Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tiptoeing Through the Medical Bills

Today's mail held two medical bills, the continuing fallout from July's horrific oncology visit with Dr. Bully. After a long meditative moment spent pressing my forehead against a handily nearby doorframe, I picked up the phone to talk with two different billing reps and a financial assistance counselor at Ohio Health. In each case, the folks I dealt with today were far better listeners and far more pleasant than Dr. Bully had been back during our disastrous blind date.

For the record, Dr. Bully's arrogance and refusal to listen to the patient, i.e., me, cost me over $1000 after a hefty discount by the hospital. Had he listened, the bill would have been only a little over $400.

Another way of doing that math is had Dr. Bully not been so determined to shatter my self-confidence, I would have had enough presence of mind to cancel the unnecessary tests and my bills would have come out to only a little over $400. My shortcoming was falling apart when he bullied me throughout the entire appointment, thus costing myself over $1000.

I had coffee with a friend yesterday and we talked briefly about my situation - both my cancer and my lack of insurance. She said, both bluntly and warmly, "I can't imagine what you must go through to deal with cancer and the medical bills."

I appreciated her words tremendously, because often I can't imagine what I go through.

Money and medical care have been on my mind a lot lately. I don't like owing bills. I don't make lots of money either, so I have to pay them off in increments. Recently I have read in several different sources that America is the only industrialized nation where citizens routinely go bankrupt from their medical bills or die unnecessarily from not receiving medical treatment because they cannot afford it.

I've already done the former in recent years. I'm not looking forward to the latter. As it is, I have cut my oncology supervision to the bare bones minimum short of suspending it all together. On a day like today, when my mailbox is abloom with medical bills, I nonetheless wonder whether we can shave that supervision down even a little bit more.

I was supposed to see my oncologist in late October. I rescheduled that appointment to next week, but not because of concern over money. No, I am pleased to the point of smugness to report I rescheduled as a one-woman stand against the medical establishment.

The day before my late October appointment, I got a call confirming my appointment with…Dr. Bully. I almost dropped the phone. I thought I had heard wrong and so asked, "who?" "Dr. Bully." My regular oncologist would not be there and Dr. B. was again filling in for him.

Without even missing a beat, I said, "Oh, no, I won't see him. I refuse to see him. I had a terrible appointment with him and he makes me cry."

The poor woman on the other end of the line quietly said "Oh dear, I'm sorry. Would you like to reschedule?"

That was a no-brainer. I figured I could live with temporary uncertainty over my test results better than a bruised psyche.

Until today, I had shared this story with only four people. All four, starting with Warren, were heartily supportive of my decision. Margo emailed me: Good for you! Exactly the right thing, and I'm glad you didn't decide to straighten your shoulders and be a quote cooperative girl unquote. Many times the thing to do is to not be a cooperative girl.

I see my oncologist next Tuesday. I will be a quote cooperative girl unquote (thank you for that great phrase, Margo!) with Tim because I trust him. He knows my bone marrow, my pocketbook, and, most importantly, my character and my attitude. To top it off, he is an excellent listener. We will talk about my numbers, about what if any options we need to examine within my financial constraints, and about how long until I check in again with him. He will do so without threats, or badgering, or humiliation.

Having a thoughtful and compassionate doctor does not pay my medical bills. But it does allow me to come out of my appointment with my mind and my spirit intact, so that I may better spend my energy taking care of myself and my responsibilities.

I don't know where the national debate over health care will come out. I have stopped following it closely because it is too personal and too upsetting. Instead, I continue to do what so many of us out there do: stay as healthy as possible in as many ways as possible. I also regularly admonish my bone marrow to behave, although I have learned it doesn't take orders well.

And I continue to savor and celebrate each day and the myriad of small moments of great reward that fill my lap. As I finish typing these words, I can smell the homemade chili heating up on the stove. Sam is helping Warren move timpani in a little bit and may stay for supper. Afterwards, Warren and I will share our respective days and our thoughts and our love.

My lap is full to overflowing.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

April, I'm so glad you have Dr. Moore to see you through this forest of Russians, and am proud of you for letting Dr. Bully know how he made you feel.