Cue the Tears!! And . . . Action!!
Where to begin? Do I start with waking up this morning to find that a friend had started a fundraising effort to help me pay for medical care? That immediately had me sitting in this very chair trying to squeeze back tears that would eventually come all day long as people donated to my cause. Do I start with having to brave the Harbor-UCLA Hospital (i.e., the County) on Friday?
Where to begin?
I'll begin at the beginning. I broke the leg/ankle on Tuesday. I did not immediately go to the doctor. Why? Well, as is typical of moms, I didn't want to disrupt my child's world. He was finally testing for the next level in tae kwon do. We all thought he'd never get past this stage in his progress. He seemed to be stuck at the blue belt level. So now that he was finally ready to move on to the next level, there was no way I was going to mess that up. Being the crazy woman that I am, I'd decided that I might not have broken anything, that perhaps it was simply a bad sprain. I limped to his test on a cane, the one I used through the early part of my knee replacement recovery.
On Wednesday, I limped into work, still on the cane. Since I work at a small company where everyone's participation counts, I wanted to make sure there was nothing pressing that needed my attention. Of course, my boss said, "Why are you here?" My answer? "Because I'm loyal." If this was a big company, I would have called and told them I'd screwed up my ankle and wouldn't be in. But this place is different. I like it there. I know my work is important. I just felt like I needed to make an appearance, if only to let them know I needed to see a doctor.
Since I'm uninsured, friends told me to try the Venice Family Clinic. Well, they informed me that I lived outside of their area of care and sent me over to an urgent care facility. At urgent care, you pay for every service delivered. You pay right then and there. At the behest of a friend, I got an x-ray. Guess what it found? Well, you've seen the x-ray; you already know what's there. The urgent care folks put me in a splint ($125), gave me crutches ($35) and said I could see their orthopedist the next day. So, let's see . . . it was $95 to see the urgent care doctor, $95 for the x-ray and then more money for the splint and crutches.
I return the following day to see the orthopedist ($175). He said right then and there that I needed surgery. Well, that had me and my mom in tears since, as I said, I'm uninsured. This is where the drama begins. The orthopedist's office spent the day trying to figure out how I could get surgery for a price that we might be able to afford. They eventually called me and said that if I could pay cash, it could be done for $4800 at a surgical center as an out-patient procedure. Well, that's still more money than any of us could afford. And I did need a second opinion.
You know, I've lived in L.A. my whole life (other than my years in college and short time living in Europe). The idea of seeking treatment from the County has always been a scary one. We all hear the stories, especially those of us in communities of color. And on two occasions, I took friends to the County for their appointments. The first friend and I waited something like 12 hours to be seen by a doctor. This was in 1992. The second friend and I waited five hours before she gave up. And she had an appointment! This was in 2010. I did not want to go to the County for treatment. In my mind, especially as someone's mother, I could not afford to spend days at a time at a County facility waiting for treatment.
But I really had no other choice once presented with the reality of my situation. On Friday, my mom took the child to school. I went down to the ER at Harbor-UCLA. This is the County hospital with an orthopedic residency program. Well, I was seen within 15 minutes of my arrival. Then I had to wait. Believe it or not, it wasn't a bad wait. At one point, a nurse came into my area and apologized for having to be there, but explained that they had four computers and the one in my area of the ER was the only one that was working. Seriously, State of California? This is what the folks who work at the County facilities have to deal with. Anyway, that same nurse came back shortly, realized I needed to see an orthopedist and made an appointment for me to see one later in the afternoon. They told me to go on home and come back later. I wasn't there that morning for more than an hour. It was not a bad experience.
So, we return that afternoon for my appointment. Remember, this is not a situation where you just go to see the doctor, like you would if you had insurance. I had to report to Patient Registration, then go to Urgent Care, then go to have x-rays taken, then go back to Urgent Care before finally being sent upstairs to see the orthopedist. By that point, I'd been there for several hours. I was tired. My foot was full of fluid. I'd been crutching all over that damn hospital. And it was getting late.
Finally, I'm called in to see the orthopedist. And he isn't nice at all. He makes no eye contact. He says something about me needing surgery and simply walks off talking to the resident who'll also be helping him with me. Well, I'm not cool with doctors who have shitty bedside manners. I don't like that at all. I'm not sure how it happened, but I eventually started talking to both him and the resident. Within a few minutes, the orthopedist was looking at me when he spoke. He and I eventually had one another laughing. This is the kind of doctor I can handle. That holier than thou bullshit? No. Anyway, before they even did anything, he announced that I'd need surgery and needed to be back there on Monday morning. He also said they were going to drain the joint/foot, shoot up the joint with Lidocaine and reset the bones.
