By Barry Crimmins
Yesterday I went to a doctor for a preliminary consultation for a colonoscopy. The entire procedure was to be covered by a state agency because I am 57 years old; have no health insurance; and a family history of colon cancer. This was surprising to me because as a preexister, I never expect to get any medical care at all in the United States. In fact I've gotten to the point where I think even hoping for any medical care is dangerous for someone in my condition.
I have had Hepatitis C for almost 35 years. I'm not a junkie and never was. I just knew a junkie who I tried to help by destroying her needles. Needless to state, this was an unwise move. Because I have a disease common among IV drug users, the medical establishment generally treats me like an extra from Panic in Needle Park.
Wait, it gets worse. A few years ago when I ate in the wrong diner in New Jersey (or stayed at the wrong hotel or whatever) I got Hepatitis B. I nearly died. The one doctor who saw me, treated me like I was The Man With the Golden Arm (and leaden wallet.) She informed me that the tests she'd run indicated I had a bonus batch of the illness that was already killing me. Then she showed me to the front desk, where her billing people explained that there was no need for any follow-up visits. This was fine by me since I was too close to death to want to do anything but go home and lie on the couch with my dearest pal ever, the late Lloyd the Dog.
With the help of friends, the faithful companionship of Lloyd, some herbs and vitamins, and dozens of hilarious DVD's (big doff of the skimmer to W.C. Fields), I somehow inched my way back to health. But I've never been the same. My condition is up and down from day to day. So much as a common cold can drop me just down the street from Death's Door. It's tough but I'm alive and I can still write. I sometimes wonder what I would be able to do had I received timely care, monitoring and treatment for my illness. But mostly I just try to move ahead, enjoy life and continue my work.
And who knows, maybe Sesame Street will hire me to do the Hepatitis alphabet on the show. "G" is for "Ghana," don't drink the swamp water there!"
Anyway, back to yesterday. Upon entering the doctor's office, I was handed a zillion forms to fill out. I complied. One of the questions was: 'Have you ever been hospitalized?' Having never spent a single night in a hospital in my life, I checked "No."
I turned in the forms and waited about 40 minutes before I was called to go into an examining room, where a nurse went over my answers with me. When we came to the hospitalization part, I reiterated that I'd never been hospitalized. A minute later I mentioned how I had been to emergency rooms several times to be stitched up, x-rayed and so on. The nurse then turned prosecuting attorney on me, asking in a most accusatory tone, "I thought you said you've never been hospitalized?"
I responded, "That's right, I have never spent a night in the hospital. But I have been to several hospitals for various things, always as an outpatient. They never, as they say, kept me."
Looking as rueful as Miss Havisham on a bad day, she admonished, "Every one of those visits was a hospitalization."
I said, "Are you trying to establish that I'm a liar thereby adding mendacity to the list of reasons why I am not a good candidate for medical care?"
She ignored this and repeated " So, you have been hospitalized."
"I guess I have, according to this new definition of the term. Thank goodness we caught that!" That was all I said but I was thinking, "If I'd really been trying to scam you on your boundless definition of 'hospitalization', why the hell would I have answered several other questions about my health history that would have made it clear that I had, on many occasions, set foot in a hospital for care, you corporate bureaucrat in drag as a caregiver!"
But I didn't and she lightened up a bit. Within no more than twenty minutes, even I could again speak with an unclenched jaw.
Friday, July 23, 2010
By Barry Crimmins