Going Broke to Get Out of Bed

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Working for an employer that provides healthcare benefits is a top priority for many American adults.  But when you actually need to use your benefit, it could cost you an arm and a leg.  Literally. 

I’ve had chronic back pain since I was a teenager in high school.  It would only flare up every now and then and it was usually during cheerleading when I was tumbling on the gym floor at a basketball game.  By the time I was 20 I had regular appointments with a pain manager (he looked like Ray Liotta) receiving steroid shots and undergoing two procedures: discogram and nucleoplasty.  But it was OK.  I was a Tricare retiree dependent.  A $10 co-pay was about all I paid back then.

Here I am, in my mid-30s (I shudder just typing that) and I am going broke because of medical bills.  Never mind that I pay $86.15 every two weeks (or $2,239.90 a year) just to carry my medical health insurance.  Dental is separate.  Every doctor I see I have a co-pay ranging from $30 to $45 dollars.  No biggie, right?  Well, when you have chronic back pain, you have a lot of appointments hoping to find the “cure” in order to live a normal life.  And most of those appointments require the $45 co-pay because I am seeing specialists.  It didn’t seem like a problem because I was going to get an answer, we were going to fix it, and I wouldn’t need to see the doctor anymore.  Easy day! 

Ha! Nothing comes easy for me.  It’s like the universe put me on the planet to see just how much I could juggle, take on, or deal with before asking for help.  Well Almighty Universe, I’m pretty damn stubborn.  Bring it. 

Oh, he brought it!

The back pain I had in my teens and twenties has NOTHING on the chronic, quality of life sucking, pain I’ve had for the last 4 years.  When I went to my primary care manager about the pain, she put me on prednisone.  It worked for a couple months.  But before I knew it, I was back to see her.  She gave me another prednisone pack, and this time I felt no relief.  This was the start of a long, painful, and expensivel love-hate relationship with my health insurance company.  Here’s a quick look at what the last 4 years has entailed:

Primary Care Manager Referral to Orthopedic Doctor (lasted about 6 months)

  • Physical therapy
  • Nerve testing
  • X-rays
  • MRI
  • MRI with contrast
  • Steroid shots (every month)
  • Prescription for Mobic and Gabapentin

Chiropractor (lasted about 2 months)

  • Snap, crackle & pop
  • Insurance didn’t cover this.  Each visit I paid in-full.   And I was going twice a week (per the chiropractor’s advice).  The only pain relief was the day after.  It was getting too expensive to maintain.    

Orthopedic Doctor referred me to Pain Manager

  • Went to original consultation, paid co-pay, got a big fat bill (over $300) in the mail for a 15 min appointment.  The culprit? I was referred to a doctor out of network. 

Side Note #1:  I DO NOT work for the insurance company therefor I do not understand the ins and outs.  However, each pay period I make a payment to ensure I am covered.  I rely on my medical providers to ensure they are sending me to in-network providers.  Silly me.   

Side Note #2:  I received a big fat bill from the imaging center for my MRI and MRI with contrast.  Well, they were in-network, but insurance doesn’t cover it all.  I owed a little over $1,200 for the two images.  GREAT!

Side Note #3:  I called my insurance company and found an in-network pain manager.  And now I have been with his office for over 2 years.  I call him Dr. McHottie.  (just not to his face)   

In-Network Pain Manager

  • Required drug testing every year (I’ve had 2 so far) due to opioid crisis.
  • Spinal Epidural Injections – these were every 2 months unless I needed one sooner.  It was rare they lasted longer than 2 weeks.  One day, I got a phone call from the pain managers office saying my insurance company denied future injections.  Why you ask?  Because they said so.  My doctor called and tried to get them to approve me, and their compromise was approving four in a calendar year.  And at the time, I had 6 more months to go.  Oh thank you Mr. Insurance King who sits at a desk in Texas and decides what is best for me!!!!  How can I ever repay you??  Oh wait…. I am paying you. 
  • MRIs x 2 (yup, had to pay for these too)
  • Compound pain prescription (FYI – does not work at all!  Don’t waste your money.)

