Five months ago after five hours of excruciating pain, a pain I never felt and couldn’t actually pinpoint the source of, I broke down and told my wife, fuck it, I gotta go to the emergency room. Now I’m a pretty tough cookie, over the years I have set and splinted numerous broken fingers on my own without ever seeing a doctor. I’ve used gauze and duct tape on cuts that should have had a dozen stitches, reset my own dislocated shoulder with the helpful cheering on of an old drinking buddy, and over the last 30 years have kept on working with dozens of different injuries that would have sidelined most people for weeks. I don’t say this as a form of self adulation to bask in some machismo bullshit, only to make the point that I can tolerate a lot of pain. It’s not like I had some wacky need to become this way, it’s just that when you are a single father of two kids for ten years like I was, doing a job that often results in injuries, you sometimes get hurt. And when the job conditions are such that if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, or collect benefits unless you are off for two or more weeks from that injury, you get up and work. Period.
So when I tell my wife that I have decided to go the the hospital, she knows I’m serious.
More after the jump….
The first ER we went to was close to home, and on a Saturday night about midnight, was filled with crack-heads, poor people, and street drunks. Not entirely unexpected for that part of town, I just didn’t know there would be so many of them. I don’t mind the people there, in my youth I was a dope fiend, dirt poor street drunk myself, I just wasn’t up to waiting 6 hours just to get a seat. We opted to drive over the the ritzy east side and sure enough, there were only three people in the whole waiting room.
In less than a half hour I got my paperwork out of the way, blood drawn, and was taken to my very own bed in a three sided cubicle, fully equipped with a nice curtain doorway, and a picture of sad looking Jesus on the wall, right next to the pain intensity chart.
The nice triage nurse comes in, inserts an IV, (You’ve got great veins!) and asks me if I want a shot for the pain. I’m thinking to myself, do I look like someone who enjoys this shit?
OF COURSE I WANT A FUCKING SHOT!
Yes, I do, I say. She leaves and promptly comes back with The Shot. In no time at all life is looking better.
I kinda lost track of time but something like ten minutes went by and the nurse comes back in and asks how the pain is. I put on my best orphaned puppy face, lie and tell her, still hurts. She points at the pain chart next to sad Jesus and asks what number would accurately reflect my level of pain. I give it a cursory glance and tell her this is rock and roll, it’s definitely 11. She laughs and says she has to ask the doctor. In a few minutes Spock comes in along with the nurse, asks a few questions, tells her to give me the shot, then leaves.
I watch her draw it up, same size as the first one. Sweet, I like this girl.
Now I’m no stranger to being fucked up, as I hinted at above, I spent about ten years doing not much else besides getting fucked up, but holy shit, what a buzz. While I was laying there loving the universe, thinking damn, this feels something like a belly full of Rorer 714s, washed down with a bottle of MadDog, and a couple bowls of black hash, a new, not as nice lady, arrives with a wheelchair to take me off to the scanning room. On the way out, after I somehow got my stoned ass into the wheelchair, I wink at my wife and tell her to try and get a carry out of The Shot from the magical triage nurse.
While I dream of Happy Furry Puppies and my love for triage nurse, grumpy girl and I travel over the river and through the woods until we arrive at the scanner. I do my best at sobering up long enough to get on and off the scanning bed by myself, and managed to get my pants down around my knees, then back up again, all while under the blanket she had given me. I didn’t flash her The Unit once. On the way back she was much more cheerful and engaged me in some small talk. In the elevator I finally noticed she was rather good looking, quite attractive actually, and It occurred to me that she was probably tired of pushing totally fucked up men twice her age down lonely corridors late at night while they hit on her in their synthetic stupor, and then in the quiet awkward solitude of the scanner room as she struggled to help them get their fucking pants on and off.
I think she appreciated my fortitude under the assault of not one, but Two Shots, and my ability to handle my own business if you will. At any rate, we parted as buddies, but I didn’t love her. Not the way I loved the Girl With The Shots. She said the doctor would arrive with the results shortly. Thanks for the ride scanner girl.
Back in my cubicle with my lovely wife DeannaHawk and sad Jesus at my side, I laid back, enjoyed the absence of pain, and longed for the time when the Girl with The Shots and I were seeing each other. Spock soon interrupted my bliss when he showed up clutching a unrecognizable picture and a diagnosis.
Kidney Stone. Look right there. You probably passed it about the time you were getting to the scanning room. Look there, it leaves a little scarring as it makes its way through the kidney. It hurts so bad because it basically looks like a tiny ball of barbed wire. You’re lucky, it was relatively small, no need to do anything else for treatment. Drink lots of water. Follow up with your regular doctor in a few days.
Is that it? Yup. Thanks Doc.
I refuse a ride in the chair to the front door and as I am leaving my little cubicle I see my Goddess, the Angel of The Shots, just outside the curtain. She smiles and says good luck. I smile back and tell her she’s the best.
She smiles again because she already knows this. She is the best. That girl hooked my ass up when she knew I no more needed that second shot than America needed a McCain presidency. I miss that girl.
We drive home while my wife teases be about being so wasted. After that, I don’t remember much.
A few weeks later the bills start to arrive. The radiologist, the lab, something else I can’t remember, a total of about $350. Nothing from the hospital. Finally after 3 1/2 months I get the bill from the hospital.
$5800. Five thousand Eight hundred dollars.
I called my Insurance company to see why they hadn’t paid anything. They said that they didn’t know anything about the claim, nothing had been submitted to them. I called the hospital, they blame the insurance company and say they never responded to their bill. I call the insurance people back and they stick to their story, then tell me to call the hospital and have them re-submit. I call the hospital back and after arguing with the lady in billing she finally agrees to resend the claim. About two weeks later I get a new bill for $1400.00 At the bottom of the bill the $1400.00 is listed in the “Over 120 days” column, and in big bold letters it says:
PAYMENT IN FULL DUE IMMEDIATELY
Underneath that it says “This account has been reviewed and may be sent to collection“.
I call the hospital again and after 4 or 5 attempts to talk to a human I finally leave a message. The billing lady leaves me a message back the next day saying they have an in house payment plan that allows clients up to 4 months to pay, but that I already “used” my 4 months and since ” I made no effort to pay or contact them” the account had been sent to collection. I stew on this awhile.
About 2 or 3 days later I get a message from the collection people. I call the lady back. It is immediately clear she isn’t interested in my story. I ask her if she has put this bill on my credit report yet. She says no but that if I don’t pay in full by the end of the month, (3 or 4 days at the time last month) she will have to, it’s her job.
I tell her that I thought her “job”was to collect as much outstanding debt as possible, and that if she nukes my credit rating I have no real incentive to pay anymore and besides that, medical bills on credit reports are a joke anymore thanks to our completely broken healthcare system. The entire time I am trying to talk to her she is talking over me telling me how the hospital has done me a “courtesy”. She used that word at least a dozen times. I finally tell her that being charged over $6,000.00 for a 2 hours visit and two shots of joy juice isn’t a courtesy, it’s more like being mugged. At that point it was obvious we had nothing more to say to each other.
I love the Girl with the Shots, and long for a time we can be together again, but the next time I get that kind of excruciating pain in my abdomen, I’m not going to see her. I am going to go out in the woods, lay in the dirt under a big shady Hemlock and tough it out. I hope I make it.
Originally posted at Big Orange as I got your healthcare right here.