When Being Uninsured Nearly Cost My Life

Today I want to stop and honor what one year ago meant for me.

I was on the fifth day of being in mysterious pain from seemingly nowhere. At first, I thought I slept wrong. A crook in the neck. A muscle spasm. A strained shoulder.

Exhausted from pain, icing neck & shoulder

But on this day last year, I had driven to my PT early in the morning. He couldn’t figure out the cause, so sent me to my chiro with the stipulation that if I didn’t feel markedly better right after, I was to call him and he’d schedule an appt to go see his doctor same day.

Still confident it was a vertebrae out of place, and a nerve pinched, I drove the 28 miles to my chiro that I had started at after my fall.

He adjusted me, gently, and worked on the muscles. He was concerned but didn’t know what else to do. As I walked out to my car, I cradled my arm. The pain causing my entire body to shake, sweat pouring.

I called my PT and sobbed in the phone that I needed to go to his doctor. I didn’t have insurance. I couldn’t afford a doctor or tests. I had been losing clients left and right, because I couldn’t keep up with them. He called his doctor and told him I was coming.

As I drove, my entire left side was not only useless, but the pain felt like molten metal pouring through my arm. I was gasping and sobbing, not sure I was going to be able to make it. Siri told me turn by turn to get back across the 28 miles to end up a block away from my PT’s office at his doctor.

The pain throttled me as I parked and tried to get inside. Gasping, unable to form words, I stood at the counter and sobbed. I wrote my name down in lurching handwriting.

Dr Ashwin greeted me as he examined my pain and my wounded arm I held writhing close to me. He suggested an MRI and prescribed pain meds and said he feared paralysis.

I told him I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford an MRI. But I would ask people for help. Maybe someone would assist. He called his assistant in and told her to refund me half the price I had paid to his office. And he looked me in the eye with his head dipped to the side, “Please consider an MRI. Come back if it gets worse, or go to an ER.”

I called my parents; the pain felt like my arm was being slowly cleaved from my body.

When we finally got home with meds, I packed my arm and neck and back in ice—lots and lots and lots of ice. I tried stretching and rolling around the bed with my arm held straight above my head, as if I could find the right angle or speed to escape the pain.

Icing my arm, neck, and shoulder

My arm convulsed and the pain launched higher and I could hear it, taste it. I shook and gagged as I called a friend who knew what was happening. I couldn’t make words. Just a shaking and garbled mesh of almost communication came out and I heard the blessed reply, “I’m coming.” Eleven o’clock. She raced to my house and by the time she picked me up, my arm was in regular convulsions in intervals. Almost like labor.

I could breathe and talk and then suddenly the muscles all down my arm would contract like a writhing snake, and an excruciating yell would exist my lips as I crumpled into a ball, trying desperately to cradle my arm away from pain.

We signed in at the ER. Money ran through my head. No insurance. Leesh told me not to look at the paper, just focus to get healed. I leaned into her as my body wracked with pain and we waited for the doctor.

Leesha and BilliJoy in ER, waiting

Contraction after contraction through my arm, the screams and groans and gasping, clenched teeth, shooting tears across the room. Then relax. Breathe. Leesha was there using her mighty knowledge as a doula to work me through this pain. She told me she had never seen anyone in as much pain as I was in. I believe it.

Finally they put us in a back room as my screams grew louder. In the middle of one of my jerking screams, I noticed words on the ceiling, and expected English, so read it as such. What I saw was “No one cares.” What it really said was “No caerse (don’t fall).” Realizing what I had misread, I erupted into laughter—y’all know my loud laugh; it filled my soul, pain fell from my face in tears of hysterical amusement. Leesha, for a soft moment, thought I had lost my mind. I had taken a turn in the land of pain. But when I pointed and explained what I had misread, she joined in my sobbing tears of laughter.

Misreading: “No one cares” | “No caerse”

An aide came in and hushed us, asking if I had insurance. No. Nothing. She nodded and left. Then the doctor came in and stood behind my left side and bent down to have his face level with mine.

He had ordered no tests. No X-rays. No MRI. No CAT scan. Nothing. He didn’t find it odd that a perfectly fine person could suddenly be convulsing in pain. He told us, “You’re just going to have to learn how to manage your pain.”

And he sent us home.

No hope. No answers. No tests. No bloodwork. Big bill. No one cares.

What we didn’t know then, but would find out in the unfolding days to come—when I had fallen before and jammed my arm, even though the pain had shown up in my legs, my arm had jammed three discs into my spinal cord, in essence severing it, with so little still attached, there wasn’t enough to measure one unit. Therefore it is called an internal decapitation.

My chances of survival were 1000th of 1%.

And he sent us home without even touching my neck or arm.

Over this month, I’ll continue the story that played out one year ago. The story of warriors coming from the sidelines, of an army rising to help, of people proving heroes exist, of surviving impossible, and of being carried through.

I am grateful. And I am honoring the recognition I need to give to this deep portion of my life. Thank you for standing with me.

#BeejHealth #SCI #SpinalCordInjury #InternalDecapitation

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