Side Note #4:  A year after my first drug test I received a bill from a laboratory saying I owed them $170.  That’s when I found out I had to pay for those too!  I am currently waiting for the bill of the most recent one. 

Finally, the day came that I had a follow up with Dr. McHottie (back in November) and I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I was in pain.  So.  Much.  Pain.  I was miserable.  I was in a wonderful relationship and I couldn’t enjoy life because of the pain.  Jason would have to help me out of bed.  Think of the show “My 600lb life” except I’m only 130lbs.  I couldn’t get up without help.  I was crying all the time. I was mad.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I am in my mid-30s and was worse off than most people double my age.  Betty White could run circles around me!  I just couldn’t sit there and act like I was OK anymore.  He referred me to a French-Canadian Neurosurgeon in Greenville.  (I don’t know why I mentioned French-Canadian… maybe because it sounds cool.)

Neurosurgeon

Basically, I am told that because of my L5-S1 bone on bone blah blah blah blah… (at this point, I don’t even know anymore) there is only one thing that will fix what I have: a fusion. Great! Awesome! Let’s do it! However, because of my age they won’t do it. WTF!? Are you kidding me? If this is literally the only thing that will correct what is wrong with me than why the F#@K aren’t we scheduling a surgery date? Apparently, I would be back for another one in 10 years, and then another one, and by the time I am in my 50s I will have a bionic spine. But I was told that I would be a great candidate for the Spinal Cord Stimulator trial. He is going to refer me back to Dr. McHottie. Um, I mean, the Pain Manager. The last thing the neurosurgeon said to me was, “Oh by the way, keep working out because that’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Stay active.”

Thanks, mother fucker.  Don’t you think that I want to stay active but it’s getting harder and harder to do so?  But ok…. Thanks. 

I didn’t actually say that…… out loud anyways.  But I walked out feeling defeated and I started to cry again.  I took the day off of work to travel an hour and half to a specialist, paid my co-pay and still had zero answers.  And my bills kept coming in. 

Back to the Pain Manager

We began the process for the Spinal Cord Stimulator trial. But the key here is that my insurance company has to approve that I am a candidate for the procedure. And, this is not a fix. It only masks the pain. And guess what!? I needed ANOTHER MRI. Not just ANY MRI will do. No, I needed a thoracic MRI. I also needed a psychological examination. Both were requirements for final approval. The trial would last for 5-7 days after the operation. I wouldn’t be able to shower that entire time. And I would need to keep record of my pain. If the implant gives me 70% or more pain relief during that trial period, I can have the permanent device put in which will require ANOTHER referral back to the neurosurgeon in Greenville (an hour and a half away).

Side Note #5:  Have I mentioned that I have to use my leave in order to do all of this over the past 4 years??  Plus, as a single mom, I have to take leave for anything dealing with Landon.  Yea….

Spinal Cord Stimulator Approved!

Good news… Mr. Insurance King in Texas must have been having a good day when my claim came across his desk because I was approved for the trial. Bad news…..  I got billed the full amount for the psychological examination that was REQUIRED.  I can’t win. 

Side Note #6:  I’m in the wrong business if I could charge $760 for an hours’ worth of psychological examination.  If you’re reading this and want to go back to school…. Here ya go!  This is the profession you need to explore. 

At least I have a date for my trial in March.  I’m still in pain every single day but I’m managing.  Oh, and I have purchased reasonable shoes with comfort soles (who even am I anymore?)  As for now, I continue making monthly minimum payments and when new bills arrive I add them to the pile.  At this point, it’s comical to see how much medical debt I’ve accrued over the past 4 years.   

Side Note #7:  The only good thing about ObamaCare is that even if you only pay $25 a month, medical facilities HAVE to accept ANY kind of payment plan with zero interest.  I have taken full advantage of that.  My first MRI bill took over 2 years to pay.  *insert evil laugh here* 

When all this started, I decided to keep a log of when I make payments for medical bills/co-pays etc. So, let me put these last 4 years into perspective for you. Keep in mind this doesn’t include my yearly premium for health care coverage.

2016:  $733.96

2017:  $972.08

2018:  $1828.41

2019:  $7877.04

I might be broke, but at least I can say I’ve got my health……….

