For the last few years, my primary care physician has been WebMD. I use that website to diagnose every random ache or weird mole. Without health insurance, the Internet was pretty much all I could afford.
I can’t tell you how many medical issues I’ve just flat out ignored or waited out because the idea of seeing a doctor was not in the budget. Especially because the few times that I have been worried and paid out of pocket, nothing ended up being wrong with me or the doctor's expert medical advice was something like, “drink more water. Now here’s your bill for 5 gazillion dollars.” I was even paying out of pocket for my monthly Wellbutrin prescription, sometimes skipping a month because it came against something my son needed. Often I had to make a choice and the pills lost.
Though sometimes I could go from making thousands in a month to just a few hundred in 3, I’ve never considered myself low-income. The last few years have been really hard on my career and I’ve taken serious financial hits. But because I live with my parents and get so much help from my family, I felt terrible even thinking about getting government aid. Especially, when so many people need the help more than I did.
Last month, I started feeling really physically ill. I had night sweats, dizzy spells, I was freezing cold, and the left side of my body would periodically lose feeling. My doctor,webMD, said I was either having a stroke or a brain aneurysm. I didn’t tell anyone about it but I spent many nights scared to death that there was something seriously wrong. It was terrible.
One night, I felt so bad that I emailed my sister in case I didn’t make it through. She was understandably freaked out. And when I woke up alive the next morning, I just blew it off. I couldn’t afford another hospital bill. I couldn’t go to the emergency room because I’m still haunted by the bills of two hospitalizations over the last 3 years. So I waited it out and ended up feeling better and still have no idea what was wrong.
That was the last straw for my sister, who was still freaked out. “What if something happened to you? What about E? You need to see a doctor.”
So, I googled "state medical assistance" and filled out an online application. When I hit send, I felt a little sad about it, like a statistic. Black, single mother, low income, state assistance. I’m as liberal as they come. I think government aid is necessary for poor people in this country to get a fair chance at life. So why then did I feel like a shitty loser for needing help myself?
Eight years ago, I was making a shit ton of money. I’d get thousands for a gig, exhausting myself doing multiple shows in multiple cities a week. It all came to a crashing halt when my body gave up on me. I had a physical and mental break down. I had to take time off and with that, the gigs started to dry up. And all the money I saved went to New York rent, doctor’s bills and hospital bills. One thing after another, and eight years later, I’m still having trouble getting back on my feet.
Last week, a month and a half after I applied, I got a letter. My application was approved! All my guilt, shame and embarrassment melted. All I could think was, “Praise, Beyonce! I have health insurance!” I immediately called and made appointments to see every single doctor I could find and here are the five things I'm going to do with my new fancy pants health insurance. Things I couldn't do a month ago. Things almost 50 million American still can't do without having to make some difficult choices -- like medicine or food.
I’m going to the dentist
I’ve been lucky to have good teeth. I never needed braces and my teeth have been strong and white my entire life. But in the last few years, my teeth have been giving me problems. I’ve had an abscess for about a year and because it didn’t hurt, I ignored it. Well, no more. Fix that sucker! But because I hate the dentist my plan is to have him/her take out each of my teeth, clean them and then put them back in. That happens right?
I’m going to get "blood work" done
I have a minor form of a blood condition known as thalassemia. Basically it means that my red blood cells are abnormally small. It's caused me some problems over the years but mainly it shows up in the form of severe anemia. The most annoying side affect of my iron deficiency is an intense craving for ice. I love ice! I eat buckets of it a day. Which brings us back to the dentist because chomping on ice is terrible for my teeth. It also doesn’t do much for my already cold prone body. I haven’t had my thalassemia looked at in SIX years.
I'm getting a full body physical
I plan on lying prostrate on a medical table, subjecting myself to all measure of poking and prodding. I want to know if my weight is okay. Is my left knee supposed to make that sound after a workout? When I push on my cheek, the bone hurts. Why? I plan on taking an entire day for this. I have tons of questions.
My Lady Parts need looking at
I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had a gyno exam. Let’s just say, the last time a doctor looked at my magic lunchbox, a kid was coming out of it.
Someone should look at my eyeballs
I can’t see shit. My contacts stopped working and my glasses won’t stay on my face. Sometimes, my vision gets blurry out of nowhere. I think it’s connected to the aforementioned blood problems, but I have no idea. I’m going to find out.
On Facebook, I posted a status joking about all the things I’m going to do now that I have medical coverage but at the end of the day, it’s kind of fucked up that being able to see the doctor when you’re sick is a privilege. I still feel weird about getting government assistance and probably will for awhile. I’m looking forward to the day when I can get off of it and be able to afford my own health coverage or even better, when universal healthcare becomes available! Istill feel a bit of guilt about this but that feeling's been assuaged by the fact that I finally won’t have to choose between my life and my bills. I wish everyone had that.