Everyday Drama

I was all set to write my article this week when something threw me for such a loop that it needed to be aired.

I am used to my fair share of difficulty within my healthcare universe – insurance reimbursements gone missing, fellows that argue over test results, etc. – but I am not used to my medical life bleeding into areas completely unrelated.

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Let me explain. The Jewish High Holidays snuck up on me this year. I have a lovely tradition of joining family friends overnight and attending services at their synagogue. I have done this for 17 years. I have never been able to afford the full cost of tickets – a reasonable and average $300 – and the synagogue has always been kind and understanding and has given me a considerable discount. I only had to explain the reason – high medical bills – once because it was always the same person in charge.

This is the first year after she retired. I knew I was going to have to explain, and my friends advised me to contact her replacement. After trying to connect me with the right voicemail four times and failing, I asked the receptionist to please take my name and number and ask the man to call me back. I just wanted to buy tickets. The receptionist replied that I needed to talk to a different woman if I wanted to buy tickets. Not wanting to get into the details of my medical financial situation with a stranger on the phone, I told her that my friends had advised me to talk to the man, and to please deliver my message.

Fifteen minutes later, I discovered that the receptionist had substituted her judgment for mine and the woman she thought I should talk to was calling me back. So, I had to do what I had really wanted to avoid – I had to tell a stranger I hadn’t planned to tell that, though I was a gainfully employed adult, I could not afford the ticket at full price. I felt ashamed and humiliated, which was compounded by anger.

Surprise, surprise, the woman who had called me back couldn’t help me. She explained that the receptionist was a volunteer and “just doing her best.” Though I was too flustered to say so at the time, that is totally unacceptable. I should not have to justify who I wish to speak with at any institution.

Later that afternoon, the man I wished to speak with called me. The slow burn of humiliation remained and I had the conversation as quickly as possible so as not to prolong my own discomfort. He based the discount on what I had paid last year (the full amount) and I was so upset, I didn’t explain that I could only do that because family reimbursed me for half. I just wanted to be done.

The man did give me a small discount, about 15%, which I appreciate, but if my landlord cashes my check on time, it will cut into my overdraft protection. But that’s not the point. I shouldn’t have to humiliate myself to attend religious services. I shouldn’t have to go into detail about my medical financial life with strangers in order to do something so domestic and non-medical.

To be fair, I did go into detail in an email to the man who gave me the discount. I wanted to make sure that he considered actual need vs. previous record if he ever encountered a situation like mine again. I also wanted someone in the organization to understand the impact the receptionist’s actions had. Someone who is “just doing her best” and thinks she knows better can have unintended consequences. He responded sympathetically and offered an ear if I ever wanted to talk about it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one something like this has happened to. How has your medical life negatively impacted your non-medical life? We’d love to extend our sympathetic ear if you’d care to share.