Living in Fear: A Millennial without Health Insurance

I don’t have health insurance.

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That’s right. I’m 28 years old. I’ve had a house fire, a miscarriage, a divorce decree with my name on it, a bachelor’s degree, a teaching certificate, a master’s degree, more student loan debt than I’m willing to admit here, and a car payment. I’m an adult in all these ways, but I’ve spent most of my adult life without health insurance.

To be clear, I am not blaming anyone. That’s not the point of this post. I made my choices, starting with the decision to marry at 19, kicking me off of my father’s insurance and continuing with the decision to pursue a master’s degree, rather than enter the workforce as a full time teacher, earning me benefits. Just as the aforementioned student loan debt is no one’s fault but my own, so goes my lack of health insurance… and it sucks balls.

You hear the statistics of uninsured Americans and occasionally someone posts a Go Fund Me link on Facebook telling the horrifying tale of a 27-year-old melanoma victim who just wants to live until her son’s fifth birthday. No one ever talks about what it’s like to just be uninsured. No one really mentions the people who simply can’t justify paying a $200 monthly premium for government mandated coverage with a $3,000+ deductible, just so they can get a couple of asthma inhalers every year. The penalty for not doing so, by the way, is still less than two months of this worthless “insurance.” Personally, I’m a professional researcher and found a loophole, so I’ve never paid the penalty, but it would still be my preferred choice… which means living without health insurance.

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During college, I didn’t feel the effects of my lack of coverage so much. My mother did fund a root canal, after the dentist refused to start pulling teeth from a 20-year-old (glad it wasn’t a broken arm, Mom), but despite my morbid obesity, I was generally pretty healthy. I suppose the most profound healthcare issue I had was my miscarriage, but my state government actually has a fair resource for low-income pregnant women… emphasis on the word fair.

When I got pregnant, I received WIC and state funded doctor’s visits, so I could eat well and get the prenatal care I needed. God had other plans, though, and at 11 and a half weeks, I lost the baby. According to americanpregnancy.org, after 10 weeks, the chances of an incomplete miscarriage rise. I was nearly to my second trimester, but after a tearful few hours in the emergency room, I was sent home. I wasn’t referred to a physician, who could prescribe me pain medication. I wasn’t told to report for an ultrasound in a week to make sure pieces of my dead baby weren’t left behind, which could potentially kill me. I was sent home… without instructions of what level of pain to expect or how long I would bleed. That’s what it’s like to miscarry on low-income health insurance.

About a year later, I received a call from my step-mom telling me that I would once again qualify for my dad’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, until age 26. At this time, I was 23, so three years with insurance was a saving grace after five without.

As my 26th birthday neared, I made a half dozen doctors’ appointments. I got a pap smear and an eye exam and a final teeth cleaning. I visited the chiropractor as many times as I could and made an arrangement with one to let me pay cash after my coverage expired. Thankfully, when I hurt my back at 24, I was insured, because there’s no other way I could’ve afforded the treatment to gain the ability to fully straighten my right leg. On the eve of my 26th birthday, I prayed. I asked God to please grant me my health until I got a full time position and the benefits it afforded… as I did for the next two and a half years.

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When you don’t have health insurance, you live in constant fear of injury. live in constant fear of injury, regardless, because I regularly hit my head, but without insurance, everything is a risk. A trip to the wildlife refuge reminds you of the story you read about the guy who was bit by a rattlesnake there, while hiking. A day of swimming makes you question every mole you’ve ever had. An ice storm has you envisioning the bills attached to a fractured wrist. When your best friend buys you a heat gun for Christmas, you vow to save it for the day you get your insurance card. Even dating has you wondering about how much birth control will cost out of pocket and what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Every single sickness, no matter how normal, calls to mind the fundraiser for the woman who found out she had breast cancer at age 25. When your long-term boyfriend asks you to go on a romantic ski weekend with him, you recall the article about the woman who’s in debt for the next fifty years after being airlifted to a hospital.

It doesn’t improve your nerves that every concerned family member tells horror stories about people they’ve known without health insurance. Over Christmas, I had to explain to an aunt that, no, I wasn’t lucky I hadn’t gotten leukemia like her first husband did at 29; I was a statistical norm. Awkwardly, I also had to note that it wasn’t worth paying the premium because I was of “prime childbearing age,” because I’m not a candidate for the Mother of Christ.

