Falling through the gap between health and finances

A couple weeks ago I fell. This isn’t surprising really – like most people with physical disabilities, I fall all the time. And usually I just get back up and go on with my day; only a new bruise to show for it. But sometimes it’s worse than just a bruise, and this was one of those times. I was carrying Cruz to his crib for a nap. Starting into his room, I tripped on a large toy. I hit the door frame hard with my forearm, then a bookcase with the other arm. Trying not to land on him or slam him into the wall, I flung myself in the other direction and landed on the top side of my thigh, on the floor. Cruz’s leg was under me and he was crying. Still lying on the floor, I grabbed his leg and tested it to make sure it wasn’t broken. He was ok though, after a few second he got up and ran to play with his toys.

I lay there for a moment, a sharp pain running through my right arm and left hip, and my left arm aching. I got up and let Cruz play for a moment, and then laid him in his crib. I had been planning to return to my blogging, but I was pretty shaken up from the fall so I laid on my bed instead.

As the day went on, I started to wonder if I had broken my arm. I could barely move my fingers, I couldn’t turn my arm, and now I was having pains like needles stabbing my arm. My thigh was hurting too, and had a growing, giant bruise and was noticeably swollen, but most of it was in an area I don’t have any feeling in, so it didn’t bother me much.

Was it worth it to go to the emergency room? I don’t have insurance. I pay out of pocket for my doctor visits and monthly prescriptions. Was it worth paying for the ER, the doctor, and the X-ray out of pocket, possibly only to find out that I had bruised the bone?

But what if I didn’t go and it was broken? It’s my right arm. Which is even more important to me than most people: my left hand is pretty affected by my CP, I can’t hold a pencil or write, or do much of anything with it. To give you an idea, in high school I had to drop American Sign Language because I couldn’t do most of the signs that required two hands. In middle school I sprained my right hand and couldn’t write with it. When I (finally) turned in a Language Arts assignment written left handed, the teacher got mad and said that it looked like it had been written by a two year old and how was she supposed to read it.

So, back to my arm. It didn’t really feel broken, but then again, I didn’t really know what broken felt like. With CP I have some sensory issues. Pain comes across more like agitation, at least when it’s new. And every time I’ve broken a bone I didn’t know until way later. When I was 7 I tripped and hit the cement on the way to PE. It hurt, but with the rest of my class watching, I held back the tears and kept walking. Then I did PE as usual. A few days later spring break started, and my little brother and I flew to California to visit my dad. We went to Disneyland and Sea World that week. When we got home from the trip I guess I was still complaining about my knee, or maybe it was swollen, because my mom decided to take me to the doctor, and we found out I had a broken knee cap.

When I was 10 I was playing tag with some friends and I fell, catching myself with my pinky. My mom put some frozen broccoli on it, but the next day we went to the doctor and found out it was broken.

When I was 22 I went into the ER for severe back pain. They did an X-ray, and while the X-ray didn’t show a reason for the current back pain, it did show something else: I had a broken vertebrae, but they could tell by the way that the edges were rounded instead of jagged, that it had been that way for years. They said the way and the place (above the shoulder blades) it was broken looked like it was from falling down stairs, or falling in a similar way. The last time I had fallen down the stairs, or fallen on my back, was when I was 15 – seven years before.

I had declined to go to the ER because I knew it was a lot of money and a lot of hassle, and it did hurt, but I felt like I was more shaken up and scared than anything, so I just lay on my bed for a while.

So, all that to say, I didn’t really feel like I was a good judge of broken bones. Especially given the stabbing pains and inability to move my arm. Everyone I talked to thought it might be broken. I waited all day, but at 8 PM, I decided I didn’t want to sleep that way, and potentially move around a broken bone that would have to be pushed back into place or reset, so we went to the ER.

After a torturous X-ray, having to twist and turn my arm and hold it in place, we found out that it was not broken. Which was kind of bittersweet, since now I felt like the trip was pointless. The doctor handed me a copy of the X-ray, said “It’s not broken, it’s just bruised or sprained, stay off of it.” And walked out. 5 seconds. I can’t wait to see how much I’m going to get charged for that.

I feel like I, and other disabled people, should not have to have such an inner battle about whether or not to go to the doctor or ER if we think something is really wrong. That we shouldn’t have to be so terrified of either enduring a potentially unnecessary hospital bill or endangering the health that we have.

Now, before some of you make the judgment that I made a bad decision in not having medical insurance, consider this:

  • I had to leave my job, which we had insurance through (the only job I’ve ever had that offered insurance) because I could no longer work.
  • Though I am on Social Security Disability, I (and all SSD recipients) am not eligible to purchase a Medicare plan until I’ve been disabled for 24 months. I find that ironic. A: I’ve been disabled for 28 years. In fact, my parents received SSI for me when I was a kid. B: Disabled people get hurt more, and have more ongoing medical issues. What are we supposed to do for those two years, and why is this necessary when we’ve already been determined to be disabled? *Note I said purchase Medicare. It is not free.
  • When I shopped for individual insurance plans, they priced at about $500 per month. That of course does not include deductibles, copays, and other costs not covered by insurance. If you had to choose between buying insurance or putting food on the table for your family, which would you choose?
  • I (and other disabled people) am not able to just go get an extra job and work harder to afford insurance. Or get a job that offers insurance. I’m stuck in this situation until I am eligible for Medicare, or until I am making lots of money from blogging and can afford my own insurance. Unfortunately, I think the Medicare thing might come first.

I am applying for financial assistance for the hospital bills, but I don’t know if I’ll qualify, since I’m married and my husband has an income.

I realize that all of this is about to change with Obamacare kicking in (DISCLAIMER: I am neither for, nor against Obamacare at this point. I am glad that we will have a system, however imperfect at the moment, that will give everyone a chance at insurance.), but in the meantime, I was unfortunate enough to take a big fall a couple of months before insurance would be made available to ‘people like me’. (ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: I do not feel ‘entitled’ to, nor would I receive, insurance at a free cost. Only a reasonable one. Where I wouldn’t have to choose between food and medical care.)

My arm is feeling better now. The hospital didn’t give me a brace or a bandage, but I’ve fallen so much that I have my own. It still hurts, but I can move my arm and type. My thigh, oddly enough, is actually feeling worse. The bruise is almost gone, but I feel a lot of stabbing pains in the places I can feel, and it’s still swollen in the joint area. However, I will not be going to the doctor for it.

I feel that there should be consideration for those of us who are disabled. We don’t choose to have a disability. We do not choose not to work. We don’t choose the extra health problems or the risks involved. These are the cards we are given, and we do our best to make the most of what we’re given, and shine through it. I am not looking for pity, I’m only saying that we shouldn’t be left stranded with no insurance, no way to get it, and a choice between risking our wellbeing and getting stuck with enormous hospital bills. The hospital might be getting $10 a month from me for a very long time.

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