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Chronic Snarkopolist: The Chronic Burdens of Chronic Illness

Post Published: 19 January 2011
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Category: chronic autoimmune conditions column, Chronic Snarkopolist, Column
This post currently has 8 responses. Leave a comment

Hello my loves!  I missed you so much when I was away last week. Let us never be apart this long again!

Crazy things happened whilst I was away. Snow storms! The day before I was to go to Atlanta and visit specialists and see my friends and visit my city, snow hit. My flight got cancelled. The city got snowed in. I was stuck home with little to do. In despair I thought of all the reasons to wallow. And, I wallowed.

I got more bills from 2009 (No- not even from 2010) from doctors I love and thought I had paid. The sums are fairly insignificant. Yet each time I get a collection notice I feel like a naughty girl. I feel as though I have done something wrong. I feel dirty. I feel ashamed.  I feel damaged.  Even though I HAD insurance and the doctor got paid by me and my insurance both I felt a sense of shame so heavy I could get out of bed half a day.

I struggle with the idea of paying him or paying the doctors I currently have. I also realize that one more ding to my credit at this point won’t matter. It won’t. One more collections call on top of however many won’t matter. One more won’t matter.

Like many of us, I have “good girl” complex. I want to pay every medical bill. I want to white wash the medical debt I have until it doesn’t exist. I grew up in terror of anything going down on my “permanent record.” And I was told repeatedly that having good credit was important.  Once you become chronically ill and have numerous medical issues and even more expensive procedures you start rethinking these notions.

Yet, it is a lie to think that “being sent to collections” is somehow easier. Each time feels just as same. Each notice feels just as dirty and low.  Each time feels like a slur to my good name and the honor code by which I live my life.  I truly thought I’d paid this man off. Indeed, I called him and asked to see the record and he said, “Our old office manager ran your insurance wrong in 2009 so you never got any bills but you didn’t do anything wrong, but you have only a week to pay or you’re being sent to collections.”  I loved this doctor. I loved his staff.  And it felt like a betrayal from him to admit that errors on their part could go on so long but I get only a week or else I’m in collections.

With that, I am now in collections. A week gives me no more or less time to make up for their errors. And with that I talk again of medical debt.  I have always thought it inhumane to give more medical debt to the most ill.  People who are in recovery or dealing with chronic illness already face enormous expenses and uphill battles not only with their family and friends, strained relationships, but also financial burdens. Our health is the most draining thing on the planet from every angle and the most worth investing in.  Yet, it feels as though it has cost me the most sometimes.  And even, stolen from me, like an angry teenager demanding from me what I cannot afford to give without feeling lacking in personhood and identity. My friendships, my relationships, my wealth.

Somehow I realize a balance between the two.  I write to heal and share. I write to ask you how you do it.  I write to share my life and seek guidance because I know there has to be more than one way.  What do you do in these situations? How do you live your life? What brings you joy and fulfillment? Does medical debt nip at your heels? Does chronic illness bear financial burden in your life? If not, why not? How do you get away with illness without the financial burdens? Does it create burdens in other areas – with relationships, with creativity, with work? Tell me! I must know!

I’ll be back same time next week! Kiss kiss!

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8 Responses to “Chronic Snarkopolist: The Chronic Burdens of Chronic Illness”

  1. Amanda says:

    Melissa,
    Medical debt sucks. In the past year, I have been to several different appointments in the same medical facility. Do they all bill me together? No. Can I combine and make one payment? No. So I have 10 different payment plans set up at the very minimum payment amount. Last fall, my son without any insurance got a scratched cornea. Yay! 2 more bills from 2 different medical facilities. 1 I easily set up a payment plan, the other flat out refused to accept what I could pay. Refused to accept payment if it wasn’t dividing the bill into 3 payments. Refused to accept. Awesome. So I refuse to open the bills and take their collection calls. Besides, they treated my son [severe social anxiety bundled with other issues] and I like shit. I am not overly anxious to pay for that treatment.

    Who needs the added stress of a collection call when you are trying to figure out your chronic illness? Not me. I have done what I can to be a “good girl” and follow the rules. I keep good records of my payments, pay on time whenever I possibly can… that rogue medical bill can kiss my ass.

