On Thursday, May 20th at 7:15am I was wheeled into the operating room at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It was an hour long procedure to remove my thyroid gland. That is the short version. The long version is as follows...
For most of my life I had always kind of felt a little, well...off. I had always suffered from insomnia for no explainable reason; always had bouts of constipation; my hair was always a little more course than I knew it should have been. But, when you receive every annual checkup, as I always did, you just tend to think this is the way it is. But a few years ago, the symptoms got worse: chronic fatigue, hair loss, muscle aches, weight fluctuations, swelling in various areas of my body. The hair loss sent me to a dermatologist who ran multiple tests, including a blood test, that diagnosed my hypothyroidism in December 2006.
I spent the greater parts of 2007 and 2008 going to doctor's appointments nearly every six weeks for test of thyroid levels and adjustments in the amount of thyroid hormone I was prescribed. At different points, I was being given too much hormone which swung my condition from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism--which comes with it's own set of problems, including heart palpitations. At one doctor's exam my endocrinologist felt a lump in my throat. He recommended I have an ultrasound of my neck...are starting to get a feel for what my medical bills were looking like, even WITH health insurance? The ultrasound revealed that my thyroid gland was covered in nodules. As a result, I had to have the nodules biopsied...while the medical bills continue to flood my mailbox. The biopsy revealed that the nodules were not malignant (THANK GOD!), but I was told that they would be watched and in one year I would have to have another ultrasound....and continue to pay a mountain of medical bills that was getting bigger with each doctor's visit.
In December 2009, the ultrasound revealed the nodules had grown, so the surgeon recommend I have a thyroidectomy (complete removal of my thyroid). The saga ended on Thursday, May 20, 2010.
During the years of 2007 and 2008 I paid in excess of $3,500 EACH year in medical bills--this is WITH health insurance. As anyone who has had a chronic illness knows, each time one visits the doctor health insurance only pays a PORTION of the bill and the remaining portion is passed on the patient. So, in addition to being extremely sick all the time I dreaded going to the mailbox everyday. I don't know when or how health insurance companies are billed, but I would get a bill in the mail in April for a doctor's visit I had in December of the previous year. I was able to deduct a very small portion of the bills from my taxes each year. But, keep in mind, the $3,500 each year was only for the remaining medical bills and co-pays. This did not include the $112 premiums I pay each month to afford the insurance. Additionally, before my surgery I had to pay my $2,500 hospitalization deductible. I have not even done the math on what this illness and surgery have cost me this year alone.
The good news is I feel the absolute BEST I have ever felt in my life. All of the thyroid symptoms were gone immediately after the surgery and now all I do is take one thyroid replacement pill for the rest of my life (I know...). All I can say is thank God for my frugal ways because they enabled me to weather the storm of costs associated with my condition. I also thank God that my diagnosis was ONLY thyroid and not something more serious. During the entire ordeal I could not be unhappy or depressed because I just kept thinking about people, some of whom are innocent children, who go into a doctor's office with symptoms similar as mine and come out being told they are literally in for a fight for their life.
But, what my illness also taught me was that health care reform in this country is essential. Is Obama's plan the answer, I have no idea; but somethings got to give. I am a single woman who was able to make the sacrifice, along with the help of a repayment plan, to pay my medical bills without financial ruin. But what about the divorced mother who may have had to choose between feeding or housing her kids or repaying medical debt?! Medical debt is the number reason for bankruptcy filings in the United States. I reiterate, somethings got to give in regards to health reform. Additionally, we ALL have a responsibility to practice preventative care and avoid those illnesses that are needless.
Off my soapbox now....LOL