LJ Idol Week 20 - Boondoggle

"I'm sorry." 

My husband looked over at me from his seat in the back of the ambulance. 

"Why are you sorry?" he asked me. 

"Because I know this will be a waste of time. It's probably nothing." 

"Well, that would be good news, wouldn't it? We want it to be nothing." 

"I suppose so."

 Back in the United States, I would never dream of going to the emergency room because I'm uninsured, and it would financially destroy me. 

Even though I know it's different here, I still fall into the same mindset.  What if I'm just being a hypochondriac? Yes, I had two different doctors tell me to go to the emergency room, that this was serious. But usually, I ignore that advice, and so far, I've turned out fine. 

But what if this time, they're right?

What if I wouldn't be fine? 

When we got to the hospital, the French receptionist seemed to be angry. She was yelling and throwing her hands around, but I couldn't make out a word she said. In my mind, I knew what she was upset about though — it's because I'm American and I don't have access to the French healthcare system yet. I felt terrible as I sat there, not knowing what she was going on and on about, but assuming it was about me and my lack of health insurance here in France. 

And I sat there feeling like I had done something wrong. Because in my country, healthcare isn't a right — it's a privilege I don't have. 

Later, I asked my husband and he told me that the receptionist wasn't yelling about me at all — she was mad at the ambulance drivers. They had taken me to the wrong hospital, one that wouldn't be able to test me properly, and that they had put down wrong information on the form.  She wasn't concerned about me being able to pay. She was concerned about me and advocating on my behalf. 

But our troubles didn't end there. 

Since there weren't any English speaking nurses on staff, my poor husband ended up having to translate everything for me. That proved to be a difficult task. Most of the medical lingo we were throwing around isn't stuff he uses in everyday speech. Everyone I met — including those who spoke English fairly well — had no idea what an IUD was, for instance. And poor Sevan spent way too long trying to figure out the French word for cervix (spoiler alert: there isn't one word for it, it translates literally to "opening of the uterus" apparently). 

When the doctor entered the room, I asked her, "Parlez vous anglais?" 

Her response is, "Un peu" which means a little. That was the best I was going to get. 

I'll admit, I was getting frustrated and yearned for an American hospital, one where I could explain my problems in detail without things getting lost in translation. And even when Sevan was able to be in the room with me to translate,  I'd pick up on things that were wrong. It's like the most annoying, stressful game of telephone ever — and it made me wonder why I even bothered to go to the hospital in the first place. 

After some bloodwork and talking to the doctor, I'm given two options — 1) I could stay there for the night until radiology opened up to get a CT scan, or 2) be transferred to another hospital, which sounded like such a pain after everything we'd already been through. 

Again, I weighed all my options thinking about costs, but Sevan was the one that suggested we should stay there for the night. It was already almost three in the morning, and we were tired. We assumed they'd transfer us to a room where we could get some sleep. He told them what we'd decided and the nurse came in and gave me an IV. 

Then we found out that all the rooms were currently occupied with Covid patients, so we would be staying in the emergency room. With the narrow, rock-hard examining table and no chair for Sevan. I even asked Sevan to ask the nurse if we could leave and come back in the morning — and she said no. I had already been admitted and had an IV, we weren't going anywhere. 

So I tried to sleep on the narrow table, careful not to pull the IV out of my hand. Sevan had to lay down on the floor, on his coat. I slept a bit, but I know he didn't because every time I rolled over to get comfortable, I felt his hand on my side, making sure I didn't roll off the table. He was always there, making sure I didn't fall off — and didn't get a wink of sleep himself. 

I felt terrible that I was putting him through all this. At the end of it all, I knew he would be the one paying for this hospital trip — in more ways than one. 

I continued apologizing. He kept telling me it was okay. 

"But I bet it's nothing," I'd say again.  

And he'd remind me - that it would actually be a good thing if it was nothing. He'd rather it be nothing than something. But what a waste of time and money this would be if it's nothing, I thought to myself. 