    Amanda

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Amanda – thanks for being so gorgeous. I felt so ashamed after writing this I slunk away to lick my wounds for a few days. Writing about money problems is such a personal act. It really is. But you know– it is part of it – part of being sick, part of dealing with ongoing health issues for those of us who are not “wealthy.”

      Meanwhile — thanks for being gorgeous the way you always are. xoxo

      Your insight is uniquely powerful. x
      Melissa

  2. I make up an Indigent letter to send to everyone asking them if I can fill out a financial statement with their office or if they can adjust my bill to a lower amount if they cannot in fact write it off.
    As for collection calls, I save their number and set them to No Ring as a ring tone because that many calls every day all day long can make me a nervous wreck! Like you said, there is no way for me to clean up my credit rating to try & get back to that lovely high rating. That is no longer on my priority list.
    love & kisses,
    Lisa

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Hello Lisa-
      Love love love the insight – from the first to the last. Even the “ring tone on silent” is brilliant! Why don’t I ever think of that? Ha!

      What a way to destress it. And yes- way to make a NEW priority called, MY HEALTH and remember that former priorities were standards people made before they realized things like illness and chronic health happened.

      Brilliant!! Powerful.

      xo
      Melissa

  3. Lolly says:

    Melly Mel,

    Good to see you back even if you didn’t manage to get to Atlanta.
    don’t it just suck when you think or know you got a great rapour with your doc only to find when you owe them money they are not the same person you thought they were after all it’s a buisness shouldn’t be should be a vocation.

    I guess with all the health problems you have it’s always going to be this way and it just doesn’t seem fair.It fucking sucks big time.

    Lolly

    • Melissa Travis says:

      Thank you Lolly-Lol,
      Never a truer word. When you think you knew them and then you find out that you did not.

      It does suck Lolly. And it isn’t fair.

      Thank you for understanding and thank you for your compassion. It always helps. Especially because I was feeling a little bit of a whiner for venting my personal problems.

      Love you Lolly!
      xo
      Melissa

  4. BarbRyan says:

    That sucks! And it makes you more stressed, which makes you feel worse! It’s a terrible cycle. I know, I’ve been there. I also suffer from “good girl” syndrome.

    I try to send something at least once a month, even if it’s only $10 towards the bill. I figure I am trying to do the right thing and the best I can.

    But it is overwhelming sometimes. I try to relax by taking time out and distracting myself – but getting into a good book or movie or taking a drive. It does help.

  5. Graves Situation says:

    Oh, Melissa, you really opened one up here! A week to pay on an old bill that was supposedly taken care of? Nice. I had someone try that one once. I’d paid the bill in full at the time of service, got one several months later saying they had raised their rates and I owed them another $50. They did have the decency to back down when confronted with what utter assholes they were, but I never darkened their doorway again, and told the doctor exactly why.

    A few years ago my husband became suddenly and catastrophically ill. He was flown 50 miles to the closest hospital able to care for him. Guess what 20 minutes in a helicopter costs? Would you believe about $15,000, only $4000 of which was covered by insurance? Balance payable to something like “Texas Petroleum Company.” Yes, we’re very grateful that they saved his life. I’d LOVE to be able to whip out the old checkbook and write them a five-figure one. In the meantime, husband had two open heart surgeries in six weeks, couldn’t work for a few months, and those crazy kids of ours thought they still deserved food, shoes, and shelter.

    There’s really no shame in not being able to keep up with the bills, although I, too, suffer from good-girl syndrome and lose sleep over it. There’s that inverse relationship between getting sick, running up bills, not being able to work, no money coming in, losing insurance . . . Then your credit rating sucks, and now so many employers seem to be checking that!

    My current strategy seems to be not running up the bills to start with. Today, that means deciding whether continued physical therapy is worth what it costs to try to fix the damage from a recent surgery gone wrong. Wrestling with this stuff puts me in a real mood when the right-wingers start talking about how we Americans have the greatest health care system in the world. Yeah, maybe if you’re the Shah of Iran and can book the private suite at Mayo.

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