Please Continue to Hold

Warning! A rant about healthcare, contains swear words.

A mammogram was like an ice cream truck parked on your breast, but you didn’t get ice cream. Worse than this indignity was to receive a letter from your doctor that stated, “ Your recent breast imaging showed a finding that requires further evaluation.”

I mentored a teen writing group at the library. We followed a rule for using swear words. The foul word should convey character or make a strong point. “He’s a poopy butt,” didn’t carry the weight of, “He’s an asshole.” When it came to contemplating cancer, you should be allowed gratuitous swearing.

Additional imaging found that I could live with a cyst. I was grateful, but then the second circle of Hell began with the hospital bills/healthcare fiasco. The healthcare system carried only a slightly lower level of stress than cancer. If you experienced both stresses at the same time, there was the real possibility of death from stress instead of cancer.

I received a bill from the hospital for imaging which I thought was covered by my healthcare plan. Since I didn’t have two paychecks sitting unused, I called the insurance company. Insurance Jason said it looked like the bill was coded incorrectly. I should call the hospital billing department.

Billing Becky said she couldn’t help me. The doctor’s office would have to change the coding.

I called the doctor’s office and pressed three for billing questions. My call would be answered by the next available agent. After ten minutes, I washed dishes. After twenty, I imagined one lonely soul in a cubicle with a rotary telephone. For every question asked, I also imagined the agent saying “please hold while I check on that.” The agent then set the receiver down, walked down the hall to a room full of file cabinets, pulled a file, jotted down an answer, put the file back into the cabinet, walked up the hall, picked up the receiver, and answered the patient’s question.

Sleep inducing music was occasionally interrupted by aortic valve replacement updates from announcement lady which gave me something else to worry about along with knee replacement surgery. I could also schedule childbirth e-classes. Sweet. If I were a mother who still had ovaries that worked. Announcement lady was interrupted by “Our agent is busy. Please continue to hold.”

I created virtual agent, Marni, because after thirty minutes on hold, I began to think my chance to speak to a real agent were nil. While Marni assisted other callers, I learned that the hospital’s board certified plastic surgeons were committed to providing the utmost in patient satisfaction and that 3-D mammography was available.

After forty-five minutes, I’d listened to the menu of services 147 times and committed them to memory for future reference. I now had to chance washing my hair or eating lunch while on hold because I had to leave for work soon.

After fifty minutes and in the middle of my salad, Marni took my call. “Wow, there’re real people employed in the billing department”, probably wasn’t the best way to start my conversation with live Marni whose real name was Mary.

I should’ve cut Marni/Mary slack because she might be tired from walking up and down the hall to the filing cabinet room, but when I stated my business she said, “We don’t handle that, I can connect you to the doctor’s office, but they’re at lunch. I can leave them a message to call you back.”

No kidding.

I envisioned myself at the library, “If that call’s about the boob bill, I’ll take it.” I’d give our older patrons heart attacks and then they’d need aortic valve replacement. I thought it best to wait to take the call at home the next day.

I went to work with dirty hair, half a salad for lunch, no time to stop for chocolate, and knowing I had to work late for a book signing to introduce a writer who actually had a book. I still didn’t know if I’d have to pony up two weeks pay even though I had health insurance.

The answer to the billing may come down to one word, bullshit. I meant deductibles which are sort of the same thing. Hospital billing’s a bitch, but a bit of advice, don’t give up on mammograms just because the healthcare system is fucked up.

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