On the Saturday night before Labor Day, I was up late and yawned, like ya do. However, I don’t yawn normally like other people because of a congenital, inherited jaw misalignment that 14 months of braces could do only so much for. And as the years have taken their toll on my various joints, my jaw has not escaped that deterioration, to the point that occasionally it sticks momentarily when I yawn. It’s a little disconcerting, but fortunately, it’s been temporary. My dentist assures me that there’s not much to be done for it. I’m sure he’d like it to be otherwise; every time I open my mouth wide at the dentist and it clicks in a manner audible beyond my own skull, both he and the hygienist wince. I quit chewing gum and wear a bite guard at night to prevent me from grinding my teeth and worsening the condition. That and trying to avoid opening my mouth really wide are my only defenses against a worsening of the condition.
However, on that particular and aforementioned Saturday night, I yawned and my jaw stuck and stayed that way. I could not, in fact, get my teeth to touch again, and I was starting to feel real pain in my ear. I was a little scared, and we determined I should call the Ask-a-Nurse, who advised me to call my doctor immediately, like this was Little House on the Prairie, and Doc Baker was going to hitch up the team and come to my aid at 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. Please. My doctor wouldn’t be able to identify me in a line-up as patient of his; I doubt we have the relationship that would entice him to answer his phone in the wee hours of the night. Medicine just doesn’t work that way on this planet anymore, if it ever did.
And may I just say, I really don’t think the Ask-a-Nurse should be smoking dope while on duty.
Plan B was to go to the ER, which of course is something no one wants to do, and if you’ve had the misfortune of doing so, my condolences. However, I could not get my mouth shut, the pain was getting worse, and I was afraid if I went to bed, it would stiffen up overnight before I could make it in to Urgent Care Sunday morning, and I’d really be in a fix. So off we went.
It didn’t look too bad; the waiting room had a handful of people sitting in it, and I thought I might have a chance of actually being seen before I retired. When I asked the desk folks what kind of wait I was looking at, they were adamantly non-committal. This, I was to learn, was the official ER response to all queries regarding how long I might be waiting.
I was triaged immediately by a nurse who could not be bothered to look at me when she walked into the cubby to take my information, and felt no need to do so as she asked me questions, either. From there, I was shuttled into an office to fill in paperwork wherein I promised to pay for any services rendered. The lady who took this information was the only person all night who acted, and treated me, like an actual human being.
Then it was back out to the waiting room to wait, until it was time to go back into the holding pen to wait. Long story short: I waited, and waited, and waited. I sat in the chair I was directed to sit in for 45 minutes, and the only person who spoke to me was the cleaning lady. I finally snagged a passing nurse, mentioning that I’d been back there the better part of an hour, and no one had even asked me what the hell I was doing there. When my nurse came over, she said, “I didn’t realize you were the patient,” and I wagged my wristband at her. If she thought I was waiting for someone, wasn’t she even a little concerned that she’d lost track of whomever was supposed to be in the bed?
I was offered narcotic pain relievers, which I declined, but I asked for a bag of ice. They said they’d get it, but never did. Asked them to bring Scott in from the public waiting room, since everyone around me had their family with them. They said they’d get him; they didn’t until I asked again after waiting long enough to determine it wasn’t happening. 4 ½ hours, an X-ray, a CT-scan, and a prescription for narcotic pain relievers I couldn’t get filled at 5 a.m., and a referral to an oral surgeon later, they set me loose, having done exactly nothing for the painful misalignment of my jaw. During that time, whenever I asked how soon I’d be seeing a doctor, they claimed they couldn’t tell me, that there were other patients, that if a more pressing emergency came in the door, everything else would shift to accommodate that. I am familiar with how an ER works, but asked them if, in fact, anyone was bleeding or coding at the moment. “No,” the nurse said. “Then, barring someone doing that in the next 5 minutes, what kind of wait am I looking at?” “I can’t say; I don’t know.” And then she went back to chatting with her pals in another room. We got home and to bed as the sun came up Sunday morning. I took an expired Vicodin left over from Scott’s gall bladder removal, went to bed, and when I woke up, apparently sleep had relaxed my jaw enough that it was back in place, if still sore for a couple more days.
Despite having experienced the ultimate in pointless waiting, I have been astonished at the alacrity with which my insurance and I have been billed for this fiasco. Within days, I had received the hospital’s bill, and several others for the various tests run (including a $92 pregnancy test I HAD to have to have the CT Scan—have these people never heard of Walgreens? 2-pack of EPT for $12–check it out). It cost over two grand for them to largely ignore me for 4 hours. Sounds like a pretty good gig; I mean, I’ve been ignoring shit for free for years. I had no idea there was this kind of money to be made in that line of work.
I haven’t paid any of them yet, because I was waiting on the itemized bill I had to request; evidently, they just expected me to pay what they told me to pay, but from what I’d seen billed to my insurance, I had some questions. There was something cryptic on my bill, so I had to call them again for an explanation. I was informed that the mystery charge was for merely walking into the ER and being seen, and was determined by a triage nurse who could not have reliably told anyone whether or not I had an axe cleaving my head in two upon my arrival into the ER.
All this phoning took time, but that has not stopped the bills from coming. I’ve already gotten second notices from the hospital itself, and the imaging group. I’m waiting for the phone call, and then the fun will begin.
“Hi Mrs. Cunningham—we’re calling about your bill. We’ve been waiting some time; do you have any idea when you might be paying it?”
Well, I can’t really say.
“Surely you must have some sense of when you might pay it…maybe your next payday?”
I’m sorry, but I really don’t know.
“We really need to be paid, ma’am. Do you need a payment plan?”
Oh, no. I’ve got the money.
“Then is there any impediment to you paying it right now?”
Well, you see, I have other bills, you know. Lots of them. You’re just going to have to be patient.
“Ma’am, we have been patient. We really need to make a plan for paying this. Can you give us any sort of timeframe for doing that?”
I understand your frustration, but the fact is, at any moment, a more pressing bill could come in. The fridge could quit, the car could need a repair, I might find a really great pair of shoes I can’t live without. So I really can’t tell you how long it’s going to take. I have to pay the bills in order of severity and necessity. You’re just going to have to wait until I get around to your bill.
“And when might that be?”
I don’t know, and I really can’t guess.
“So what are we supposed to do?”
Wait, I guess. Sorry.
“That’s unacceptable, ma’am.”
Please keep your voice down. Being difficult isn’t going to get you paid any more quickly.
“We’ve been waiting two months.”
I know, and I appreciate your patience; you wouldn’t believe how long the electric company has been waiting, and their case is more severe than yours.
Yeah. Sucks, don’t it?