The sound of her words echoed in my mind like a death wish being placed on my three month old infant, "We're canceling Grace's surgery, scheduled for 7 A.M. tomorrow. Your insurance has lapsed." I was shocked. My mind raced: there must be some mistake because I had paid my premium. Choking, then tears, and then came the inability to let the heartless sounding woman at the other end of the line hang up -- until I rewrote the cancellation speech she had just delivered.
How many mothers had heard this painful speech? Did the hospital pay her that well? Had she really shut down emotionally, or was it just a cool exterior containing a feeling, sensitive heart? I pleaded with her, explaining that my three month old daughter was undergoing a series of surgeries, and this was a critical procedure, the final operation. I explained that the surgeon had to remove the titanium screws and splints from her mandible (lower jaw bone), because they were causing a serious infection. The infection had caused her little cheek to swell and finally rip open, and the granulation tissue that should be inside was pushing through torn skin to the outside, along with puss and fat. Grace couldn't afford for the surgery to be cancelled or even delayed. What could she do? What could I do?
"If this is a true emergency, then you should take her to an emergency room." "An emergency room," I explained, "wouldn't know how to treat Grace or would turn us away, especially if what you said is true, that our insurance has lapsed." My eyes fixed on Grace, and despite inner panic, my instinct to protect my child intensified, focusing my mind. I knew that while the system allowed this woman to place a virtual death promise on my child, hospital customer/patient service would undoubtedly frown on her hanging up on me. I let her know I was recording our call (although I wasn't). I kept her engaged as I dialed our insurance company, my eyes on my adorable little baby whose cheek was open and oozing. Her sweet, gentle angel eyes watching my every move. Her helpless innocence overwhelmed me. I could not fail her. I was worried that it could possibly be true: would this hospital make a move that would end her life? With that horrible thought, I began to sweat and silently pray.
I reached a customer service representative from my insurance company, Shirley, who told me my payment hadn't been received. I explained that I had mailed the check on time, and they must have it. Shirley told me the system didn't show it. With both women on the phone, I checked my bank account online, and the check had not yet cleared. It was lost somehow lost in the system. "Well," Shirley explained, "we need a payment to reinstate you." "Fine, I can pay you now -- Visa, Mastercard, check by phone, whatever you want." "Great," Shirley said, "Your payment will post in the next couple of days, and your insurance will be reinstated within the week." "No, no, no, no. My infant has a critical surgery scheduled tomorrow morning. We must be covered now. What if she needs to go to the emergency room? Her cheek is -- well, it's open." I began to explain about her insides coming out. I began to cry. So did Grace. Oh my God -- she was hungry. I had to get this solved and get her fed.
Shirley told me that within the week was the best that she could do. I couldn't accept that. "What would you do, Shirley, if you were in my position? Please try to understand where I'm coming from when I say we must make this happen today. I know there's a way we can do this." "Well," Shirley said, "we could post your payment today, but I need my supervisor's approval, and he's in a meeting all day." A meeting all day? Who's in a meeting all day? "Shirley, an infection could kill a three month old baby. We can't be without health insurance for a single minute. You have to get your supervisor out of that meeting." "Oh no, I'm sorry, I can't do that." "Yes, Shirley, you must. You just walk into the meeting room, and you tell your supervisor it's an emergency. A three month old infant named Grace needs his help. And yours." For the first time, Shirley sounded uncertain, vulnerable. "Hold on."
After explaining my situation to Nicole, Shirley's manager, she walked into the all day insurance company meeting and got Julio, the supervisor, on our call. Julio spoke to the woman from the hospital, and by the end of the day, our insurance was reinstated. The next morning, little Grace got her needed surgery.
From this frightening experience, it dawned on me that it is isn't a given that babies must be cared for in the United States. I mistakenly assumed that no one in a position of power in our nation would knowingly do anything to endanger an innocent child. I must fight for my child's life in this system. I now realize that hospital's are for profit. A hospital in our country is a business, and nothing but a business, and that's the cold, hard truth.
When I began writing this blog, I thought that after telling my story, I would say something profound about our health care system. I would criticize and suggest, then become patriotic, and perhaps inspiring. But I don't think there's anything I can say that's more poignant than Grace's true story. I hope that it will stimulate thought, feeling, and action in you. Because this time it was my child, but next time it could be yours. I don't see how we can allow this healthcare system to remain unregulated and purely for profit.
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