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Film In Review

Mike Hallatt, co-founder of Benny’s bagels,premiered his first documentary film ‘Uncle Herb’ about end of life issues and how they intersect health care at Kerrisdale Community Centre’s Creative Artisti Series on January 22, 2012. Here is the movie review (For those that missed it)!!

“An Exploration of Gourmet Healthcare”

Reviewed by Trina Moran

Someone in your family needs surgery to correct a condition that is life threatening. Now imagine if your health care system denied them the surgery. Why? They’re too old, it’s too risky, and someone else needs that procedure more than they do. Now, these reasons seem a little unacceptable, right? ‘Uncle Herb’, a documentary by Vancouverite Michael Hallat, explores this exact predicament. His own Uncle Herb, whom the documentary follows, is denied surgery to correct his abdominal aorta aneurysm. Why? Because he’s 89 years old and the Canadian healthcare system deems Herb ‘too old’ and the surgery ‘too risky’. Herb, a spry and determined ex-WWII military officer refuses to take ‘too old’ and ‘too risky’ for an answer. Instead, he heads to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the Dalai Lama of American healthcare. As far as Herb himself is concerned, he loves life and is willing to do, travel, and pay whatever it takes to ensure he keeps living. Hallat notes that Herb is proud of his service during WWII and describes the Canadian healthcare’s attitude towards Herb as ‘here’s a blanket, go home, make yourself comfortable, and die’. As far as Herb is concerned, he did not fight the Nazis to take a blanket, go home, make himself comfortable, and die. Thus, Herb and his nephew Michael set out for America in search of the healthcare Herb deserves.

Hallat escorts Herb throughout the entire duration of Herb’s surgery. In a trailer they embark on their journey to Rochester. From grocery shopping in Wal-Mart for healthy snacks to keeping a vigil watch by Herb’s hospital bed, Hallat documents every segment of Herb’s pilgrimage to the private American healthcare system as well as his progress through it. Herb has to pass a variety of medical tests just to get Mayo to agree to his procedure. We observe the hospitality of the staff of the Mayo Clinic which has a sharp contrast to the ‘hospitality’ many of us has experienced in hospitals here in Canada. It makes us stop and think, where is the ‘hospital’ in ‘hospitality’ as we watch Herb encounter the countless friendly and caring healthcare workers, the luxurious hotel-like hospital room, and the brandy spiced pears they feed him. Last time I visited someone in the hospital the dessert option was diet butterscotch pudding, or what is supposed to pass for diet butterscotch pudding. Overall, Hallat describes the hospitality of the Mayo Clinic as being ‘treated like a rock star by a rock star.’

Hallat’s perspective on the vast contrast in the two healthcare systems is adamant. He watches the difference $98,000 makes when it comes to your own health in America. The message behind ‘Uncle Herb’ is simple and simultaneously raises a lot of perplexing questions. Should health care be treated like a business transaction? For anyone who has had a loved one endure a lengthy hospital stay on Canadian soil, ‘Uncle Herb’ is a shocker and aggravating. From my experience in B.C. hospitals, it is rare to witness such ‘casual confidence’ in health care workers. Hallat remarks that everyone at the Mayo Clinic ‘had the time to be interested’ in Herb and that it all ‘seemed to be part of their system’ as they were ‘put to ease with [their] kindness’. The only similarity between the two distinct healthcare systems is the attitude towards discharging their patients. The Mayo Clinic wanted to discharge Herb at the earliest possible date ‘so that they can work some magic on the next person’ for another princely fee. Whereas hospitals here want to discharge you as soon as possible because someone else needs the bed more than you do.

At the close of 52 minutes, we are met with ‘the New and Improved Herb’. He survives the life-threatening surgery and makes a full recovery. Something the Canadian healthcare system did not believe he would be capable of. Without the surgery he received from the Mayo Clinic, Herb would not have lived as long as he has. Is this not the ultimate goal of us all to live as long and as best we can?  And why is our own healthcare system denying us that? Herb was underestimated by doctors and healthcare professionals in Canada, but for $98,000 he had the full confidence of American healthcare professionals. He fought a war for Canada who refused to endure him, and paid a sum to America who allowed him to continue to enjoy the very freedoms he fought for. Overall, Hallat examines one of the most superior healthcare systems in the world while closing in on the disheartening reality of being underestimated by the people closest to you. Hallat notes, ‘it’s impossible to imagine the best healthcare system in the world until you experience it yourself’.