Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Me? My healthcare story.

As the battle for the budget looms in our capital, we constantly hear arguments over Representative Ryan's bold plan to privatize Medicare.  I disagree with this plan with every part of my being.

I have my own vision to fix healthcare and health insurance once and for all and I want to share it with you, so you may know there are other options.  That plan will be unveiled in my next blog post, but I want to share my own story right now.

I must include my own story as there must be journalistic integrity. 

While I live as most average citizens do, I live paycheck to paycheck.  Being sick just isn't in the cards.  I'm one of those people who would call in only if I was almost dead.  I used to work 60 to 80 hours a week, two jobs at a time, very little time off to enjoy myself.  I don't drink, smoke, do weed, or any other such vice.  Then I got a job at a health field related company.  The company is great, great benefits, decent pay, but the job is so incredibly emotionally draining.  We work to save people's lives, and I LOVE what I do.  But it is not the kind of job for takes a special person to do it and not want to quit after a couple of months.  Even when I started they told me there was a high turnover rate and people get burnt out easy.  I knew if I had to keep up with this job, I'd have to make it my only job and give it my all.  So I took the plunge as this was the first time in quite some time that I only had one job at one time. 

Unfortunately, for me, a couple of years into my employment.  I had an issue with a cracked tooth that spiraled out of control.  At first, I didn't think anything of it but it decayed quickly and this was right next to my wisdom tooth that became impacted and deformed.  Causing pain that brought me to my knees everytime I bit down accidentally (which were a lot of times). 

At first, I went to the dentist for an x-ray and some options, this was first thing on a monday morning.  We talked and the best option I had was to go to the oral surgeon to get the tooth extracted, this was to be a friday morning, in another county of my state.  So, some mild pain killers later with a week gone by, I was so excited to be pain free.  I was x-rayed just before I was set to begin and my hopes were dashed, no scratch that, destroyed worse than being hit with a 50 caliber round to the face.  The surgeon informed me that the area had become too infected to extract, the infection would spread and cut my airway off, and that I was to go immediately to the emergency room of one of the premier medical centers in that area as they had an oral surgery and dental unit there that could save my life.

My first thought was "all this for two teeth, I can't die over two teeth!" 

My second thought was "I have to go to work.  How am I going to pay my bills?  And how am I going to pay this bill?"

When faced with true fear of always just being two steps away from the financial abyss that had always layed before me, I was thinking "thank god, I have health insurance."

My fiance, my love, stayed with me all that friday in a small exam room.  Then I was found a bed and put in a regular room that night and into saturday, then into sunday morning.  My dad came in to visit that saturday morning and said "it won't be nothing, you'll be fine in a couple of days."  I smiled as much as possible, put on my game face, and awaited the surgery.

Sunday morning came bright and early.  The nurse had come in and said "its time, do you need the bathroom before you go?"  So I walked in the bathroom and my jaw had exploded in size, it almost seemed as if someone implanted five bananas on the side of my jaw while I was asleep.  I was, now, absolutely terrified of the situation before me. 

I realize now, that there comes times in every person's life, that you will see situations that are absolutely unavoidable. Times that will bring on your financial ruin, the destruction of hope itself, and the only question you have left before you know you might die or will die is "Why Me?"

So I laid down on the operating table, oral surgeons, anesthesiologists, regular surgeons, life support machines, and nurses.  In my head, wondering if I was suffering from a nightmare and just haven't woken up yet.

My parents were getting updates from the doctors on how their son was doing.  My dad got a call on monday morning that it wasn't going so well and I was in a coma.  He said he fell out of his chair at work.  My fiancee, who was my girlfriend at the time, couldn't get any updates except from my family.  My mom who lives 1400 miles away was wondering what was going to happen to her eldest son. 

Apparently there were complications with the infection and the respirator system.  I was kept in a sedated coma and given steroids to let the infection drain as the respirator tube had become lodged in my throat as the infection, just as that original oral surgeon in the beginning had told me, was closing my airway down. 

On the last day before I woke up they were going to do a tracheotomy on me as they couldn't wait any longer.  Now I use my voice all the time in my job, this would have been a disaster for me, and something I don't believe I could recover from for a very long time. 

Later, my mom would tell me that she prayed to god and told him "That is not going to happen to my son!"  My mom is a very spiritual women, loved in her community, and a devout woman of the Christian faith.  I would never, ever take that away from her.  She knows I love her from the bottom of my heart and I leave no doubt of that fact.  But I digress, back to my story.

