British Columbia

'I feel like I've just lost my family': Oliver pub closes as owner seeks health treatment abroad

The owner of a neighbourhood pub in Oliver has closed down her business in order to seek treatment in China for chronic pain she's experienced since a traffic accident in 2017.

Christine MacKinnon heading to China after frustration over long wait for MRI

Murphy's Irish Sports Bar and Grill owner Christine MacKinnon has run the Oliver, B.C., pub for the past nine years. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

For the past nine years, Christine MacKinnon has been welcoming customers to Murphy's Irish Sports Bar and Grill in Oliver, B.C., with a quick smile — but last Saturday, she poured her last pint.

MacKinnon has closed down her business in order to seek treatment in her home country of China for the chronic pain she's been experiencing since she was rear-ended in a traffic collision in 2017.

"I'm young. I still want to work but I can't work," she said.

In closing the bar, MacKinnon has had to lay off six employees and say goodbye to dozens of regular customers.

"I love this small town. Our bar is just like a family. Ninety per cent of our customers [are people who] come here every day. I feel like I've just lost my family," MacKinnon said.

Frustrated with wait times

MacKinnon has seen her family doctor, been to the emergency room for an X-ray, had an MRI scan and has been treated by three chiropractors, but no one has been able to properly diagnose her pain, she said.

Her family doctor ordered a second MRI scan but MacKinnion has become frustrated with the waiting time and the lack of progress in treating her pain.

"After I [last] saw my family doctor I changed my mind and said, 'I'm done. I need to go back to China,'" she said.

"When I go to China and see a doctor, the next day I can get an MRI."

Murphy's Irish Sports Bar and Grill is located in Oliver's historic Desert Arms Hotel on the town's Main Street. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

Wait times for an MRI scan in the South Okanagan range from three to six months according to Tim Rode, program director for medical imaging with the Interior Health Authority.

"It is somewhat on the high side and this can be quite a frustrating experience for someone waiting for an MRI," Rode said.

Last year the provincial government increased funding for MRIs in B.C. to allow for more scans to be conducted each year, according to Rode. He added that the South Okanagan region is getting a new MRI machine that is expected to be running by this spring.

'We are a big family here'

Like many pubs in small towns across B.C., Murphy's has pool tables, widescreen TVs playing sports highlights, a weekly special for chicken wings and a cast of regular customers who all know the staff and each other by name.

For bar manager Gabby Campbell, who has worked for MacKinnon for the past four years, the sadness she feels about Murphy's closing is less about losing a regular paycheque, and more about the loss of community.

"I'm really down about it," Campbell said. "I'm going to miss my customers, I'm going to miss my boss. We are all a big family here."

The sentiment is shared among a group of regulars sitting at a table in the corner of the pub.

Ramona Medwayosh fell in love with Frank, who would become her husband, when the two started going to Murphy's after softball games 16 years ago.

"We know everybody at every table and when this is gone, what are people going to do?" Ramona asked.

Frank is worried about many of the older patrons who have come to rely on the pub as their community gathering place. 

He's also upset that MacKinnon feels she needs to go abroad to be treated.

"We are Canada. We are supposed to have guaranteed health care," he said.

"Why are we floating toward the type of country that has terrible health care? I don't get it."

MacKinnon feels the weight of what closing Murphy's will mean for her customers' and employees' lives — but she aims to return to the community with a new venture.

"I am not sure I can come back to open the pub, but I want to open another business," she said. "I want all my employees back to work for me."

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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