Why I Paid $30,000 For a Hip-Replacement Surgery

"I still don’t understand why I was able to get surgery in eight weeks when I paid for it, but 18 to 24 months if I’d used the public system."

May 16, 2023

“In June of 2021, brutal pain began ripping through my left hip. I’m not sure what happened—maybe years of pitching my golf swing to that side wore it down. The only way I could escape the pain was by lying down. Even putting on socks was a trial.

I went to my family doctor, and a few days later we did an X-ray to see if I had torn a muscle in my hip joint. It showed some mild arthritis. But the pain just kept getting worse. He ordered an MRI, and a cancellation meant I got it earlier than expected—after “just” four months. When the results came back in November of 2021, they showed a fracture in the head of my femur, with the cartilage torn up all around it. When my doctor saw this, he consulted with an orthopaedic surgeon he knew, who said, “This requires a new hip.” He put me on the list to go see a surgeon right away, but it took six months for one to become free. When I finally met with someone, he said the wait for the surgery would be 18 to 24 months. 

I was deflated. By this time, I had spent almost a year bedridden. The prospect of losing two more years was disheartening. I spoke with several private clinics, shopping around, all of whom told me the same thing: once I put a deposit down, it would only be eight weeks’ waiting time. In July of 2022 I connected with a clinic in Montreal that specializes in joint replacements. By September, I put down a $1,000 deposit and was booked for surgery for November. We flew in on a Sunday, did the surgery on a Wednesday, and by Saturday I was flying back home.

All told, the surgery and travel cost me close to $30,000. I still don’t understand why I was able to get surgery in eight weeks when I paid for it, but 18 to 24 months if I’d used the public system. My pain is gone, and I’m back to golfing. Being on my back for 15 months cost me muscle mass that, at my age, I’ll never gain back. But that’s life. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t want to spend that money. The way I see it, it’s the cost of an entry-level Toyota Corolla. I sympathize with people who say you shouldn’t be able to jump the queue. The truth is, this was the only way I could get my life back.”

—As told to Anthony Milton

This article originally appeared in the June issue of Maclean’s, alongside Christina Frangou’s investigation into the growing world of private health care in Canada.