I feel like a train wreck is a suitable image for 2020.
Oh, what a year! None of us will forget this one for a very long time. We all know the global craziness—the fires in Australia, the police killings and subsequent protests, and, oh yeah, that little thing called COVID-19.
Individually, though, our family had a rough year, mostly directly related to COVID-19. We are not alone; I know several other families who have experienced previously unheard of hardships this year.
Readers of this blog will already know I lost my job in June; the company for which I was working laid off about a third of its workforce due to COVID-related loss of income. Along with losing my job, our family lost its health insurance—I carried insurance for all of us through that job. That caused a couple of hiccups but nothing major until December.
At 7:39 am on Friday, December 11, 2020, I was snuggling Elliot in my bed when my phone rang. A panic-stricken Chad was on the other end, crying hysterically, telling me that he was in a bad car wreck and he broke his arm. In that moment, I urged him to hang up and call 911. Instantly, fear flooded over me. Was he okay? Was someone else hurt? Was it just a broken arm or so much more? Was his car going to be drivable? And then, the more practical, also more chilling, thoughts. We don’t have health insurance, so a broken arm is catastrophic. Also Chad is the only one of us with gainful employment, so a broken arm means he won’t be able to work. Visions of our family sinking fast flew across my mind while I waited and waited to hear from him again. I called about every 10 minutes, willing him to pick up the phone. Eventually, after 30 minutes or so, a firefighter answered the phone. Chad was okay, no one else was hurt, it was just a broken arm but it was badly broken.
At this point, I started trying to find someone to watch the kids so I could be with him (COVID be damned at that point). I scrolled through my contacts, texting a few likely candidates. Gracie’s physical therapist, our family friend, proved to be the angel we needed in that moment. She came over with her boyfriend (also a family friend) and their adorable baby.
When I finally got to the ER, they were getting ready to discharge Chad. Immediately, I was accosted by someone from the billing department—not having health insurance is a big deal for them, too. She urged me to fill out financial aid paperwork immediately, that day if possible, so they could discount our bill. When she let me go back to Chad, I found him in agony. He did not want any opiates for the pain, but it was intense and unbearable. His arm was bent in the wrong spot—he had a huge lump on the side of his arm where the fracture was.
Two young guys splinted the arm and I took Chad home. He was in agony; every time he moved, he could feel his arm “clicking.” He said it felt like his lower arm was dangling. In addition to excruciating pain, he was experiencing those disturbing clicking and dangling sensations every time he moved. He walked gingerly, wincing with every step and every bump in the road.
When we got home, I called the orthopedist to make a follow-up appointment. Although the ER’s discharge paperwork said to follow up with ortho in two weeks, it also said it was a displaced, irregular, comminuted, and angulated fracture. Given the radiology report and the odd clicking and dangling sensations Chad was experiencing, I thought it prudent to get him to ortho ASAP. Luckily, they were able to see him the following Monday.
All that weekend, Chad was in agony. The smallest movements caused him intense pain. I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason the ER chose not to do surgery was because he was not insured. Chad confirmed my suspicions. He said he had heard the doctor talking to the billing person and police officer outside his room, and that they had decided to send him home because he was uninsured. Of course, since it’s illegal to deny someone care for being uninsured, there won’t be anything to that effect in writing, but it’s so messed up. He was in so much pain… they could have helped him that day and didn’t. If I hadn’t been well-versed in medical language, he could have had to wait two whole weeks for relief. Whatever happened to “do no harm”?
Luckily, the orthopedist was sympathetic to Chad’s plight, and agreed to do surgery ASAP. In fact, his colleague was able to schedule the surgery for 7:30 the following morning. Before scheduling the surgery, however, the hospital billing department called me again. “We have to get payment before the surgery. Our estimate of costs is $59,400. With the 66% self-pay discount, that leaves your cost at $19,800. We need a 50% down payment in order to book the surgery.” What the actual fuck?! Who has $10K laying around? The lady on the other end of the line “generously” offered to accept $5K as a down payment, and I called my parents. Thank god for them. They are truly lifesavers. I don’t know what we would have done without them.
After several more hiccups with the hospital, my parents’ $5,000 payment went through, and the surgery was scheduled. The following morning, both Elliot and Gracie woke up early, so we took them with us to the hospital. They weren’t allowed inside due to COVID restrictions. I kissed Chad goodbye at the door and waited anxiously for news while trying to find someone to watch the kids again so I could pick him up. Grace had a doctor appointment that morning, and after her appointment, I dumped all three kids on Jackson’s best friend’s mom. She is another angel! Even though she was working and had to take a test for work that day, she agreed without question to take the kids.
I hadn’t heard anything from the hospital at this point, but Chad called me. He sounded weak and tired but okay. When I got to the hospital, I found out that they had been calling my old land line—they had the wrong number, but no one had bothered to verify it. The surgeon had put a metal rod down the middle of his humerus with two screws at each end to hold it in place. His arm actually looked better after surgery than it had before. The giant lump on the side was gone, and even the swelling in his hand was down.
Somewhere along the way, one of Chad’s friends set up a GoFundMe for us (https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-fix-chads-arm). At first, I was reticent about accepting the help, but I soon realized we were drowning and it was the only way to get through. I still feel bad about accepting donations from everyone, but also I’m so, so grateful. People have been so generous.
Perhaps the thing that has touched me most was the generosity of all the folks I worked with at NITA. So many people there were so generous. It both warmed my heart and broke it a little. I think I hadn’t truly appreciated what a loss it was to be laid off from there until that moment. Such good, kind, fun, interesting people they are. I even received a personal message from my old boss that she would hire me back if she could. Hiring is not going to happen there for a very long time, but it definitely warmed my heart to receive that message. So it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my work-product. I was just a casualty of war, nothing personal. It seems vain of me to write those words, but it definitely brought a little warmth to my heart. It has been so hard to see the light, and having all those NITA people give so freely to me was truly a beacon of hope in an otherwise extremely dark year.
The medical bills are starting to come in now. I still haven’t gotten the biggest one, the $14,800 remaining on the surgery, and I haven’t gotten the bill from the surgeon either, but we did get the bill from the ER, the ambulance, and the anesthesiologist. The total amount of bills sitting on our kitchen table right now is about $6,000. We are hoping to be able to negotiate the hospital and ER bills down a little more, although perhaps not too much more. I don’t know if the anesthesiologist will give a discount for self-pay, but it would be great if he did. His bill is almost as big as the ER bill. The ambulance bill will probably have to be paid in full. Thinking about all this makes my heart beat a little faster, makes my stress level rise a lot. Lately, I’ve been emulating ostriches and sticking my head in the sand as much as possible.
There was so much bad this year. It’s almost overwhelming—losing my job, the subsequent depression, homeschooling the kids (to my great feeling of inadequacy), Chad’s mom’s illness, his brother’s babies being born prematurely, Chad’s accident. There’s probably so much more that I’m not even thinking of right now.
The bright spot, for me, was the kindness and generosity of my friends and loved ones. So many people have dropped everything to help us. So many people donated to the GoFundMe on our behalf. NITA and NightLights, an organization dedicated to respite care for special needs kids and their families, donated huge amounts. I am humbled and grateful. Thank you, friends and family and coworkers and EVERYONE. Because of you, the world is a little brighter.
Happy New Year.