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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I’m too fat for an MRI at the zoo

Phone rings. The physician’s assistant from my orthopedic doctor is on the line.

Bad news.

Because of my weight (I’m morbidly obese), there’s not an MRI machine in town I can fit into.

“We even tried the zoo,” he said.

I’ll repeat that for people who think I made it up: They even tried the zoo.

You know the zoo, where there are elephants and rhinos and whatnot.

I’m too fat to get an MRI there.

They also tried Iowa State University’s famed veterinary clinic.

Nope. Not set up for humans. Legal reasons. Yada, yada, yada.

The physician’s assistant remained optimistic. Calls were out to Iowa City and locations out of state.

Unquestionably, this was the lowest moment of my life.

The torn meniscus in my left knee throbs constantly and makes the simplist of movements a challenge.

I’m to start my last semester of classes at Drake University before student teaching in the fall, earning my master’s degree and becoming a teacher.

I need to be able to walk to class, even with the assistive devices and a temporary handicapped parking pass.

I felt my mind slip toward a spiral. The pain in my knee ebbs and flows between a dull throb and the feeling someone is taking a rusty razor blade across my nerve endings.

How was I supposed to get to class this fall? Forget about student teaching.

Some friends kindly suggested disability. But what about the student loan debt?

What about my plan to do something positive with my life?

My despair had little time to overtake my mind.

The phone rang again. It was another guy from the orthopedic doctor’s office. My knee brace had come in.

Well, that’s something.

I went down to pick it up.

The guy strapped it on and showed me how to do it on my own. I stood up. It felt much stronger. The pain was still there, but it was reduced due to the brace’s compression.

With my cane, I could manage.

School was back on.

Survival was possible.

I could lose weight and get on one of the MRI machines and get the surgery later.

It would be hard. Damn hard. But what isn’t these days?

I drove out to the weight loss clinic in Clive. My nutritionist had moved back to Omaha, but the people were kind enough to let me come in to get a weight.

I got the number. I choose not to share it. I’m not ashamed of it.

I don’t want to talk about my weight like it’s a baseball statistic.

I don’t want its change, up or down, to be the thrust of my story. I am more than that number, whatever it is. I did that once, very publicly, and it ended in mixed results.

The last time I submitted to a weight was May 2020. The number I got Wednesday was the same. The clinician who helped me said I could safely shave off three or four pounds because I was wearing my clunky shoes and knee brace.

This was better news than I expected. There was a very good chance I weigh as many as 20 or 30 pounds more than I did in May 2020.

I began tracking my daily calorie intake May 12. Since then, I’ve cut calories by 34%. I also changed the quality of food I eat — more veggies and fruits, better cuts of meat, more home cooking.

Things are going in the right direction.

I stopped by the comic shop to pick up my latest funny books and got home exhausted, sore, and ready to rest.

I was proud of myself. Not too long ago, the challenges presented by this day and the back-and-forth between extremes would have inspired suicidal thinking. I would have started mapping out my overdose, my jump into the river, or hanging.

Instead, I called my therapist, but not in an emergency call. I wanted to talk through the disability option. He knows about such things.

To be clear, I don’t want to go on disability.

I want to finish school and become a teacher.

Persevere. Keep moving forward.

But the Cub Scouts taught us to always be prepared, so I checked out some facts.

I resigned myself to limping along with my cane and brace until I could lose enough weight to get into the MRI machine.

The phone rang again. It was the physician’s assistant. They found a surgeon at the clinic who was willing to do the surgery without an MRI.

I meet with the surgeon Tuesday.

That’s a lot of stuff for one day. A hell of a lot.

Sometimes the ride is filled with so many potholes and detours I think the car is going to come apart before I reach the destination.

But if I’m moving forward, I’m still headed in the right direction.

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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Kindness flows from grocery delivery debacle

When I get a text message, my phone makes the noise from Super Mario Bros. when a player collects a coin.

This is childish, but as Tom Baker once said while playing the title character in “Doctor Who,” “Being grown up is no fun if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

This particular text told me DoorDash was on the way with my weekly groceries from Hy-Vee.

Drop and dash

I texted the driver that I was on my way.

But I am slowed by the torn meniscus is in my left knee and a balky right knee.

I got another text from the driver saying the person had left my groceries outside the front door.

Terrific.

I’ve got two bum knees and of course today was the day I order three 24-packs of water.

Every DoorDash delivery person I’ve gotten since I started having my groceries delivered more than a year ago carried my groceries to my apartment.

I dragged my bags inside the building, but these legs only have so many trips down the hallway a day and I was already feeling pain.

The man from the second floor

I sat down on the stairs to catch my breath. I heard footfalls behind me and knew someone was coming downstairs.

“I’m right behind you, sir,” the polite male voice said.

I pulled myself up and released a full compliment of old man noises as I stood.

The young man carried a cup of coffee and wore a Cleveland Indians baseball cap.

He was halfway out the door on the way to whatever he had to do that day when he paused and said, “Do you need some help?”

My knees nearly buckled not from pain, but the sheer grace of the moment.

Another guardian angel

I told him I’d gladly pay him a couple bucks if he would help me carry this stuff back to my apartment. I explained the situation about me knees.

“You don’t have to pay me anything and I’ll help you with all of it,” he said.

Sometimes kindness is so beautiful it almost makes you crazy.

The man handled the task in three or four trips.

He complimented me on my pop culture menagerie décor.

I introduced myself. His name was Charles. I didn’t catch his last name. I think it was Welker or Walker.

He’s a graphic designer and printer. I love artists.

Humanity thrives

I talked to him briefly about some business cards I’d like to have made for this website.

He promised to drop a card by.

I hope he does, because like Maddie Smith before him, Charles is one of those people who kindles the hope that we are not all only thinking about ourselves.

We shook hands.

I did something I rarely do: I asked him if I could give him a hug.

“I’ll take it,” he said.

And so will I, Charles. So will I.

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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo: @newsmanone.
PayPal: paypal.me/paragraphstacker.