Hello, people – okay, I should be realistic – hello, person. I was thinking about something that happened to me in the Spring, and I thought I would share. It’s about my effort to get health care despite my lack of insurance. I’m certain many out there have had similar struggles. It’s fairly impossible, isn’t it? Unfortunately, those of us whose jobs don’t provide health insurance, and/or simply can’t afford it, do still get sick, diagnosed with illnesses, and have accidents. Anyway, this was one experience of mine.
I went to an appointment at the health department recently because I don’t have health insurance. I thought that that was where one went when insurance was lacking. I also naively thought that that’s where they helped people, despite the lack of money. It is government run and funded, you know. Turns out, I know nothing. Anyway, I made the appointment two weeks prior, over the phone. I told the woman who answered what I needed, a pap smear, and she scheduled me an appointment. She explained that I should reapply for Medicaid, since they denied me close to a year ago. I was so appreciative of this woman’s helpfulness because I had called many times before to no avail. It was the first time someone answered the phone. Not only that, but she was nice.
Unfortunately, she did not tell me that I was not allowed to have a pap smear, or that people without health insurance are dirty slimy muck not worth health at all.
On the Wednesday morning of the appointment, I walked into the building and up to the large reception area. It was only 8 am, but the office was full of people. The young woman at the desk asked my name, and what I was here for. I told her I had an appointment for a pap smear. She gave me paperwork to fill out, which I did, and she explained that I am, at this time, only responsible for 17% of the cost of the appointment. In 45 days, if I don’t have health insurance, I will be responsible for 100% of it. I am still confused by this. It almost sounded as if I was being punished for not having health insurance.
But it goes on.
The young woman handed me a folder full of papers and labels on the top with my name on them. She told me to go through the double doors that were to the left of the reception counter, and to go to room twenty-six. I did as I was told, feeling confused and uncertain. Through the double doors was a long hallway with many more doors and clusters of people. I looked closely at each door, but many had not numbers. When I found twenty-six, I only knew it was twenty-six because of the yellow post-it with the number handwritten on it. I entered the empty room, feeling ever more confused. The room had a desk, and in front of it a weight scale and two chairs. I sat in the chair away from the desk, wondering with fear if my pap smear would be conducted in this small room, and how?
After less than two minutes, a woman sunnily entered the room, wearing scrubs and a stethoscope. She greeted me cheerily as she sat down behind the desk. She then took my folder and removed one of the stickers to place it within on one of the pages. As she did this, a doctor popped his head in the room to say hello to her. He was an old man in a white coat with a heavily strained face. He looked at me with a gaze lacking interest and which felt to me to be most unkind. As he disappeared, I hoped that he would not be the doctor doing my much-needed procedure.
“I am just going to take your vitals,” she said, “And then you can see the doctor.”
After taking my weight and blood pressure, she asked me to wait in the waiting room across the hall. I followed her directions, entering a possibly even more dejected-looking room with rows of chairs and a window in the corner with the glass pulled almost completely down. A woman was behind it, but she did not look up when I came in, nor did she say anything. Other than her, the room was entirely empty. A sign next to the window insisted that no one sit in the chairs next to it.
Could this get even more absurd?
I waited there for quite awhile, albeit shorter than most doctor’s offices waits I’ve had. This was probably the only plus in having gone there, considering that it was still gonna cost me buttload of money that I didn’t have. The doctor from earlier, whose name ended up being Dr. Correa (he didn’t tell me, but I found it on the prescription he quickly wrote for me), came to the door and spoke my name. Without further ado, I got up and followed him into yet another room down the hall. This room had an examination table and a desk cluttered with things. He closed the door behind us. He had me sit upon the table with my folder and other paraphernalia, and he sat in front of me at the desk.
He asked, “What are you here for today?”
I responded, as I had to the receptionist and to the woman I spoke to on the telephone, that I needed a pap smear. I said it with uncertainty, my voice wavering. If he was a gynecologist, shouldn’t he know that? If I made an appointment for a pap smear, then shouldn’t this be a GYN I am speaking to? Otherwise, aren’t I clearly wasting my time and money in a shitty, poorly run, and neglected “health department”? Many questions I asked myself. Humility I summoned with strain.
