I went through a really bad spell of depression after CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE came out in 2013. My friends and family urged me to talk to a doctor, and as luck would have it there was a family physician accepting new patients a few blocks from my house.
I can say without reservation or hesitation that this doctor saved my life, probably a few times. He's the guy who convinced me to talk to a therapist, who referred me to a psychiatry clinic, and who worked with me to develop a course of treatment on antidepressants that has made me finally feel like the person I've always known I am.
When I went away to Prince Edward Island in January, the doctor gave me a six-month prescription, his email address and a monthly depression questionnaire, and told me he'd see me when I came back in the summer.
Then he gave me a big hug and told me to go safe, which was his thing.
I got back to Vancouver at the beginning of the month, eager to check in with the good doctor and tell him about my travels and how this Project Nomad thing has been so good for me.
But his picture wasn't on the clinic website anymore. And when I Googled his name, I found he'd moved to a different clinic downtown.
I called the new clinic. I explained that I had been one of the doctor's patients, and I was wondering if I was still a patient after the move.
There was a long silence. "Oh," the woman said. "No. We provide fee-based services here. We take a more holistic approach."
That holistic approach, it turns out, costs $225 an hour.
I called the doctor's old clinic and explained the situation. They said, yes, the doctor had shuttered his family practice a couple of weeks prior.
They said, at present, there were no other doctors to replace him.
They said if I needed treatment, the walk-in clinic was open.
So essentially, I replied, the doctor just left without warning and we're all without a physician?
Well, not entirely without warning, came the response. We did send out cards.
So I went to the walk-in clinic, where I told a brusque young doctor that I needed to renew my prescription, and she typed in a couple of things and printed my form and ushered me out the door and it took all of five minutes, flat.
It was fine. I have no problem telling brusque young doctors that I need more Prozac.
But what if I was there for some other condition? What if I had more personal medical issues to discuss? What if I'd built a relationship in confidence with this doctor over years, only to find myself forced to explain everything all over again to a harried, half-interested clinic physician?
This isn't meant to be an indictment of my erstwhile doctor, necessarily. Surely, he'd done his time in community-oriented practice. He'd served in a remote hospital in the BC interior until the government closed the facility.
He'd treated me for nearly five years with compassion, generosity and humour. I have no doubt that he applied the same standards of care to the scores of other people whom he treated on the government dime.
He'd mentioned once that he rented a home here in Vancouver, and maybe it was the pressures of the real estate market that pushed him into exclusively for-profit service.
I don't know what pushed the doctor out, and I don't believe it's because he didn't care about his patients. He very clearly did.
But the situation certainly seems emblematic of the city at large.
Local physician abruptly shutters family practice in favour of $225/hr downtown holistic services sounds kind of par for the course in a city where a one-bedroom apartment at $1900/month is considered, by municipal policy, affordable.
In a city where low-income housing is at an absolute premium, and vast tracts of multi-million-dollar mansions sit empty, their primary function not as dwellings but as investment vehicles for the wealthy.
There's a gulf between the moneyed and the not-so-moneyed in my hometown, and it grows wider all the time. So losing my family doctor doesn't so much feel like just an annoying inconvenience that could happen to any of us, anywhere.
It feels like one more capitulation to the Ferrari set, in a place that has scarcely more turf to surrender.
For now, I guess I'm walking.