Quebec healthcare

Well… fuck.

The psychiatrist fetched me from the waiting room, 10-15 mins late. I was finishing up publishing my previous post on Facebook, “Mademoiselle, may I recommend you put away your phone and stay focused? We only have 45 minutes, and there will be no followup appointment.” Excuse me? 45 minutes to determine what is wrong with me? I waited 6 months for this? Lady, you better be good at your job.

Cue the questions about family history. No, it’s true no history of bipolarity in my family. Cue the questions about my ADD, who diagnosed it and why. No questions about how the symptoms manifest themselves. Minimal questions about my depressions.“Mademoiselle, I cannot comment about whether you have Major Depressive Disorder because right now you seem to have acceptable energy levels and seem fairly engaged.” Lady… I almost torpedoed my career in Nov-Jan, should have been on medical leave of work, and had the worst year-end evaluation of my life. Yeah, I am doing better now. Much better. But before calling into question my GP’s assessment, maybe our healthcare system can not decide that because I am still employed and not prone to self-harm that means I can just hang out, totally miserable, for 6 months before seeing an expert. “Well next time, consider seeing your doctor before you hit that low and get a prescription for anti-depressants.” Lady, are you SURE you are a psychiatrist? Do you KNOW what depression is like? I had trouble showering, had absenteeism issues at work, and you expected me to get my shit together sufficiently to see a doctor? The only reason why I saw a doc at all in February is because my little junior at work staged an intervention because she thought I was at risk of kidney failure. But thanks for that tip. I’ll keep it in mind.

At the 45 minute mark, the psychiatrist gave me my diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder. Gave me the name of a book I should read and suggested I take up psychotherapy. Any psychologists she could refer me to? No. I should just consult the website of the Ordre des Psychologues du Québec, it lists all licensed psychologists and their specializations, and pick one. Other highlights of her wrap-up convo?

Lots of artists have BPD. It just makes them more sensitive to their environments but they find ways to channel that into productive forms of self-expression. Cool. Except I am an accountant. That’s not the same thing, did you know?

You should focus on regulating your emotions. OH REALLY??? WHAT an idea. THANK YOU for that. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before, silly me. Boy oh boy, I am sure happy I saw a professional to give me such valuable advice. Let me just call up all the coworkers I’ve ever alienated, exhausted friends and family, and all the dudes I’ve failed relationships with. “Y’all, WE’RE GOOD NOW. Imma regulate my emotions and everything is gonna be just peachy. Woo hoo!”

She smiled, shook my hand, and promised me she’d send her report to my GP.

That’s our Quebec healthcare system for y’all. Its most notable feature is the bitter aftertaste it leaves anyone unfortunate enough to require its services.


I took the day off work. I was very upset. BPD has a reputation of being a garbage (“controversial”) diagnosis that is a catch-all for any patient that doesn’t fall neatly into a more firmly recognizable condition. It’s not a neurological/chemical illness, it is psychological illness so medication typically doesn’t work. It isn’t a broken brain. It’s a broken personality. I am broken, apparently, my identity and my personality are so problematic, they get a label, one that comes with a lot of stigma.

Except, gotta say… it does describe me well. “In general, someone with a personality disorder will differ significantly from an average person in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others (oh hey! funny you mention that, that has been my impression MY ENTIRE LIFE). The symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four main areas:

  • emotional instability – the psychological term for this is “affective dysregulation” –> so many examples to chose from. Exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C, exhibit D.
  • disturbed patterns of thinking or perception – (“cognitive distortions” or “perceptual distortions”) –> remember the time I thought my dance team was out to get me? That was fun.
  • impulsive behaviour
  • intense but unstable relationships with others”

It’s the last part that upsets me the most. As per the NHS’s website:

If you have BPD, you may feel that other people abandon you when you most need them, or that they get too close and smother you.

When people fear abandonment, it can lead to feelings of intense anxiety and anger. You may make frantic efforts to prevent being left alone, such as:

  • constantly texting or phoning a person
  • suddenly calling that person in the middle of the night
  • physically clinging on to that person and refusing to let go
  • making threats to harm or kill yourself if that person ever leaves you

Alternatively, you may feel others are smothering, controlling or crowding you, which also provokes intense fear and anger. You may then respond by acting in ways to make people go away, such as emotionally withdrawing, rejecting them or using verbal abuse.

