Correspondent Gwen Fortune sends this along with the following note: “This personal letter to a few friends is no phoney chain letter about a dying child in a third world country who can be saved by contributions. This is a real story, about a real human being, an American, former university professor, and scholar, who has made significant contributions to American letters…”
Report on our health and ongoing struggle May 26, 2012
I’ve had a small stroke. I can’t drive anymore. I can’t learn my computer dictation program Dragon because I can’t find someone to sit next to me and teach it to me. I just can’t read how to do it and then do it. I’ve always had that kind of trouble with written instructions but since the mini-stroke (and I learned from my brain MRI that this is my third one) it is absolutely disastrous. I’ve lost all sorts of abilities to coordinate things, physical as well as intellectual. I can live with it as long as ****** can help me with necessary things and he is endlessly sweet and helpful. But I can’t be made to feel bad, as if I didn’t try enough, when I can’t do it.
I’m remembering just now Barack Obama talking about being a teenager or whatever he was and watching his mother as she was dying of cancer struggling with the endless bills and the forms and the phone calls. He wanted to fix that for all of us. He tried. Ted Kennedy was pretty dedicated to fixing it too, but got nowhere. There have been others in the past on both side of the so-called aisle. But the god dammed health care profiteers won’t let them get away with it, won’t let them create a comprehensive, compassionate, all-inclusive, non-bankrupting system of health care. For the first time in my life I think seriously about leaving this country for one with a better healthcare system than this country has.
However, it seems selfish to come to a new country as a sick old person just to take advantage of their health care system. I should have gone earlier so I could have made some contribution of my own to their society. I would feel like some sort of leech. Where to go? How to get there? Would I ever see my son and family again? It’s just more fantasy. . . .
I am always on the phone M-F calling doctors and my health insurance company and pharmacists, always on hold, always listening to endless unanswered rings until the mechanical voice comes on and makes me choose to leave a message in terms of their categories that have nothing to do with what I am calling about.
Dialing 0 to get a living human being who speaks English and isn’t reading from a script works less and less frequently. They discovered that we had discovered that back door and they are closing it. The human being, the sweet helpful native English speaker I finally reached after two days, TWO FUCKING DAYS, of dialing and holding and punching buttons and getting transferred and getting cut off, nothing but a dial tone – trying to get answers to the accumulated questions — my demands to speak to a supervisor and then the supervisor’s supervisor and on up, to finally get a real decent human being. I’ve learned not to vent my anger and grief and outrage and exhaustion on the people I finally eventually reach. I talk with them about how I know it isn’t their fault and I sympathize with them because they hear and bear the fury about how outrageous the system is. How much I miss the normal friendly intelligent human voices answering phones, helping me figure things out, dealing with problems.
If Lily Tomlin were to come on a stage to “do” her wonderful telephone operator sketches I’ll bet most people in our current population wouldn’t get most of what she does.
I say how those lost jobs don’t just deprive those operators of jobs but the lost jobs also deprive people of important services provided by the operators. Operators supplied an important human part of our social fabric, like mail carriers and milk deliverers and newspaper deliverers. I miss them. I say these things and then ask whom I can call or write to register my complaints. She says as she gives me all the information she can find, “When you talk to them please tell them not to take away our jobs. They’re talking about outsourcing this work I do.”
I think ****** is slowly dying of some heart disease that we think it fixable. It has taken me all week to get us an appointment with a cardio-thoracic surgeon this coming Tuesday. But before that week on the phone, it took me having the stroke and realizing it had been made inevitable by the mistreatment I got from the cardiologist we shared to realize that ******, too, was getting bad cardio healthcare. I sat in this cardiologist’s office exhibiting all the precursors to a stroke and asked him to help me, right then, give me something to stop the symptoms and he said he doesn’t have anything in his office to give me. So I said give me prescriptions to stop the symptoms. He sort of looked bored and told me to go see my primary health care provider. I realized that if he was so indifferent to me he would also be indifferent about killing ******. We talked about it and ****** agreed. We reevaluated how bad ****** has been feeling for so long and how it has slowly been getting worse and worse and realized what was going on with him. Figuring it out and what we had to do about it and then getting on the phone and getting the process of finding a good doctor, finding out if that doctor was part of our insurance provider list, then calling to make an appointment took ten days. For the last ten days or so I have been entirely concerned with dealing with ******’ health issues and have had no time to deal with mine. And mine needs dealing with.
And also since I am absolutely convinced that I could have a fatal stroke at any moment because of the occlusions in the arteries in and around my brain stem I am in a race to get everything settled and worked out before that happens so I feel rushed all the time.
Then there is the first hospital’s billing office – get the itemized bill and then calling them and going over it their designated person, item by item, and her so clearly not knowing what was going on, trying to justify every item on there, and then I asked her who above her I could go to and with great relief she passed me on to the person charged with really doing that job, although this “higher person” has acknowledged to me that she, too, doesn’t know what half the stuff on the itemized bill is, is for, is about. So we go over each item, discuss it, she looks things up to find out what they mean, and I finally get about $2300 knocked off the bill. They charged me $@!900 for spending one night in a semi-private room. I was never moved to a hospital room, never formally admitted, but was kept in observation all the time I was there — for which they charged me some big deal hourly rate. So they were double billing my insurance company, Medicare, and me. There were all sorts of charges for meds including $5 per aspirin for many aspirins I didn’t take because I can’t take them because they make me bleed from my guts. I’m still waiting for the itemized bill from the second hospital. I’ve had a stroke, a mild stroke, and I’m lucky – hahahaha — that I can manage to make all these calls but I think most people don’t do it and that’s part of the great rip off of Medicare, the collusion btwn insurance companies and so-called providers. And we will end up having to pay 20% of the total bill. But the sweet nurse who did the final itemized examination of the bill told me, sotto voce, that I can call somebody on Wednesday and ask for a discount. But this is going to start us on the road to bankruptcy. ****** and I both need big deal expensive surgery we think.
Why is it so expensive? Hospitals have no business being in a for-profit business. They overcharge those of us with insurance to make up for the people who come in and don’t have insurance and don’t have any money but the hospitals are legally obligated to treat them anyway, and that’s as it should be. But they don’t care for the poor without trying to recover those costs from those with insurance, thus financially eviscerating the middle class, forcing them to become the poor. But they keep their profits up there!
What a sick sick sick world this is.
There is so much more to do, so many more calls to make, problems to solve, but this is where we are today.