- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
It has been five years since I’ve last seen a doctor or dentist…
It has been five years since I’ve last seen a doctor or dentist…I remember having that thought just 8 months ago before I was fortunate enough to finally land a job that would provide me shared health care benefits. Since then I’ve seen a doctor four times, and still haven’t gotten to the dentist, mostly because I’m afraid of what they’ll tell me.
This was my life for the first 5 years I lived in Philadelphia. I came to the city with barely enough money in my pocket to make the deposit on my shitty apartment, and for the first three weeks I lived in my unfurnished hole, I subsided on ramen noodles and a cabbage. Why a cabbage you may ask? I accidentally mistook it for lettuce and couldn’t afford to throw it away. I did quickly find a job working retail in a small store downtown making 8.50 an hour and working 45 hours a week, I worked a second job in the winter so I could buy Christmas presents for my family. It’s not a sob story, I don’t think, I lived within a community of people my age who were in the exact same situation, working retail, and pursuing other goals, just trying to make ends meet. There were so many of us that it seemed almost normal to not have health care. Looking back, I realize it affected me in more ways than I knew.
Within months of leaving college (and health care) and moving to a new city I was sick. I had terrible allergies, and my dry, dusty apartment didn’t help at all. When the weather turned colder, I caught some sort of mutant bug that wouldn’t go away. For nearly two months, I lived in a state of virtual exhaustion, feeling congested, getting frequent headaches, and altogether beaten up. On the very rare occasion of a day off from work (which usually came every 14-21 days) I would sleep for literally 15 hours.
Finally, in late February of that year, I decided that I would go to the doctor even though the bill would nearly bankrupt me. I went in hoping that he would find something wrong with me, but terrified that I couldn’t afford the medication to make it right. When I did finally get there, after a thorough exam, he said that he couldn’t find anything wrong, but he thought it necessary to test for Mono. Realizing that I could barely afford the “February Blues” diagnosis that he eventually gave me, I knew there was going to be no Mono test. As I sulked my way to the office door the Receptionist informed me that my bill for the visit would total $80! I can’t ever remember a feeling of being so thoroughly sunk. I almost broke down in the office; I was still sick, exhausted, terrified of the suggestion of Mono, and would have to either bounce a rent check or find a way to avoid paying this bill immediately. The receptionist must have sensed my desperation and with a hand on my shoulder told me that she could put the bill in the mail, delaying the inevitable confrontation with my depleted bank account. How embarrassing; I’m nearly crying over an $80 doctor’s bill and still have no clue why I’m sick. Oddly enough, that bill never showed up at my door, and when I called the doctor he pretended he never treated me. I still get a knot in my stomach thinking of the generosity of that Doctor (or receptionist), but cannot help but feel a little resentment for having gone through it at all.
I feel fortunate to have survived that period of my life without serious illness or injury, (that I am aware of). A broken arm or even bronchitis would have been financially catastrophic. But I did incur small injuries that I couldn’t afford to treat. The stubborn discomfort in my hip that never really healed, colds that wouldn’t subside, the untreated flu, a stomach virus that eased minutes before acceding to both dehydration and an emergency room visit. During the summer of 2002 when I got pink eye and spread it to my girlfriend (also without health care), she had to participate in an independent medical study to get eye drops, and then used them on both of us (luckily we didn’t get the placebo). I still worry that because these things weren’t treated immediately that they will have long term effects on my health.
Only adding to my stress is the mental strain associated with not being able to diagnose a problem when it arises: strange looking veins on my leg that I spent months worrying about, mysterious chronic headaches, and heartburn all became the worst diagnoses in my mind and there was little I could do about it but hope it disappeared. For all of these aches and pains, I actively sought home remedies that I could afford; herbs, aroma therapy, and diets with varying results. In the end nothing can supplant proper health care. There is no amount of library books, Google searches, or asking friends of friends (who may or may not be a nurse), that one person can do that will give you the same relief as a diagnosis of a certified medical doctor. I feel fortunate that I was able to stay out of the Emergency Room. But it was only that, luck, and I spent nearly 5 years fearing the ramifications of a possible injury or illness. There is something inherently wrong in a system when a person fears the emergency room more than they fear the emergency. I can’t think of addressing a more important political issue.