I woke up four days later, throat intact.  I woke to find my dad and my love waiting there.  The first thing I heard was my dad saying "Don't move, just be still, it's ok."  And my love holding my hand.  Nurses and doctors coming in to see me.  But not being able to talk with this tube down my throat still, my neck still intact. 

But the strangest thing happened, the nurses brought my head up in a sitting position and I barely made out a sign language chart.  When I was a child, my mom had taught me how to sign the letters of the alphabet but that knowledge, I forgot about completely.  But after I woke up I could sign letters like a natural. 

Apparently, while I was in this drug induced coma, I would be conscous enough to sign to people.  The nurse said the first time she saw me in this state, I was signing like a wild man and no one could find out what I was trying to say.  Apparently I was asked while I was in this same state, what I was signing and that I made reference that I didn't know.

But one of those nurses faces sticks out in my head.  I remember this one but I can't remember her name.  Only being with her for a few moments I wrote down to her on a piece of paper that she had found her true calling.  And from what I remember, and I do remember the encounter, I would stand true to these words to this day. 

I spent the next two days recovering, the infection draining quickly.  But I could not breathe well enough on my own to get a good blood oxygen count and I could not open my mouth more than one fingers width.  They told me I would have to stay in the hospital a few more days.  Then while I lay in bed, just getting a handle on my new situation, financial fear came roaring back. 

"Oh my god, I haven't been to work in a while!", "How am I going to pay my bills?", "What if my insurance bails on me?"  I can only imagine four days on life support in a coma would cost, not counting everything else.  Truly terrified of the unknown.

I woke up on that wednesday.  Stayed in the ICU until thursday.  When I was brought to away from the ICU, I realized I had to leave fast.  Not for my own safety of my health, but for the safety of my job, and my finances.  That thusday night, I did breathing exercises and jaw stretches.  I didn't sleep a wink and worked at it for hours into the early friday morning.  Me in my hospital bed, fighting for every inch of freedom from the hospital.  Not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the only way to survive.  Collapsing of exhaustion later that morning for fighting all night. 

The doctors let me go later that friday evening.  I had convinced myself and them, I was well enough to go.  My mom had come to see me after traveling that 1400 miles and was able to take me from the hospital.  So weak and destroyed.  I stayed the night at my sister's house while my fiance got our apartment ready for my return. 

Two days later, I left my home to go and run errands with my fiance.  I didn't even get out of the car really and when I got back I realized the error of my ways of leaving the hospital too early.  Just with that small amount of energy to use, I over did it.  With this new revelation, how could I even think of going back to work and survive?

The whole time not sure how I was going to pay the bills.  I was just above water staying ahead with the bills I had, let alone this huge thing happening to me.

So I did the only thing I could do.  I let the insurance pay for most of it and I let the medical bills go.  Yes I know there is a stigma to that.  Some might believe that I'm lazy, cheap, evil, or even a leach on the system.  And some might believe that me and others like me should be allowed to die because we don't make enough to cover our medical bills but just enough over the margin not to get some sort of charity or state coverage.  Or what if the hospital has to close up shop, because of me or others like me.  If you think I don't think about these things then you are sadly mistaken.

The financial abyss takes many forms:  fear, doubt, dread, fights over money, destruction of the family, destruction of relationships, depression, and sad to say, but death as well.  But with the economy the way it is, more and more people who never thought they would be looking in their own financial abyss are being forced to look down the "rabbit hole."

But this is my story, there are many like it, but this one is mine.
There are a few lessons I've learned along the way that most people forget if they are in this type of situation:
1. Your voice is not tied to your position, your income, or your debt.
2. Your voice matters to people only when you speak out or speak up.
3. If you have a message or ideas that society as a whole can benefit from, it doesn't matter where you are in life, just dare to make the world a better place.

In closing, I have a plan, myself, that will fix healthcare for good and will focus on four fronts:
1. Cost of healthcare now
2. Cost of future healthcare
3. Free market solutions of health insurance companies and a public option.
4. "Solving for X" (god that should be a hashtag, LOL) for the problem of not being able to see a doctor.

Until next time my friends, remember you have a voice!  It is only when you don't share your ideas with society do you make the future worse.