Healthcare Woes

photo of person analyzing X-ray result
Photo by rawpixel / Unsplash

The first time I blogged about this, I was on the way to healing. Today is nearly 5 months later and I frequently am stuck on a couch or bed unable to walk without crawling. My body has additionally been giving me these muscle spasms, which I've learned is my body protecting itself. These spasms hurt only for a few seconds, but normally knock me over if I'm standing.

This blog post is the journey from pain to continued pain, because as of today (January 6, 2019) the pain lives on. As I was a kid, if I became ill, I just jumped in a car and attended a doctors appointment. I did nothing, as the parents filled out every paper, paid every bill and took me to the appointment. This is my first injury living on my own that required more than a prescription to fix.

This is that story, along with all the complaining about the process.

The Chiropractor

My first instinct with some aching back pain was to attend a chiropractor. As I described my injury that led to this problem, they wanted to preform a few x-rays. The thing about x-rays and most imaging is the two part payment. You pay for the operation (co-pay), then pay again for radiology to process and make sense of those images.

Date Insurance Paid I Paid
9/17/2018 $229.27 $0
9/17/2018 $621 $152
9/18/2018 $0 $66
9/19/2018 $229.27 $50
9/21/2018 $314.46 $50
9/24/2018 $0 $50
9/25/2018 $0 $50

I attended 5 sessions, but my insurance claim history shows a different story. I can't pretend to know how they organize and bill things, but it looks strange. The important things to note is after 5 sessions I wasn't getting better. While the sessions were short and helped, the relief was short-lived so I decided to move on to my primary care. I didn't want to keep paying $50 (or more) for no relief.

Primary Care

The thing is, I didn't have a primary care. Whoops. Lived here for 3 years and never had to attend a doctor. So took some time and research and days later had a brand new appointment at primary care. Since my condition at this point was pretty bad, I immediately got prescribed - METHYLPREDNISOLONE and a "script" for an MRI.

At this point I learned, just because you have a "script" for an MRI doesn't mean you have one organized. I called the number on the paper I was given and was told it was the wrong number to call. I called another number and planned myself an MRI in about a weeks time. For these sessions at primary care and some drug pickups, I had the following expenses.

Date Insurance Paid I Paid
9/26/2018 $172.35 $35
9/26/2018 $12.70 $10
10/03/2018 $168 $35
10/03/2018 $5.72 $0
10/23/2018 $168 $35

The MRI

The day was finally here for the MRI, my first one ever. Besides the boring 30 minutes of paperwork, it was okay. I couldn't figure out how to put on the little robe correctly and sitting still while your back is throbbing in pain wasn't easy. It was a high co-pay of $200 and I still had to pay again once I got the 1990s letter in the mail asking me to mail a check back.

Date Insurance Paid I Paid
10/01/2018 $1550 $200
10/01/2018 $66 $10.13

The official report and images came back, with the following news:

  • L4-L5 - There is a moderate loss of disc height and disc signal. There is a moderate size central and right paracentral disc protrusion with marked encroachment right lateral recess and resultant moderate to marked spinal stenosis at L4-L5 level noted. There is mild encroachment of foramina bilaterally by the bulging disc and mild bilateral facet arthropathy.
  • L5-S1 - There is a 4mm retrolisthesis of L5 on S1 noted. There is a central disc protrusion with focal annular tear identified. There is mild indentation on thecal sac with minimal spinal stenosis at L5-S1. There is mild bilateral foraminal encroachment by the bulging disc and mild facet arthropathy.
My attempt at GIF`ing my back damage (Herniated and Bulging disc)

Looking at this report is 100% doctor talk. I have no idea what any of it means, but perhaps if I was in the medical industry then it would make sense.

The Physical Therapy

I was assigned 18 sessions of PT and with $50 co-pay a session, I was not looking forward to it. My doctor explained that herniated/bulging discs were common so just a couple weeks of PT. It was some early PT, with appointments ranging from 7-8am every other day.

As PT went on, my pain got worse. I became less flexible and pain moved sides. For this reason, already being 12 sessions in - I cancelled the rest and requested another appointment with my primary care.

The Neurosurgeon

As the title leaks, my primary care with the increased symptoms gave me a "script" to see a Neurosurgeon. This was quite possibly the most annoying aspect of this entire journey. You have to find a neurosurgeon yourself, basically shopping for someone that can kill you or heal you. I called places and most refused to talk to me, instead asking me to submit my MRI to them, their "schedulers" would then call me back after they examined my MRI.

