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September-October 2016

What a radical restructuring of Canada’s health care system would look like

More hospital funding, empathy, intersectionality, and more

Kaleigh Trace@KaleighTrace

ThisMagazine50_coverLores-minFor our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!


I’ve read a lot of hospital memoirs lately: anecdotes featuring shit and piss—stories that detail the bloody mess of having a body. I can see myself in them. It’s soothing to witness your own physical pain and trauma (and moments of hilarious bodily fluid explosions) mirrored back. As a disabled woman, I ache for community that normalizes my “abnormal” body.

At the same time, I often cringe. It’s a complicated cringe. I’m not grossed out. It’s more a cringe of fear. When I read about other sick and disabled people who stipulate that their bodies be respected and their truths be heard, I feel admiration, respect, and a certain kind of panic. It’s a (perhaps irrational)worry that good health care provision is a finite resource that will be taxed by too many of us asking, asking, asking.

Over the years my strained relationship with the Canadian health care complex has achieved a fine balance: I don’t ask for a lot but I firmly demand what I need. My strategy for self-advocacy when navigating the doctor’s office: wear a nice blouse. Speak calmly and know how to describe your pain. Don’t complain when they touch your body without asking first. My strategy is significantly bolstered by my white skin. My tactics are assisted by my expensive clothes. It matters that I am a cisgender woman. All the ways that I pass make it easier.

In Canada we are lucky to have access to health care and I am grateful. But still I long for more—for better. I dream of a future where our Canadian health care system is radically restructured. I want for health care to be truly accessible. I imagine a world where patients are recognized and trusted as holding expert knowledge concerning their own bodies.

In this dream world hospitals would be better funded. In this dream world health care practitioners would work less and have more space and time for each patient. Medical school would not only teach students how to care for the sick but also learn empathy. The medical understanding of the human experience would be intersectional. Imagine a world where your health care practitioner could acknowledge the physical implications of living in a white supremacist patriarchy, as well as understand the functionality of your liver. Imagine a tiered system where hospitals involved social service workers, counsellors, and peer support workers as well as nurses and doctors.

Imagine a world where disability or physical difference was not a problem to be solved, rectified, and rendered normal, but where we instead honoured our individual resilience. I want for a doctor’s office that can offer me relief, but still see me as strong. I want to take a page from all of those memoirs and confidently ask, ask, and ask. I want for my body to leak, sway, and take up space, and to demand no less for all of that.

Kaleigh Trace is a disability activist & sex educator. Her first book is Hot, Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex.

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