The Long Way Home 11.25.2022--the Medical Bills

My sister tells me that in her medical records from when she was a wee one it was noted that “the mother is a hypochondriac.” My sister always “corrects” my memory of our family from those days. Yet she didn’t disagree when I said that our mother, who lived to be almost ninety, enjoyed ill health for a very long time. Even when we were young.

She was a great caregiver for family members who faced health issues. Our house was the place to be when preparing for or recovering from hospital stays and for the family to gather for tears and laughter during those visits.

She also took great care of us kids.

She was a Florence Nightengale when I had Mononucleosis in the fourth grade and was quarantined for six weeks. The tutor my school sent encouraged Mom to get me to read-- and let me read anything I wanted. Comic books to Hardy Boys and the biographies of sports heroes were on the list. That’s when I picked up a lifelong reading habit.

When she didn’t have others to care for, Mom would find the Readers Digest an excellent source of anxiety. Every issue had at least one story about people struck down by one deadly syndrome or another, only to be rescued by an innovative medical treatment or a brilliant doctor. After reading the story, she’d find herself with one of the symptoms and worry herself near to death. She loved brilliant doctors and Dr. Kildare, but it is clear from my sister that the family doc wasn’t taken in.

I’m reflecting on Mom’s health fetishes after visiting the Emergency Room at North Shore Health after taking a tumble over a shopping cart.

I blame Mom for the undercurrent of distrust I have for doctors and hospitals. I waited until I was past 50 and my blood pressure was too high before getting into a regular pattern of physical exams. Following a doctors' advice, whether about smoking and weight loss or surgical treatments for cancer are always tough for me. But the shopping cart tumble put the corner of the cart firmly to my ribs and I was having trouble sleeping because of the pain.

After three nights of troubled sleep, I called the clinic on a Thursday morning to see if I could get in with a doctor. I guessed that I’d bruised or cracked some ribs, or maybe sunk my floating rib. The triage nurse at the clinic told me the earliest appointment was the following Tuesday and urged me to go to the ER that day.

I would have been happy to find a crotchety old Dr. Welby or Doc Martin there who would chuckle at this old man, have the nurse wrap my ribs with an Ace bandage and order me to take two Tylenol every four hours, and come back if it gets worse.

Instead, I got a young ER doctor (he seemed nice) who was concerned I may have damaged my spleen. That led to inserting an IV, taking a full spectrum of blood tests, and sending me in for a CT scan with dye. Ugh.

That day I was too trusting of the system--like Mom would have been. After seeing that the hospital billed almost $7,000 for the treatment I realize that I should have asked about the costs before getting tests done.

The CT confirmed, “two fractured ribs, minimally displaced” (cracked?). If I’d been told the costs in advance, I would have just gone home and “toughed it out.”