Saturday, September 19, 2009

This Could Have Been Me

I feel for people who are without health insurance. I'm not sure that I have an opinion on what would be the best course of action for creating affordable insurance for all Americans, but it's a horrible thing to be without, especially when something takes you by surprise.

"A freelance cameraman's appendix ruptured and by the time he was admitted to surgery, it was too late. A self-employed mother of two is found dead in bed from undiagnosed heart disease. A 26-year-old aspiring fashion designer collapsed in her bathroom after feeling unusually fatigued for days."

If you've got a known health condition, that's one thing, but when you're blindsided by something completely out of left field and no insurance, that's a whole other situation.

In December 1997, my monthly cramps had gotten so bad, that one day, I was left doubled-over in pain. They had steadily been getting worse each month. My solution had been to go to the campus health clinic for the pain, but by the time December came along, I had finished college. My health insurance through my father actually ended two semesters before this when I had become a part time student. Besides, women get cramps. I could power through them. I had been doing it for months. I could continue to do it, for just a few days a month.

So my mom and then-fiance (now husband) insisted I go to the ER anyway. The doctor I saw actually debated where my pain was. I knew where it hurt: in my belly, on the right side, fairly close to my belly button. It was a constant pain over the last few days, with fairly intense throbs that were like little explosions in my gut.

He knew I didn't have insurance and wanted me out of his ER...his bedside manner pretty much sucked once he found out. His solution was to hospitalize me overnight and pump me full of antibiotics. The diagnosis was a ruptured ovarian cyst. The next day, I went home.

"Research released this week in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that 45,000 deaths per year in the United States are associated with the lack of health insurance. If a person is uninsured, "it means you're at mortal risk," said one of the authors, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School."

I think I was really only fine for a few days, but once the antibiotics were out of my system, then it felt like all hell broke loose internally. I had to remain all hunched over, either standing or in bed, so that I didn't think I was going to die. I actually almost passed out in the bathroom (a very strange sensation, if you've never blacked out). So once again, this time on Christmas Eve, Mom and Hubby took me back to the hospital. Mom told me not to worry, that we'd find a way to cover the hospital bills. They would just have to accept monthly payments from us.

After who knows how long of being pumped full of pain killers in the ER, another doctor (this time, a surgeon) had one solution: get me into the OR and get my gut opened up. He thought I had appendicitis. Even an off duty nurse in the ER waiting room with her mother took one look at me and said, "It's your appendix. I can tell by the way you're standing."

And sure enough, it was my appendix. It had ruptured before surgery. I spent a few more days in the hospital and postponed my family's Christmas at home. When everything was said and done, I had racked up about $15,000 worth of hospital bills. Luckily, there was a social services office back home that was willing to help me out. They had the hospital write off most of the bills. We only had to cover the doctors' bills. My mom paid the anesthesiologist for me ($500 to knock my butt out for surgery). And it turned out that my monthly cramps ended pretty much immediately after all that. I'm sure it was just coincidence for the timing of the cramps and the appendicitis though.

It didn't hit me until a few days after getting home that I could have died. I could have died during surgery, because that's just a risk, but I could have died at home from that ruptured appendix I had been putting off in getting checked up, because I was SURE it was just monthly cramps and I didn't have insurance. It was kind of a kick in the stomach to realize my own mortality like that. If my mom and husband hadn't insisted on taking me to the hospital, future bills be damned, then I might not be here today.

Today, I'm lucky enough to have good health insurance. Once I got it, it was a huge weight off my shoulders. No one should have to go without insurance like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment