[West Texas Weekly brings you the best in Big Bend issues and viewpoints. Alpine writer Mark Glover weighs in with a personal experience on health care.]
In Need of Oxygen
by Mark Glover
When the pipe fell on my nose, I knew it was broke. Blood oozed down my face. I stumbled through the skunk gourd then lay down near the driveway. I pulled at a deflated football and pillowed it between my head and the earth.
Strange sky I kept thinking as Mesa and Reef gathered around, curious about daddy.
Oil field pipe is a little overkill for a swing set.
“You’re going to the Emergency Room,” Lori said. Clouds obscured the setting sun behind her.
She wiped the blood on my face with a wet towel then called the hospital.
“How much?” I asked watching the grey clouds push against themselves. A row of heinies formed.
“About three thousand dollars.”
It costs about 750 dollars just to walk through an emergency room door in America according to Dr Scott Weeks, a physician who is opening urgent care clinics throughout the country as an alternative to high priced emergency room visits.
“I’m not going.” I said.
The kids tugged at the football.
Laying prostrate I called a member of Alpine’s Transition Town Team.
“Do you have a medic on staff. I have pears to trade.”
“No, even if we did they wouldn’t look at you. Not as long as lawyers rule.”
Although the average medical malpractice suit in America now settles near a million dollars, MakeThemAccountable.com suggests that it is excessive premiums from insurance underwriters and not lawyers that are gouging doctors.
Twenty minutes later I’m at a City Council meeting, trying to take notes with a baby bottle liner full of ice on my nose and dark wash cloth wedged above my mouth.
My nose starts to bleed again.
I walk out of the meeting and across the street to the Blues.
“What happened to you?”
“Buy this man a beer.”
Everybody has a broken nose story.
“That’s your first time? Mine’s been broken five times.” A smile forms below a crooked schnauzer.
“Need more ice?” Patti, the bartender asked.
After two beers I walk outside and look at the sky. The hinnies have doubled.
In the morning I go to the clinic.
The NP comes in and tells me to get X-rays at the hospital.
“You don’t have insurance?” The hospital clerk asked behind the bulletproof glass at the reception area.
“No. How much?”
Last year over fifty million Americans had no health insurance and another twenty-five million were underinsured. Last week President Obama said the numbers have swelled recently because of the recession.
The receptionist makes a phone call then looks at me. “$486 dollars.” She watches my eyes. “Or one hundred dollars today and we’ll put you on a payment plan.”
The Center for American Progress, states that half the bankruptcies in America originate from medical bills that can’t be paid.
President Obama suggests a government health care option where a little is taken out of your paycheck – like they do in England. It covers the un and underemployed, like me.
But critics say too much is already taken out of our paychecks. And free medical for all will only encourage more unemployment. And unemployed people eat out of vending machines. That’s why they don’t have jobs. They’re unhealthy.
Three hours later I cross the bridge into Mexico.
According to Country Studies at the US Library of Congress, most of Mexico’s privately employed population is medically covered by their social security system (IMSS). ISSSTE, another government entity, insures government workers. And larger corporations like PEMEX have their own private medical coverage.
But of course I’m a gringo.
Dr Francisco takes me into his office. He sits behind a long dark wooden desk.
“The first day is not so bad. The second day headaches. The third day, black eyes form and you start to loose smell. Then oxygen.”
He looks down at the form. “Mark, correct.”
“Marko, when you sleep at night, the brain needs oxygen,” His forehead creased and his eyes narrowed. “Marko do you know what happens when the brain has no oxygen?”
I shake my head.
“You begin to lose grip on the big picture,” Dr Francisco said.
For 2800 dollars they can fix my nose. Then it was 2500 dollars. Then it was fifteen hundred dollars if I didn’t want anesthesiology or a hospital bed.
He points to a room with a black door down the hallway.
“Didn’t that famous drug dealer die in a room like that getting his nose changed?” I asked.
“Yes. But that was Juarez. This is Ojinaga,” Dr Francisco said.
I pay seventy five dollars for the X-rays and drive back to Alpine.
Over the weekend, my nose swelled, the headaches came, two black eyes appeared, and in Sunday morning’s fog, I couldn’t smell the creosote bush.
Oxygen deprivation must be next. I gazed in the mirror. My nostrils looked like two squashed ovals leaning, like a trucker’s logo. I take a deep breath.
Monday morning I deliver the X-rays to the clinic.
Eight hours later I get a call.
“Where did you get these?” The NP asks.
“No good, they’re ultra sounds.”
“What did they say, down there.”
“They said it’s broken.”
“Yes, I see the curve. I’m not sure we can do anything about this.”
The next morning I wake up to the sound of a baby crying. Mesa climbed to the top of her bookshelf then fell off. Fortunately it’s only a bruise.
I look in the mirror. The swelling is down, and the squashed oval nostrils are not leaning as much. I smell Reef’s diaper.
But oxygen deprivation still haunts me.