Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Hold

(written almost entirely while on hold with Team Heath)

I have hung the diapers, stepping on the sweet smelling pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) at my feet.  Ivory is napping on my bed and I just gently deposited Sylvan on his sisters bed. I sighed and picked up the phone.

I am sitting here, tethered to my phone, being transferred from one person to another. Somewhere along the way I have gotten dropped and am back to the first step in the process, I was just transferred back to the Team Health billing center. I have been on hold so long that the battery on my phone is noticeably warm. This has become a weekly ritual.

It all started on March 23rd, 2011 when Sylvan was 7 weeks old. We were visiting family in Oklahoma and he developed this horrible mucus in the back of his throat. He would choke after nursing and instead of spitting up milk, he would spit of masses of sticky slime. I had him sleeping propped up, terrified to fall asleep myself... It just seemed to be getting worse.
So, I called Montana Healthy Kids, which is our state's Medicaid program to find a physican/hospital that was enrolled in their program. I so desperately wanted to do it right. Take the right steps. Be a responsible mom. The Stillwater Medical Center was enrolled. I called trying to figure out where at the hospital to take him. It appeared the emergency room was our only option.
So I threw the kids in the car and drove two hours, slamming on my breaks at least once to pull over and check on my choking tiny baby boy in the back seat. I arrived at the hospital, hungry and shaking to wait and wait for a doctor

But instead of finding solace, I found a doctor who didn't listen to a word I was saying. “He isn't coughing”, I kept repeating, over and over, “he is choking on mucus, but there is no coughing.” He proceeded to prescribe an inhaler for the cough, “but he is NOT coughing”, I say again. He gets up and tells me that someone from radiology would be right over to take an x-ray and leaves. WHAT?!? When the lady from radiology arrives, I try to tell her that I don't want my baby x-rayed. She brushes me off. She says it is very little radiation, makes Ivory leave the room, puts a little lead apron over Sylvan's tiny genitalia, snaps a picture and is off.
I sit there feeling so low. Was that my attempt at standing up for my son? It is mid afternoon, Ivory and I have not had lunch, she has a stomach bug and is being a super trooper. I feel helpless, abandoned.
After a while, the Dr. comes back, hands me a prescription, I don't know what for, and disappears again. Our visit is over.

I go to fill the prescription. I go through the drive- through. I bring it home, open it. It is a $50 inhaler. An inhaler for a 7 week old. I stare at it dumb founded. What the fuck am I supposed to do with that? I read the fine print. This medication has been tested once on kids aged 7, all other trials were done on children older than 11 and I am supposed to give this to my 7 week old baby? For bronchial spasms??? I drive back to the pharmacy. Do you want the nebulizer to go with the inhaler? No, I want to know why this is prescribed to my 7 week old? Well, they tell me, “Doctors can prescribe what ever they want. We however can not take back medications once they have left our counter. That is against FDA regulations.” But, I think to myself, a doctor can prescribe any medication they want to whomever they want?

I sit crying in the parking lot. Sylvan sleeping in the back seat. Still choking on mucus and no better off for having sought help from the medical establishment.

Angry. Who do I turn to? Do I write my senator? Do I suggest that rather than emergency rooms walk in clinics should be enrolled in out of state medicaid programs? Because I can tell you for sure that this visit was a waste of tax payer moneys, and that I feel children could be better served (in a non-trauma situation) by a setting other than an emergency room.

The best advice I got was from my yoga teacher who came by to meet Sylvan. “Give him a teaspoon of water with a few drops of apple cider vinegar”, she advise. “It will cut the mucus.” I do that. I have no idea why, but it works. For the next few weeks, when the mucus came back that is exactly what I did, and eventually the problem subsided.

The emergency room visit still haunts me.

And after having returned to Missoula, I opened my mailbox to find a bill. A bill for two hundred and twenty five dollars. The doctors bill from the emergency room visit that I liked to forget. From the doctor who did not listen to me, who was of no service to me, and after having made sure that his medical facility was “in our system”. I called the hospital only to have them tell me that this is not one of their account numbers... and I explain. I get transferred, and transferred again. I talk to a friendly lady who tells me the bill should now be taken care of, and to call Team Health again tomorrow to make sure the balance has been removed.

But it wasn't removed. 

Phone call after phone call. Nice voices. Rude voices. Telling me it is resolved. But then it isn't. I finally get transferred to the main office. They will look over my file and call me back. But I have yet to hear from them. I call them again and again. Then I get a bill from a collections agency for something that was supposedly resolved months ago. I call again. Wait they tell me. The main office will call you back.

The lady I talked to today has no idea what I was talking about. She was rude. I called the hospital again. And then Team Health again. This time I reach Nicole. I've talked to her before. She reads the same notes on her computer that the rude woman read half an hour ago... but instead of talking to me like I am an idiot she laughs: "I will email the collections agency and tell them to quit bothering you. I will call the main office again and file you in the displaced claims. We lost you somewhere. They will call you back in a few days."

There is no resolution yet... but at least a little peace of mind.  For the moment.  Until I start this all over again.

I wipe away my tears of frustration as Ivory walks out of my room. I steady my voice. “Lets go for a walk” I say. “I really need a cup of coffee.”

Up date:   So after 4.5 months of phone calls and learning three days ago that our ER physician was an independent contractor and therefore not subject to the hospitals usual policy of having their physicians accept the same insurance policies as the institution...  I finally received a phone call back from Team Health.  They have agreed to settle with me reducing our bill from $225 to $57.50.  I'll take it.  Hopefully this is it.

1 comment:

  1. Awe Heidi, That is so scary! I hope there is an end to this soon and that Sylvan feels better. Love, Alia