These two patterns may result in an unstable “love-hate” relationship with certain people.

Many people with BPD seem to be stuck with a very rigid “black-white” view of relationships. Either a relationship is perfect and that person is wonderful, or the relationship is doomed and that person is terrible. People with BPD seem unable or unwilling to accept any sort of “grey area” in their personal life and relationships.

For many people with BPD, emotional relationships (including relationships with professional carers) involve “go away/please don’t go” states of mind, which is confusing for them and their partners. Sadly, this can often lead to break-ups.

Who knew the NHS had a section detailing the implosion of my relationship with Hickster?  Suddenly, I see myself as he did. I reread our text message convos and I am dismayed. Pages and pages of texts, at all hours of the night. Him trying, but really trying, to understand and contain these tsunamis of text assaults. His bewilderment, that I used to assume was faked or an avoidance tactic, suddenly seems more plausible. Dude goes to sleep having ended the day with normal interactions with Vanilla, and wakes up to a novel of vitriolic accusations and lamentations. Maybe his tendency to leave me on read, decline my calls or to respond curtly/meanly was not him being awful to me, but his coping techniques for months of non-stop volcanic eruptions.

I think back to Beaut, who told me once that he found my waves of emotions difficult to handle. I disregarded that comment, because it was his fault: had his life not been such a mess, and his communication skills so weak, I wouldn’t be so worried/uncertain/insecure.

I think back to my ex. He used to complain that I could spend 3-4 days glued to him, refusing to leave him even long enough for him to go do groceries alone. He had to implement a rule: even though we had the keys to each other’s place, we (aka I) could not show up unannounced, even if it was just for a surprise. “Vanilla, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, I promise. I just need my space.” At the time I thought it was just the growing pains of my first relationship, I was young and really in love, and learning – I’ve never exchanged keys with a dude, since. But until my ex imposed that boundary, my impulse was remove any distance between us.

I think back to ICB and the pre-Paris fiasco caused by texting habits that didn’t meet my 48 hour requirement. My 48 hour requirement is a hard limit, regardless of the guy, trust issues, relationship status, anything. If 48 hours go by without me hearing from a guy, cue the narrative of “he’s not into me anymore”. I can manage to keep my shit together and avoid a complete meltdown for 72-96 hours, but on the inside? I can’t focus, I’m miserable, checking my phone 285,764,873 times a day, and practicing the breakup conversation. I thought this was me having standards, finally. Maybe it is. But maybe it is also a completely disproportionate reaction to what is most frequently not an impending breakup?

I feel sorrow. So much pointless suffering. Were any of these relationships meant to be? Nah, really doubt it, they all had their legit problems. But I made myself ill with misery. I inflicted WAY more emotional baggage on these guys than I meant to. So much unhappiness.

I think back to the number of “episodes” I’ve had with coworkers over the past decade. I’ve made people cry at work far more often than the acceptable never. Some ppl have even quit, citing me as the mean reason they lost their appetite for accounting. I have always been hurt by these incidents – why couldn’t they just accept my feedback about their performance? Why didn’t people like me?

I can’t even blame it on my brain. I did this, with my broken personality. To people I loved. To coworkers I respected. To myself.

You should focus on regulating your emotions.

Apparently.

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Today is the day. I feel apprehensive.

August 15, 2018

10:27 am. I saw No Caller ID flash on my cell. Y’all. I hate phone calls, even from friends and family. Especially unexpected ones. Why call when we can text? Unexpected phone calls from strangers? Hell nah. Besides, I had an important meeting at 10:30 that I couldn’t be late for. I let it go to voicemail.

12:01 pm. Get back to my desk. Catch up on emails. Place a few work phone calls that left me grumpy. Deal with a few emergencies. Check my cell, answer the texts from friends. Eat lunch.

12:36 pm. Remember that I had that phone call in the morning, sigh, check the voicemail.