They gave me a CT scan, and as suspected, it came back with nothing concrete. In fact, the doctor told me that she suspected I had coronavirus because of how my lungs looked in the X-ray, but they only tested people who were in respiratory distress. Sevan asked the questions for me, in French, and the doctor agreed it could be my lung issues from my autoimmune disease and other problems.  So more than likely, I don't have coronavirus. But other than that, they couldn't tell me what was wrong with me. 

My fever was down thanks to the medicine in my IV, and my pain was better. So I was released. 

And I still had no answers. 

 I find this to be the usual routine for me at emergency rooms, and I suspect that's because their purpose isn't to diagnose — but to keep people from dying. It's still frustrating nonetheless, especially when it'll cost you thousands of dollars.  Sure, you might not be dead, but now you're in severe debt with no more answers than when you walked in the night before. It starts to feel like a fraud, like a complete waste of time and money. 

Sevan went to pay the bill, and I waited outside. I was alone and feeling so guilty about how much I had just cost him. I did the math in my head as I waited. 

I had been needing a CT scan on my lungs for months now, my pulmonologist back in the United States had wanted me to do it back in January but I couldn't afford it. I was quoted at $3000 or more. I figured it couldn't be that much cheaper here. Maybe $1000? $800, at least? 

On top of that, I had been admitted to the hospital overnight.  I had IVs with medication, blood work, and urinalysis.  Last time I had bloodwork in the United States, it was around $300 just for that, and it was very basic bloodwork. I had no idea what tests they'd run here. I hadn't stayed overnight in a hospital since I was a child, but I'd heard quotes of thousands of dollars for that type of thing. It couldn't be that much cheaper here. We were at a private hospital — not a public one — which only made it worse. And I didn't have access to their universal healthcare, so we'd have to pay the full cost of everything. 

And in my mind, there's no way that would be cheap. I'm thinking at least $2000. 

When Sevan came out of the hospital, I bombarded him with questions. 

"How bad was it?"  

"It wasn't that expensive," was all he said at first, but eventually, I got it out of him. 

My emergency stay, everything included, was $100. 

"$100? How can that be?" I asked. 

When I had somewhat decent insurance in the United States, I had to pay $100 out-of-pocket to visit the emergency room. Not to mention, I always had to pay deductibles too — often thousands. And that was WITH insurance. But here, even without insurance, it cost us $100 for everything but the CT scan. 

"But what about the CT scan," I asked. "That can't be cheap." 

"It was less than $200, which isn't bad. We'll get reimbursed for it when you get your social security number here too." 

I literally stopped in my tracks. 

He added. "And I think it's worth it for the peace of mind, knowing you're going to be okay. Plus now you have your CT scan for the pulmonologist." 

It's hard to put a price on peace of mind, but $300 seems a lot more reasonable than the $5000+ that it would have cost me back in the United States. 

I explained to Sevan how when I had Medi-Cal in California, I was visiting family in Missouri and got sick. I called my provider and asked if I could go to the emergency room.  They told me that they would only cover it if the doctors deemed it a life-threatening emergency. Otherwise, I'd be on my own since it was out of network. I had to decide whether my symptoms were life-threatening before going to the hospital or risk paying thousands of dollars I didn't have. I didn't go, even though the guy on the phone said it sounded like I would be covered, but he wouldn't be able to tell me that over the phone. Without that guarantee, I couldn't risk it. 

Sevan found that absurd because, and I quote, "It's the doctors who should be making the decision if it's life-threatening or not — not you." 

"Well, I couldn't have afforded it otherwise, I had to make that choice." 

"You shouldn't have to." 

And he was right. 

People shouldn't have to make life or death choices on their own before going to the ER. Finding out there's nothing wrong with you shouldn't feel like a waste of time or money — it should be a relief. 

Emergency rooms aren't the problem.

It's the US healthcare system that's the real fraud. 


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