Undead Medical Bills

I thought this one was resolved a year ago. But is anything ever, really?

[Image description: Partial photo of paper collection notice of money owed, amount due is $329. There is a small plastic sword pointing towards the top of the photo, and the very top is being stepped on by a cat, with the lower 2-3 inches of legs in shadow visible.]

My October of 2018 was intense and powerful.

I felt my life and times and former life and times deeply, walking in bright, windy autumnal blue/gold days and in dark, windy, winter’s-coming-chilled streets of Provincetown — and later learned that my journey coincided with the sudden death of my friend and the town’s chronicler, Tim McCarthy.

Soon after, I went to Detroit to participate in the third Emergent Strategies Ideation Institute (ESII), which I won’t even try to explain here in brief, because it was so very good, so acutely transforming and pivotal.

On the flight to Detroit, I was having a lot of abdominal pain.

This is not a rare event. I mean the pain, not the flight.

But this was REALLY REALLY bad. Not unprecedented, but towards the top quarter of the JD abdominal woes scale.

I’d recently upped my dose of valacyclovir in hopes of beating back the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) that my system isn’t able to shake and that may be contributing to a significant share of my challenges with fatigue and whatnot. And that high of a dose was potentially going to be intolerable as far as poop fuckery and gut achiness.

But also, it was feeling like it could potentially be pain from my on again/off again visitor, the urinary tract infection.

The same immune system wimpiness that allows the EBV to hang around at high volume may also be why I am particularly prone to infections in there, particularly (but not solely) when I partake in some of my favorite sexual pleasures. I admit that I try to ignore a possible UTI for as long as I can, to delay ingestion of biome-killing antibiotics, even though I fear one of them will go eat my kidneys at some point and cause this kind of pain and other havoc.

I didn’t want to lose any time or focus at the ESII by a flourishing infection and/or gut-wrenching pain, so here I was again, in that common illder space:

How/where/when I should get checked out to make sure that there wasn’t something problematic brewing in there that needed to be dealt with?

And the answer is often: go to an urgent care place, and get it over with.

In the airport and maybe even in the air, I was able to get advice from Detroit people and consensus was that I should go to the Detroit Medical Center (DMC). I got dropped off there by the friendly father-in-law of one of the people on my flight who was also ESII-bound, so that was swell.

And what I saw was a good idea - It turns out that the DMC is a hospital, and the emergency room has a process to triage people like me into an urgent care-like workflow.


Within an hour or so, I’d been checked out by a friendly doctor who looked at the piss test results and agreed that my pain probably was from valacyclovir or other causes, not an UTI -- but who gave me a prescription for antibiotics to hold onto nonetheless, in case it seemed to be heading in that direction, saying that I was the best one to make that call based on my experience and the equivocal lab results.

But also. To get seen for care there, the DMC made me fork over the $100 insurance requires as co-pay for an emergency room visit. Red flag #1.

(Insert break in writing, as I had a crisis of confidence in memory -- was it really $100? This was during a three-month period where I’d left my job and was waiting to get on my partner’s insurance and was PAYING $1100 A MONTH for COBRA so I was trying during that period to block out as much as possible about this situation in order to not hold back on care I thought I might need while trying to reach the out of pocket maximum for year so I could more or less get a “free” ride for the last month or two while paying that outrageous sum. (Of course, I spent much more than I got back, and also didn’t get many receipts into insurance in time for reimbursement for out-of-pocket shit. No one wins the insurance game except insurers and capitalism.) So I went into my desk and pored through the lonely, stuffed paperwork drawer and found nothing… until, with just a few misc. pages to go, I found the $100 receipt.)

I handed over down the 0% interest credit card that bears the evidence of my race and class privilege that’s led to a history of mostly-good credit, paid the co-pay and tried to put it out of my mind because thinking does no good at that stage.

After the DMC, I stopped taking the high doses of valacyclovir and took OTC pain meds and probably a bit of clonazepam. Over the course of the immersion weekend, my pain subsided to a much lower level.

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It’s About Time and It’s About Shame

I don’t know when the bill first came in saying I owed $329 to the DMC.

I hadn’t been specifically anticipating it, but I wasn’t very surprised as in the back of my mind I knew that the insurance may take issue with the hospital-based nature of the visit.

I mean, I didn’t think that my situation had warranted emergency care, but I had ended up at what I thought was a hybrid ER/urgent care. The care I got there certainly resembled the more competent of urgent care visits than the spectrum of bad-to-good ER trips I’ve experienced (and here is when I make myself keep typing even though I fear you may be thinking, “well, dumbass, that’s how it works, hospitals are hospitals,” and I make myself write this sentence and get ready to hit publish in just a few minutes more because I have vowed to be illder brave about these things.)

I would love to tell you the details from the surprisingly helpful conversation I had with someone I was transferred to at my former health insurance at some point in 2019 about this bill.

I can picture the bill where I wrote notes about it, where I remembered to take down their name and everything. But I can’t find it. I can tell you that the person was confident and assured me it would be taken care of.

I can’t use the electronic portal of the insurance, because I’m no longer a member. The days ran out of hours in the few days since getting the word the bill lived on, and I didn’t make any calls about it.

I think one of the points of this essay, and perhaps this newsletter or the whole Cranky Queer endeavor, is about time. About the relentless pulls of bills and ills that eat at the time of an illder, many details that each chomps seconds and minutes and hours and days.

About the fluctuating attempts to wrangle time and space to remember where to put the bills and notes and get help and decide help isn’t helping and forgetting that I can’t handle it alone, either. It’s unmanageable and also I feel like a terrible person for being highly white-privileged, super class-empowered, generally and specifically educated for knowing the ways of the world and the health care mess, AND STILL I CAN NOT HANDLE IT AT ALL.

Which is to say, it’s about time and it’s about shame. Time x Shame = Self-Doubt x Fear.

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Of all the various things that I dread turning up again, I must admit that this bill wasn’t one of them, if only because it has been so long since I heard anything about it.

But here it is. Undead undead undead. Undead monsters that eat time and shit shame.

For a few years a few years ago, I was reclaiming undead. It felt really good and really true, because my life seemed like a life after life, that I’d never expected to have. I felt both very old and very young at the same time. I’m sure I’ll tell you more about it at some point.

This collection notice is not the reclaimed good kind of undead.

I love that little plastic sword that’s in the photo of the bill. It seems that my new system for dealing with medical bills is to keep it in my pocket and then all-too-gently lay it atwixt the page, and think about stabbing, and then I take the bill and put it in one of the several piles around the apartment where I am putting the “deal with this somehow” paperwork stuff.

But what are the paws atop the photo? That is my cat Pickle. He’s currently making biscuits in the soft donut-shaped cat bed my partner gave the 2 cats a few months back. They love it.

That’s all I’ve got right now. I’ll call the old insurance company sometime soon about this. I hope.

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