Bonjour Mademoiselle Vanilla, it is Mme. L’infirmière from the psychiatry department at the Big Hospital. We received the recommendation from your family doctor that you required a psychiatric evaluation. I have 2 openings. Please call me back at your earliest convenience if you would like to take advantage of this opportunity.

12:37 pm. Call Mme. L’infirmière back. Get her voicemail. Spend the next 43 minutes biting my fingernails, an anxious miserable mess, convinced I had lost out on an opportunity I’d been waiting on forever, because of my dislike of answering unexpected phone calls and my new found productivity at work. Stupid stupid me. This was proof I should have my cell phone on me every second of every day.

1:21 pm. Jump 3 feet into the air when my cell phone rings. Mme. L’infirmière confides in me that there was only 1 of the 2 spots still opened, and she had purposefully blocked it off for me for 3 hours, to give me a chance to reach her. I’d called her back just in time.

1:26 pm. I burst into tears at my desk. I had a massive headache from sudden and deep relief.


February 27th 2018

My GP identified me as being in the midst a severe major depressive episode, confirmed my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, and referred me for a psychiatric evaluation to rule out the possibility of Bi-polar disorder. I was put on a waiting list. Quebec’s lovely public healthcare system is such that the waiting times to see a psychiatrist are between 2-6 months, depending on the urgency of each patient’s case. Given that I was still employed and not prone to self-harm, I was not deemed an emergency.

August 23rd. 9:30 am. 4 days shy of the 6 month mark, I will finally be seeing a psychiatrist.


August 23, 2018

Here I am, at the hospital, 15 mins early for my appointment. Me. We have established that I am the least punctual person and the opposite of a morning person.

I feel apprehensive.

I’ve tried to write out my emotions for the past week, but couldn’t formulate anything coherent. Same thing at work. Racing thoughts, zero productivity. Fear.

I’m worried that they will determine nothing is wrong, at all. No ADD, nothing. “Mademoiselle Vanilla, clean bill of health. You are just incompetent at the whole adulting concept. We recommend you grow up sooner rather than later.” Most of me knows that isn’t true, my depressions were real, I’ve had too many friends and family and professionals and coworkers notice the difference between “healthy” and “off” Vanilla.

My blog helps. I reread all the posts of the Great Depression of 2017-2018. I’ve not been fully myself for a YEAR now. And it isn’t because of my issues with Hickster. I thought it might be. But then I reread the rest of my posts, going back to 2014 and there are whole stretches of misery that had nothing to do with any boy. My blog keeps me accountable. There’s been a whole lot of tortured anguish this past decade.

I wonder if I will get the answers I need today. If maybe I will soon be able to live in a reality where I know what’s real, and what’s the product of my sick brain. Where I know what emotions are mine. Where I can access the potential I know exists inside me but I never seem to manage to nurture into daylight. Where I can see the sun shine brightly. Where I can love and not inflict the burden of my volatile and unregulated emotions on my close ones, or experience so many episodes of cognitive distortion.

I wonder if soon I will finally have the tools to level the playing field. To know peace. To have a break from my shadow wants me to give in to despair.

I wonder. Maybe, maybe, I too can one day access happiness?

Maybe there are explanations. Maybe there are answers.

Maybe there is hope.

Professional heart emoji

Over the years, I’ve been blessed with the best coworkers anyone could every wish for. Some turned into lasting friendships. Some were limited to really solid interactions at work, and a general feeling of goodwill and fondness when their name pop-up on my social media feeds. I’ve been to the weddings of several former coworkers. 10 years into my career, the number of people that I’ve worked with that have completely changed my life for the better is somewhere in the thirties or forties, whereas the number of really terrible clashes (the kind that toxify the work environment) is limited to 3. I only hope that I can positively impact half as many people in my life. #payitforward #gottagetcracking Highlights include:

Its been two years since I started working at my dream job. And sure enough, the trend continues. It is my dream job because this company hires the most incredible collection of hard-working, fun, dedicated, smart people.

But most importantly? My coworkers are kind.


There was that time this past summer when my situationship with Hickster was coming to an end, and he called me while at work. I took the call in the parking lot, hidden from my coworkers. It was a short and brutal call. I felt something break in me – no matter what I did, or how much I showed I cared, it would never be enough. Good Hickster had skipped town, and Broken Hickster enjoyed bullying me.