At this point, day to day was walking very slowly around afraid to do any action that might cause my body to collapse in spasms.

Finding a doctor to heal you isn't easy either. Looking online made things worse, as the doctor I finally got an appointment with had a 3.1 star online, while others I was calling were at the 4.5-5 star range. Weeks went by and I finally had my first neurosurgery appointment, which in short was useless. It took 4 weeks to get my first appointment and I either learned to live with the pain or it had primarily gone away. I was prescribed an injection (ESI) and it was set for 3 weeks away.

The day before that injection, I was called and told my insurance hadn't approved the request. I was pissed, as someone who hadn't touched their company insurance for 26 months couldn't get an injection approved. I called my insurance and they explained there was nothing they could do and shifted blame back to the doctor.

Sitting on hold with doctors and insurance was beyond a waste of time.  No one answered any question I had and sure enough, when 2 weeks went by, I was denied again from having the injection. I called the doctors office in pure anger and cancelled the injection. I yelled at them for making me wait months for a stupid injection and then called my insurance and did the same.

No one I talked to deserved it, but I needed to complain somehow.

The 2nd Neurosurgeon

A little early holiday miracle was the 5 star doctor office calling me, saying my MRI had been viewed and was a valid reason to make an appointment. The appointment was days away downtown at a major hospital.

I attended it, which was a nightmare. There was people and traffic everywhere, each counter of a person redirecting me to another. I finally get to the part of the hospital I need to visit and I'm turned away, because I need x-rays. Remember, my x-rays were at a chiropractor and not in the system of this hospital.

The part of the hospital for imaging had a very awkward exchange. Apparently an emergency occurred and the MRI/CT machines were in use. This caused some older gentleman to get all agitated claiming that his wife's MRI was more important than this emergency. He started yelling that he donates 100s of thousands of dollars to this hospital and demanded to be seen. This made the experience really awkward, as I just was there to get some more x-rays.

I finally got my x-rays and went back to the office of the neurosurgeon and sat and waited. Finally my appointment arrived, I was seeing a 5 star doctor 3 months 16 days after my accident. He was a great guy who took notes, did some investigations and walked me through my x-rays and MRI. The conclusion was nothing more than 9-12 months of swimming and rest. Apparently my discs are so thin they resemble that of a 60 year old man.

I need old fashion time and hydration to slowly heal my herniated, bulging and thin discs.

The Relapse

That was, until it happened again. Just a regular walk from my bedroom to kitchen and something happened. I collapse to the ground, afraid to move as I can feel any small movement causes intense pain. This pain was familiar, reminding me of the pinnacle of pain from just a few months ago.

Getting hurt around New Years isn't easy either. Doctors seem to take 3-4 weeks off. I'm sure they deserve it, but boy does it put an annoyance in scheduling an appointment. Every receptionist told me the same thing - "If it hurts too bad, please hang up and call 911".

Sorry receptionist, but I know from online that one call to 911 for an injury can result in a fat bill. I'm tired of spending thousands of dollars, spending hours doing paperwork and without being an annoying asshole - you can't get anywhere when you need specialized care.

The Billing Rant

Random days throughout this journey, I would receive some bill in the mail. It would be from some doctor/radiology department that I had no idea about. They had the shortest window available for support, but all calls ended about the same. Some doctor Y sent results to company X and we used talent Z and thus charged you for it. What is hilarious is some company sent me two bills for two different amounts. It was the same company, so I made one check equal to the sum and sent it back. They responded with a hand written sticky note over the check saying I didn't owe anything.

So I guess I read that bill wrong, who knows. The story gets better though, weeks later I get another letter saying I owe $1.88 (Yes 1 dollar and 88 cents) and if I don't pay it will be forwarded to collections. That was the first time I had seen that letter, so guess these companies don't mess around for barely $2 dollars. It probably cost more time and effort to mail me that request. Paying for any of these things after the fact is so clunky, even online operations fail to work unless I'm using Internet Explorer.

The story continues...

This story has caught up with the present as I await the next appointment with my neurosurgeon. We are exploring surgery options to operate on my disc to remove this pain. The recovery will be much shorter than a year of stretches and at this point - I want that.

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