#@$!%&! At that point, I was ready to leave. Why? Well, during the midst of County experience, a friend contacted me, saying he'd sent a picture of my x-ray to the doctor who'd rebuilt his feet and that this doctor, a man I keep referring to as "The Shit", wanted to talk to me. During that day, I had, in fact, talked to that doctor. My friend had told him of my situation and the doctor nonetheless wanted to see me on Monday morning in his office. What really stuck with me were my friends words: "Don't do anything rash." I took this to mean, "Don't let the County get hold of you before you see The Shit!" So, when the County orthopedist said he was going to reset the bones I balked.
Finally, I told them that I might not be back to them for surgery, thinking that they'd not waste their precious time on me. Wrong! The resident politely explained that it didn't matter who was going to handle my medical care in the end, but those bones needed to be reset immediately. Fuck me!! I knew I was in for it. I didn't know what resetting bones entailed; I knew it was not going to be pretty.
They drained the joint/foot with a big needle. That wasn't nice. Then, they shot up the joint with Lidocaine. Finally, they put me in a cast that was still wet and malleable . . . and commenced to twisting the hell out of my foot and leg, applying pressure at the sites of the broken bones. The resident told me this particular form of torture would only last about two minutes. Several minutes later, he and the gigantic orthopedist, a dude who looked like he could play pro football, were still pushing and twisting. Me: "You said two minutes!!!!!!" Resident: "I meant give or take five minutes!" This was not the worst pain I've ever felt. It didn't generate any tears. Had the resetting of the bones taken longer, it might have. Still, as I've said throughout this injury, I haven't taken any prescription pain meds because this really hasn't hurt much. The worst pain I've ever felt in my life was during the first few weeks after the knee replacement. That pain was constant. That pain was mind-altering and life-altering. The pain from this ankle/leg break never reached that level, so I haven't taken any serious drugs for it.
I left the County with an appointment to return on Tuesday. They'd wanted me to return on Monday, but that's the day I'm to see The Shit and I wasn't going to miss that appointment. At the same time, as one who has little money and no insurance, I wasn't going to dismiss the County as an option either.
When I went to bed on Friday night, I was torn. The County would cost me little or nothing. They would put two screws and a plate in the ankle to fix it. This is essentially what the first orthopedist was talking about. But I was hesitant. Why? Well, I know from prior experience that when you wreck a joint, there's always the possibility of ligament damage. The first orthopedist said nothing about this and neither did the County's doctors. The Shit was the only doctor to make reference to this. And that made me realize that if I went with the County, they would fix me, but they would do the minimum. That's all they can do. They are not there to fix athletes. They are there to fix people who don't have the insurance or the money to get medical care. Yes, the County would cost me virtually nothing. I appreciated that. However, I have no intention of slowing down. I want to keep kicking ass. I want my ankle to be able to withstand the punishment I will certainly give it.
By the time I woke up on Saturday, I'd decided my only choice was the specialist I'd see on Monday. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to be under his care. This could not be about money. For me, this was (and always has been) a quality of life issue. I'd decided I would sell all but one of my surfboards if I had to. I'd sell my big red car if I had to. I'd told myself that if the doctor was willing to work with me financially, I'd find a way to pay him.
And then I signed on to Facebook. That's when the tears began. My dear friend in England had begun a fundraising campaign to help me get money for treatment. Guess what? I cried pretty much the whole day. It seemed like every time I looked up, someone else was putting money into my PayPal account. I've said before that I do cry; I'm not an overly emotional person though. I often get a little teary-eyed about things. It's rare that I just have a good cry. Well, today was the day of many good cries. I awoke thinking I had no way to pay this doctor anything and worrying how I would and could make this happen. Now? I can write him a check for close to $1000 right off the bat. I have no words for this. Many of these people only know me through the computer. Some don't even know me at all. People nevertheless came out of their pockets to help me. (And, of course, I'm starting to cry again as I type this!!!)
The friend who hooked me up with the specialist I'll see on Monday told me to give him (the doctor) shit for surfing an SUP. I already got that ball rolling yesterday with a few pointed texts telling him never to drop in on me and calling him "Sweeper Man". What will greet him on Monday? A statement written on my cast: "I do blame Laird!!!!"
Thanks, everybody. I love you!!
Update: It's now Sunday. I will be giving the doctor more than $1000. It's just astounding. I really don't know how to thank everyone. But the one thing I will be is forever thankful. And I will never take this ankle for granted. I never knew a body part could make someone emotional and sentimental, but I assure you this ankle will do just that.
Update of the update: Oh, man!!! I'll be able to put over $2000 toward my medical care now!!!! The surf, skate and friends community are something else!!!