For 45 minutes, I hid in that parking lot, unable to stop the tears of shame and grief, worried that my absence would be noticed, yet too distraught to sneak back into the office. I noticed I had a missed call from CSD (update: he is back at the office, periodically runs 10k, and is kicking ass. What a dude!) I called CSD back, still sobbing, and asked if could he pretend he wasn’t talking to Emotional Vanilla, but talk to Kickass-Accountant Vanilla about wtv work issue he wanted to talk about, to distract me until I’d calmed down? Without skipping a beat or asking me to explain, he did. We discussed operational vs financial issues, strategy and approach, and after 20 minutes, I was all fired up and ready to fix all the problems of my company, my face still red, but more Bad-case-of-Allergies red, not OMG-my-entire-family-and-my-dog-got-hit-by-a-bus red. I thanked CSD for not thinking any less of me professionally when clearly my personal life was a trainwreck. “Don’t mention it. Everyone has shit going on. I would never judge you. Sides, I know you’ll fix this, your way, some day.”


I came down with the flu on NYE. On Jan 1, I managed to leave my bed for a total of 1 hour, to go hang out at the kitchen table for 40 mins around lunchtime, and 20 mins around supper time – that so exhausted me I required a 2 hour nap after each adventure. On Jan 2, I fainted in the shower, yet still managed to make it to work: nobody and nothing stops an accountant from closing her year end! By Jan 3, I’d lost 10lbs from never eating.  Today was the first day that I didn’t cough my lungs out in the morning. Progress!

Last Friday I started feeling under the weather again. Like I had a hangover, without having drunk anything. Exhausted, apathetic. I had a quiet weekend, bailing on plans with friends, too tired to work. Monday, I woke up feeling completely wrecked. My kidneys hurt, specifically the left side. Like the immediate after-effects of getting a solid body hook. A dull ache. Bad enough that I chose to stay home – the last time I took an actual sick day for being too unwell to go into the office? Can’t remember. I napped, worked a bit, and drank 6L of water.

By Tuesday, my fever had subsided and my kidney pain had decreased from dull achy pain to discomfort. I went to work: I had some overdue deliverables that were causing serious bottlenecks for too many people.  Year-end, yo. No joke. The one time an accountant cannot be sick. My team was scandalized when they heard my kidneys hurt + fever + no doctor. Go see a doctor, they urged. CSD told me I was probably at risk of irreversible renal scaring which could lead to renal failure. GO SEE A DOCTOR.

Wednesday morning, I dragged myself to my clinic for the drop-in hours. As per my recent experiences, there was no space for me, because I had showed up at 9am. I should show up 15 minutes before doors open… at 7:30 if I was serious about seeing a doctor, obvi. Y’all. I am not even awake by 7:30 on a good day, never mind when I am sick and weak and tired. So I went to work. CSD shook his head and bemoaned my impending death. My little GAB team-member was so worried, she took my Medicare card and spent her lunch hour trying to find me a doctor’s appointment using the online health care system. She failed. She signed me up for automatic text messages for any last minute openings at nearby clinics. When I missed one because I was in a meeting, she became so upset, she gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the day. As she left work at the end of the day, she threatened me, “Vanilla if you end up in the hospital, I might not visit you and I definitely won’t bring you any homemade cookies. GO SEE A DOCTOR.”


Kindness, yo. When my brain seeks to tell me I am unlovable, I am incredibly touched that the people with whom I spend so many hours in a given week would care so much about my well-being. These people know me, like I let very few people ever know me. And they think I’m alright.

My kidneys might be failing, but my shadow can suck it. I matter. My coworkers prove it.

#dreamjob

Not my street cred: A story about livers and attitude

This is not my story. But it is a story, nonetheless.


