When a Health Issue is a (Financial) Death Sentence

When I was let go from my first full time teaching job due to budget cuts, many things went through my mind.  Would I find a new job?  What will happen to my students?  How will I tell my parents?  On top of this my biggest fear of all was that I was losing my health insurance.

I don’t remember much of the meeting.  I was called into the Principal’s office (something equally if not more scary for a teacher than a student) and there was a Human Resources representative sitting in the room.  I sensed what was going to happen.  My face felt hot and there was a rock in my stomach.  When I was told that I would be finishing the year but not having my contract renewed, I sat, shaking, and asked why.  The principal listed reasons but I barely listened.  I began crying and blurted out “but what about my health insurance?”

This job loss came only a week after I found a tick in my leg.  At first, I thought it was a scab–possibly from a razor nick I didn’t notice.  ~WARNING: GROSS TICK-IN-LEG DESCRIPTION AHEAD~ The next day, I took a closer look and realized something was embedded under my skin.  It was black and no bigger than a poppy seed–it was a tick nymph.  Nymphs are the smallest and most likely to transmit Lyme disease.  I did my best to dig it out, but it wouldn’t budge.  I was not able to fully remove it until about a week later–when my skin had grown and pushed the (now dead) tick up.

My fate was sealed.  After only a couple days, the signature bullseye showed up around the bite and I felt fatigued.  My worst Lyme symptoms were the fatigue and brain fog.  Being tired is one thing.  Being sleep deprived is another.  Having fatigue is an entirely different beast.  I would have trouble waking up, be falling asleep at my teaching job, come home and nap, work my second job, and then go to bed and sleep for ten hours.  My work schedule was tough but I had never had an issue with being so tired until this symptom showed up.

In addition to the fatigue, I had brain fog.  I had a lot of issues with communicating.  I remember getting so frustrated in conversations when I couldn’t find the word I was looking for.  I was having trouble articulating exactly what I wanted to say, causing misunderstandings that I struggled with clarifying.  The fatigue was awful, but the brain fog was frustrating.  Luckily, I found help.

I was connected through a friend of a friend to my wonderful doctor who tested me for Lyme, which came up as positive–with two cases.  I was shocked to hear this.  She told me that often, the disease goes undetected because the symptoms can be mild and hard to pinpoint.  We figured out Lyme had been in my body already for at least ten years and that I had developed this new case on top of it.  I started on antibiotics right away and have been on strong antibiotics for six months now.  My older case is gone and my treatment is progressing as planned, but my monthly tests are still showing Lyme and a weakened immune system as a result.

When I lost my health insurance, I went back onto my mom’s.  Unfortunately, many insurance providers don’t cross state lines, and if they do, they have confusing hoops to jump through (like sending a fax–not an email or letter–a fax).  My monthly appointment with my doctor is just over $300 a month.  My medication is $100 a month.  My lab tests are $150 a month.  For someone who just lost a job, an unexpected $550 a month expense is financially devastating.

My mother’s insurance is able to cover some costs and I am able to apply for some reimbursement for my treatments, but it is still costing me about $200-300 out of pocket per month.  This is much more manageable now that I have a job as a substitute teacher and my second job in the evenings, but I much preferred my $20 copay and partially covered prescriptions.

At the end of the day, I am thankful.  A lot of things could have gone wrong over the course of this journey.  I could have never found my doctor.  I could not have responded well to the antibiotics.  My mother’s insurance could have refused coverage for all of my medical expenses.  I am thankful for my caring doctor, my mother, and the support I have received from family and friends throughout this journey.  That being said, I must now get up on my soapbox.

I have said it so many times over the past six months and I will sound like a broken record to anyone that knows me: we need Universal Healthcare.  I am so privileged to have access to the healthcare, finances, and (albeit lacking) insurance needed to treat my Lyme.  I can’t imagine how much worse my situation would be if I did not have my two jobs or my mother to help me.  I am lucky that my condition isn’t much worse.  I don’t need surgery, chemotherapy, or insulin, just antibiotics and a monthly check-in.  I hate to think about the financial ruin I would be in if it was worse.  If we had Universal Healthcare, we would only worry about getting better, not the cost of treatment.

The fact that millions in the United States do not have health insurance and are susceptible to suffering from treatable diseases due to a lack of funds is a national embarrassment.  We are the generation with the lowest voter turnout rate.  So vote.  Advocate.  Make this issue known.  Because a bug the size of a poppy seed should not become a financial death sentence.

 

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