... It's back.
I've been taking metronidazole faithfully for eight and a half days, as well as probiotics (though skipping a day here and there) -- and just as quickly as the intestinal problems went away, they've returned. I had to take some time off of work today to go home and lie down; I used the opportunity to call the specialist that I had been hoping not to have to see.
At this point I'm giving up. I can't get this resolved easily. It (still) could be anything ... from a persistent bacterial infection up to and possibly including colon cancer.
And that's what scares me.
... No, not the possibility of a life-threatening illness. If this means a medical intervention that forces a lifelong change in habit, fine; if it means I have six months to live, I'll try to use it well. But what does scare me is the fact that I now have run out of options for dealing with this cheaply.
American health care is great ... when you can afford it. I can't. A scary number of Americans can't. I'm working class. I'm holding down two part-time jobs while my wife is changing careers. Neither of us has had employer-provided health insurance since my hike last year.
There's a possibility that the private care we bought to fill in the gaps might cover everything after the deductible. There's a certainty that this means $3500 out of pocket; all I've gained myself is a crapshoot against a deep-pocketed and many-lawyered corporation that may or may not violate me up the nether orifice with a huge spiky stick labeled "pre-existing conditions." As much as I don't want to be sick, I am afraid to deal with this. I have already been screwed once that way.
I am afraid of the next several weeks, and the next few months. I am afraid because I don't know how deep this goes. I am afraid because the longer this drags on, the deeper in the hole I go -- while I'm still juggling the debt from my hike and my commitment to help kadyg through school.
I am afraid because medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country -- and because the GOP president and his GOP cronies just fucked America's poor, again, by tightening bankruptcy rules so that I might not even be able to dig out from whatever five-figure medical debt I might accumulate. I am afraid because I don't qualify for Medi-Cal and because California has no catastrophic care coverage (not that Washington state's, when I lived there, helped any).
I have a little credit. I have good family. I don't have any kids to support. I am in a much better position than the average workingman would be in my shoes.
But I still feel alone and helpless.
Right now, I am our household's only income. If Kady has to go to work, she has to give up cooking school; and if this illness forces me to take any more sick days, my income isn't enough to cover basic expenses. And at any rate none of the calculations take into account medical expenses, which -- again -- I just don't know what they'll be.
In any other industrialized nation, I wouldn't have to fear dealing with my insurance company. I wouldn't have to fall asleep with the possibility of an illness I can't afford to treat (gods forbid this IS something like cancer). I wouldn't have to deal with the sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about how I might be saddling the woman I love with bills for the rest of her life.
I wouldn't have to drag myself to work when I've got cold sweats and need to go to the bathroom every half hour because I can't afford to call in sick. (Well, to be fair, that could happen anywhere. But if I didn't have such panic at the big bills to come, I wouldn't be scraping furiously for every penny I could earn ... as I've said, I have a little credit, and I could afford to sit out a paycheck or two a lot easier than I could afford the $3500 deductible that now stares me in the face.)
I wouldn't have to panic about how more insured people file for medical-related bankruptcy than uninsured people -- or how their debts are on average 50% higher. I wouldn't be paralyzed with indecision about whether to keep paying the insurance premiums on the chance my condition is expensive, or let it lapse and use that extra $100/month to pay the bills.
Gods help you if you're American and poor. You're only one crisis away from the choices that are now scaring me witless. Our leaders have decided that the social safety net isn't worth paying for ... and this is the price, and worse, much worse, that some Americans are paying for their decision.
And I hate how I know the fear won't go away . Being poor in America is not just about giving up desires (like that dental work I've been putting off or that six-year-old computer I'd love to upgrade) -- it's about giving up stability, about knowing the slope down is even slipperier than the slope up. Even with a stable job, you're one crisis away from juggling bills, which then puts you one crisis away from maxing out credit cards, which then puts you one crisis away from payday lenders, which then puts you one crisis away from homelessness.
When you're poor, you learn to fear bad luck. You learn to live with that fear, all the time, because you're always looking down at the precipice, knowing that once you start sliding there's precious little you can rely on to keep you from hitting bottom.
"Dear gods, I hope this one isn't the slide that sends me there."
If you have some time today, please write a letter to your congressman (assuming he isn't some corrupt kool-aid drinker like my district's John Doolittle). Every American needs guaranteed health care. It won't solve the problems of American poverty, but it's a necessary start -- and given the country's bankruptcy statistics and the demonstrated success* of other countries' universal plans, it's the place to start.
* Look, I've spent an hour writing this post and I don't have the energy to go through every single one of the arguments again. Kevin Drum at The Washington Monthly and John Cole at Balloon Juice have both spent a great deal of time documenting our system's comparative failure; here's a representative sample.