Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Whither dost thou money go?

There are times when the forces of capitalism on certain market sectors (whoa, excuse me while I sit down for a second. That opening kind of scared me…) has such detrimental effects on those at the “bottom” that I can feel myself being turned inside out with the frustration of it all. The only thing that matters to the “powers that be” is money. Do you want your candidate to win? Send money. Do you want to have a fighting chance with your recent cancer diagnosis? Hope you have the greenbacks, even if you have insurance.

But there are times when I realize that the only thing I can do in a situation where I know my frustration and my voice will never be heard, is to make my feelings known by where I spend my money.

Now, rarely does this matter in the grand scheme of things. I don’t form large groups and storm the bastille (very often, that is. I have to do it every once in awhile as I am very French and it is encoded in our DNA). But at the end of the day, I have to sleep with myself. Thankfully I live in a town that is small enough that people know each other but large enough where I have options. I can get competent medical care but if I am treated like a number, or just another hacking piece of meat, I will go elsewhere. It might not even involve money out of my own pocket as I am lucky enough to have decent health insurance, but the ultimate realization is, if I put up with getting treated like shit, they will be paid nonetheless. Assholes do not deserve compensation. That is the golden rule in which I live my life.

Back a couple years ago when we first started down the road of braces for my son, we went to a different orthodontist than where we are now. In all reality, my daughter and son both needed work done but since my daughter’s problems were cosmetic and my son’s were functional, it was my son that was the lucky winner. We went to an orthodontist where I would sit in the waiting room and narrate the scene in my head, with that sexy authoritative voice from the guy on the PBS show Frontline: “It’s here, in this waiting room that the species Soccer mater grazes on rice cakes pulled from elegant Prada handbags while talking on their cell phones, trash talking their supposed friends and planning the logistics of Susie’s ballet lesson which inconveniently occurs at the same time as Brandon’s baseball game and Devon’s soccer match.” You could take every single person in there, set them up on a shelf, and start your own Precious Moment’s collection.

I was more than a little nervous. I had to plan a month or two ahead of time just to get my kid’s new pants. The office wasn’t very forthcoming about how much it was all going to cost, we were going to have to wait to see exactly what he would have to have done before we knew the bottom line. I asked to talk to someone about finances but was put off because “we don’t know what he will need”. This was coming from the pretty porcelain princess that didn’t seem to understand why I was mentioning this. I didn’t really feel like discussing it outloud there at the front desk but I was screaming in my head “I DON’T KNOW HOW I CAN AFFORD THIS!!!”

Finally, the time came where I was to sit down and learn the bottom line. I was taken into the room of doom and told that it was going to be up to $6,000. And they wanted it all paid in 18 months. Would I be writing a check today for that?

I sputtered. I didn’t even have a working car at that time. It was a major logistical nightmare just to get my kids from school to the orthodontist. I was tired, defeated, and after working 40 hours a week at a job that left me drained, I was given the news by an unsmiling wench that knew exactly what she was telling me. She was being forced to waste her time on “those people”. “Those people” who would never be able to afford this. “Those people” who didn’t deserve to have straight teeth. “Those people” who were a blight on society because, as everyone knows, since we live in the “greatest country on earth”, anyone that didn’t have as much as she had was obviously LAZY.

“Do you have any payment plans?” I asked.
“I just told you, you have 18 months to pay, that’s our payment plan”.
“Do you work with any financing agencies that could help us pay for this? You know, the kind that allow you to stretch your payments out over 30 years at 20% interest?”
“No. You have 18 months to pay.”
“But I can’t make it in 18 months, I live paycheck to paycheck.”
“Well,” she smiled at me coldly, “We all have problems. I don’t know of anyone here that isn’t doing that.”
“Yeah,” I leaned forward and smiled back at her in my iciest, craziest, psychobitchfromhell way. “But I kind of think that if it were necessary, these good folks might be able to drop their membership at the country club, sell their sailboat, or perhaps cut back on the prime rib or little Becky’s horse riding lessons. The only thing I have to cut back on is food, clothing, and heat.”

She just shuffled her papers, kept up the cold smile, and said “Well, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Now, I wasn’t looking for a handout, I was looking for guidance. I was looking for a suggestion on what I should do. I was too “rich” for state help and too “poor” for self help. The most galling part of the entire incident was the fact that she just kept smiling that cold “fuck you” smile. I honestly think she loved her job.

Well, I called my dentist and asked about any programs in the cities that maybe we could qualify for if we allowed orthodontic students to use my child as a lab rat. No go on that one, but she suggested that I call around to other orthodontists and see what their policies were.

So I did. And I have since fallen in love with my son’s current orthodontist office, Carlson-Fellman. They just moved to some posh digs, I won’t deny that. They are also about a thousand dollars cheaper on the total price than the first doctor. We went in for a few check ups and when the room of doom time came we were given several payment options, one of which worked for us.

But most of all? When I walk in, we are greeted like old friends, the staff works together and seem to enjoy what they are doing, they laugh and crack jokes with the patients and each other and they have crazy contests for their patients to participate in.

So, the bottom line is this. Taking my money elsewhere isn’t going to cause the first orthodontist to fold up shop. Taking my money elsewhere isn’t going to keep the second orthodontist open. But, taking my money elsewhere is going to let me sleep at night. I will look at my son’s smile and think about how nice the folks are at our orthodontist’s office.

And, when I pass the first orthodontist’s office, which I do at least once a week, I can think “yeah baby…fuck you too.”


Tina B said...

I know exactly how you feel. My mom is undergoing treatment for cancer, and every week after her treatment the receptionist asks her "did you see the doctor today". And every week my mom says "nope, but I'm sure you'll charge me like I did." Her co-workers were nice enough to take up money for her, and the doctor's office is nice enough to insist she makes a hefty payment at the doctor's office every week. They don't care if she is doing OK, just as long as she pays the bill before she croaks. She tells them they can name the next big medical wing after her, since she's pretty much paying for it.

Debbie said...

Yeah, I commented to the orthodontist that since I started making and selling meth, I can afford to put braces on my child. What a world we live in...

You might want to look in my links for the As the Tumor Turns blog. Liz has cancer and no insurance and is a most eloquent writer.