Hello blog reader! I am starting a series for this blog that coincides with a bill I received in the mail – again. This bill was from my local emergency room. About 18 months ago I was having a terrible day. This day was not terrible because I was stressed about work, or school. It was not terrible because I got into a fight my spouse or had to endure the loss of a loved one. No, this day was terrible because I was in excruciating pain.
Like many headache and migraine sufferers, I have become accustomed to being in mild pain while still retaining the ability to function in normal life. The standard pain scale goes from 1 – 10, and on any given day I can function relatively well in between the 2 – 4 mark. This day, however, found me in the 8-10 mark for many, many hours. I tried a lot of things before going to the ER. I tried a triptan, and another 2 hours later, some NSAIDs, and even whiskey. Nothing was breaking this migraine.
The pain was multifaceted. Part of it was constituted by the feeling of metal rods being pushed deeper and deeper into my eyes. Another part of it was constituted by feeling my skull was being compressed. Yet another part was the feeling that neck was going to snap. And yet another was the piercing and throbbing headache. This went on for hours. Finally, after 10 or so hours of this waking nightmare, I broke.
I told my wife I needed to the emergency room. As she drove me there I kept wondering if this was a mistake. Perhaps, if I could just hold out a little longer, the migraine would break and I would find relief. My hesitation notwithstanding, we arrived and entered. The entrance and check-in desk were fairly standard. The receptionist took my name and insurance card, and then asked us to wait. A woman in scrubs came and took us to a room and asked why I was there. I quickly told her I wanted to know what could be done in an ER for the pain I was in.
That lady left (I don’t know if she was a nurse or not) and then another woman came in. She had an IV bag in her hands and said the doctor would want to have fluids going. I told her that I did not want any services rendered until I talked to the doctor. She tried to assure me that it would be easier if I got the IV started now, because the doctor might want to administer some kind of ‘pain cocktail’ through an IV. I, this time more directly, told her I did not want any treatment prior to speaking with the doctor. In fact, I further declined to have my temperature taken and my blood pressure read. I simply wanted to know what they could do for me.
The person who I assumed was a doctor (more on that in one of the next blogs!) finally came in and sat down. She asked what my symptoms were (apparently the person who tried to give me the IV did not convey what I told her), and so I went through the litany of symptoms again. I sped the conversation along and asked what the treatment options were. I was told that they could offer a CT scan, and an IV drip to relieve the pain. This whole series of discussions took less than 5 or so minutes.
I decided I didn’t want to get a CT scan (I was in a lot pain and not up for a scan) and the IV, though tempting, would cost hundreds – thousands? – of dollars. Instead, I would just go home and dig deeper in my whiskey, and hopefully that would numb the pain. I don’t know if this was wise, but my wife and I are on a tight budget (both in graduate school), and so I did not want to mess with expensive hospital bills. We went home, I drank a decent amount of whiskey, crawled back into my dark room, and waited.
Around three weeks later a letter showed up in the mail from the hospital. The letter was actually a bill…a bill for $629. Wow. What would I do? Was I really going to be made to pay over $600 for … nothing? Did my insurance not cover any of the total cost? In this series I will explore how I handle this bill, what happens as I talk to different representatives, and how you can avoid paying excessive fees at the hospital and doctor.
Part 2 coming soon!