Wednesday, November 12, 2014

it's just where i'm at right now (the waiting room)

there are so many ways for me to tell this story and so many ways for me to end it.

it started with a fever and a sore throat at 4:30 in the afternoon. poor andrew. he never complains and when he started talking about his sore throat and hot feelings, i knew his big brother's strep throat had made its way down the line.

at just about 5 p.m. on a tuesday evening.

at a time in our life where we are between insurance coverage.

at a time in the month where we have just a little bit of chump change to get us to the next paycheck.

well, s#@*.

there's a free clinic in the next town over and it just so happens that it's only open on tuesdays. and on tuesdays, it's only open from 5 p.m . to 8 p.m.

a glimmer of hope appeared and i should probably apologize to my husband and other kids now for the ultimate temper tantrum i threw last night at 5:03 p.m. as i was tearing the house apart looking for a pay stub, ANY pay stub, to prove our dismal income.

i was crying. i was cursing. i was kicking boxes in our store room begging someone upstairs to help me. (at that point, upstairs could have meant the family members in their rooms on the second floor or the heavenly father and his host of saints... i would have taken ANY help at that moment).

income proof in hand, andrew and i made the silent drive to the free clinic and i carried this beautiful, burning boy of mine across the road wrapped in his favorite tractor blanket. as i struggled inside the door and set him down, the woman at the counter called out from behind the window.

"is the appointment for you or for him?"

i looked back at andrew, flushed cheeks and all.


she let out a tired sigh.

"sorry, hun, we don't see babies here," she said. "this is an adult clinic."

i'm sure in my more dignified moments, i would have thanked her and apologized for my ignorance. i would have collected my child and driven to the ER because last time i checked, his fever was at 103 and his throat was raw and swollen. it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what we were dealing with and that we wouldn't be able to cope with it on our own.

but last night, i sat down next to andrew for a moment and just sort of absorbed where i was at that particular moment in my day and in my life.

we'd just gotten through dominic's fractured arm and strep throat two weeks ago. we were more than a week away from payday, uninsured and with two more prime targets at home who were sure to get strep if andrew went untreated.

i wasn't crying as i sat there. i was just sort of taking it all in and wondering where i went next.

i couldn't help but think about how just a short year and some change ago i'd had the greatest health insurance ever. i'd almost taken for granted how easy it was to get an appointment in a really nice doctor's office on the "white picket fence" side of town. a place where they had a designer coffee stand in the corner and snacks and toys for the kids spread across the plush, carpeted floors. they had televisions to amuse you and and chatty people sitting in the comfy waiting room chairs with you.

but here?

there were multiple signs adamantly reminding patients that this clinic does NOT administer narcotic painkillers under any circumstances.  pamphlets educating women about the damage alcohol causes unborn babies were fanned out on a card table near the front desk. directions to the only domestic violence shelter in town was taped to the door of the women's restroom.

i sat there, cognizant not only in my shift in circumstances recently, but of the reality lots of people dealt with on a daily basis. as crappy as this ramshackle clinic was with its dirty walls and torn carpet, it helped people that no one else would help.

at this point, as i stood to collect andrew and figure out a plan b, the receptionist came out from behind the counter with more pamphlets about health care options and coverage. i thanked her as she reiterated the importance of applying early and often, even if they reject  you.

i knew all about that, i told her. we were a few weeks away from coverage, i said.

this is just where i'm at right now--a sick child who needs help tonight and no other means at my disposal to get it.

suddenly, despite my current circumstances and my ailing child,  my pride wanted her to know that i'd been to the other side where i could see any doctor i wanted her to see and that this, this moment in my life was temporary and in a few weeks, I wouldn't have needed their help anyway.

sure, it wasn't my greatest moment, but my pride had been hurt a little by her insistence that i just didn't understand how to get help for my kids.

and then the strangest thing happened as i struggled to lift my son and my pride off the floor...

another nurse came from the back at that point and whispered in the receptionist's ear. the nurse handed me a clipboard and a pen.

"we're slow tonight," she explained. "the doctor said he'd squeeze your son in."

i could have cried at that moment. (i didn't. nosy people were watching as was their right in a boring waiting room.)

i filled out the forms and let andrew fall asleep leaning against me, silently praying to our lady of perpetual streptococcal pharyngitis that the damn bug would end with him and not dance it's way through the girls.

and we sat. and sat and sat a good two hours.

the tradeoff about free healthcare in the states is that the tradeoff is usually collected in hours of wait time.

and the thing about the clinic we were seen in is that it isn't modern and shiny like all the old doctor's offices where people were concerned about privacy. so you learn a lot of things about your battle buddies waiting it out in the reception area.

i learned more about my fellow uninsured bretheren than i cared to in that holding tank last night.

an older man was in the next room arguing with a nurse about how bad his back hurt and how he couldn't go back to work without "pain management."

later, a younger woman was in there talking about a miscarriage she had last week and how the fever hadn't gone away.

another woman sat across from us while we waited and talked about a botched root canal she got three days ago from the free dental clinic the next county over. her face was swollen from the infection and she cried a lot.

(we'd sit near each other again at the walmart pharmacy later that night while we both waited for our $4 generic antibiotics. she said her name was tamara and she used to be a school bus driver. she never said why she wasn't a school bus driver anymore.)

we left without saying goodbye to tamara the former bus driver because she was reading a good housekeeping magazine she'd grabbed from a register that she hadn't paid for. she was engrossed and i was happy to be on our way home at 10 p.m.

so, you see where i am now and how i'm not sure how to end this.

can i go on about how out of reach quality healthcare is for so many of our friends and neighbors? i could. it's true. and heartbreaking.

can i go on about how sad the stories are that people carry around with them day after day? i could. people are hurting out there, everywhere.

but in light of all that, mostly i want to go on about how an entire clinic of people didn't have to help andrew last night and they did.

i figured i'd end this piece reminding you that there are people out there who have the ability to help others and they do it, ya'll.

they do it.

praise be...

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