Gall Bladders and Obamacare

Health care has been in the news so much lately, thanks to the upholding of the individual mandate in "Obamacare." Health care has also been on my mind.

Three weeks ago, I had to have surgery to remove my gall bladder. This happened totally unexpectedly. I woke up on a Wednesday morning at two in the worst pain of my life. I kept hoping the pain would go away. In the dark of night, I could not sleep. I could not find a position to relieve my pain. I stayed in a fetal position until 6 AM, when I deemed it a fair enough time to call my mom. During those four hours, I thought about going to the emergency room. I was in excruciating pain, so much so that I was vomiting up bile. In my mind, though, I was afraid to go in, because I know that even with my insurance, emergency room visits are expensive. Because of this, I waited until 9 in the morning to see a doctor at my family practice.

Immediately, the doctor recognized that my gall bladder needed to come out. She sent me for blood work and set up a time for me to have an ultrasound. Unfortunately, the soonest appointment was at 5 o'clock in the evening. She said that because of my pain level (which was a 10 out of 10 at this point), I should go to the emergency room. So, with the cost of an emergency room visit in mind, my mom and I  checked me in.

I waited for a bed for three and a half hours. Those hours were the longest and hardest of my young life. I spent most of that time laying down on a bench in the emergency room lobby. I paced around a bit, vomited some more, and tried with too little patience to show my mom how to use my cell phone so she could call people for me. At the beginning of the wait I was able to text people and talk with my mom, but at the end, I was in too much pain. I closed my eyes and prayed to the universe that I would have relief soon. I even asked the triage nurses how much longer I would have to wait, and tried to show them how much pain I was in. But, because I am young and was still able to walk, and because at least five traumas were admitted via ambulance during my wait, the hours dragged on. I mostly cried during the last hour. Perhaps my pain level for a tiny little gall bladder sounds pathetic, but most people who have experienced attacks will tell you that the pain level is mind-blowing.

Finally, they called my name. It was the sweetest sound I have ever heard. Because the emergency room seems to be about the luck of the draw, I had some of that luck at this point. I got the only private room in the ER. As soon as I had a gown on and I laid in that bed, I looked at my mom and said, "How am I going to pay for this?" They took me in for an ultrasound, put some sweet pain medication in my veins, and within an hour of arriving in my room, the doctor told me that I needed surgery, yes, but not that day. So, they gave me a bottle of heavy narcotics and sent me home with the number of a surgeon to call. I was frustrated and confused. If I was in enough pain to be on narcotics that left me in bed and my gall bladder was so full of gall stones that I was only allowed to be on a liquid diet, why did I have to wait to get surgery?

It nearly goes without saying that I spent a lot of time crying over the next few days. I was able to meet with my very helpful and gracious surgeon who recognized the emergency in my situation. I met with him on a Friday, and the soonest available operating room was on Monday. So, I went home and waited. And worried. I kept looking at my insurance plan to try to calculate how much money I would be spending on my surgery. My anxiety level was astronomical that weekend. I don't know how I will pay for this. I don't know how I will pay for this. I barely slept the night before my surgery.

When I was admitted to the hospital, they handed me a brochure about how to pay for surgeries you can't afford. Even right before I headed into the operating room, as I was hooked up to machines, and my hair was in a cap, I told my mom that I was stressed about the bills.

I came out of anesthesia and had a similar thought within the hour.

Know what I also thought about?

I am one of the lucky ones, because I have insurance.

Technically, I am far below the US poverty line. Because of this, I am able to be on state-subsidized health insurance. I have a rather small payment each month, and I have a small out of pocket maximum. The medical bills, which are just now starting to come in, are relatively small compared to what others have to pay. I will only have to pay a fraction of what my health care services cost. To me, they are a hardship since I am a fully self-supporting college student, but I can make it.

But still, I can't help thinking that when one is going through a medical crisis, however large or small, the last thing on their minds should be whether or not they can pay for the services. I am beginning to see the importance of holistic health care, mind and body. People should not face crippling anxiety on top of other health issues. That should not happen.

Access to health care is a basic human right. I understand now why people in the United States do not live as long as they do in other nations. I know now why we are stressed out and live in constant fear of health care problems. I know why we can't seem to get better quickly because anxiety is gripping our bodies as well.

I know I do not speak for all Americans by any means. This is just my experience. This surgery, and my tonsil surgery last year, have made me understand the sheer necessity of universal health care.

"Obamacare" is by no means perfect. We have many steps to go. But, for me, it is a start. It's something. But really, I would like to see much, much more. I would like to live in a country where  people like me (who does indeed work, study, and intern with all my energy and by no means "work the system") do not have to decide between paying rent and having surgery.

My Nana, who lives right across the border in Canada, recently spent two months in the hospital. Her bill was nothing. Her concern was with getting better.

To me, that does not seem like too much of a tragedy.

(Note: I do not wish to start a fiery debate. I just wanted to share my recent experiences. Polite discussion is welcome.)


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