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.
The only other dispute we had was when she told me that I should "Go to Walmart" to buy the intestinal propellants required to empty out my lower tract so that the TV crew could do its work.
I said, "I can't go to Walmart."
She queried, "Why? Aren't there any near you?"
Of course there are Walmarts near me, this is the United States, we're lousy with Walmarts. I just happen to respect workers and so of course I can't walk in those places. But never fear, I will find a good local pharmacy and purchase the items and shall arrive at the hospital, on the given day, ready for my closeup.
This seemed to perplex but then appease her. She gave me an examination gown to put on and told me the doctor would see me in a few moments. Then she left.
About ten minutes later, there was a knock and the nurse reappeared. She told me that the doctor was on the phone with another physician but he would be in to see me soon. I passed the time in the airless room that had the faint odor of ten thousand ass exams. I thought of how much I despised the medical racketeers but allowed that I had made it this far and I was going to see this through. Alone with my thoughts, I reflected on life in this country. I considered how we are about to celebrate restoring unemployment benefits to some people, while leaving uncounted others, unemployed for more than an immoral 99 weeks, to sink into a future as murky as whatever the substance is that used to be the body of water known as the Gulf of Mexico.
After a half an hour or so of similarly wretched considerations, the doctor came in. He was pleasant enough until the Hep-C came up, when he recoiled a half-step and asked how I'd discovered I had it. I told him I had had a biopsy and he stopped me cold.
"A biopsy, in a hospital?"
I repeated the same exchange I had with the nurse and watched him transmogrify from caregiver to insurance corporation Hessian, even though my entire visit was covered by the state.
As it happened, because of the Hep-C, everything might not be paid for. When the exam (nothing intrusive!) ended, I was told to report to a local for-profit hospital, named after a Catholic saint, for body and blood tests, necessitated by my preexisting condition. I strolled in and proceeded to the lab area, where I handed the form the doctor sent along with me to a young tech. He told me I first had to go to admitting.
I said, "So I'm going to be hospitalized?"
He said, "No. You are only going to be here for blood tests. We won't be keeping you overnight or anything."
"A-HA!" I retorted. And then I turned and went back and found admitting.
There I had to sign in and wait to be seen, but my time wouldn't be wasted -- not with FOX-News blaring on a small screen suspended above several other would-be medical customers. I posited to myself that they must have some open beds in the mental ward they were trying to fill. I never watch FOX-News. I know the right wing as well as I know my hometown, as well as I know my boyhood home. There is nothing new from these reactionaries. They are the same innuendo-spewing McCarthyites they ever were. I know better than to allow their invective to splatter upon someone in my condition. My gallant liver is overtaxed enough without having to get kicked into bile overdrive by toxic talking maggots in a shiny studio.
Mercifully my name was soon called -- but wait -- just to fill out more forms. Forms that asked the same questions I had answered as many as three times already in the last few hours. Why do they make 17 copies of everything if they never pass one along to the next bureaucrat? I took a deep breath and began yet another trip through the corporate labyrinth. This time I aced the hospitalization question. Twice battered, once learned!
Soon a nice enough administrator brought me in and we went over my answers. It went almost too well. She gave me back the form with the request for the blood work. With it, she gave me a copy of my newly filled-out forms and told me to go back up to the lab for my blood work. The heavens opened, rays of hopeful light warmed me and then... and then the administrator poked her head in another office, where a young woman she introduced to me as, I'm pretty sure, either a 'financial screener' or 'scanner' sat.
The administrator spoke loudly and slowly, like a kindergarten teacher, saying "Oh good, you're here! I think you will be able to help Mr. Crimmins. HE HAS NO HEALTH CARE. Mr Crimmins, Ms -name-omitted-to-protect-the-complicit-in-the-banality-of-evil, healthcare-division, will help you with some financial planning."
And then she ran, and I mean ran back to her office and slammed the door. Ms -name-omitted-to-protect-the-complicit-in-the-banality-of-evil, healthcare-division, got up and came out of her perfectly good office. She brought me to a desk at the other side of the FOX-News Memorial Waiting Room. There she announced to all the other patients and me -- "So you have no health care, Mr Crimmins?"
Getting into the spirit of farce, I stage-whispered, "None at all. I made the horrible mistake of getting sick in the United States, where we need our money for more important things like senseless, endless wars and haranguing the indigenous people of the Southwest for moving back and forth across borders created by thieving scum! But you know all about that, what with your daylong exposure to fair and balanced FOX-News!"
She kept smiling like a used car salesperson hell-bent on unloading a YUGO that had only been through the one flood. She then informed me that there may be a way to subsidize part of the costs I was bound to incur at the for-profit joint named after Jesus's friend. It seemed all I had to do was answer several embarrassing questions about my life and finances, well within earshot of all the other poor souls in the FOX-News Memorial Waiting Room.
I said, "Oh good. This way we can not only humiliate me, we can also drive away some of the other deadbeat ill and injured people, who had the nerve to come to a hospital when they were feeling poorly. The last thing a sick person feels like doing is be made an example of so let me serve as a warning to all the poor devils who are politely pretending they can't hear everything we're saying.
"Nice system you have here -- first you pound would-be patients with some FOX News where they fairly blame poor people for all of our economic woes. Then you bring them in for a private grilling. Then you haul the remains out here for the final indignities.
Well enough of that! Even if I get past you today, it will just mean that I'll be sent to the next desk where my pariah status will set off alarms from here to the board of directors. Where once again I'll be treated as a scamming thief rather than as a person in need of care and compassion. And where some other functionary for fiscal evil will talk down to me, even though I would never be so low as to do a job that helps add to the body count of decent people who made the mistake of dreaming of forestalling mortality for a few more years. Well screw that. I will take a simple vow and then leave you to your slack-jawed shock. Here it is: Death before begging corporate scum for my life."
With that I turned around and walked out of St. Moneychanger's. Only one question remains: am I still technically hospitalized?
Previously posted on Barry Crimmins: Words to Live Near