03 May 2012

The injury saga continues

After my... unsuccessful attempt to see a doctor yesterday for my injured ankle, I decided to try again. Today was blue skies and sunshine, a perfect day to visit the hospital's emergency waiting room.

Yes, I am going to the hospital. Specifically the emergency department. Not because I am in need of immediate attention, but because no one around here seems to know where a general doctors clinic is and they reckon I should just go and line up at the hospital's emergency department to see a doctor. It doesn't sound right to me but whatever, I am not repeating yesterday, so I guess we'll just see what happens.

To further lessen my chances of repeating yesterday I decided to taxi it directly to the hospital, thus avoiding any... funny obstacles the Universe feels it wants throw in my way. Shortly after I enter the emergency room to be greeted by a receptionist, she asks for my details and the reason for my visit. I felt a little silly standing in an emergency room and stating 'I hurt my ankle two weeks ago' as the reason as to why I am there. I go take a seat.

While waiting I feel extremely nervous and apprehensive about how health insurance is going to work. America is notorious for their absolutely abysmal and pathetic health care system they have for their citizens with even basic treatments costing a fortune (a visit not covered by insurance to a simple general practitioner is at least $300!). I couldn't shake the visions that my health insurance wouldn't cover the visit and I'd be spending all my remaining money on just this one visit.

Awesomely it is only 10 minutes before my name gets called. Wow, this place is efficient, I'm seeing a doctor already? Not quite. Instead I am guided by a nurse into a room where, for reasons still unbeknownst to me, she takes my heart rate, blood pressure and weight... they know it's just my ankle right? I felt like I was getting prepped for surgery... holy crap, maybe I am!?

I start to panic, a tally runs through my head of how much that would cost. It takes a few moments to remind myself that they haven't even looked at my ankle, thus it is highly unlikely I am to be operated on... yet.

Another 30 minutes later and the nurse calls me again, this time leading me down a bright hallway through some double doors. As I'm walking after her I'm searching for a standard doctors room like you'd expect to see at a general clinic... you know, the small room where the doctor sits at his desk, and you sit on the chair next to it and he asks you a couple of questions, then asks you to sit up on the bed so he can take a better look, and then he sends you home... nothing fancy.

Or expensive.

Instead to my horror I am lead into an emergency patient care room! Like, one of those big rooms with the proper hospital beds on wheels, with the curtains around your little cubicle, and the IV drip machines and the bright white floors and the other patients that you can hear but can never quite see and the strong smell of disinfectant in the air and the doctors in lab coats and... I really don't think I am in the right place.

The nurse asks me to sit up on the bed and wait for the doctor, immediately another tally starts to conjure in my mind of how much this is all going to cost. She returns after a few minutes and says something to me, I nearly have a panic attack because I thought she had just asked me to change into one of those white patient gowns... it takes a moment to register that all she asked was for me to take off my shoes and socks.

It takes 5 minutes for my heart to slow down again.

I can hear next to me some guy moaning, and on the opposite side a doctor is talking to some girl who I suspect has a broken leg. You know, injuries and conditions one would be expected to have in an emergency patient care room... I contemplate sneaking away there and then but knew my ankle wouldn't allow it.

The doctor soon arrives. I bet it just cost me $500 for him to say hello, I think to myself. We chat for a while, he feels around a bit and asks me how it happened. He looks surprised when he learns this is not an injury that I obtained that day (despite my being in the emergency ward), but he carries on anyway. While he is doing his observation I'm wondering if you get billed by the minute. Then my thoughts wander to health insurance companies, and how they are always trying to wiggle out of paying for anything. My heart starts rising again. I try to calculate how much money I have in my travel fund...

Suddenly I'm snapped back to reality when he starts talking again, I had nearly forgotten he was even there, although if anything was to grab my attention it was what he said next.

Doctor: "Ok, well I can't conclude anything unless I can see what's happening inside, so let's just get you in for an X-Ray shall we?"

An X-Ray!? How much does that cost!?

My heart skips a beat... or ten. All I wanted was for a doctor to twist my foot a bit, feel around, ask me where it hurts then send me on my way... this is not going anywhere near as I had expected. Things took an explosive turn for the worst yet again when he casually announces this next gem of an idea.

Doctor: "Actually, while we wait for it to be ready, lets do a quick ultra-sound also"

WHAT! That sounds even more expensive than the X-Ray! While we're at it let's wrap my ankle in diamond coated bandages, eat some caviar for lunch, and I can return to my hostel via limousine!

I wasn't handling it very well... an image flashes through my head of receiving a document from my health insurance company:

"We regret to inform you that we do not cover ankle injuries of idiots who visit hospital emergency departments in a foreign country, please see the checklist below. Pay immediately.

- Doctor said hello: $500
- Emergency room bed: $700
- X-Ray: $2000
- Ultra-Sound: $3000
Idiot tourist tax: $200"

Ok, I have to say something before this goes any further, I don't even know if I have the right documentation with me that proves I have health insurance. I catch my breath to prepare to speak up... oh, too late, he has walked away already. Again my thoughts contemplate the possibility of sneaking away. Damn, he's returning already.

I hear rattling from behind the curtain, something being wheeled towards me. Uh oh, this can't be good. The curtain gets pulled back, he returns with a cart... it's the ultra-sound machine. Things are happening so fast! Before I can say anything he's pulled out the gel, rubbed it on my foot, and is rolling the scanner around. Black and grey images appear on the portable screen next to him.

