Posted in Body Politics, Commentary, Growing up/old, Lessons Learned

You gotta fight for your right to health care

As you know, I recently was outfitted with a cast in an attempt to immobilize my left foot, the Achilles tendon of which is doing its level best to cripple me permanently. Now, I wasn’t sure that a cast was going to do the trick, but I was willing to give it the ol’ college try; hoping it would just go away wasn’t proving to be a successful strategy.

I hobbled around in that cast for a week, though within 2 days it had grown so loose that it wasn’t protecting anything. As a matter of fact, so roomy was it inside that I was seriously considering renting out space in it to a college kid so we could make some extra dough, but I decided instead to store the lawn furniture in there for the winter. In any case, it was banging against the very tendon it was supposedly there to help heal, and I was about a half an inch of extension shy of being able to actually pull my foot right out of it. Word to the wise: never, ever get the waterproof cast in a walking cast. You will regret it.

I suffered through the holiday, and the Thursday after Christmas I got ahold of the ortho techs to talk to them about my cast. I went in that day and they replaced it with a non-waterproof cast, which involved a good deal more padding around all bony prominences, so my leg was no longer swimming in the cast. In the process of molding the cast to my foot, however, the tech squeezed the back of my ankle several times, each time eliciting a gasp of pain from me that she was, apparently, trained to ignore. But I survived, and went back to work hopeful that perhaps this would be the solution to my problem after all.

You knew it couldn’t be that easy, right?

The problem with the new cast is that it was molded in such a way as to cause a shooting pain up the inside of my calf anytime I dared to put weight on it. I spent the weekend following Christmas in increasing agony, and by Sunday, I was a depressed lump depressing my lumps into my new beanbag (which, by the way, is ten kinds of awesome—I don’t know why we have any other furniture) for the better part of the day because there was really little else I could do without pain. In addition to the new cast-related problem, the problem I actually went in for was getting worse. I vowed to get back into the office on New Year’s eve if at all possible, because I couldn’t go on as I was. I was two weeks into a 3 1/2-week cast, and my Achilles tendon had never felt worse.

Monday morning I called the orthopedist’s office as soon as I got up at mumblemumble o’clock, and the tech told me that they could change the cast if I got there within the next hour. I asked her if I should just try crutches, and she told me “No, it’s a walking cast, you’re supposed to walk on it.” She was snippy on the phone, having decided to take my problems with my two casts personally, I guess, since she did them. I don’t think she did bad casts; I think a cast is not what I needed. At this point, I was about ready to take my jeweler’s saw to the cast myself, despite warnings all over the world wide web that one should never, ever attempt to remove a cast via a DIY maneuver. I kid you not, I was this close to a “Hold my beer and watch this” moment. She also informed me I that I was going to see a different tech, and practically hung up on me. Grand.

So Scott drove me over to the orthopedist office and took off to run errands. I headed upstairs and finally got in to see the tech, who was clearly not excited to be looking at doing a cast at this hour of a day when they are closing early for the holiday. I told her what was going on, including the fact that despite being in a cast, I was STILL pulling the Achilles tendon in particularly painful ways on a semi-regular basis. She then argued with me, telling me that it may FEEL like I’m pulling it, but I’m not—there’s no way it’s happening in the cast. The cast she was not wearing, and I was. I explained to her that that’s not the case, but she was not hearing it, for I had broken the cardinal rule of health care:


You do so at your own peril, and you will pay. First of all, they don’t listen to you anyway; secondly, they are offended that you would question them. Because I only live in my body every single second of my life; what could I possibly know about what’s going on with it?

She told me that there were no docs available, and that all she could do is put me in another cast. As she examined my cast, she flexed my leg in such a way as to make me say “OW!” Loudly. She was unapologetic. I asked her if a new cast was actually going to help, because I had my doubts, and she allowed that it might not make any difference. And I told her if that was the case, maybe I just needed it off until I could see the doctor, because it was causing me more problems than it was solving. She informed me that she could only change the cast, and could not let me leave without one; she wasn’t authorized to make that call. I assured her that as the rightful owner of the leg in question, I was fully authorized to make that call.

Bad patient! Bad!

We found ourself at a momentary impasse, during which she asked me if I have a fracture. And I silently pondered the fact that apparently charts exist for no other reason than the amusement of the office staff, because no one on the medical side ever reads them. And I explained again that I do not have a broken leg, but a slowly tearing Achilles tendon, and am casted to give it a chance to heal, and the opposite of healing is what was, in fact, happening thus far. At this point, she offered that one of the doctors will be in on Wednesday, and she could run the case past him and see what my options were. I decided that since a new cast would not help me, there was no point in wasting the time, and I agreed to tough it out until Wednesday. And tough it out I did, mostly by sitting on my ass for the day and a half, reinjuring the tendon at least 3 more sharply noticeable times in the interim.

Wednesday morning I was at my desk, attempting (without much success) to will the phone to ring. Finally, right before lunch, it rang, and she told me they could get me out of the cast and into a boot, which is a like a removable cast. The “removable” part filled my heart with joy, as I’d long since exhausted all of the potential enjoyment of ripping sizeable chunks of flesh off my leg with the duct tape I’d been using to seal the plastic bag over my cast every time I shower. I asked her what the doc said about the calf muscle pulling on the tendon even inside the cast, and she said “He didn’t really say anything about that,” which is Medicalese for “I wasn’t listening anyway when you told me about that, so I didn’t tell him, so he doesn’t even know, so of course he didn’t say anything about that.”

So that’s what I’m wearing now, and it is a quantum leap of improvement over the cast. First of all it’s more comfortable and is not sending shooting pains from ankle to knee. Secondly, it has velcro straps all over it so I can cinch it tightly enough to do some good; can’t cinch a cast. And, probably most importantly, I can get in and out of it, which means showering is easy, and I can get into the hot tub, which I hadn’t been able to do for 2 weeks. And that reality has a mental benefit, because I realized I felt trapped in the cast. Every time I reinjured it, every time the cast itself rubbed painfully, I was just stuck. I couldn’t ice it. Can’t take any more meds than what I’m on. I was trapped in pain, and that will mess you up something fierce. You suddenly have the tiniest understanding as to why an animal would chew its own leg off to get out of a trap. Now, I have options, and it’s a huge relief. And if that all that weren’t enough, if I get one more, I’ll be totally ready for my KISS tribute band audition. Awesome!


However, it’s taken 2 1/2 weeks to get to this point, and I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time, personal and healing, trying to get to a place where I can START healing, and I resent that my pain has been exacerbated by what comes down to an unwillingness to listen to the patient, by my GP, by the orignal orthopedist, by the techs, and by the backup doc who didn’t feel it necessary to actually talk to me about my case. It’s absolutely insupportable. Sad part is, this is exactly what I expected would happen, and I was not disappointed in that expectation. People wonder why I balk at going to see a doctor these days; they really shouldn’t.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.