Asher was sick. Our grandson started to get flushed and feverish early on a Sunday morning while we were staying at a hotel in Bryan, Texas. The little boy slept all day and then all through the night. Karin, my wife, was also sick. She had been lying in bed for two days already. I texted our daughter-in-law for the location of an urgent care in town. She suggested a hospital that was only a mile or two away.
Early on Monday morning, Asher woke up crying. The toddler was still flushed, but he didn’t feel feverish. We had no idea what was wrong with him. He was hurting and inconsolable. We got Asher dressed and I drove him to the hospital.
When I got there, I did not see a sign for an urgent care facility. I carried Asher inside and asked the receptionist at the counter about it.
She told me, “Oh, we don’t have an urgent care anymore, but we have the ER.”
Asher was crying so much that I could barely understand the young woman. I said, “Okay”, and I dug Asher’s insurance card out of my wallet. I handed it to the woman and said, “It’s Medicaid.”
She hardly looked at the card. She said dismissively, “We don’t take Medicaid. We aren’t federally funded here.” Then she slid the card back over to me.
She continued, “We do take cash payments.”
Asher was screaming in my ear as I held him on my right hip.
I sighed and asked her, “How much?”
She smiled coldly and said, “ER visits start at $385 and go up from there.”
I was stressed and scared about Asher. I shrugged and nodded. “Fine, let’s do it.”
She pulled out a form. “I will need you to sign this.”
While holding a squirming child, I scribbled my name on the sheet of paper. Apparently, I agreed to pay whatever it would cost to help the kid. It was an open-ended question.
We were led into a room and a tech tried to take Asher’s weight, pulse, and temperature. He was totally uncooperative. We guessed at the weight.
Asher continued to cry. He was miserable. I wasn’t much better. The nurse came in and checked on Asher. The ER nurse was friendly and compassionate. She asked if Asher was my grandson. I told her that I was also his fulltime caregiver and legal guardian. She looked at us and said, “Well, bless your heart.”
In Texas somebody’s heart is always being blessed, but I appreciated her concern.
The doctor came in and examined Asher. He was a good guy. He cared about our grandson. He suspected that Asher had COVID. He wanted to know if I wanted a test taken. I agreed to that. If Asher had COVID, then Karin almost certainly had. I was probably infected too.
Asher’s test was positive. Basically, there was nothing to be done for his condition except to give the kid some baby Ibuprofen and ride it out. I asked the doctor about traveling back to Wisconsin. He said that we needed to quarantine for a few days. We needed to stay in the hotel anyway. We couldn’t drive 1400 miles if everyone was sick.
The woman from the front desk came into the room. She had more papers more papers to sign.
She said smoothly, “The cost of the visit today is $495. We can set up a payment plan if you want…”
I cut her off and flipped her my credit card. “Here. Take care of it.”
She replied crisply, “Right away.”
I signed Asher’s discharge papers. The receptionist gave me my card back. She said smiling, “Here’s your receipt. Thank you.”
I did not respond to her.
I thanked the nurse for her help. Then I took Asher back to the car.
I was upset on the way back to the hotel. When my wife and I became Asher’s guardians, we made absolutely sure that he had health care. Up until this ER visit, we had never had any problem getting treatment for the boy. Now, I had a hospital employee basically tell me that his insurance was worthless. That was a shock. It was actually more of a nuisance than anything else because I had money, but finding out that Asher suddenly had no coverage just added an extra layer of anxiety to my already stressed emotions.
I wondered what it would be like for a parent or caregiver to show up at that ER with no insurance at all, and no cash on hand. The ER would have to serve the child, but how would the adult pay for the visit? How would that moneyless parent be treated by this young woman whose sole concern seemed to be the bottom line? I am not a snappy dresser. I tend toward that trendy homeless person look, and I think I was treated accordingly by the receptionist. She didn’t lighten up until she knew I was good for the payment.
I may be too harsh about the young woman. I understand that hospitals have bills to pay, and they aren’t charities. She was just doing her job. She was polite, efficient, and professional. She was also apparently indifferent to our distress. That’s what bothered me.
I got Asher back to the hotel. I stopped at Walgreens and bought him some Ibuprofen. He took it. Eventually, Asher calmed down and relaxed. Karin held him and he fell asleep in bed. Things got better.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
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