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Damn you to health 

The system is broken. Seriously.

I’m typing this opinion piece with a total of six fingers. I didn’t lose the other four, but thanks to a genetic, progressive, and often debilitating disease, they’re becoming useless. These useless digits on my hand have begun to curl into the center of my palm. As a result, my pointer finger has become a sort of multifunctional hook. It looks cool, and I sometimes like to pretend I’m a cyborg pirate, but apart from my occasional foray into method acting, it’s a pain in my ass.

I can’t hide the hook. Plus, it affects my dominant hand. People at work notice, people at yoga notice, and I get weird looks when I clap in public (if you’re a fan of the show Arrested Development, now’s a good time to picture Buster Bluth after his encounter with the bowtie-clad seal). But more than being a visual reminder of impairment, it’s a real physical detriment to my job, and all the things most people in their early 20s love to do. Rock climbing? Not unless I want to relive 127 Hours. Open a beer bottle right-handed? Well, I guess that’s why god gave us teeth, right?

I was diagnosed with this condition after three failed surgeries on my right hand. My doctor decided the next best thing to do was to try needle injections. This process involves a large needle and my palm. Now, if you’ve ever been bitten in the hand by a rabid fruit bat or have ever had to read Snooki’s autobiography, you know just how excruciatingly painful this process is.

The injection was a bust. In fact, it made the disease progress significantly.

But there was a treatment, and it had a pretty high success rate: radiation. So, I did what all red-blooded Americans do when they need medical attention: I called my HMO.

My HMO and I have had a great relationship, up until I received a letter in the mail stating that my network had denied my claim to see a specialist up at UCSF, one known for treating my disease. It was like being dumped via text message. Instead, they said they were going to send me to their network specialist who was “just as capable” of treating my hand pain.

But when I called the doctor’s office the day before my appointment, the receptionist told me in not so many words that my network’s doctor was not “just as capable” of treating my disease.

Bummer. But there was a silver lining; there was a doctor in his practice who could see me at another location. This doctor eventually saw me and agreed that radiation would do the trick. All I needed was insurance approval for the treatment. It was so casual (the conversation about insurance approval) that I actually believed for a brief time it would be that simple. It was a peaceful time.

It took two months for me to receive treatment. Two months of phone calls spent begging between bouts of that shitty flute music they play when they put your call on hold.

The best part of all of this? Barring any dramatic changes in my health-care insurance coverage, I will have to fight for treatment for the rest of my life.

 I tell you this sordid tale not in the hopes of gaining a sympathetic boyfriend, nor pats on the back; I’m telling you this because there are so very many people like me who deal with this crap in a deeper and harder circle of health insurance hell, and we are all waiting for a change.

I honestly wonder how rational individuals’ brains don’t explode when conservatives call Obamacare evil, socialist medicine. The House has voted to repeal the health-care initiative a staggering 33 times. This collective effort on the part of conservatives and tea partiers alike to stop such positive progress makes me feel like I’ve entered an episode of the Twilight Zone. I’m almost positive that the rock most Obamacare opponents live under is the last remaining oasis of health. Otherwise, how can so many people—prone to a litany of biological, immunological, and genetic mess-ups—be on board for such a restrictive and broken health-care system?

There is nothing social about our current health-care model. If you’re lucky enough to speak to a human being on the phone, you’ll find most have been scrubbed down to the bare minimum of social platitudes, after years of being the last thing standing between the vaults of cash squirreled away by private health-care companies and angry, sick people unable to get the treatment they need.

I have it pretty easy. While my condition is troublesome, and it’s rare to have at my age, there are people in our country begging for experimental treatment for brain cancer. You see them on television all the time. They’re always wearing the same, bewildered look, as if a spaceship has dropped them onto another planet where money trumps staying alive.

So what’s the hold up? Why are we so afraid of socialized health care?

Is it the death panels for old folks? Because believe me, even if a death panel was ever approved, it would have to go through four rounds of authorization requests, dozens of denials and appeals, and then a few forms would get lost in the mail and insurance would require two, separate second opinions before senior citizens had reason to lose sleep at night.

There’s no logical reason to fight a health-care system that would make it illegal to deny a twentysomething person health-care coverage because of preexisting conditions. There is no rational argument to keep a health-care system from existing because it takes the free-market out of living or dying. Money and health care work as well together as Dick Cheney does with guns and booze (and that dude got a heart transplant).

If you disagree with the health-care initiative or are on the fence about universal healthcare, just take 10 minutes to look at the plan. If you aren’t satisfied with the results of that inquiry, you’d better start petitioning against Medi-Cal, Medicare, Social Security, public roads, public schools, and the endless list of social programs our tax dollars pay for.


Maeva Considine is New Times’ calendar editor, and a longtime follower of the battle between Buster Bluth and the bad seal that ate his hand. Send comments to [email protected].

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