The judges of this year’s Health Talks Student Contest chose Jessica Kim’s essay on health care for immigrants and refugees as the winner, but they would like to recognize two runners-up for their outstanding entries:
Master of Occupational Therapy Student
University of British Columbia
Master of Community Health Science Student
University of British Columbia Okanagan
Marlin lived off the beautiful BC coast. He hadn’t been feeling well for a while, and although he tried to ignore it, it wasn’t getting any better. Finally his wife convinced him to go to the doctor for help.
He explained to the doctor, “I’ve put on quite a bit of weight lately, and I’ve been feeling really tired.”
The doctor told him “The cure for what ails you is simple. Go outside for a short walk every day.”
“But doctor, I’m not sure this is going to work…” Marlin started.
“Well, let’s give it a try, and you can come back to see me if it isn’t working,” and the doctor left.
One week passes. Marlin returned to the doctor’s office, worse than before. “Doctor, I’ve been doing what you said. I tried going outside to walk, but I just can’t. It’s impossible,” he said.
“Well, here’s some informational material on walking groups, and some studies that support walking as the best cure for your illness. It should help you get motivated to start.”
“But motivation isn’t the problem” Marlin pleaded, “the problem is-”
The doctor interrupted him again “I understand it’s hard, but it really is the best solution. Read the literature, and let’s go from there.”
Again, a week passed. Marlin returned with a large, swollen belly and sores on his face.
“Did you follow my instructions?” the doctor asked, frustrated. “I’ve seen patients like you before, always the same result. You don’t follow my recommendations, then you’re surprised when you don’t get better!”
“Yes, but isn’t there another way? I live…”
“I understand where you live might make walking difficult, but you have to take responsibility for your health.”
One week later Marlin was worse still. But this time he didn’t go see the doctor, he didn’t seek help. There wasn’t any point. The doctor wouldn’t listen to him. No matter how he tried to follow the doctor’s instructions, he couldn’t. Marlin was a fish. He went outside to walk but the fresh air burned like fire – he couldn’t breath, and his scales dried up, turning into open sores. He was trying to seek help in a system that didn’t recognize his unique needs, and ended up doing more harm than good.
Marlin is a metaphor for many Indigenous people in Canada today. My hope for health care is that we can give them a voice in their care, and a place where their values are acknowledged and respected. Indigenous people have had their voices taken away, and their experiences invalidated in Canadian healthcare. I believe by providing them with a safe space to share their stories, and by asking how we can make their health care work for them, we can work with them to improve Indigenous health outcomes. In fact, I believe by incorporating the Indigenous perspective of wellness into the existing framework of health, we may gain insight into tools to improve care for all Canadians.