Friday, October 30, 2009

Not broken?

I fell about two weeks ago, and the arm really hurt -- but I figured it was just a bad sprain, and that if I went to the doctor, he would just tell me to ice it, rest, etc. so I figured I'd save the $60 (the cost of a visit to the community health clinic).

But when two weeks had gone by and the pain was getting worse, not better, I called the clinic:
"I think my arm is broken."
"No one can see you today -- the doctor is leaving early and we're very busy."
I asked if they'd call if there was a cancellation, there was, and she did -- twice (on my way there the first time she called to say she was sorry, she'd made a mistake, that appointment had been taken already). But, eventually I did see the doctor, who was was his usual amiable but disinterested self: blabbering on about how he was leaving in a few minutes (it was almost noon), since it was the day "once a week when I take care of my own health needs."

"Once a week!" I said, surprised, and thinking he must have some serious medical condition. "What are you having done?"

"Oh, every week I take half a day for my own mental health--today I'm writing letters...." (blah blah -- by the way this half day is in addition to being off all weekend)

He looked up from his laptop briefly to feel the arm and say it might or might not be broken, and that I'd need to go to the hospital to get x-rays. I drove over there, waited another hour, and filled out more forms while the admins complained about their computer system being down and joked with each other about personal matters. Not one speck of interest shown in me or my arm here either. I finally saw the x-ray technician who greeted me by name, and seemed both competent and interested -- but said that (by law) she wasn't allowed to tell me if the arm was broken or not.

She DID ask me to wait after she'd taken the x-rays, though, and after awhile, came back and said "someone wants to talk to you."

It was an admin from the clinic who said the arm was broken. I asked what to do (cast? splint? sling?) -- she didn't know, but, when pressed by me to ask the doctor, eventually suggested that I drive to a pharmacy where, she said, the doctor would call in a splint or something. She also asked me which orthopedic surgeon I wanted to see, I said I didn't know, could she recommend one? She said she'd get back to me. (She never did.) How much the x-rays cost no one could tell me, since the computers were down, except that there would be two charges, one for the x-rays themselves and one for the radiologist (never seen or talked to by me) who looked at them electronically and ruled on whether or not there was a fracture.

So, I drove to the pharmacy -- nothing had been called in from the doctor and the pharmacist said that clinic was impossible to reach, so we picked out something together ($29) and I drove home. By this time 5 hours had passed. I tried again to call the clinic for a recommendation -- the x-ray technician had said I should see someone: "you're lucky the fracture didn't reach the joint, if it had you'd never bend that arm again."

I called a friend and got HIS recommendation -- if I was going to pay to see an orthopedic surgeon, I wanted to see a good one. The admin said "Can you get here in 15 minutes?" She said she couldn't give directions, she didn't know the area, and was acrimonious when I said in that case, I'd have to call her back once I'd google-mapped it. I did, and we made an appointment -- after she had cautioned me that "it could cost $250, do you have the money?"

All this time, my arm was hurting more and more from the driving and stress.

By the time I had found the surgeon's office, waited another hour, and seen the orthopedic surgeon, the whole day had gone by.....Though I admit that the surgeon WAS very nice, and also reassuring: when you're in pain, and wondering what's wrong, talking to someone who seems to know what he's doing is helpful and calming in and of itself; but he wasn't just knowledgeable, he was NICE. He went over the x-rays with me in detail, explained exactly what was going on, and said I'd done just the right things and that the sling I'd picked out was just fine. He added that the new theory about treating broken bones is not to restrict movement -- in England now they don't even use slings!

"But that's a bit harsh and stiff upper lip."

Luckily, he was with me, still talking, when I went to the front desk to pay and when they said it would be $250, the surgeon said:
"Just charge her for an office visit."
"How much is that?"
"I don't know, ask them in billing."
It was $75.

On the way home, thinking of all the snide comments I've heard against the "public option" and "socialized medicine," I couldn't help thinking of when I broke my arm in Ireland a few years ago. I was riding and when the horse refused a fence, fell forward and landed on my arm. The friend I was with drove me to a small country hospital; within an hour, I had been examined by a very nice doctor, given an x-ray, put in a cast, and sent home. The cost? An optional 15 pounds, which I of course paid. The whole experience was PLEASANT, even cozy (afterwards, my friend and I went to a local pub and had some excellent Irish whisky in front of a peat-burning fire).

Here, if I had health insurance, which I don't, I would be paying at least $600 a month for it -- and would have had to pay everything I paid for the arm anyway, since for $600/month your deductible is pretty high. Our health care system is more broken than my arm (for details., listen to This American Life's Someone else's money and More is less)....

But, I'm happy to say that -- aside from the wasted day yesterday -- this hasn't slowed me down on my novel at all. I sent 80 pages of it to my agent and while waiting to hear what she thinks, am writing more. I've learned my lesson about waiting to hear: DON'T. Keep going, start something else, but keep writing. I read once about an author who said she knew she was a writer when her baby threw up on the page; she just wiped it off and kept going. This broken arm has been that experience for me. I was writing when the clinic called to say they could squeeze me in after all -- and I went on writing when I got home.


Anna Alter said...

Oh wow Libby I'm really sorry to hear about your arm! But I'm glad you got it checked out and ended up finding some good care.

The health care system is most certainly very, very broken. I feel so lucky to live in Massachusetts where us freelancers have some options.

mndepalma said...

Yikes! Sorry to hear about your arm. We have paid so much for mandatory health insurance here in MA(and gotten NOTHING for it) that I can totally identify with your frustration... And I bet the writing is fabulous :-)

alvinaling said...

Wow! What an ordeal. How long before your arm is healed? Are you still in pain?


Meghan McCarthy said...

Wow, that was some day! Geez. Doctors charge way too much for their 2 min talks or however long they take. It's really ridiculous. I can't believe no one put a cast on or anything and told you to do it yourself! What a bunch of jerks. It's good that it worked out okay - I hope your arm gets better soon. did anyone say how long it would be out of use for?

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks, guys - really a lot.Having all of you read my post and GET IT and say so is great.

It should be healed by the beginning of December.