We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.

As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.

That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.

After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.

Not sure how? I’m here to help.

This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.

First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.

If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.

You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.

While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.

Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.

Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.

You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.

After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.

You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.

A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.

If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.

Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.

You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.

However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.

You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.

That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.

We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

If you are living in Quebec and have ever needed to see a doctor you know that it’s impossible to speak objectively about health care. Despite the promises of government after government, the Quebec health care system is a mess. Emergency room wait times in Montreal can be up to ten hours or more. In their haste to treat patients, doctors and nurses often jump to dangerous and unfounded conclusions that put patients at risk.

Take the case of Carol*

At forty seven years old, Carol is active, eats well, and is a devoted mother. She also suffers from ovarian cysts and is allergic to morphine. She arrived at the Glen’s emergency room a month ago with excruciating abdominal pain. Despite her screams of agony the doctors refused to consider that her pain was caused by anything serious. They tried to pump her full of morphine and send her home but Carol refused.

One doctor finally listened and ordered emergency surgery. It was only when she was on the operating table that the nature of her illness was revealed. The cyst had ruptured and destroyed her fallopian tube, requiring its immediate removal.

Then there’s the case of Daisy.

At 33, she’s a non-smoker and active. She suffers from depression and was hospitalized almost ten years ago for it. Her mental health diagnosis has tainted every attempt she’s made to receive care for physical health problems from the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) and its affiliates. Four years ago she went to her GP with crippling back pain. He diagnosed a disc problem and prescribed physiotherapy and anti-inflammatories. In spite of this, the pain kept getting worse, and she returned to her GP who ordered the least conclusive testing. When the results were negative, she said:

“I’m still in pain,”

Her GP shrugged his shoulders and told her it was anxiety before shooing her out of his office without any referrals. Since then she’s made multiple visits to the JGH’s ER and walk-in clinics in excruciating pain that numbed her right foot and robbed her of the ability to use the toilet unassisted. Every time, she’s been pumped full of morphine, lectured about morphine addiction, and sent home. It was only through family connections that she found a specialist who discovered nerve damage and operated on her.

Jewish General Hospital (photo: WikiMedia Commons)
Jewish General Hospital (photo: WikiMedia Commons)

The health care system’s refusal to take her seriously caused delays in treatment that ultimately cost her her job. She’s been surviving on a pittance from welfare ever since. Travelling from ER to ER trying to find a doctor who will properly investigate her physical health problems has become her full time job.

Quebec governments have been hiding behind financial concerns to justify their abhorrent treatment of patients.

The problem is that the quality of care in this province isn’t just awful. It’s illegal.

The Quebec health care system is governed by many laws including the Canada Health Act and the Quebec Code of Ethics of Physicians.

The Canada Health Act is the law that creates a mechanism allowing Parliament some control over the health care system in each province.

It’s called Transfer Payments.

Transfer Payments allow the federal government to transfer money to each province for health care provided they meet certain criteria. The criteria are public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility.

Government health insurance plans have to be publicly administered and operated. The plans have to insure all insured health services provided by hospitals and medical practitioners. In order to be universal the plans have to insure all insured persons in the province.

In order to be portable, the provinces can’t impose a minimum period of residence for health care higher than three months, and they have to provide some reimbursement for emergency health services obtained out of province. Last but not least, the provincial health plans have to

“provide for insured health services on uniform terms and conditions and on a basis that does not impede or preclude, either directly or indirectly whether by charges made to insured persons or otherwise, reasonable access to those services by insured persons.” (emphasis added)

Violation of these criteria by the provinces can result in a reduction of this money. If necessary, the federal government can even withhold it in its entirety.

Then there’s the Quebec Code of Ethics of Physicians which lists the obligations of Quebec doctors. Physicians in Quebec can’t refuse to examine or treat a patient for reasons related to the nature of their illness or the context in which it appeared. They can’t refuse to treat someone due to sex, race, colour, religion, civil status, age, pregnancy, ethnic or national origin, social condition, sexual orientation, morality, political convictions, or language.

If a doctor’s beliefs interfere with her ability to treat someone, the doctor has to help the patient find someone else. The physical, mental and emotional behavior of doctors toward patients has to be beyond reproach. Willful or negligent violations of these rules can make doctors fully liable at all times and subject to civil suits for professional negligence.

Despite Quebec’s flagrant violations of Canada’s medical accessibility laws and doctors all but flaunting their prejudices in walk-in clinics, private offices, and emergency rooms, people don’t seem to complain enough.

The reason is fear. We’re all afraid that filing complaints and seeking second opinions will somehow jeopardize our chances of getting lifesaving care when we need it.

But it shouldn’t, because that’s illegal too.

You want proper care? You have to fight for it. If a doctor treats you like trash, file a complaint. If a hospital screws up and you or a loved one gets worse, go to the ombudsman, and then to a lawyer if necessary. If you think you’re being dismissed because of your age, gender, or mental health diagnosis, don’t be afraid to go to another hospital and demand a second opinion.

It’s not only your health at risk. It’s your life. And in this healthcare system, you’re the only one you’ve got.

*Names have been changed for security and anonymity reasons