Friends, Family, BBQ and Beer

First and foremost, I need it to be known that the most amazing and wonderful human being on the planet has asked me to marry him!  I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve such a caring, selfless and loving man but boy do I thank my lucky stars EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for him.  That being said…..

I’m getting’ married, bitches!

Ok ok ok….. I might be a little over the moon excited about marrying Jason.  Just a tad bit anyways.

This is a second marriage for both of us.  We have both been divorced over 8 years (our divorces were finalized exactly 2 months apart).  We have two separate households, routines, bills, kids, responsibilities, etc.  So, having a wedding isn’t necessarily something important to either of us.  Don’t get me wrong, we are incredibly excited and cannot wait to get married.  We just aren’t flashy people. My parents spent a small fortune on my first wedding.  That was a huge waste of money.  But I was young and wanted to feel like a princess even though I didn’t feel like one in my relationship.  Well, that is definitely not the case this time around.  Jason treats me like a queen.  And because of that, all I care about in this wedding planning business is becoming Mrs. Van and spending my life with him.  And basically, you can do that at the justice of the peace.

The day Jason and I say “I do” it will be about our two families coming together as one. That is what is truly important to us. Our kids are the only people who will be standing up for us. Akela (my future daughter) is my only bridesmaid (and coincidentally will be spoiled the rest of her life because I will finally have a daughter – I digress). Landon and Brayden will stand next to Jason. In fact, Landon is walking me down the ‘aisle’ and giving me away. (I write ‘aisle’ because it’s not much of an aisle as it is more of a graveled area of approximately 10-15 steps) The only reason we are having a wedding ceremony is for the kids. They deserve to be a part of our special day. It’s tough being a kid raised by your single parent without a lot of help from the other side. (And by help, I mean guidance, mentoring, communication, etc.) So, they deserve the party.

Our wedding isn’t going to flashy or lavish.  It isn’t going to be expensive.  But it is going to be filled with friends, family, bbq and beer.

Wrapping Up 2019

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It’s the end of 2019.  Along with holiday sentiments from my friends on Facebook and Instagram there are also posts about being happy 2019 is coming to close.  For one reason or another, many people felt 2019 didn’t go their way or give them the outcome they had hoped for.  But take a moment and think about your 2019; the good, the bad, the undecided.    

I have a tendency to be one of those people who can’t wait for a “new year” because “this year is going to be different!”  Maybe it’s because I am in a better place today than I have been in quite some time, or maybe it’s because this better place I’m in has allowed me to see more clearly than I ever have before.  Either way, this might be the first time I haven’t wished for a “new year” to make my life better.  Because let’s face it – the year we write down does not hold special, magic powers.  The people we decide to be and the choices we make affect the outcomes in which we “blame” the year. And I think it’s time we recognize and admit that.

I took note of all the things (again, the good the bad and the undecided) that took place in my 2019.  In chronological order, here’s what I came up with:

  • Maxed out my student loans and had to pay out of pocket for tuition.
  • Graduated with my second bachelor’s degree.
  • Visited two states I have never been to before (Missouri and Kansas).
  • Stepped foot on my college campus for the first time ever (as a two-time undergraduate alumni). 
  • Host family for the Morehead City Marlins (again).
  • Landon started high school at my alma mater – Go Rams!
  • Ran my first (and only) half marathon.
  • Had to start paying my student loans back.
  • Started seeing a counselor.
  • I fell in love.
  • Celebrated 10 years working with MCCS.
  • Had my breast implants removed after 15 years.
  • Landon got his driving permit. 
  • Had new floors put down in my house.
  • I lost my best friend. 
  • We adopted a kitty (really, he adopted us).
  • I was a bridesmaid in a long-time friend’s wedding. 
  • Joined a running group.
  • Referred to a neurosurgeon for my back.

Obviously, more than that happened but that list just sums things up.  There was a lot of good.  There was also a heart-wrenching bad.  If 2019 taught me anything, it’s that anything CAN and WILL happen.  Regardless if you are ready for it. 

