“Maybe we shouldn’t go,” I said to my husband, Dana, shivering under the clear winter sky as we stood on our walkway, halfway between our house and the car.
“You’re sick,” he said. “We’re going.”
“But the money,” I said. “It’s not worth it. They’ll probably tell me I have a cold and charge me $200.”
I’d had a fever of over 102 for three days and was coughing so violently I could barely squeak out a whisper. But we only go to the doctor when absolutely necessary. Our insurance covers once-a-year check-ups. The rest of our medical bills we pay out of pocket up to an $8,000 family deductible, and our pockets have been increasingly empty thanks to Dana’s having recently broken a rib, ongoing speech therapy for one of our five children, and several other unanticipated health expenses. Like many Americans, we’ve worked our whole lives, pay taxes, have never broken the law (other than an occasional speeding ticket), and cannot afford to go to the doctor.
But I also couldn’t afford to miss more work. So, on this night, I let Dana drive me to the local walk-in clinic, where the doctor noted to my symptoms, checked my temperature, listened to my lungs and said I probably had the flu. I could expect to feel sick for another week or so and could go back to work after my temperature returned to normal. So I chugged every flu medicine I could find in our medicine cabinet, sucked on so many cough drops my mouth blistered, and alternately shook with cold or burned with fever while coughing day and night, waiting to get better. Only I didn’t.
So, on day ten, when my fever hit 103.5, I risked another $200 bill and went back to the doctor, who said I’d never had the flu at all. I had pneumonia. My first response was relief. I hadn’t wasted my money, but the second was anger. How was it possible that I’d missed nearly two weeks of work, waiting for my symptoms to go away, when the cure for my illness – a simple round of antibiotics, which cost less than five dollars – was so easily attainable?
We live modestly, save what we can, share when we are able, go to work, pay our bills, serve in our community, and yet basic health care is hard to reach. Despite that we have insurance, like many, our insurance pays so little and costs so much that we are theoretically one diagnosis away from bankruptcy. I am grateful to God that we generally have good health. And when I look at the medical needs of those around the world, our own needs seem so minor. But I’m also tired of trying to guess when it’s worth going to the doctor.
As people of faith, who believe in the infinite value of everyone created in God’s image, providing affordable health care should be among our highest priorities. I’m thankful to be getting better. But I can’t help wondering, how much sicker might I have gotten if I hadn’t risked going back in?
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Backward Easter Egg Huntand four other books in the Lantern Hill Farm series, celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.