All of this debate about health care during the recent election reminded me of one night when I beat the system. Here’s how it went down.
I’m self-employed, and a writer, which means that I’m not rich enough to afford the monthly premiums, but I’m not poor enough to get them subsidized. During one of my less-insured phases, my co-author Cynthia and I were in Kansas City for a book event. We had just returned to our hotel from a meet-and-greet when I felt a sharp stabbing pain in my eye.
I blinked and blinked and eventually poured some water into my right eye, but the pain only intensified. It felt as if a grain of sand were holding a dance party on my eyeball.
Cynthia pulled my eyelids apart and tried to find the culprit, but she couldn’t see anything. Soon the pain got so bad that I threatened to remove the offending orb with a spoon. We called the hotel doctor, who told me to keep my eye closed and stop trying to dig it out with my fingernails. The hotel called us a cab and we headed to the nearest emergency room.
I did as instructed, contorting my face into a prolonged wink.
When we checked in at the hospital, I made sure the intake people knew how much pain I was in. They took my name, but nothing else because their computers were momentarily down. A nurse took us directly back to a room to wait for a doctor.
Cynthia had brought a book to read. It was a romance novel we’d gotten for free, because it was the Romantic Times Convention at our hotel. You couldn’t walk anywhere without a free book being shoved in your hands, or without seeing an aging male cover model standing shirtless in front of a fan, the long hair of his wig blowing behind him.
I had my hand over my eye, pressing on my eyelid, because it can be difficult to wink for an extended amount of time, despite what Betty Boop might teach us.
I confessed to Cynthia that I was worried about the cost. She reminded me that if it was a choice between paying the hospital and keeping my eye, I should probably keep my eye. Then she made an eye-for-an-eye joke and I threw her book across the room.
Eventually, a doctor came. He said we first had to test to see if my vision had been affected. He walked me in front of one of those eye chart tests with the big E at the top.
By this time, my eye had been closed for roughly 90 minutes. I reluctantly opened it, expecting to feel searing pain.
Only there was nothing. No pain. No vision impairment. No … nothing.
I panicked. I didn’t want to appear like a woman who would come to the emergency room for a nonexistent condition. So, I winced.
“Are you OK?” the doctor asked.
“I can do it,” I said, with false bravado.
I passed the vision test with flying colors. He took me back to the room and explained that the next steps involved examining my eye under a microscope and then flushing it out with this contraption that looked like a mini-breast pump that would adhere to my eyeball.
“Great,” I said.
The second he was out of the room, I confessed to Cynthia: “The pain’s gone. My eye is fine.”
She looked up from her book. “Do they know anything about you besides your name?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
She slammed her book shut. “Let’s get out of here.”
We stuck our heads outside the curtain. The doctor was consulting with some nurses. We grabbed our purses, crouched and ran toward the exit. The ladies at the intake looked confused, but we ran out before they could question us.
We hopped in the first cab we found and said, “Just go go go!”
I’d always wanted to hop in a cab and say that.
We arrived back at the hotel like a couple of criminals who had just pulled off the biggest heist of the century.
So, every time I lose a little faith in the state of the health care system, I remember that one time, we took them for all they were worth. Or, more realistically, we took them for the $50 ER visit.
I know what you might be thinking. It’s people like me who drive up the cost of health care. To that I say, you’re right. I’m in the middle of choosing an insurance provider for 2019, but it would still cost me less to pay out of pocket. Someone should do something about that. Or, a few hundred people in Washington should do something about that.
But the best part of our great escape? I can now wink like a pro. If there were such a thing.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.