So, while I wrap up this year, instead of hoping for a better 2020 (because honestly, my 2019 was a pretty amazing year) I am going to remember the good things and use the bad things to help me get through the tough times.  The bad things, whether we like it or not, are inevitable.  I am going to move forward with the notion that your time will come when the time is ready, and we will never know when that is.  So, 2020 will be full of love, friendships and zero regrets.    

When it’s time to write 2020 instead of 2019, remember the ink that wrote the date doesn’t dictate your outcome for 2020.  You do.       

The End of an Era

On December 22nd, 2005, just two months after Landon’s first birthday, I had a breast augmentation in Greenville, North Carolina. 
Cost = $4,700. 

Almost 3 years later, on November 26th, 2008, the day before Thanksgiving, I underwent an implant removal and replacement (from saline to silicone) and breast lift in Savannah, Georgia. 
Cost = $7,900.

Today, October 17th, 2019, I had my implants completely removed with a breast lift in New Bern, North Carolina. 
Cost = $6,800.

When you research getting breast implants nobody tells you that they are NOT lifelong devices and it is important to have them exchanged or removed approximately every 10-15 years.  Well, my first replacement was at about 3 years. 

I remember one day I was getting out of the bathtub and drying off when I saw my reflection in the mirror.  I noticed something didn’t look right with my left implant.  I called for my then husband to come see.  I had deformity at the top of my breast.  And if you pushed on it, it felt like pushing a ziplock baggie filled with water.  Turns out, I had capsular contracture and the implant size was way too big for my body (Yes, there are many shapes, sizes, textures and fillings to consider when getting implants).

After I got my new set, I felt better.  My breasts were back to normal. 

And yes, I did cook a thanksgiving dinner the next day.  The mashed potatoes were dry because I forgot to add milk and I cooked the turkey with the bag of gizzards in it because I forgot to take it out.  To be completely honest, I don’t remember that Thanksgiving. 

In 2014 I noticed some pain in my left breast.  Some days were worse than others.  It wasn’t really bad until 2016 when my left implant felt hard.  It wouldn’t move.  I had to try and give it a deep massage in order for my skin around it to even feel comfortable and not so tight.  Those days were terrible.  That was about the time I considered getting rid of my implants.  That consideration only lasted a day.

6 months ago, in April, I had finally had enough of the pain.  But I was also incredibly unhappy with myself.  I felt completely self-conscious.  It didn’t matter what I wore, I felt like I was always trying to cover my chest.  I felt like all that people saw was the girl with the big, fake boobs.  No sports bra would completely cover me.  And running – running made them hurt even more.  But then, there’s the issue with my back.  My back pain has been terrible lately.  And I have to believe that maybe the weight on my chest is making it harder on my back.  So, with that I made an appointment and had a consultation thinking surely my insurance would cover it since I’m in pain. 

Fun Fact: Insurance DOES NOT cover implant removal if it was an elective surgery.  No matter the medical diagnoses.

Turns out, I had capsular contracture again.  Research shows that about one in six breast augmentation patients experience some degree of capsular contracture.  I was 2 for 2. 

I was given a quote that included two surgeries over a 6-month time frame with no working out in between.  It was over $11,000.  I went home in tears.  There was no way I could do that to my son.  I couldn’t take money away from our family for cosmetic reasons.  I thought about it for a week or two.  But ultimately, I couldn’t add that kind of financial burden to our already 1-income home with a mortgage and student loan bills.

Summer went by I got more and more self-conscious about myself.  I would go to stores and try on cute clothes and think “well, if I didn’t have a ginormous rack, I could wear that.”  I would leave upset.  Being a single woman, I convinced myself that men who came up to me only saw me for my chest and probably didn’t even realize I had a face.  But… I was also in a lot of pain.  I was in so much pain.  I decided I would get a second opinion. 

I am so glad I booked a consultation with Dr. Zannis and his staff.  Everyone was so wonderful.  At my initial appointment they spent at least 35 minutes with me discussing options and taking pictures and measurements.  I walked out of the office with a surgery date booked. 

If you are reading this, it means I made it out of surgery (and I’m probably enjoying my pain meds).

You might be asking yourself – Why is she sharing such a personal story with all of us?

Because ya’ll are gonna notice – Duh!

