See here for the first part of the story.
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My mom and I sat side by side in hard plastic chairs, listening to the social worker go on about why I didn’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. Mom had driven down to take me home so I could convalesce before going back to rehab, but first thing’s first – the bill of services. Hence, the social worker.
“I’ve been sober for thirteen days. I’m in rehab. I have nothing. Who is going to pay for this?” I asked everyone from the epidemiologist to the nurse who changed my IV fluid.
Any time I repeated this question I was told to “not worry about it,” just focus on getting better. If I had nothing, more than likely the county would pay for it. “They have programs for that kind of thing,” one of the nurses said, patting my needle pocked arm assuredly.
After a week in bed, I could finally walk unaided to the bathroom, though my legs still shook. I had to carry my IV stand with me, carefully avoiding getting the cord tangled in the special air filtration system they installed a few days prior, a monstrous beast that hummed at such a constant rate I ceased hearing it. It was a last-minute addition to the room, one mandated by WHO pandemic standards, along with the masks and plastic jumpsuits the hospital staff donned every time they entered my room.
Breathing remained difficult until the day before my discharge, though it slightly improved after the procedure that sucked fluid out of my lungs. Testing revealed advanced pneumonia brought about by H1N1 – also known as the Swine Flu.
Now, this social worker, explaining all the options that wouldn’t work for me. Government assistance, hospital beneficence and financial assistance programs, payment plans (three equal monthly installments of approximately $13,000 each! What a bargain!); though I had zero assets and even less insurance, none of these would apply to me.
My only option? The stack of papers she handed me.
Head still fuzzy from the ordeal, I thumbed through the sheaf.
“Why are there so many forms? What do they mean?” I asked as I flipped through them, trying desperately to focus amidst the soup in my head. $13 for a single laxative pill? $1,400 a day for oxygen use? $2,800 a day in the observation unit? The entire bill was more than what I earned in my entire life.
“Well,” she answered brightly, “the county is going to cover your treatment as long as you sign all these papers.”
“Why do I have to sign something that says the county can seize any of my future assets?” I asked, pointing to a box on one form in the middle of the stack.
“Oh, that’s just a formality. Don’t worry about that,” she shook her head reassuringly.
“I don’t know, that really concerns me.” I frowned. “I don’t think I’m comfortable signing that.”
“You have to sign the forms if you want county assistance,” she reiterated, her voice firming up. Clearly she wasn’t used to working with people who possessed half a brain.
“Do I have to sign them all now? Can I look them over first?”
“Of course,” she smiled plastically. “Just make sure we receive them in ten days.”
Little did I know that by leaving the hospital that day with my bundle of bills, I would usher in a new definition of worry.
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