones”, they explained after former Québec Prime Minister Jacques Parizeau was admitted to the Jewish General Hospital last week. “Parizeau is getting that care in French – or, at least he is if that’s what he wants. Parizeau’s English is so fluently mellifluous he might just choose to use it.”
While I’m sure the staff at the Jewish will avoid the diplomatic faux pas of addressing Monsieur Parizeau in English, those of us who haven’t managed to come as close to breaking up Canada don’t quite receive the same level of consideration.
When my mother’s name was moved from the interesting cases list to the basket cases list, Dr. Olivier passed her file on to a Czech doctor who didn’t speak a word of French. He greeted every patient in the clinic hallway with a single question:
Do you speak English?
Only about 40% of patients in Montreal’s bilingual hospitals are English-speaking so the doctor spent the first ten minutes of every second consultation sighing loudly as he fished around for an idle nurse, orderly or first year student who could translate his patients for him. I got on his good side by setting aside my modest expectation that in 2009 my mother was entitled to receive health care in French in Québec.
The Neuro doesn’t have an emergency ward so that night I take her across the street to the Royal Victoria Hospital, named for the glorious British Queen who spoke German, English, French and Hindustani. A doctor walks into our examining room wearing a hijab. This is English Montreal, a tolerant, multicultural community where people value and respect each others cultures…
Do you speak English?
Really? Are you sure?
The doctor tells me that she can take a look at my mother now or that we can wait. Mother’s been writhing in pain for about seven hours now, so I take her hand and tell her softly that it’s her turn to be bilingual.
Because my family refuses to live in Saguenay or Rosemont where we belong, we, like 1.7 million Québécois from Côte-des-Neiges to Val-d’Or — people like Jacques Parizeau, Yves Michaud, Pauline Marois, Éric Lapointe and the AngryFrenchMe — have been designated as wards of the McGill University Hospital Center.
Every single word of every single medical file of every single member of my family is written entirely in English.
Twenty-five percent of the province of Québec’s health care is administered by a medical establishment that doesn’t require it’s doctors to learn a single word of the language spoken by the majority of their patients. The Charest government just gave McGill 3.6 billion dollars, half of the tax dollars earmarked for the construction of two university hospitals in Montréal.
No need to worry, according to The Gazette. For that price they’ll even care for separatists. Me and my mom’s can be assured that Montreal’s bilingual hospitals “are open to all, regardless of language, creed, ethnicity, or political conviction.”
The day shift doctor who showed up in the morning didn’t speak French either. I don’t speak French I’m from Brazil, he told me, almost proud of himself.
I made him speak to me in Spanish. He got the point and dropped the grin.
(Now let’s have a moment of silence for the millions of Mexican-Americans who don’t have access to health care in their own language. Aren’t you just fucking proud to be Canadian right now?)
That night was a hard one, but it wasn’t the toughest yet. I spent many other long nights at the Royal Vic and the Montreal General Hospital with my mother. Tired, scared and confused by the quick succession of unfamiliar faces coming and going around her, my mother started to speak to me in English in those last few weeks of her life.
My father had started to do the same thing in the last days of his life. So did my grand-mother. So did my grand-father.
Anyone still wondering why I’m angry?
In his excellent biography of Pierre Bourgault, journalist Jean-François Nadeau tells the fascinating story of the gay veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who lived with a pet kangaroo in his Shaughnessy village house near the old Forum and became an indépendantiste pioneer. In his book, Nadeau also recalls the separatist firebrand’s long forgotten tour of the Canadian West, early in his career.
Way back in the day, before paying lip-service to Canada’s “bilingual” nature became a litmus test of canadianess, Bourgault toured the Prairies to explain the idea of an independent Québec to hostile crowds of Westerners who had no sympathy for any “French power” or “Québec Libre” nonsense and who basically were going out to see a freak show.
According to Nadeau, Bourgault usually left the room to standing ovations.
This week the Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe launched his own Canadian Tour, but Québec’s independence is not the radical idea it once was. The idea that with Québec out, Canada will be more a more united and nimble country has much greater acceptance today than it did when Bourgault spelled it out to his unsuspecting audiences of farmers and cattle ranchers.
And Canada has changed too, since Bourgault’s time. Like the Prime Minister’s muse, Tom Flanagan, is quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail: “In the West, it’s a yawner, whether Quebec is in or out”.
Duceppe is one of the longest-serving members of the House of Commons, a familiar face to all Canadians and, even if bashing separatists who collect a federal salary is always a good for a few votes in te ROC, most people in Ottawa recognize the Bloquistes are kickass parliamentarians.
It’s hard to see what Duceppe will accomplish with this tour, or even who would come out to hear him.
One useful thing Duceppe could do, if he was so inclined, is reach out the Canadian left and see if his sovereigntists comrade Amir Khadir‘s suggestion that the Bloc and the NDP work out some sort of formal alliance has any legs.
Why, not? If the Bloc is in Ottawa for the long run, there is not fundamental reason why it couldn’t form a united opposition with the NDP, with a common social platform and separate constitutional planks.
Damn, I could even make a case that it could form a government with the New Democrats, deferring it’s votes on any constitutional or federal-provincial issue to Québec’s National Assembly, achieving a kind of sovereignty-association without changing a coma in the Constitution.
I’m not holding my breath. Big ideas are hard to sell in the age or micro-targeting. It would be surprising if anything inspiring or novel came out of Duceppe’s voyage.
Now I’m not saying Duceppe is a boring politician of that he doesn’t have any good ideas. He’s certainly one of my top 5 separatists.
I’m just saying he looks more like a dog man than a kangaroo type of guy.