As August, and with it Summer 2014, faded away – not unlike a wide-body jetliner climbing and gaining altitude until it shimmers out of visual range after departing off a runway at Chicago O’Hare International Airport – I too felt like I had climbed out of sight when I arrived at McGill University in Montreal. I was here to matriculate into McGill’s Faculty of Law and its LL.M. degree program (an LL.M. is a Master’s degree in law). Specifically I was beginning McGill’s LL.M. degree in Air and Space Law. Of course it was an exciting time, but much more so than any outside observer might think, because I realized that, at such a midpoint in my career (and also in my lifetime – 60 years of age was a milestone I passed a while back) I was lucky to be here. And ever since my childhood I have held a deep fascination for Canada. But little did I realize that almost nothing of what I thought I knew about Canada (mostly from being a Hockey Dad in suburban Chicago) would matter, when my fate went completely out of my hands.
On April 6, 2015, two paramedics of Montreal’s Urgences-santé rushed me to an Emergency Room where, after diagnostic tests (and triage) spanning some 10 hours, I had an almost six-hour open-heart surgery. It was quite an emergency because (as the surgeon informed me) I faced a virtually certain death within 48 hours. I had experienced an aortic dissection – de-layering of the body’s major blood-supply vessel. It kind of exemplifies the phrase, “life-threatening”.
People back home occasionally ask what I think about Canada’s health care system, especially in light of how the U.S. still wrestles with system reform. I have no idea what I think about Canada’s health care system, because quite simply and inelegantly stated, the paramedics, doctors, and other health care professionals at the Montreal hospital saved my life. System issues hold not very much comprehensible relevance, at least not for this writer, not yet anyway.
What emerges most comprehensibly from my experience is that it makes all the sense in the world to me that my medical emergency happened in Canada and Montreal in particular. All of my life – since the time somewhere in boyhood when I read Farley Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens – I have wanted to experience Canada. So, if you see a perhaps enraptured gray-beard in a concourse at Aeroport du Montréal, singing “. . . Our home and native land, True patriot love. . .” while walking, feel free to laugh at the off-key effort. The real key is knowing where you’re going, and when I departed for McGill in August 2014 little did I realize that I would not finally depart here, thanks to a pretty great crew of paramedics, doctors and nurses, and other health care professionals. Oh, and throw in a hearty “Keep Your Stick on the Ice” – courtesy (metaphorically speaking) of McConnell Ice Arena!
-Neil Wolf, McGill University, Faculty of Law