by Lori Allen
My HMO refused to pay for the one prescription that helped my stomach pain.
I appealed their decision, but before the HMO appeals board would even look at my situation, they said I would have to undergo an acid pH monitor test. This test monitors the amount of acid in the esophagus, and if the acid levels fell within the HMO’s guideline levels, the appeals board would consider my case. But even then there was no guarantee that the HMO would pay for my prescription.
“Fine,” I grumbled. My upper abdomen burned with frustration. “Lead me to the Acid pH Monitor Testing Lab.”
The nurse in Gastroenterology laughed at me. “Oh, no,” she said. “There’s no such lab. The test is actually a 24-hour procedure that consists of inserting a tube with a tiny monitor attached at one end through one nostril down to your esophagus.”
“Huh?” I was taken aback.
“The monitor in your esophagus will collect the acid pH readings. You’ll have to wear the monitor for 24 hours in order to collect accurate data.”
For being an angel of mercy, she relayed this information with a little too much glee.
“The other end of the monitor tube will be hooked up to a Walkman-sized data keeper. We’ll tape an electrode to your chest for grounding, and we’ll tape the monitor tube securely to your face so you won’t pull it loose in the esophagus.”
“Huh?” I was starting to feel like an alien in a science fiction movie. But I agreed to this barbaric ritual, since it was the only option I had to get my health insurance to pay for my expensive prescription.
After many wrong turns into one lung or another, the acid pH monitor tube was finally inserted correctly though my nose into my esophagus. The nurse taped up my face and chest, and attached the tube to the data keeper. I opted to carry my data keeper like a satchel, slung across one shoulder.
I was instructed to press a button on the data keeper every time I had a symptom. That way, the gastroenterology staff could cross-reference the acid pH level with the time of the symptom. I was also supposed to keep a written diary of the symptoms, the level of discomfort, and other pertinent information. I was instructed to do things that I knew by experience caused my symptoms, and I was urged to seek out known stress inducers.
Hmmmm … Going to work fell into those categories, but with this tube coming out of my nose, I knew I wasn’t up to increasing my normal level of stress and harassment to an extra heightened level of stress and harassment. I could picture it now: “Up your nose with a rubber hose, Lori!” my warped coworkers would sensitively console me. I decided I would seek out complete strangers – people that I wouldn’t ever have to see again to serve as my stress inducers.
As I was leaving the doctor’s office, the nurse smiled and told me to “Have a horrible day.” She instructed me to get aggravated and to ingest irritating foods. Hooray! The green light to eat junk food and drink caffeinated soda! I’d finally found someone in the medical profession who understood me.
Since I had decided not to go to work, I had to find an aggravation replacement. Hmmmm. What about shopping? That’s always a relaxing event, since a crowded shopping center tends to bring out the best in people (ha ha). I took my horrific, taped-up, tubed-out nostril face to a discount department store and prepared to be honked off.
It didn’t take long. The parking lot was already full at 10:00 in the morning. “Don’t these people have jobs?” I growled. I drove around the parking lot until I found a spot far, far away from the store. I pushed my data-keeper button.
The first thing I noticed about people when I entered the store was that nobody noticed me. At least, they pretended like they didn’t see me or this ghastly thing coming out of my nose. Their eyes darted the other way when they saw me coming. Some people’s conversations stopped abruptly as I walked past. Others passed me by in an uncomfortable silence, cautiously throwing me a sideways glance.
I never thought I’d say this, but going to work and dealing with open hostility was better than being ignored. I pushed my data-keeper button again.
I needed to cash a check, so I went to the service desk. The woman working the counter was on the phone with a personal call and was in no hurry to wait on a customer. She eventually turned and glanced in my direction. She gasped when she saw me and my tube and quickly told the person on the phone that she’d call her back. She came over to me and stared directly into my eyes, her gaze never veering down to the bright white tube coming out of my nose.
“CAN—I—HELP—YOU?” She spoke loudly and slowly so that I could comprehend. After all, I had a tube coming out of my nose.
I explained that I wanted to cash a check, and she obliged. “Thank you,” I told her.
“YOU’RE—WELCOME,” she replied, still not looking at my nose.
I hit my data button again. What’s the big deal about a tube coming out of someone’s nose?
I walked out to my car and passed a greasy-haired teenage girl who stared at my face with her mouth wide open.
“What are you lookin’ at?!” I almost shouted, but of course I knew what she was lookin’ at. I pressed my button again.
This was depressing. We’ve been through thousands of years of humanity and civilization, and yet we still come up short with compassion and understanding. Sad and frustrated, I decided I might as well go all-out for the big agitation test – the drive-thru fast food restaurant window.
I pulled up to the order board with great trepidation. I ordered a hamburger to induce my stomach-cramping reaction to beef, a large cola for its carbonated caffeine irritants, french fries for the fat content and extra ketchup just to be annoyed and disappointed when it wasn’t included in my order. I drove around to the pick-up window.
A young man took my money and looked at my face. As he gave me my change, he said, “That looks uncomfortable.”
I was stunned. A human being had looked at me and acknowledged that something was coming out of my nose.
“It is,” I said. He handed me my order. “What are they doing?” he asked. I explained the acid pH monitor procedure, and he listened attentively. He told me he hoped everything turned out okay. Then he said, “Good luck and have a wonderful day.”
Well, how about that? A compassionate humanitarian at the drive-thru window. One nice person out of all the people I had encountered that day. Yeah, but don’t press your luck, I reminded myself. There were plenty of disappointments ahead.
I parked the car. I felt like I was sitting in front of a slot machine, ready to pull down the arm and meet my fate. I took the gamble and tasted my drink. The cola was fizzy and full of caffeine. I gambled again and checked out my sandwich. The hamburger was hot and steaming with all the correct toppings. On a roll, I delved further into the bag. The french fries sat securely in their carton instead of spilling out in the sack, and they were hot and tasty.
I was starting to feel more optimistic already. So what if my HMO would only pay for my needed prescription two months out of a patient’s lifetime? So what if I had a tube scratching my throat and coming out of my nose? So what if the rest humanity acted like I had a contagious disease? A decent human being had seen me, spoken to me and treated me kindly. He had even listened closely enough to get my order right. I could see that I wasn’t going to be pushing any data-keeping buttons here. Maybe the human race wasn’t so bad after all.
But wait. I had forgotten about the last agitator. My stomach began to knot up in anticipation of the disappointment to come. I took a deep breath and held the sack upside down, prepared to be frustrated when one more request had been denied. But red and white packets of ketchup spilled out onto the car seat with a rapid-fire plop-plop-plop-plop-plop, just like a slot machine paying off.