Non-Holiday Holiday Expenses

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The holiday season is coming, and I can’t stop thinking about brain surgery.

In July, Vox magazine did an informal assessment of the cost of the blood clot surgery that Senator John McCain underwent. Because he would be the deciding vote in the Senate’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the discussion in Vox’s article centered on what that same surgery might cost someone with no health insurance at all. Their best guess, determined based on both public reports on the name of the procedure and Mayo Clinic estimates of their own costs to perform that procedure, was $76,000. It is an impressive cost, and one which would be daunting to anyone, let alone someone struggling financially to the degree that they cannot afford health insurance.

Imagine you have a child who needs that surgery in one of the states where CHIP funding (federal Children’s Health Insurance Program) is about to run out. If the budget passes as currently proposed, the program dies, along with tremendous numbers of tax breaks for middle-income families.

Fast forward to the holidays, and the cost of a procedure like that leaves no money in anyone’s pocket for even a string of blinking holiday lights.

Continue Reading…

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Do Not Undo My Work

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All around the country, parents are furious.

Some of them went to great lengths to have their children. They went through infertility treatments for years, day after day of injections, procedures, medications and mood swings and worry, meditating on the child they saw in their dreams. They held their breath through much of their and their partners’ pregnancies, that child’s existence suspended by threads in their hearts. They held their partners’ hands through every ultrasound, every test, every kick and wiggle. When their children finally arrived, those arrivals were the most hard-won battle they’d ever faced.

And those parents are wondering now if, one afternoon, a storm might blow the windows of their houses in, eliminate their access to electricity and running water, coat their walls in mold and make that child, that blessing they begged for, sick. And that they might be holding that child in their arms on the roof, waiting for relief that spells out that child’s survival, if it comes. And those parents, imagining the roof, the cold, the squirming frightened child, are angry.

Some parents knew their child was waiting somewhere for them, if not in the cells of their bodies, then elsewhere: in a foster home, in a pregnant woman not ready or able to care for a child, nearby or across the state or across the world. Those parents waited for years — through paperwork, through interviews, through false starts and second thoughts, through faith and desperation, until one day that baby or that toddler or that teenager joined them in their living room, forever, making them a family.

And those parents are wondering now if, one afternoon, they’ll receive a call from their child’s school about an active shooter in the area. They’ll wonder if every door will be carefully locked, if every student will be safe, if their child — their sought-after, destiny-made child — will be inside, or will the call come at recess time? They are wondering where the nearest gun shop is. They are wondering where the nearest guns are. And those parents, imagining the classrooms of frightened children, imagining their frightened children, are angry. Continue Reading…

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Oh My Goodness

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This the face of one seriously relieved mother.

I’ve watched the heath care legislation being volleyed across Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for the past several months with what one might call significant personal interest. I’ve refreshed APNews, The Guardian, Fox News, CNN, and Twitter more often than any other moment in my life, trying to get a sense for what might happen next, tracing the path of my family’s future as it zipped past us, back and forth. Protections that allowed me to focus on the moment with my daughter as we unravelled her mysterious health challenges over the first nine years of her life have spent the last few months in question, threatened by elected officials who seemed to favor the interests of huge insurance companies over those of children like mine.

Last night, it seemed that compassion tipped the ball over the net, just barely. Continue Reading…

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Loose Ends

The pensive platform-makers at Girl Meets Voice shared a quote this week that had me nodding at the screen:

It seemed karmic, somehow, that I would read this reflection in the same week when finally, after years of thinking-about-it, I sent away the application for my daughter’s full, unabridged medical records.

The circumstances seemed a little like destiny. One morning, digging my way through several days’ worth of ignored email, I saw a message from the hospital where she’d had all of her treatments, telling me that I needed to complete additional paperwork with her signature if I wanted continued access to the abridged records they keep on their online portal. At age twelve, it seems, they want their patients’ consent for parental access. I clicked on the link to download that form and noticed, on the same page, the link to download a request for full records. Without taking much time to change my mind, I clicked that link, too, and downloaded both forms.