I had never told so many people in one day that I needed the Dreaded Smear.
And then he asked me why. Naturally, I wanted to shoot myself. What did he mean why??! I wanted to scream. Any doctor could explain easily the reasons a woman might require a goddamn pap smear! I mean, for god’s sake, it’s not like I was asking for drugs! Looking back, I wish I had been. That might have been somewhat less humiliating.
My response was hesitant, weak. I attempted to describe my former gynecologist’s concern due to an abnormal pap. She had insisted that I seek cheaper ways of getting an exam.
He responded, “Well, that’s not how it works. The patient doesn’t decide what they need, the doctor does.” I was at a loss. He continued, “Besides, you don’t have health insurance; if you go to a gynecologist, who will pay for it?”
I, of course, burst into tears. It strikes me now as a peculiar reaction to such an experience, but, nevertheless, it was mine. I embrace it now for storytelling purposes, of course. The fact of the matter is that I was very ill at the time; I had some sort of throat infection that had been ailing me horribly for several days. Every time I spoke, it hurt terribly, my words came out only with much struggle, and they sounded scratchy, phlegmy, and pained. I had by that day already missed two days of work, wasted 70 bucks on a walk-in clinic, another 70 at Publix for the not-so-free prescription, and was thus feeling extremely destitute. I was gravely worried about finances, and this appointment certainly wasn’t helping matters.
Not to mention the obvious facts: 1) A doctor had decided what I needed, it just hadn’t been this doctor and 2) Yes, I didn’t have insurance, but that’s why I came to this particular hell-on-earth. Would I seriously choose to come here if I was gifted with a grand insurance policy from a generous employer?
So, I had come to the health department for help. Instead, I felt berated for not having health insurance. Essentially, I felt as if I was being punished for not having the money, which, I’m sure, was not a problem this Dr. Correa was familiar with.
The old crone (Correa) got very animated then, seeing my tears. He hurriedly started to explain that he could set me up with the next available appointment for their on-staff gynecologist, who, as he stated, “was a very nice lady.” He scribbled fiercely on my folders, saying that he’d make them get me in as soon as possible. He then asked me about my illness and began a routine and utterly pointless exam. He, like the useless quack at the clinic I had gone to earlier in the week, made no attempt at a diagnosis and asked me if I had been taking an antibiotic. I described, tearfully, the drug I had been prescribed, and he quickly scribbled out another one.
“Is this one better?” I questioned, wondering why I should take something different.
Offhandedly, he said, “Um…yes…it’s a little better…” Uh-huh. I’m convinced. Thanks for looking out, Doctor Useless. He added, “It’s free at Pub-lix,” as if that was what I wanted to hear.
Poor folk love free shit, am I right?
He also wrote me a prescription for ibuprofen. Don’t ask me why. He stated as the only reason was that it was “only 4 dollars at Pub-lix.” Did grampa doc think that I was menstrual? Like I said, many questions I asked myself, and I still do to this day.
Do you think I made him uncomfortable? I hope so. I hadn’t meant to, but I hope he felt like an idiot.
He dismissed me not long after. I had to go make the appointment with the gynecologist right away, so I traveled the many corridors as directed to find her office. I found two nice ladies at a desk, and gave one of them the paper he had scribbled on. I laughed when she told me the next available appointment, which was a month away.
Of course, I had absolutely no intention of going. What if I went in there for that one, and the doctor asked again, “Why do you need a pap smear?” Most certainly then, I would murder myself ruthlessly for being so stupid. To think that a health department would be interested in my health concerns! Doling out ibuprofen prescriptions and charging full price for totally useless appointments seemed all they could be good for!
The moral of the story? Be rich. Have a stable job. Never have to worry about money.
Otherwise, you are totally screwed. Sick and need medical attention? Forget it! Squeeze 400 extra dollars out of that 7.50 dollar an hour paycheck, and then perhaps you’ll be worth helping.
var _gaq = _gaq || ;
ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script'); s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);