Learning how the other half (or in this case, the other 16%) live is a humbling experience. The 16% I refer to in this case is the percentage of of Americans living without health insurance, and though I am lucky enough to have it provided through my employer, I got to experience first-hand today what it is like to navigate the health care system without it.
Yesterday, from the beginning of the day onward, I noticed that I had to pee almost constantly. About every half hour or so, I needed to go to the bathroom. I suffered through getting my hair cut, going to a movie, and having dinner at a restaurant with my dad and Justin -- all activities that made it inconvenient to be rushing to the restroom over and over. Still, I didn't think much of it until late last night, when I started having severe pain as if someone were squeezing my bladder with all their strength. It suddenly dawned on me that I had a urinary tract infection; I've had them before, so I knew the symptoms.
At that point, it being a Saturday night, my options were limited for what I could do about my predicament. My regular doctor's office wouldn't be open until Monday, and I might not be able to get an appointment even then. Going to the ER would be cost-prohibitive, and would likely take forever, given my non-critical status. The only remaining option would be to find an urgent-care center that would accept my health insurance. It would cost $75 -- more than twice the cost of an office visit to my primary care physician, but less than half of the cost of the ER. Unfortunately, my misery insurance company only covered two options within a ten mile radius of my apartment, despite the dozens of urgent-care centers I pass on my way home from work every day. One was far away in the suburbs, and the closest wasn't exactly in the most reputable neighborhood. Nevertheless, we decided to go with the closest option.
Once there, it became very clear that I was not their target constituency. The receptionist seemed taken aback when I told her I had health insurance, and when I attempted to pay my copay with a check, she informed me that they didn't accept them. Exasperated, she asked if I didn't have a credit card or cash, before giving me a long, hard look that seemed to say, "Hmm, she's white, she's got a full time job, she's got insurance... okay, maybe her check won't bounce." The reverse racism was palpable.
Justin and I were virtually the only people in the waiting room, where the television was tuned into Univision, the Spanish-language channel. After we'd sat there for a while, the receptionist called out to us, "Hey, you can go ahead and change that, you look like you don't speak Spanish." Actually, as a matter-of-fact, I do recall enough Spanish from high school to get the gist of what was happening onscreen, but I decided to change the channel anyway.
When I finally got called in to see the doctor, I was confronted with a physician who barely spoke English. They gave me a cup to give them a specimen, minus any of the hygiene instructions I usually get at my regular doctor, and dispatched me back to the waiting area to use what was apparently their only restroom. I then had to carry my cup of pee back through the reception area and into the lab myself; there was no little door in the wall to leave it in. I hope they don't offer drug testing at that facility, because at that point, that urine could have come from anywhere.
The doctor, after telling me that I was very good at self-diagnosis, finally gave me the prescription for Cipro that I had been expecting. While I was there, I asked her to listen to my chest, as I've been experiencing a vicious cough for the past several weeks. Her response? "Why? I give you Cipro. It kill whatever in there!" I practically had to beg her just to humor me. After all, I had paid $75 to be there. She gave my chest a half-hearted listen before announcing that I needed to use my asthma inhaler more. Very helpful.
As I was packing up my things, I happened to overhear a conversation between the doctor and a nurse in the hallway outside my room:
Nurse: "Should we send away her urine to be cultured?"
Doctor: "She have health insurance?"
Doctor: "Sure, go ahead and send it in!"