But seriously, I don’t want anyone to think I regret getting implants 14 years ago.  Even if someone would have sat me down and told me all of what I went through was a possibility I most likely wouldn’t have listened anyways.  You live.  You learn.  You go broke in the process.  At the end of the day, plastic surgery is an individual choice.  I don’t fault anyone for wanting to look or feel their best.  This was just something I had to do for me. 

Hanging Up The Cape

I’ve hung up my cape, folks.  I never realized how heavy my cape was until I took it off.  Maybe later I will have a ceremonial lighting of a candle to symbolize the burning of my cape.  Because I never EVER want to wear it, see it or think about it again. 

………… you get that there isn’t an actual cape, right? 

The cape I am referring to is the notion that I somehow convinced myself I needed to be a real-life Superwoman.  Not the crime fighting or saving babies from burning buildings kind.  I’m talking about the ‘super independent, I don’t need anyone, anything, I won’t ask for help and I can and will make it on my own and – oh by the way – while I am doing it I will put on a brave face and never show any weakness, fear or emotion nor will I allow myself to be put in a position of rejection or vulnerability.’  You know, that kind of Superwoman.   

A few weeks ago, I was NOT OK.  But you know what?  I haven’t been OK for a while.  Maybe a year or two…. Possibly more.  But the few weeks ago in which I am talking about, it was pretty bad.  Downright scary.  I don’t know what it is like to be an alcoholic who has blackouts but if I had to compare, I would have to guess it was similar to that.  I really can’t remember much from those couple of weeks.  I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t see clearly.  I didn’t care about anything.  I stopped going to the gym.  I avoided people.  I would be driving and suddenly wonder where I was and where I was going.  That’s when I knew that I wasn’t OK.  That’s when I reached out for help. 

I used some resources I knew I had through my employer and made an appointment with a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).  I was only able to have 3 free sessions with her.  They helped immensely.  I am sure part of it was the refocusing of my brain and having someone to talk with me about things, but after the first session I felt good.  After the second session, I felt great.  At the third session, I was a different person.    

I focused on making a small change with the help of my counselor.  The results of which have made me happier than I have been in a very long time.  I am giddy to my core with how incredibly happy I am.  And it is truly a feeling I don’t think I have ever felt in my 35 years of life.

It’s time for the ‘symbolic’ burning of the cape. 

I am done being Superwoman.  

Move Over Romeo and Juliet

Rocky and Adrian, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Bonnie and Clyde, Allie and Noah.  These couples have nothing on Roxie and Daniel. 

I met Roxie three and a half years ago at work.  After a few months of getting to know her I requested her as a friend on Facebook, because that’s what you do now-a-days, right?  Well, apparently Roxie and I were not on the same page because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be my friend.  – I was just as shocked as you are.  This winning smile, infectious personality??  Who wouldn’t want to be my friend? –   Don’t worry, I will never let her live that down.  Even on her death bed, I am going to remind her of it.  After she switched jobs and moved into the office across from me, she started warming up to me.  Actually, I believe there was something said about feeding body parts to a pig….. but anywho, soon after not only did we become Facebook friends, but we became real friends. 

I met Daniel once or twice during the first couple of months Roxie and I worked together.  He even put me in his phone as Anna Dotty.  It was at least a month until I found out and corrected him.   Then, when I foolishly decided to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in March of 2018, Roxie had mentioned Daniel having some friends who might be willing to train with me.  Then, it turned into Daniel helping me train.  Then, it turned into Daniel signing up for the marathon to run with me.  Then, it was every weekend early morning training on Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach with Roxie as our personal Sherpa riding along side us with water, biofreeze, gels, gummies, towels, motivation and snapping us along the way to keep our (mostly Daniel’s) social media followers updated.  (It’s a real thing!  If you don’t follow Daniel on Snapchat, you are missing out.)

I can tell you one thing: If you’ve never trained for a marathon with someone (in my case a couple) you don’t really know them. But I still spare you the Vaseline, twizzler, peeing on the side of the road, topless in bed, laying under a tree in the middle of the road stories for another time. I’ve piqued your interest though, huh??

