You can spell hospitality without hospital 6


Thanksgiving day in 2005 was the first time I thought I could die from the cold. It was stupid degrees outside, with a -20 wind chill, and I had a fever. I didn’t know about the fever as we drove from Rogers Park to Hyde Park to cook Indian food with a friend of my girlfriend. I thought it was hilarious at the time, cooking Indian food on Thanksgiving, and it was. But maybe that was the fever too. For those who don’t know Chicago, Rogers Park and Hyde Park are not close to one another. In fact, Hyde Park may have been in Michigan, actually. Except that the Obamas lived there, so it must’ve been Illinois. Anyway. My girlfriend drove us all the way across the city to Hyde Park while I shook violently from the cold, despite multiple layers, hat, gloves and a coat I can only describe as something the Michelin Man would wear on days he’s feeling fat.

By the time we got to her apartment, I thought I was hallucinating. My left breast had swelled to cartoonish proportions, while at the same time it felt shrink wrapped to my ribcage, and I had to bury my face in the mattress in order to keep my teeth from chattering my jaw off. Despite these things, I still didn’t want to go to the hospital. It’s a common situation in the U.S. Most times, I’d rather just suffer through whatever it is I have than face the ridiculous expenses incurred at a hospital. A band-aid alone will set you back hundreds of dollars. And though I did have insurance, from the federal government no less, it was pathetic. They didn’t even give me an insurance card. I had to cut it out of a piece of cardstock. Like a proof of purchase cereal box toy, except minus the joy. To go along with my pathetic insurance was my pathetic income, which was $10,600 a year (BEFORE taxes. Thanks, AmeriCorps!). I could barely afford overdue library book fines, so a hospital visit was not even remotely within my budget. But once my boob outgrew my stubbornness, to the hospital I went.

I saw no less than twelve people in the first hour. Some of them may have been doctors, but I don’t know because nobody introduced themselves and all of them asked the same exact question, which was:

Are you pregnant?

Like all of the minor characters on The L Word, the doctors would be really interesting for a few minutes, pumping me full of drugs and such, and then gone forever the next. It was really confusing. Even more confusing though was why they didn’t believe that I wasn’t pregnant. I tried to be obvious. I introduced my girlfriend to everyone who walked by, even the ones who weren’t intending to come into my makeshift curtain-room.

Have you met my lesbian lover? Yes, the one holding the vomit tray. We’d be having gay sex right now if I wasn’t, you know, in the hospital…and all of you were around…distracting us.

I…I was just trying to find the cafeteria, ma’am.

Oh. Well, bring me back something gay then. And a Snickers.

It never worked though. The next round of interrogations would always include the pregnancy question. I understood the Are you breast feeding? question, considering the size of my boob, but not pregnancy. What kind of freakish side effect from unprotected sex would THAT be? Once they finally stopped asking me about my uterus, then came the “anti-nausea” medication.

But I’m not nauseated!

Yes, but this will help your nausea. Don’t worry.

Really, it’s not my stomach. I think I have a fever though.

Just take this anti-nausea medicine then. By the way, you’re not pregnant, are you?

Eventually he wore me down and I took the damn anti-nausea drugs. Which, of course, caused me to throw up immediately. My girlfriend tried to catch it with this little saucer-like thing, all while looking away because she was so grossed out. She was good though – nothing spilled. The doctor came back a while later, looking very satisfied with himself and tried to give me more anti-nausea drugs.

If my womb wasn’t so empty from not having a child inside of it, it would beg you to not make me take any more of those drugs! I said.

But look! You threw up! So clearly you WERE nauseated.

It was like trying to argue with a dead goldfish that had watched too much Abbot and Costello. While stoned.

Eight hours later and still feverish, I convinced them to let me go. On the way out, they gave me more anti-nausea drugs and probably another prescription for the bacterial infection that caused Mount Evebreast. I felt just as awful leaving the hospital as I had coming in. And exasperated. I had essentially been charged $4,000 to be humiliated.

