Unlike most Americans with chronic illnesses, in addition to Social Security, I have Veteran’s Benefits. This has put me in a unique position. It is why I am not afraid to seek medical care outside the Veteran’s Healthcare System and put myself in debt. It takes more than a bad credit score and overdraft fees to scare me.
Last November, I was in a hospital for forty-five days. During that time, my car had so many tickets it was towed and repossessed by GM Financial because the impound fees were higher than what my car was worth. It didn’t matter that I was in the hospital in danger of loosing my foot. I was told by the City of Long Beach, that these fees could be waived, but I had to show up to the courthouse, in person. And not when I was finished with my foot-saving treatment. I needed to be in court tomorrow, because parking tickets are very serious. And being in the hospital is no excuse for missing court. I guess I could have gone, but I risked missing an antibiotic infusion, and an injury that might cost me my foot.
I bet you are wondering where my friends and family were at that time. They were helpful and supportive, but you know what? They are not made of money, they also work and have children and need to take care of themselves. As far as I was concerned, focusing on the care of my foot to prevent loosing it, trumped any concern about loosing my car, because cars can be replaced.
Of course, the phone calls from bill collectors never stopped. One conversation went something like this:
Me: “Look, I need two different antibiotic IV infusions, three times a day. That is six infusions. And if I so much as bump my foot, it could cause the infection to spread. My doctors are trying to stop the infection from killing the bone in my foot, so I can keep my foot.”
GM Financial Customer Service Representative: “I know you might loose your foot, but if you don;t go to court tomorrow and fight these impound fees, we will repossess your car. Karen, I know you don’t want to risk having fees.”
Yeah, because a negative credit report was my biggest problem.
I swear this happened. This GM Financial Customer Service Rep told me he thought I should be more concerned about saving my credit score, than saving my foot. And GM Financial was not the only creditor who said this to me. I only leave out other creditors because I’m too embarrassed to share the name of one company. I agreed to take on a predatory loan because it provided a short term solution. I pay them every month because they will call my references. I can live with paying ridiculous interest rates. I can’t live with the stress of asking someone I know for a loan to clean up a mess I created. And someone who loans me money might suggest I forgo care outside the VA, because I cannot afford to pay co-pays. I’m on a first name basis with medical collection company customer service representatives, and that keeps me from worrying about judgement by friends and family. I got myself into this mess. And I may repeat my mistakes. Not because I am stupid, but because I have changed VA hospitals twice in 12 months because I was shoved into the patient model of the 65 year old diabetic man, the treatment protocol by the Long Beach VA, outside the Women’s Clinic. And that is a whole other post.
Like most things that happened while I was in the hospital, things like my credit score went on to a list called, “Things that can wait until after I make sure I get to keep my foot.”
I had been hospitalized many times before for infections in my feet, and I was not about to risk loosing my foot because of an injury I might incur while going to the Long Beach City Courthouse to fight the fees to keep my Toyota Camry.
I am not innocent in this, either. I made my bed by not parking my car in the parking structure a half mile away. A few days before I went into the hospital, I decided to use the handicap parking spot next to my apartment. No one was able to get to my car before it was ticketed during street sweeping and then towed because it was one of two handicap parking spots. Other people with disabilities needed it. If I had a family member who needed that spot and I saw a car just sitting there for days with tickets on the windshield, I would ask the cops to tow the car as well. Of course, I did not think about this scenario.
For some reason, bad credit scores and overdraft fees do not frighten me. Maybe it’s because I have faced death so many times, or that I will do anything to avoid damage that will cause more disability. Look, bad credit scores can be repaired. Overdrawn checking accounts aren’t sexy, but let’s face it it’s a win-win for banks, and me. I’m picking up the tab anyway. My bank gets to profit from my overdraft fees, and I don’t have to choose between replacing my contact lenses or taking my son to the dentist.
Life with a negative balance is a choice disabled Americans like me, make. I only lost my car, but every day I read about people who are unable to get care they need because they only collect Social Security Insurance. They don’t have a consistent flow of funds every month to cover a negative balance to get their foot in the door at a hospital or doctor’s office to prevent illness or injury. Every day, people “walk it off”, and wait for treatment or evaluation because they cannot afford it on their $1076.00 they get every month from Social Security Disability. They do things like buy their children food and pay for things like the dentist and glasses. How is it that people who barely receive enough money to pay for rent and utilities, are expected to pay co-pays for procedures and tests they need to prevent further injury, disability or death? Why is it perfectly acceptable to ask Americans unable to work because of their disability to live just at the poverty level? Because we have accepted it’s okay to do things like cut our medication in half so our insurance companies can save money. Or that it is normal to wait for medical procedures or tests, then pay for 20% of the cost after an insurance company decides they’re going to pay a portion of it. We pay monthly premiums to insurance companies so insurance companies can pay pharmaceutical companies for the cheapest treatment available. Not the best. First we must try the cheapest medication and risk failure, damage and death. For Pete’s sake who is going to pay for all of this?
I am not innocent in all of this. I had not appointed someone with power of attorney, to act on my behalf. There is no excuse for that. But to be honest, I don’t trust anyone enough to act on my behalf. I fear judgement. I fear they will tell me that I should consider living with someone else, and that if I don;t comply will remove my power to have any say in how I love my life. People have done things to help me, and what I find myself doing after they leave is rearranging my apartment to suite my needs. It has been my experience that when people help me, they do things they think would work best if they were in my shoes. But they are not in my shoes. And just because something is hard to do, it does not mean I should not do it. The hardest thing for me to do is give up. Sure, it might ease the mind of my family if I would just live in an assisted living facility, or had a home health care assistant. Here is why I can;t do that. It means the difference between having someone in a nurse’s uniform show up twice a week for three hours a visit. I tried it when I got out of the hospital. I have places to go and things to do. I found myself canceling these visits because I did not have six hours a week to have someone come over, do a half-assed job of cleaning and stand around for the other two hours because the contractor required a minimum of six hours a week to make it worth it to have someone drive out. I just needed someone to show up, clean my house and go home.
So you see, I can ask for help, but it will only be covered by the Veteran’s Administration, but only if I act like a proper sick person. We have a sick-care system. And anyone trying to live a full life with their chronic illness gets to live in fear they will loose their benefit if they try to live independently. Luckily I can get away with it because Veteran’s Disability Benefits cannot be taken away. But what about those who cant?
For more about my experience with Social Security, Paying People to Stay Home