As I wait for Billy’s guy to install the winter tyres on my car the office/waiting area gradually fills up with people who all have some business with Billy. It is rural Nova Scotia, although the city is just at the other end of the highway. No-one is in a hurry and they all seem to know one another.
The small talk is of course about the weather, and then about the man who may or may not have jumped off the ferry, but mostly it is about deer, coyotes, guns and road kill. I’m new here so I have nothing to contribute. I don’t consider what I’m doing to be eavesdropping, but rather that it is a lesson in rural living.
It’s hard to keep track because the conversation shifts very quickly. We’re now onto the gamey hip of one of the guests, which gets us into the matter of the lengthy waiting lists for diagnostic and then surgical procedures in Nova Scotia’s public health system. There is a long (and painful) wait for hip replacement surgery. It is fascinating how human anatomy is understood by this group of people. Judging from the earlier part of the conversation they have all most probably had a hand in skinning and dressing deer, slaughtering ducks, turkeys, chickens and rabbits, not to mention fish, at one time or another. Medical terminology is used with ease as though we all know what we mean.
A sort of auto-mechanical picture comes to mind as the man describes the lack of mobility and pain he’s experiencing. I wonder about the way in which great medical mysteries have been brought into common parlance, and think about the risks taken by those curious surgeons of old, in digging up graves in order to explore and learn about human anatomy.
I can’t help but wonder what these folk would think of someone upturning some of the gravestones in one of the little cemeteries on this rural road, taking a crowbar to the coffin, and carefully collecting the bones to be re-assemble them in some dark cellar some place, studying the system of levers and pulleys that make up the human skeleton.
And then, the hip guy describes how he was able to finesse his argument against being stuck on a multi-year waiting list in a medical services system, in such a way as to persuade a bureaucrat somewhere, that they cannot afford to let him wait that long for his new hip. (For a multitude of strong reasons I have a hard time characterising what we have as a health care system.) Niccolo Machiavelli comes to mind.
The hip guy is a man who gets paid by the hour. He gets paid for overtime. His employer is very dependent on his ability to work overtime. However, if his hip is now deemed to be permanently so painful that he says he can’t work the extra overtime hours expected of him, there is some added cost to the employer and to the workers’ compensation commissioner that he can describe in such detail, with such passion and persuasion that it feels a bit like poetry. I am persuaded that he may soon qualify for disability benefits and not work at all. He offers the taxpayer’s perspective. It makes sense. It is cheaper not to have a waiting list, and certainly less painful. He tells us that he won his argument and that he now has a scheduled date. At the end of the conversation he walks out of the room, through the door, into the driveway. Although he favours one hip he moves at remarkable speed and the angle of his head in relation to his shoulder, and his swinging arms, says that this is a happy man.
I think about the work I do and whether there is anything I’d have been able to offer him. He demonstrates creativity, critical analytical ability, determination, and resilience. He is self-confident; he has the dignity of someone who has taken action that is in his own best interest, despite odds that typically dehumanise one. I think I’ll remember him for quite some time to come. He has reminded me, quite vividly, of how it works when you have courage, confidence and determination.