A year ago, I had visited the medical records department of the hospital when I was there to visit a friend’s child. Propelled by a feeling of both excitement and dread, I asked for copies of everything and was told that such a request takes weeks to process, and required the completion of a written request. At that point, dread won, and I walked away without doing anything.

Now, however, it has been more than three years since the surgery that finally liberated my daughter’s esophagus. I no longer hear her cough and wonder if she can’t breathe. I don’t have to make vacation plans around her procedures or whatever strange diet she might be on. She’s slowly, slowly gaining height and weight. The remaining signs in her of a sickly past are limited to the long scar on her back and, perhaps, to a missing inch or two in height.

In the years when we were still in the thick of it, I sat often enough in rooms with doctors that I could ask questions about what they thought and why. At first, they thought it was loose tissue in her larynx that made her breathing so loud. Then, they thought it was the extra arm of her aorta that choked her so tightly. Then, they said it was food intolerances keeping her from eating well and growing. Finally, they found the meandering artery smashing her gullet, and a surgery to move it away changed her trajectory from illness toward robust, glowing health. She seldom talks about it anymore, absent-mindedly eating a bucket of popcorn, a bowl of cherries, an overflowing bowl of pasta.

For me, though, there are a few loose ends. Sometimes I turn a corner and feel them flapping behind me when I hear a nearby baby cough. They tickle my ankles and make me lose my balance for a moment every time I watch my daughter get a vaccination or a blood draw. Mostly, though, they float into my vision when I’m paying medical bills and go to file anything in her huge, bulging folder of insurance paperwork.

They nag at me: why did this go on so long? Why did the doctors who missed her diagnosis disappear and stop returning our calls? What kind of test results went unnoticed, what kind of clues did we miss?

As I begin to flesh out the book-length version of my daughter’s medical mystery, I realize that the experiences alone are not enough. At first, they were all I could stand to share, but without a conclusion drawn from them, they amount to nothing more than a wild story for a cocktail party. After three years, I am ready to tie this package up in twine and to label it in uppercase letters. What will the label say? MISDIAGNOSIS. NEGLIGENCE. APATHY. CORPORATE MEDICINE. FATE. MALPRACTICE. UNSOLVED MYSTERY. RARE. SILOS.

I’m ready to find out.

loose-ends

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This Could Make You Gasp

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What happened to me last winter could happen to thousands more people this year, and that’s not good.

I’ve never before heard a cough like the one I had this past December. It was something like the startled bark of a tiny puppy crossed with that puppy’s squeak toy. Or, it was like the highest, most urgent note of a harmonica, not blown-out but inhaled-in quickly. It was an alarming sound, and frankly, it didn’t even seem human.

At first, I thought it was just a bad respiratory infection, a common cold made more challenging by my moderate asthma. By the end of the first week, though, after three trips to the doctor in as many days, I was sure something bigger had happened to me. A chest x-ray didn’t turn up anything obvious, and so I was sent on my way with antibiotics and steroids, and I resigned myself to the couch for a full week.

The cough hardly changed at all, even on the medications the doctor prescribed. It made anyone who heard it shake their heads at me. It made me unquenchably thirsty; I drank 90 ounces of water a day, which is at least five times my normal intake of any liquid. My chest hurt. My stomach hurt. My throat hurt. The insides of my mouth hurt.

After a month, it wasn’t gone, so I went to my doctor again. By then, though the fevers were gone and my energy had improved, my voice felt precarious and ghostly, a craggy sound at best, and at worst, one I couldn’t even guarantee would come out when I opened my mouth to speak. My phone would ring, and I would open my mouth to say “hello,” only to croak out “…lo,” the first syllable lost in in my recent history somewhere, in a time when I could say what I meant.

My doctor sent me to other specialists – my asthma doctor and an ENT. My asthma doctor said she had a suspicion about what had happened and took a blood test. In the meantime, she prescribed more steroids and sent me to the ENT for a closer look at my vocal cords.

When the test came back – five weeks later, after I’d already discovered damage to my vocal cords and begun voice therapy – I wasn’t surprised. What I’d contracted in December was pertussis, also known as “whooping cough.” Continue Reading…

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