This is a continuation of a previous blog, How Healthcare Chose Me Part 1.
I remember wanting to be able to see the baby moving or hear the heartbeat so bad, something that with a midwife and their limited technology only comes much later. I needed the confirmation that the baby was OK, now. On the day of my appointment, I waited anxiously for my first visit with my new OB doctor, my three-year old causing mayhem in the waiting room. After forty-five minutes we were called back to see the APN; the doctor was delivering babies. No doctor to see me today.
Ok. I thought. I can wait another month. The next month was the same, only this time I waited over an hour after my scheduled appointment, and the doctor was–again–attending to someone else. This was so different from my experience with my previous pregnancy, when I had gone to my midwife’s house for my appointments and never waited a minute past my scheduled time to see her, and she had never been double booked or attending to someone else.
Finally, I felt I had been patient enough (it’s funny, the definition of the word patient means “to be able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious”; I guess I had enough of being a patient) so I told the girl at the front desk I really wanted to see a doctor. Any doctor. Just a doctor. She didn’t know what to do with me. Office policy is that if you see a doctor in this particular practice you cannot then switch to another in the same practice. I asked to talk with the manager. She said she would have the manager call me.
A couple of weeks later I did get a call, from the United States Post Office. They said I had a piece of certified mail to pick up. I had no idea what it was but I was optimistic. Maybe something fun! I ripped open the letter still standing in the post office and read in disbelief that I had been fired from the OBGYN office. You could have picked my jaw up off the floor. Fired. Fired!? I couldn’t believe it.
Anger swelled in me. Why did they have all the control?! If anyone was being fired, it should have been them, for being late and rude when I inquired about my concerns. I felt mistreated and defeated. Sidenote: I did end up finding a lovely OBGYN and my baby was fine, however those two office visits, the way I was treated by the staff, and ultimately being fired from the office for standing up for myself changed the way I looked at healthcare.
The third and final blow began a couple of months later when I went to register to have my baby at the hospital. The receptionist said that currently the hospital was not contracted with my insurance (my husband had been able to get COBRA from my previous job while I was in having my appendix removed) but not to worry; they would be contracted by the time I had my baby.
The date of the supposed contract came and went and I naively believed the hospital would call me if the contract fell through. No call. I assumed all was well. Two weeks later, I had my baby. I stayed as long as they let me, taking full advantage of the extra help and sleep.
I didn’t hear anything for a year and assumed the contract went through without a hitch between the insurance company and the hospital. We had enough on our plate anyway: despite the COBRA, we still had sweltering monthly medical bills from the ER and the subsequent surgery and we struggled to pay them every month. We felt like we were drowning in medical debt.
Then one day in my kitchen I opened a letter stating that the insurance I had was never contracted with the hospital and we were responsible for the full charge of an out of network birth. And would we like to set up a payment plan? I think I felt my appendix burst all over again.
My husband fought tirelessly with the hospital and the insurance–hours of phone calls and letters. The insurance brought in a neutral third-party, but after two years of trying to appeal, we got a letter stating neither leviathan would budge, and we were solely, fully, responsible.
The finance situation tore at our young family. I had to go back to work. The economy was struggling at the time, and after many attempts, the place I finally was offered a full-time, benefitted job scheduling imaging procedures was at the very hospital I was trying to relieve our family from debt from. I thought it was ironic. I took it.
It didn’t take long for me to see while speaking to the patients on the other end of the phone that my experience with the ills of healthcare was not unique. Healthcare can put anyone throught the wringer. What I found, though, was that I could be a soft spot in a prickly line of broken processes and uncaring people. I could make a difference in every patient’s experience by how I interacted and owned the process and their needs on the phone. I realized I could, in my little way, be a soft, compassionate part of their overall experience no matter what it was that they were going through.
To say I’ve never looked back would be a lie. Healthcare weighs on my soul. It’s merciless. As miraculous as it can be, it also can affect people in the most vulnerable and tragic ways. To fight to improve it day in and day out is tiresome. But I’m so honored everyday to work with people who tirelessly want to see it improved, and are working to mend the processes and culture that are, excuse the play on words, deathly–but not terminally–sick. We do it for others, and we do it for ourselves. Listening to patients and what matters to them is crucial to meaningful improvements, something I’ve blogged about here. In the end, we are all patients; we just may not be one right this second.
I did not choose healthcare, but it chose me, swooping me up into its vortex and daring me to do what I can to help it heal.
What about you? What healthcare experiences have you had that have left lasting impressions on your life? Let me know below!