A Novel Experience
November 4, 2013
The strangest thing happened to me today.
Someone listened to my heart and asked me how I’m feeling. Someone checked my blood pressure, my weight, and asked me about my pain. Someone gave me advice and prescribed me medication.
I saw a doctor today, for the first time in over a decade, for regular care. I’ve seen urgent care physicians in that time, I’ve been to the ER in that time, but I haven’t had a regular doctor.
Today, however, a doctor saw me and evaluated my health. Made suggestions to make it better. Ordered xrays to examine my hands. A doctor evaluated where I am and what I’m feeling to get a sense of what he can do to help me.
This is strange to me. My family has had a hard time caring for itself since I was young and the realities of a bad divorce tore us apart. Legal bills came before medical bills and, while I always got the shots and checkups that I needed, whenever we were sick or hurt the first recourse was family practice. Herb teas and idiosyncratic sayings from Kansas and Minnesota. When I was sixteen I left my mother’s house to live with my girlfriend. I was stifled at home, my mother couldn’t care for me, and I slept on the floor. Even before then I had stopped having access to regular medical care. I knew I had asthma. I knew I had some kind of neurological or psychological problem. I knew I already had a back problem and regular pain in my hands. I didn’t know what caused it, but I knew how to work around it. That was the defining aspect of my healthcare for the rest of my life until now – figure out what the big problems are and deal with them. Treat them as best I can but for the most part get back to work.
This was how my life worked for ten years. More than ten years. I could never afford health insurance while I was working, since I basically took care of several people on top of paying my own bills and feeding myself. Even when making nearly $41,000 a year I still couldn’t afford health insurance while living in Southern California. I haven’t seen a dentist in longer. When I had infections before I was 25, I borrowed my dad’s health insurance (since we share first and last names) to go to urgent care for medication. After 25 when I got a bronchial infection I bought antibiotics from a friend of mine that happens to deal in a wide variety of pills. Because I knew his were safe, I knew how much I had to take and of what, and they were cheaper from him than going into the healthcare system at all without insurance.
The insurance I have no isn’t phenomenal. It isn’t the cheapest it could be. It doesn’t cover everything, like dental isn’t covered at all. It is, however, better than nothing. I have healthcare, and I saw a doctor. What is a right in some places, basic access to necessary and affordable healthcare, for me is a novel experience. Something exciting, something special. The idea of having a morning where I don’t wake up in a haze of pain and frustration is exciting. Of having days where my back isn’t aching constantly is electrifying. Of being calm and collected and able to focus again is edifying. My world, my entire existence, is dominated by the constant experience of pain and the management of pain. Pain that doesn’t have the validity, the comfortable fact, of having a reason for happening. I don’t have a disease or condition that causes me pain, a system of faults or flaws in my body that causes predictable pain. I don’t have an injury or illness that causes the pain. No, my pain is a phantom pain – different every day, traveling around my skin in lightning flashes that delve deep into my muscles and joints. Pain that causes me to flinch at the feeling of the air on my skin. Pain that can strike at any time and leave me in a quivering mass on the floor and unable to do anything but breath slowly and hope it passes. My life, for at least the last three and a half years, has been pain. With no hope in sight of ever seeing a day without it.
Now, though, I can dream of a day without pain. This is the sweetest, most loving thing my partner has ever given me – hope.