Almost 2 years ago, I joined my current company. As part of the onboarding process, I was teamed with an “office mate”, a dude named CSD, to show me around, answer generic questions, be my go-to person about life at the office. He worked in Ops, was a manager and was chosen because he is “youngish, funny, outspoken, opinionated like you, Vanilla. Pretty sure you guys will really get along.” CSD quickly became my friend & my ally. Ops and Finance sometimes struggle to collaborate, so it was great having someone to keep me connected to the “real” world from up top in my ivory finance tower. CSD is super smart, efficient and pig-headed like me, but goes about office politics very differently from me. I value his opinion, and would often seek it out. We chatted almost every day.

About 9 months ago, CSD started missing work with semi-regular frequency, and working from home. I missed my buddy – who could I rant to, when I needed to say the things that I couldn’t, as a manager, say in front of my team? Why was CSD not in the office when I needed him? I didn’t pry, bc CSD has excellent work ethic, so his absences could only mean health issues, and that was none of my business. About 6 months ago, the frequency became almost weekly. I worried. But coworker-friends are different from non-coworker friends: privacy & boundaries are a thing. CSD eventually asked for my advice on how to broach a health update with senior management, because of my talent for writing: revealing enough to address their worries without over-sharing. That’s how I found out that CSD was up against a big-time health issue, not a small-time hypochondriac issue.

It’s no secret that the Qc healthcare system has not been good to my family (Exhibit A: my mom. Exhibit B: my youth, how I was branded a cripple before I turned 12. Exhibit C: my difficulty finding a GP). So when CSD’s health issues proved to be complicated to diagnose, I mourned, anticipating another life derailed by Fate and our bureaucratic, incompetent, healthcare system. It seemed so unfair: CSD was young, took care of himself, ate healthily, exercised regularly. Pretty sure he recycled.

Last week, CSD underwent a successful liver transplant, necessary to save his life. Chatting with him via Messenger, 24 hours after surgery:

Holy shit I’m kicking some ass and taking names! Vanilla, I’ve set 3 hospital records already. What did I tell you about that attitude, lol? I woke up today and demanded the ventilator be removed. I was eating solids and walking less than 24hours after the op. (Side note: that alone BLOWS MY MIND. In each of my surgeries requiring a general anesthetic, I was puking my guts out for almost 2-3 days, so violently did my body reject those drugs.) How? Well, I’m a bit of an animal. I hate hospitals. And I have a tenacious attitude to get the fuck out. I gave myself a goal: I get a new tv and PS4 pro if I can get released for home. Then in 6months a 2week vacation down south, and in 1year a 2week trip to Greece with the fam.

Here’s my philosophy: I don’t know what’s in front of me but I know I have to jump off the deep end and just keep swimming. Can’t turn around, just keep moving no matter how fast the current. (*)


I sat with a goofy, teary smile plastered on my face for an hour after getting the news his surgery was successful. My relief was so profound. I realized that for all these months, I’d assumed that his would not be a happy ending. That’s a pretty fucked up attitude to have. Maybe my friend is not wrong when she suggests I have room for improvement in my optimistic outlook on life. I marvel at CSD’s messages immediately post-op. That would not be my attitude. I am not sure I am even capable of that attitude (**). I do know that no matter what life throws at me, no matter how deep my despair, I have this seemingly endless capacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when I can’t see my way forward – that is what makes this battle with my shadow so exhausting, but is also, as my therapist reminds me, what stops me from being suicidal, so “count your blessings Vanilla!

Still, I can draw certain parallels btn CSD’s approach to life, and my own. We both believe in investing in one’s health on a regular, preventive basis. His habit of regular exercise and mostly healthy diet is a huge factor in his supersonic recovery. Most of my therapy sessions are not covered by my insurance, because mental health is still taboo, and psychologists do not enrich Big Pharma and the economy, so insurance companies do not typically cover more than a handful of therapy sessions. I calculate that between my previous 20month therapy stint, and my current one, I’ve paid $10K out of pocket. This funk might be a bad one, but those $10K have given me a toolbox to help me put the breaks on this funk’s attempt to spiral into something much worse. Then I wonder if maybe we both are kidding ourselves: if Fate really wanted to fuck shit up, there is nothing anyone could do to prevent it.

I’m so happy Fate decided not to fuck shit up this time. And I’m so so happy that CSD’s story has a happy ending. 


