I wrote this story sitting at a work station on the Queen of Surrey ferry, bound from Langdale to Horseshoe Bay. Rain was lashing the sea. Winds up to 60 kph were churning up waves that threatened to delay the next sailing and my husband’s chance of going with me to Mt. St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver. I was scheduled for surgery at noon. I’d be drugged afterward and unable to see. I needed to travel with an escort.

My husband and I had arrived by car at the Langdale terminal 40 minutes ahead of the 8:40 a.m. sailing. We had been confident our early arrival on a fall, non-holiday Tuesday would get us on the boat.

I checked the ferry’s Current Conditions webpage. It stated that the boat at 7:58 was 98 percent full. We rolled past the ticket booth at 7:59 and were told we probably wouldn’t get on.

Once parked in the lineup, just inside the terminal, I got out of the car and showed a ferry employee my Travel Assistance Program (TAP) form. “I have to have an escort. Can we get on?” I asked.

She directed me to a supervisor down the hill. The supervisor, Kelly, was a congenial, helpful woman who wouldn’t give her surname.

I showed her my TAP (Travel Assistance Program) form and said, “Can I get on with my car? The hospital may deny my surgery if I show up without an escort.”

“A guy just came and asked the same thing,” Kelly said, “and I had to say no. It’s policy.”

I looked again at Current Conditions after I boarded as a foot passenger.

It was “no” for me as well, but Kelly gave some advice. She said in an urgent medical situation where car travel on the ferry is essential, I could ask my doctor for a Medical Assured Loading letter.

The province’s Medical Assured Loading Program allows doctors to request assured boarding privileges for patients who must travel by car to a critical medical appointment. Only the doctor can apply for the letter. Patients must bring both their TAP form and the MAL letter to the terminal at least 30 minutes before a sailing. The letter allows them to board when other cars are held back, although there is no guarantee there will be boarding space.

A MAL letter would have helped prevent a lot of stress for me on Tuesday. After living on the coast for seven years, this was the first time I had heard of it. I doubt if my surgeon, who works out of Vancouver, had heard of the MAL program either.

Luckily, my husband made it to the hospital and all went well. But situations like this should be avoided. Some types of medical care are far more urgent than my own, and the stress of boarding a ferry–or not–can makes things worse.

The Health Ministry should publicize the MAL program better, especially to Coastal residents. Better yet, include a MAL section on the TAP form to make life easier for doctors and healthier for ferry-dependent patients.