The $4,000 is not an exaggeration either (unlike the dialogue of this post). They charged me half of my yearly salary to vomit on my girlfriend. When I read through the breakdown of the charges, I noticed this:

PREGNANCY TEST – $400

Setting aside for a moment the complete and utter fuckery that this charge was, what the hell would make a pregnancy test $400? They cost $7 at Walgreens. Which leads me to believe hospitals are actually meth labs. Think about it. Everyone wears pajamas all day. They keep needles on them at all times and they serve mashed potatoes with an ice cream scooper. If that doesn’t scream Drug Addict to you, then you’ve been spending too much time at Wal-Mart.


I had forgotten all about the humiliation and financial burden of this particular trip to the hospital until a few days ago when my step-dad had a stroke. This was a few weeks after Medicaid decided to cut off the treatments he was receiving to help his blood pressure. It’s not a coincidence. And in my pain and frustration and indignation about the medical profession, the shitty state of our health care system and the fact that I can barely understand my step-dad because his face is half paralyzed, I remembered my own experience and it made me angry all over again. Health care is NOT a business. It’s a human right. And the insurance companies and the legislators who are financially and politically in their pockets will continue to abuse and take advantage of the people who are sick and poor and powerless. My mom wrote an appeal letter to try to get his benefits reinstated, but who knows if that will do anything. I don’t know what to do either. Obama tells pretty speeches about health care reform. He also sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan a few days before accepting a Nobel Peace Prize, so I don’t feel that optimistic about change anymore.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Causes I can donate to? People I can set on fire? I’m tired of feeling hopeless and/or aggravated about this.


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6 thoughts on “You can spell hospitality without hospital

  • Anonymous

    A few years ago I left a job that provided amazing health insurance to take a job doing something I love (gasp!) that I knew very well would not provide benefits. But, I very naively thought I'd be able to buy private health insurance. Unfortunately, pre-existing conditions that honestly hadn't existed in years prevented that, and so I joined the millions of uninsured. Of course, two months after leaving my old job I contracted dysentery – probably the first case in Chicago since about 1891. Eventually, the threat of imminent death forced me to the emergency room. Despite my assurance I was not pregnant, I was also administered the $400 PREGNANCY TEST. Granted, my extremely virile boyfriend was there, but I was absolutely sure I was not pregnant and I made it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR I was uninsured and would be paying out of pocket. And yet, $400 pregnancy test, $7000 total bill (that's 1/3 of my annual income). Thanks, America! On the bright side, I will be insured starting January 1st. But millions are not so fortunate, and I'm sorry to hear about your stepfather and hope he's doing okay. Until our nation's healthcare reform comes (right, Barack?), everyone donate to community health clinics! They're not the most posh healthcare facilities on earth, but they've been truly helpful to me for common problems like treating strep throat. Thanks, Anna, for being another voice bringing light to the dirty business of American healthcare.

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  • Nick

    This American Life did an interesting examination on health care provision over the course of two programs. They looked at and spoke to insurance companies, hospitals, and patients… it's a interesting (if not often enraging) listen, if you have a couple of hours. Sadly enough, your comparison to Abbot & Costello doesn't seem to be too far from the truth – with an entire business model set up in an endless "who's on first" bit.

    TAL 391: More is Less: http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=391

    TAL 392: Someone Else's Money: http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=392

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  • pulley-whipped

    thanks for sharing this, anonymous. donating to community clinics is a great idea.

    nick: i'll be sure to check it out. though i'm sure it will be infuriating.

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  • Theresa

    Rest assured that whining does NO good because that is easy to ignore. The answer is to get a good lawyer to SUE the CRAP out of them, which is what we did today. The other suggestion is to find a really good Doctor of Chinese medicine, who really treats patients and knows how the human body works! You'll be happy to knwo that your Dad is doing much better, due to the lawyer AND the doctor who is truly an ANGEL in disguise!

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  • Dave

    Hospitals are a racket, it's true. Western medicine is formed from the coagulated blood of battlefield victims. I am full of vitriol on your account.

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  • Shana Rose

    I’ve never read this before! I knew the story, but hadn’t read it. Anyway, yes, of course, I’m totally with you, hence the upcoming home birth. Pretty much everything that comes out of my (state paid, thank god) OB’s mouth seems like a lie or mistake and more often than not is refuted by research and the sensible words coming from my midwife’s mouth. As Hadj likes to say when we’re getting riled about this stuff: “In China, if you get sick, you FIRE your doctor. In America, you pay them: clearly they have no vested interest in you being well.”

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