This is the Facebook post CSD made public yesterday, which I share with y’all to raise awareness of both the medical condition and the organizations in our province and country that work to bridge the gaps in our healthcare system, and because I can’t possibly do a better job than he at conveying his inspiring attitude.

As many of you may not be aware today is the one week anniversary since I was the recipient of an orthotopic liver transplant. This emergency and life saving operation was required due to a very rare genetic blood disorder known as Budd-Chiari Syndrome and without it, I would have been lucky to have made it to my birthday next month.

Because things have been going quite well and (fingers crossed) I’m on my way to a successful recovery, today I finally felt comfortable to publicly start sharing a few photos of my story as well as take this opportunity to draw some much needed attention to highlight a few of the many, many amazing people and organizations that make life saving transplantation in Canada possible.

Firstly, I want to share my thanks to the selfless and incredible work of the nursing and support staff from the ICU and transplantation units at the MUHC Royal Victoria Hospital. Without them none of this would have been possible and I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the incredible quality of care. They, along with the doctors, have been the highlight of this whole experience. We are very fortunate in this country to have these men and women dedicated to our healthcare and make no mistake, they need our support. So especially if you’re a resident of Quebec, please take the time to become informed on the funding current situation. Our nurses and doctors deserve better.

Side note – I will be writing about my experiences in an upcoming op-ed in the coming weeks as I’ve had the chance to hear many, many of their stories. And, after spending a number of weeks deeply imbedded in the public healthcare environment, I’ve become a very strong advocate for a patient-specific healthcare system in this country.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to a number of the organizations that raise awareness, funding and provide support for transplantation in Canada. Please consider donating. Without them, many of our fellow Canadians would not be with us today.
The Canadian Transplant Association (CTA), is a registered charitable organization founded to enrich and celebrate life while promoting organ and tissue donation across Canada.
The Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) is devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease.
CORD is Canada’s national network for organizations representing all those with rare disorders. CORD works with governments, researchers, clinicians and industry to promote research, diagnosis, treatment and services for all rare disorders in Canada.

Thanks, and look forward to sharing more of my story as I continue down the path towards better health and a full recovery.


Disclaimer: I requested, and received, CSD’s full permission to share his story on my blog. This is one of those rare times where I write about a coworker on my blog – mainly because this story is far bigger than the restrictive label “coworker”.

(*) CSD would like it to be known that he was high off morphine when he wrote that. While he stands by the content, he wishes to clarify that his normal writing style is mildly less grandiose.

(**) CSD also would like to point out that he played an 18-hole round of golf after getting the phone call that he’d been matched to a liver, and was to show up to the hospital the next morning for the transplant operation. I am definitely not capable of that attitude. 

Forgiveness is bullshit – a story about my mother & Quebec’s healthcare system

“Forgive and forget? No, that’s being gullible. Forgive, sure; but never forget what that person did to you, and make sure they never have the opportunity to do it to you again.” – my aunt, one of the few women I know who has broken through the glass ceiling in her male-dominated industry (electrical engineering).

Let me tell you a story. But first, I invite you all to read this post. I want you to imagine me, sitting on the kitchen floor, as my father tells me what happened. Imagine a grown man, sobbing so hard, he is almost inarticulate. Imagine the two cops standing in the hallway hearing every word, uncomfortably aware that they have to do a minimal investigation to ensure this wasn’t a homicide, and probably desperately wishing that the coroner would show up and sign the damned papers so that they can give privacy to what is clearly an innocent family tragedy. Imagine my best friend, standing next to those cops, unsure of what to do, willing himself to be deaf and not hear the following.


My beloved mother was a walking pharmacy. She had bazillion different illnesses and conditions, each requiring medication, and requiring her GP and pharmacist to be expert jig-saw puzzlers, as they worked to ensure none of her medications were incompatible with each other, or worsened any of the side-effects. Without revealing all of her medical history, it is pertinent to this story to disclose that she had a heart condition, suffered from fibromyalgia and a complicated chronic pain condition as well as a rapidly worsening spinal stenosis. For anyone that doesn’t know that those terms mean, or the pharmaceutical implications, it means she was on medication for her heart, and dangerously high levels of different pain medications.

