Count blessings, not $4,000 surgery bill

Knee update: I visited the surgeon at the Des Moines Orthopedic Center in West Des Moines.

The doctor recommended an arthroscopic procedure at Lutheran Hospital. He said it would take about 2 hours, the surgery was virtually risk free, and I’d be on my feet the next day or so. Physical therapy might not even be necessary.

This sounded pretty good, especially against the ongoing agony I live with. We set a date for Aug. 20, which would give me recovery time before school started 10 days later.

The doctor’s assistant brought me a bunch of paperwork.

One page, the green page, detailed how the surgery would be billed.

The clinic’s policy is half the cost of the uninsured portion of the bill must be paid by two days before the surgery. I buy my insurance policy through HealthCare.gov.

The insurance isn’t great, but it gives me something in case of disaster.

Alas, this disaster came at a time when I hadn’t met my deductible.

That means I likely would have to pay the clinic more than $4,000 before I took my first breath of anesthesia.

I don’t have that money, nor do I have access to it.

I explained that to the person who handled the financial side of things. She said that was the policy.

In fairness, I don’t know what my portion of the total bill is yet. The computers hadn’t added it all up yet. It could be a little less, but it could be a lot more.

This is one of those moments where a person really needs some true grit.

I got the news, and I felt my depressed, anxious mind start to spiral.

This is it, I thought. This is where I fall and don’t get back up.

This worry plagues me.

My mind speeds through all the ways my plans to transform myself from discarded newspaper man to a schoolteacher can crash and burn.

The parade of horribles march through my mind like some freak show displays lost from the last circus.

My knee hurts a lot. Some days it is unbearable even when I’m idle. Other days, it’s livable. Unpleasant, but livable.

I need my mobility for all the obvious reasons, but especially with in-person classes starting this fall at Drake University.

I have one more semester of regular classes and then I’m due to student teach in the spring, but if I can’t walk to classes, I’m in trouble.

I’m remaking my life at middle age.

I can’t stress enough how challenging that is.

I gave all I had to give to journalism, but the trade as I knew it, died — or at least changed in such a way that it no longer included old typists like me.

So, the thing I thought I was going to do until I retired is gone at age 46.

OK, fine. I’ll teach the rest of my working life.

But this journey is fraught with peril.

I’m unemployed.

I’m broke.

I’m managing anxiety, depression, and obesity.

Oh, right, and then the knee.

The IRS seems to think it’s fine to hold on to my tax refund for however the hell long it sees fit and nobody, not even the staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley, seems to be able to do anything about that except tell me to be patient.

That cash would go a long way toward the knee surgery.

My wobbly knee and pain feel like a metaphor for this seemingly impossible effort at survival.

But I choose not to embrace misery.

That’s new for me.

I used to fall into sadness the way children cannonball into the deep end of the swimming pool.

Yet, I live with daily miracles. People like Maddie and Charles prove to me that humanity has not lost its heart, only the ability to tell the story of grace.

Scores of people have supported this website.

My friend Mary Hoover, an East High School chum whom I had not seen since she graduated a year ahead of me in 1992, emailed me after I posted about the initial knee injury.

“I’d like to make a home cooked meal,” she said.

A few days later, she arrived with a massive container of thick beef stew loaded with carrots, potatoes, green beans, corn, and meat. I could barely get the ladle into the concoction to scoop it into a bowl to reheat.

She started a fundraiser for me at MealTrain.com. People have sent money and brought me food — good, healthy food.

My first reaction is embarrassment.

Who am I to deserve this treatment?

I am a deeply flawed human who has made so many mistakes.

I am unworthy, I think.

But you know what?

How dare I think that?

That spits in the eyes of all these people who see worthiness inside me. I am not so flawed as to turn my back on the grace and kindness of family, friends, and strangers who only know me through my paragraphs.

Instead, I choose to embrace this love shown to me and pledge to pay it forward. I will never be able to square it with those who have helped me.

That’s not the point anyway.

What I will do, though, is commit to resiliency. I will find a way to make it to those classes this fall and through student teaching in the spring.

I pay the investments all these kind souls have made in me by helping to spark the fire of creativity in future generations of writers, thinkers, muckrakers, and paragraph stackers.

This challenging time brought home the stunning and joyous that I am not alone neither in this leg of the journey nor in life itself.

With all of you cheering and hands outstretched, I vow to bow my head and barrel forward as hard as I can.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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One thought on “Count blessings, not $4,000 surgery bill

  1. I, too, have had torn miniscus repair at same place. They told me the same thing, that we had to put half up front. We could in no way do that, not even knowing how much it might even be. So I called and talked to the Office Manager begging her to at least let me talk to surgeon, hoping that would somehow make a difference. Surgeon knew our family well, as all three kids, my husband and myself had all been patients at the same office. Yep, we probably own part of a room of some sort at the facility! Anyway, when it finally got down to it, we were able to somehow make a small down payment before my knee surgery. I know there is financial help out there for you. Check DMPL.org (dm public library) click on Community Resources link. You will find a plethora of places in DM that are ready to help.
    Best,
    Luann Rowat

    Liked by 1 person

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