My Health Problems Are Not My Fault

As an adult, I have feared going to the doctor.

This fear isn’t due to potential bad news or the medicine or the shots (well, maybe a little fear is for the shots). It’s solely for the price.

The price to be healthy in this country is egregiously high. It’s downright sinful. It’s abhorrent, it’s shameful, and yet the shame is so often placed on those who can’t afford to pay an unaffordable cost.

A person who can’t pay for their own healthcare is not wrong. Even when there are health repercussions, it’s not their fault.

Hard work does not pay off.

My whole life I’ve been told to go to college to get a job, to get insurance. My parents consistently reinforced the importance of good benefits, as well as the importance of working hard to obtain these necessities.

To be clear, my parents didn’t “lie” to me. Hard work paid off for them. It’s just not enough anymore.

It’s not enough because I did what they told me. I went to a good school. I graduated with a good GPA, I got a teaching job even before graduation.

The teaching job was one I loved immensely. It also paid $35,000 a year. Thirty-five thousand for a teaching job, for a 200-day school year (most are 180).

After taxes and retirement, I made less than $2,000 a month.

Multiple teachers had side hustles or part-time gigs. One even waited tables multiple days a week. When teachers called in sick, there were never enough subs in the district, so classes would get split between other teachers in the grade level (and sometimes even across the building).

Even if you love your job and work hard at it, you probably won’t be able to afford getting sick (let alone taking time off).

Good benefits are not worth an awful job.

I took a teaching job in Denver after two years and the benefits were significantly better. The job itself was soul-sucking.

The best way to summarize this role was when I told my principal (who was later fired) how I was concerned with the level of stress I was experiencing and the hours I was working, especially as a now-third-year teacher.

She replied, “If you’re not working 80 hours a week and crying every day, you’re not doing your job.”

I was working weekends. I was getting up at 4 or sometimes even 3:30 to get some work done before the building would open at 6. I was typically the first teacher there and often one of the last to leave (the school day itself was an outrageous 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.). I cried every day driving to work, I lost weight due to stress.

A job with good benefits does not guarantee you’ll even be able to use them.

Most jobs don’t have benefits, let alone good ones.

A photo taken of me when working at the agency, not knowing at this time that I had E. coli. I was at the lowest weight I’d been in years.

I made a career switch after teaching into writing and marketing. I got hired at a marketing agency. My second year into the job, I started experiencing awful stomach issues.

Nausea and cramping were daily occurrences, I was stressed thinking about what I would do or where I would go if I suddenly had to vomit in this crowded office (which obviously didn’t help the physical symptoms). I was losing weight and was terrified of what was happening.

Long story short, an initial doctor’s visit, two appointments with a gastroenterologist, three rounds of testing and a colonoscopy cost thousands of dollars and still wasn’t enough to hit my deductible. None of this even gave me solutions or treatment (if it did, it would cost even more)

Thankfully my parents helped cover many of the costs. I am privileged to have had their financial assistance in times of need. Most people don’t have that resource. If the choice is between suffering or suffering, going bankrupt and still not having answers, why would anyone spend what little they have on a road that leads to nowhere?

No job is required to provide benefits. That is a bigger, more important issue than workers who can’t afford to pay astronomical, out of pocket fees.

No one should have to prove their right to healthcare.

But here’s the thing about my stories. They don’t matter. I shouldn’t have to justify this to anyone because no one should have to prove their right to health.

If a person ran up to you on the sidewalk with a bleeding arm, would you grab them a bandage? Or would you charge them $120 for talking to you?

If a friend told you they had a headache, would you offer them ibuprofen? Or would you send them to a specialist and tell them they might be able to get treated for it a month from now, but they might not? Oh, and that will be $500.

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who see the inequities in the system and empathize with patients, I do not blame you. I thank you for all that you’re doing. Unfortunately, there are plenty of healthcare workers who blame their patients.

Black women die in childbirth three times as much as white women. Plus size patients are not taken seriously and told they need to lose weight. Parents with two jobs and kids are scolded for not coming in sooner. It takes months or years for a proper diagnosis, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Ten minutes with a doctor costs $68 on average.

Sixty-eight dollars for a visit that does nothing, at a time where 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency.

It’s a wonder anyone sees the doctor at all.

A person who doesn’t have $400 for an emergency or $68 for a 10-min appointment is not at fault. The country that makes healthcare a privilege for the wealthy is to blame. The country that turns a blind eye to people sharing GoFundMes on Facebook, begging others to help cover their medical expenses, is in the wrong.

I’ve had stomach issues again as of late. Last year I went to urgent care and got two tests run on one sample. After my insurance, my bill was more than $800 — and for what it’s worth, the tests revealed nothing unusual.

I’ve spent the last several months in fear, trying to decide how to proceed. Do I blow my savings on medical care that may or may not make a difference? Do I spend my money in a pandemic, when my income is at the lowest it’s been in more than a year? Do I wait it out, risking some unforeseen diagnosis or even more complications? Do I leave the country in hopes of living in a place where my health is a priority?

These are my real options and despite being terrible, they are still better than most.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. But no matter what, think before you tell me to “just make a doctor’s appointment,” unless you plan on footing all my bills. Think before you start judging a person’s health status. Check yourself on your privilege if you have the audacity to comment on someone’s healthcare decisions or illnesses or body or disabilities.

If you had to “work your ass off” to get to a place where healthcare is no longer a luxury, think back to that bleeding/bandage situation. No one should have to work that hard to receive the most basic of care. Not to mention, people struggling with health complications often can’t (or shouldn’t) overexert themselves — and again, that’s not their fault.

Healthcare in the US is reserved for the elite and wealthy. The majority of us don’t fall into that category. There is no blame for someone who can’t afford a system that doesn’t make itself accessible.

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