I’m a pretty consistent blogger, y’all. I know there are times when I’m a bit more reliable than others, but I can usually be counted on to post every week or two, but I’ve been terribly ill. Last Monday, I woke in the morning to feverish chills and shaking. I called in to work, thinking it was a one day thing, happy I at least had paid sick leave. The next day, I woke feeling worse, after a night of getting up to pee every few minutes. After calling in sick, I pulled up my trusty physician Google, who reported I had a bladder infection. It wasn’t urgent, I read. I just had to drink a lot of water and it would be over in a couple of days. What a relief. I had an important training Wednesday morning. As long as it didn’t get to my kidneys, I was fine. Y’all, I literally felt the moment the infection entered my kidneys, during that training. After 30 minutes of sitting in rapidly increasing pain, I asked to speak to my boss in the hall… where I broke down and told him I had to go to the doctor.

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I drove 80 miles an hour to the Urgent Care clinic, sobbing to my Gramma, who told me to go and she’d pay for it. When I arrived, I was informed that my visit, which took all of 15 minutes, would cost $130. A nurse took me to the back, took my temperature, asked my weight instead of weighing me, and put me in a room. A doctor came in, asked my symptoms and agreed with Google. He literally did zero research and just prescribed an antibiotic and something for the pain.

I keep telling people that I was really sick, but no one seems to get how far the infection had apparently progressed. While the doctor seemed to think I might be able to make it to work the next day, the increasing pain seemed to disagree. My body didn’t seem to be responding to the antibiotics at all… not that I could afford to get a second opinion. That night, the pain was so intense that I went through my medicine cabinet and found some muscle relaxers, hoping they’d help me sleep… because I’d developed a sharp pain in my right side.

According to Google, I could be suffering from a number of things, from an appendicitis to an ectopic pregnancy to kidney stones… all of which would cost a fucking fortune to treat at the hospital and could be fatal if ignored. I found an old wives’ concoction that was supposed to help kidney problems and got up early in the morning to make it. The fever had gotten so bad that after mixing my apple cider vinegar/water/baking soda drink, I started to feel woozy, rushed to make it to the bed… and woke up on the floor, not sure where I was or how long I’d been there. I couldn’t tell up from down. I couldn’t stand. Thank God himself that I couldn’t reach my phone, because there is nothing more terrifying than waking up on your floor alone, with no idea where you are or what’s going on and no one to help you. In that moment, the possibility of financial ruin from an ambulance ride or emergency surgery meant nothing to me. I was petrified and had read nothing of these symptoms online. I’m also pretty sure Jake wouldn’t have appreciated the horrifying 6:00 am call of me incoherently telling him I needed help and couldn’t afford an ambulance. I mean, it’s not like my Gramma could help me down my stairs.

As a woman without health insurance, though, I did the only thing I could. I don’t know how long I lay there bargaining with God that I’d accept any emergency surgeries he had in mind, if he’d just wait until I was insured. Eventually, I was able to rise to my knees. Somehow, the glass of vinegar and water hadn’t entirely spilled. I downed it and crawled into bed in my vinegar soaked shirt… where I simply prayed I didn’t need to go to the hospital, now that the fear had subsided, and I went to sleep. A few hours later, I woke to find the pain in my side was now bearable. By God’s amazing graces, the vinegar concoction had worked.

I didn’t get well as soon as the doctor told me I would. On Saturday morning, Jake woke to me crying, because I was never going to get better. On Monday night, I left work early. On Tuesday evening, I still had a fever. At times, I wondered if perhaps I’d been misdiagnosed. I thought about returning to the Urgent Care clinic, but it was just too expensive, unless I was sure. I’d just have to wait it out.

Yesterday, I actually felt well enough to go shopping, on my day off. By the end of the trip I was exhausted. I’m still recovering from what was apparently an epic infection… not that I knew that, because the doctor I saw asked few questions and ran zero tests. I got lucky… and God gave me one last glimpse of life without insurance before mine kicks in on April 1st.

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