My panic is momentarily forgotten as my curiosity at how the ultra sound machine works, and how what is being shown on the screen is useful, gets the better of me. I ask a heap of questions and the doctor answers, pretty interesting stuff. 

Wait, no, who cares that it is interesting, there are more important things at present! My panic returns.

"So... umm... this is all covered by health insurance... right?"

"A lady will come over soon and talk to you about all that. Anywho, the X-Ray room should be ready momentarily"

He smiles and leaves again, pulling the curtain shut once more. I learned nothing... sigh. Suddenly the curtains are pulled back again, a lady steps in.

"Hi, I'm here to collect your identification, your health insurance details, and get you to sign some papers, okay?"

"Umm... k..."

The next 5 minutes are a blur. She starts rattling on about... no idea, I was too dazed to understand. I heard phrases like 'payment', 'health care provider' and 'sign here to say that you agree to let the hospital treat you, and that you agree that any complications as a result from said treatment is not of the liability of the hospital'. After signing about 5 pieces of paper we're done. 

"Ok, come collect your passport and documents when you are discharged. Have a nice day", and with a swoosh of the curtain she was gone.

I shouldn't have done that...

Oh crap oh crap oh crap, what have I done now... how do I get myself into these situations!? I turn my mobile on in the hope to call my dad, to have someone talk some sense into me. I'm dialing the number just as another nurse walks in, interrupting me.

"Aaron? Cool, we are ready for your X-Ray. Oh, no don't get up, just stay in the bed"

Yep... I got wheeled to the X-Ray room in a hospital bed, completely enforcing how over the top this whole visit has been...

In the hall I pass old men with their gowns hanging open at the back, and doctors and nurses rushing all around. In the room I wonder if X-Rays are charged on a 'per X-Ray' basis. He takes three of them... great.

I try and calculate how much that would cost.

I get wheeled back to my room, the curtains are drawn shut, and I am again left on my own for a while. The fears that this day is going to cost me thousands run through my head. I think back to yesterday, the most depressing day I've had in years. Then I think of today, one of the most stressful days I've had in years. What a swell trip I'm having!

The doctor returns. No broken bones. Basically I've ruptured a ligament in my ankle and it has inflamed, will take a month to heal. Awesome... I wasn't planning on traveling around these next few months or anything anyway. Sigh.

I get permission to leave from the doctor. Amusingly the nurse asks me to wait a minute, she wants to take my heart rate again. I ask why.

"Oh, well it was a little high when we took it when you first arrived"

Ha! You don't say...

I say my goodbyes, we chat about Australia and backpacking for a while, then I leave. And now, it's the moment of truth. The checking out. Every possible scenario is running through my head as I walk up to the counter. Any moment I expect to hear the words 'I apologize Aaron, but your health insurance company claims that this is an injury done back home, so you won't be covered. Please give us all of your money'... or something along those lines.

I sit down, the lady behind the window is the same one I talked to earlier, she finishes typing on the computer then turns to me.

"Aaron, I've called your health insurance company..." Oh man, here it is! I bet they've rejected it! All my travel money is now going to be taken away, it's all been for nothing! Stupid doctor and his X-Rays and ultra-sound machines...

I don't realize that I am literally holding my breath as she speaks.

"... and they've said that yep, everything is fine, they will be covering everything, all you need to do is pay $300 today which you can claim back once you're back in Australia. Just sign here, and you're free to go"

It takes a while to compute it all... I don't move for about 30 seconds. I suddenly realize I'm holding my breath and I gulp for fresh air, spluttering out an awkward "Wait... what?".

"The costs have all been covered, just sign here and you're free to go"

I don't believe her. I make her repeat, from the beginning, everything she just said to me. She does. I finish signing, get up from my seat, and ask her to repeat it all again. This time she glares at me. Time to go! I'm expecting as soon as I step towards the door sirens will sound and a net will drop from the ceiling, trapping me. This doesn't happen, yet.

I use their phone to call a taxi, then walk outside to sit in the beautiful sunshine while I wait, still not entirely sure what just happened these last few hours. I still wouldn't have been surprised to see nurses suddenly run outside after me, shouting 'wait, we made a mistake, you owe us thousands!"... but the taxi arrives and I don't see any crazed nurses, so I assume I am free to go.

On the ride back to the hostel, I swear the world looks happier... brighter, in some way.

Phew... I really need to learn to relax.




5 comments:

Tom said...

Hah, American health care is ridiculous. Glad everything went 'well'!

Tania said...

It never ceases to amuse me how many Americans will argue that their health care is the best in the world and the envy of everyone else. Just no! I'd rather wait and not pay up-front than pay thousands and get seen quickly.

Jas said...

You were taken better care of than the rest of the Americans! Beat the system!

hannah marie said...

Oh no I really hope your ankle heals fast! All these crazy events happening to you are random. But I have to admit during the worst times, you really make me laugh out loud. Be strong Aaron :)

Azz said...

Tom - Haha, well to be fair I think I was in the wrong place, and the treatment I did get was actually pretty remarkable. It was only the payment I was worried about.

Tania - Envy of the world? Not sure how anyone could say that, the treatment was fantastic but I know I only got it because I paid a fortune for travel health insurance, which I know the vast majority living here wouldn't be able to afford it at all =(

Jas - Haha! It was really nice treatment actually, I did feel taken care of.

Hannah - Thanks! Is slowly on the mend so that's good. Ha I am humbled to hear that these posts make you laugh, it is good to know =)

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