Roxie and Daniel have been married 23 years, but you’d swear they were newlyweds because of how in love they are.  These two do not just tolerate each other (which is something I am accustomed to seeing in long-term relationships), they aren’t just husband and wife and they don’t just go through the motions.  These two are a team.  They are partners in life.  They support and encourage each other.    You know how some couple rag on their spouse?  Maybe make fun of their cooking or bad habits?  I have never heard either of them rag each other or make each other feel bad out of fun the way many couples do.  They even do everything together.  And it’s not out of force or guilt.  They really like being together and enjoy each other’s company.  My favorite part – which might be too personal, but I am going to share it anyways (if you know Daniel, just don’t tell him I told you) but his wife still swoons over him.  I hear all the time how proud she is of him and how handsome he looks in uniform and when we are out kayaking or running, she will glance over at him and say out loud – to no one in particular – “gosh he’s sexy.”  When I watch her watch her husband and smile, I smile.  I smile because when I see them, I know there is hope for me. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want a love like Roxie and Daniel.   #relationshipgoals

So here I am, writing about this amazing couple I look up to. I have so much love and admiration for these two, very special people. Thank you, Roxie and Daniel, for being my real life Hallmark movie romance (with a whole lot of comedy and some content only suitable for mature audiences).

TGIF

It’s Friday.  The work week is over.  A long, holiday weekend is in front of me. 

Just like every other Friday (or any day in general) I come home to a house where two happy pups are wagging their tails and excited to see me. I give them some love and ask them how their day was (yes, I talk to my dogs). After that, I check on Landon, the teenager who shares the house with me, yet I seldom see him, who’s in his room online gaming with friends. Then, I go out back, say hello to my flock of chickens (again, yes, I talk to my chickens), collect eggs, feed them and give them fresh water. This right here is the highlight of my day. And, it’s the same thing. Every. Day.

Other people come home to their loved ones. Their partner in crime. Their boo. Hell, I don’t know what couples call each other anymore. I’ve been out of the game so long I’m not sure what it’s like to come home to anyone anymore. And simply put…. I’m lonely.

I wish I had someone to come home to everyday. Someone who is interested in how my day was. Someone who is as excited to see me as Toby and Parker are. (Those are my dogs by the way!) I wish I had someone to talk to about my goals and ambitions.  I wish I had someone to give me career advice.  Recently, I’ve been racking my brain about where I see myself in a year, 3 years, and beyond.  I know I’m capable of so much more career wise.  I feel like I’m in a rut. And there are days I REALLY wish I had someone to talk to about it.

I may not have a lot in life, but I have some AMAZING friends who are ALWAYS there for me. So when I say that I’m lonely, I mean that after my day is over, I want more than just my couch, a cup of coffee and Netflix to comfort me. However, my small group of friends make themselves available for me. Whenever I need them. And for this I am thankful. Not everyone has friends like this. I am truly lucky to have them in my life. Because without them, I would be more of a mess than I already am. And that’s scary to think about.

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Hell, maybe more like the last two months. I put on a brave, confident, I’ve got everything going for me face. But there’s a reason I don’t play poker. People who know me well can see right through my so-called brave face. And they call me out on it. I am the type of person who doesn’t like to burden other people with my problems. My usual answer when asked how I am doing is “fine.” Sometimes I even switch it up and say, “I’m good.” However, in my core, in my heart, I’m not.

I’m not going to bore you with any specific details.  And I will get through whatever this funk is.  I’m a tough cookie.  Eventually, I’ll be OK.  But right now, I have a lot going on in my head.  I over think everything, I beat myself up about every little thing, and I only make things worse for myself.  Especially when I spend most of my free time at home, ignoring my phone, and staying locked up in my own little pity-filled world.  There are some changes in store for me. I have to do what is best for me. I have to learn to love myself. Flaws and all.

Please don’t take my rawness as an attempt to get attention or pity from you.  I am just being real.  I hope this serves as a reminder that everyone is facing a battle, going through a hard time, or struggling in some way, shape or form.  They may not always show it.  So be kind to everyone and smile at strangers.  Sometimes that’s exactly what someone needs, especially when they have no one to go home to.