I Owe How Much?

"You've got to be kidding."

The first of several surgery-related bills.
The first of several surgery-related bills.

Cupcake Camera

Screw the bill?

Should we pay the $91,000 bill? Or...

  • Go to Hawaii for a month
  • Pay for the kids to go to private schools
  • Hire Cirque du Soleil to entertain at Jesse's bar mitzvah reception
  • Replace our old, nasty carpets with beautiful wood flooring
  • Buy Mark an airplane...yes, he's a pilot
  • Go to Hawaii for another month and eat at Roy's every day
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$91,000 and counting

"Are you ready for this?" asked my husband who was holding a stack of papers after retrieving the day's mail. He hesitantly handed over the stack of pages. It was the hospital's bill for my recent surgery. That's right...more than $91,000 for my bilateral mastectomy and TRAM Flap surgery.

"You've got to be kidding me," I said as I looked over the pages and pages of items. The hospital room alone was nearly $5,200 a night. I was there for six nights, so you do the math.

"You could have stayed at the best hotels with a private nurse and room service for those prices," said my mom. Of course I called her and my dad when we caught our breath after seeing the bill. "For that price they should have at least given me a bed," insisted my mom who stayed with me the first few nights as my advocate, support system and general helper.

"And this doesn't even include the surgeon's or anesthesiologist's bills," added my husband.

"I want a copy of your bill," said my mom.

"What for?" I asked.

"I want to send it to Obama and tell him how ridiculous our health system is," she said. "So how much is this going to cost you?"

Mark explained the insurance hasn't kicked in yet so we'll have to see what our final bill will be. "But it will still likely be several thousand," he added.

I thought about what this was going to do to our financial situation and how we're likely going to have to take out a loan to pay for all this shit plus Jesse's bar mitzvah. But then, "You know, this is all because of dad's shitty genes, so I think he should pay for it. Kinda like a wedding of sorts." Everyone laughed. Mark liked that idea. I know, I'm a shitty daughter for throwing guilt on my dad for something out of his control, but it's a crappy situation and everyone likes to place blame on someone for everything whether or not they like to admit it. And anyway, I'm Jewish. We do guilt really well.

Oh well, fuck it. What price do you put on life, right? If I have a longer life with my kids and husband, it's worth every dime. Especially the anesthesiologist who did a wonderful job and made sure my throat didn't hurt for days after the surgery as I have experienced in the past at other hospitals. Getting the epidural stuck in my spine wasn't exactly fun, but it kept me numb for three days.

Regardless of the bills, my OCD didn't kick in any worse. Remember how I was a little nutty about paper towels prior to the surgery? Mark says I was nearly up to one pack a day -- paper towels, not cigarettes. I'm down to about five paper towels, or so, a day lately; likely because I remain in my throne more and I don't walk as often as I should.

To that end, Mark came up with a little enticement to get me up off my ass. Watch our little movie, "Cupcake Cam." Yes, he led me around the house with a bakery good -- a really good key lime cupcake -- just out of reach.

Healing update: 

Now for some general healing stats.

First the bad news: 

  • I'm walking more around the house, but after two laps through the house -- living room, hallway, family room, kitchen, dining room and back to the living room -- the muscles that carry the blood flow to my new breasts are stretched to the max. It feels as though there are all these bungee cords that are too short attached from my waist up to my shoulders and they tug me downward with each exhausting step. Ten laps is about all I can take.
  • My neck is killing me from sitting up too much; during the day, during the night. Mark bought a memory-foam travel neck pillow to help. You may not think so, but sleeping flat at night is just enough time to give your neck a rest from a full day of holding up your head. I can't lay on my side without pain and laying on my back makes me feel like I'm going to suffocate.
  • I'm tired of being trapped inside a body that can't do normal things. There are too many pills to take every day, every few hours. Acid from my stomach has begun bubbling up into my throat, I'm convinced, because of the two different antibiotics, pain pills, anti-inflammatory pills, etc. I want to have a low enough pain level that I can drive my car again (without the protection of several pillows). I miss driving. I just want to stop feeling constant pain for which I must take pills to dull the pain. I hate taking pills because they make me sleep too much. If I can get off the pain pills, I may be able to drive soon with my pillows; if that is legal to do. I'm afraid my teeth are hurting because of all the medicine I take.
  • I'm frightened about facing the first evening alone without someone to help. Mark returns to work tomorrow and I hate the idea of having my 12-year-old son having to do things I would normally do.
  • I stay up too late because I hate going to bed. Once I'm propped up on all my pillows, I generally sit there in the dark unable to sleep...because I'm sitting too nearly upright.
  • My belly button seems to be getting deeper and deeper. It's bizarre being able to see the meat of your stomach just beyond the top layer of skin.

Okay, enought bitching. Now, the good news:

  • I'm doing things a little easier. I can use my arms a bit more with a little less pain/strain on my new breasts.
  • I watched some of the video from that first week in the hospital. The nurse who told me several months ago what recovery was going to be like was right; I can't believe I made it through that first horrible week.
  • I'm taking showers completely by myself, saving one caveat...I'm screwed if I drop something in the shower and nobody is around to pick it up. My method of retrieving something up off the floor looks like some spastic character on Monty Python.
  • Jesse did really well at his swim meet this weekend. In one race, the 200-meter relay, he anchored the race and his wonderful stamina carried him ahead of his competition and his team into first place. I know this has nothing to do with my surgery, except I wasn't up to sitting out in the cold for several hours, rather opting to stay home. Mark took videos of all his races so I can watch them at home. My little Michael Phelps.
  • I'm glad I did the surgery in May instead of the originally scheduled time in two weeks. This way, I didn't totally fuck up the summer for my kids.

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Comments 3 comments

Lwelch profile image

Lwelch 7 years ago from USA

I'd recommend looking for a medical bill advocate. I have read a lot of great articles about them. They look at the bills, look for costly mistakes, and sometimes will negotiate for better payments. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/health/08patient... or http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/help-f...


Joelle Burnette profile image

Joelle Burnette 7 years ago Author

Thanks, Lwelch. I'll check out those articles.


Lwelch profile image

Lwelch 7 years ago from USA

welcome :) blame too many days in a doctor's waiting room for even knowing about that stuff. Hope healing is going well!

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