She took the controversial medication Lyrica. Look it up. Some of the side-effects include depression and suicide. It causes a lot of strain on the heart, which is why it is strongly recommended (big Pharma slang for “do this, or else you will get fucked but you can’t sue us because we warned y’all”) to keep dosage constant, and if for wtv reason the patient decides to stop taking it, it must be done extremely gradually, over months, by diminishing slowly the dosage, to avoid over-straining the patient’s heart.

In the week before her death, my mother realised her supply of Lyrica was low, and worse, her prescription had run out. Of course, Murphy’s law dictated that she was living through a bad phase of pain – leaving the house was too hard. She missed the first day of her GP’s drop in clinic that week. She (barely) managed to show up on the Wednesday, a few minutes before it closed. Her GP refused to take her, she didn’t want to stay late because she was leaving on vacation that evening. Having been my mother’s GP for over a decade, she knew my mother’s file inside out. My mother attempted to plead with the receptionist, but the receptionist was frazzled and overworked, and my mother found standing up too painful, so she decided to just go home and lie down, without getting the prescription. Her Lyrica ran out that night.

Thursday, her state worsened. My father was worried to leave her and go to work, but my mother convinced him that she’d be ok – afterall she had tons of morphine and other opiates as backup pain medication. Thursday night, my father was panicked, because my mother was wheezing more than normal, sweating, and was clearly in an unmanageable amount of pain. Friday, my father took time off work, and waited at the local pharmacy until the head pharmacist, who has known my parents for over 30 years, arrived. Crying, he explained my mother’s situation and begged the pharmacist to sell him some Lyrica, without a prescription, to tide over my mother until her GP’s return from vacation. Let us be clear: he was asking the pharmacist to do something illegal, that could cost him his licence and career. God bless that pharmacist, he agreed because he deemed the risks to my mother’s heart, given her heart condition, to be too great. Unfortunately, he did not have the particular dosage that my mother required. So he sold my father a weaker dosage of Lyrica, because that is all he could provide.

My mother had been off Lyrica, cold-turkey, for 36 hours at that point. She started taking the weaker dosage on Friday night. My father didn’t sleep that night, because he was too frightened by her moans in her sleep and labored breathing.

She died in her sleep Saturday night.


The coroner determined that it was impossible to determine whether her lungs or her heart had stopped working first. He acknowledged that the yo-yoing drugs most likely played a role. He did not deem there to be sufficient cause to investigate anything further. He confirmed something which we already knew – my mother’s health was a ticking time-bomb. So many precarious, interrelated factors, held together in tenuous equilibrium… if it hadn’t been the Lyrica prescription, it could have happened a few weeks later due to something else.

I made all the calls to friends and family to advise them of my mother’s death. I refused to notify her GP, because I knew I would be incapable of doing so in a socially acceptable manner, and I was incapable of breaking the news to the pharmacist. My father did so, a few weeks later, when he returned all of my mother’s medication to be disposed of safely.


Why tell this story? Why now, on this sunny September day, that is not an anniversary of anything note-worthy in either my life or my mother’s?

When I moved out 10+ years ago, I stopped being a patient of my family doctor (same doctor as above – maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, afterall). After 2-3 years, I found a GP. She changed medical practices, and I didn’t get my act together in time to follow her. I didn’t have a doctor for all these years, until this fall, when a new clinic opened up near my place, and I got accepted as a patient. My relief was profound – I am getting to an age where I am starting to have worrisome question marks, and have a family history that is scary, on multiple fronts. My new GP helped me transition back onto Ritalin, for the first time in years. We had more work to do to tweak my dosage, and she required me to book appointments in 3 month-intervals, for the next year, until we got things just right.

I called the clinic this week to book my next appointment, only to find out that my doctor had decided to go back to school for the next 4 years. She did not transfer my file to any other doctor. I’m back at square one. I still have my question marks. And a prescription for a controlled substance that I currently cannot renew.

Rage. What I feel is rage. I have not forgotten. And I do not forgive either our shit healthcare system, backed by anonymous bureaucrats and passive/corrupt/indifferent/naïve/I-frankly-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-the-right-adjective-is politicians or the doctors that forget/don’t care that their actions change and sometimes end lives.