I believe that every experience we have, large or small, has the potential to soften or harden us. I don’t know why I recently thought of this one, but what I do know is that I still carry it 20 years later.
When I pregnant with Morgan I worked at Steelcase. I had great health insurance. I never had to worry about a co pay, or deciding if I could afford to go to the doctor, or wait it out. It was something that I had always taken for granted.
Fast forward to when Morgan was a toddler. I decided to make a career change. I went to night school and busted my ass. In a year, I had become a Dental Assistant. I was so proud of myself. At the time in my life, actually accomplishing something I started was rare. I got “bored” easily.
Things were falling into place. I went to get my teeth cleaned at my dentists office, and walked out with a job. I jumped at the opportunity. Now one of the few downfalls to my career is lack of health insurance. Very few offices offer it. I was with Chuck but we weren’t married yet. I was fairly healthy so I wasn’t concerned, but I knew I had to get insurance for Morgan.
20 years ago there was a health plan in the state of Michigan called Mi child. If I remember correctly their were 2 tiers. One being called healthy kids which was a free plan based on income, and then there was the Mi child. Which if you qualified was only $10 a month. The purpose was of course to make sure that all children were covered with insurance. I applied and got the $10 plan. For $10 a month she had insurance and I had peace of mind.
Our first appointment with the new insurance didn’t go as planned. I can still hear the sliding creak of that damn glass door at the reception area. We had been patients at this office for 3-4 years. Ever since she was a baby. I had called to make the insurance change over the phone and everything seemed fine. We checked in at the glass window and sat down. A few minutes later the glass window opened. My life and outlook would forever be changed.
The waiting room was full of people. By full I mean probably 3 or 4 but it definitely felt packed like a middle school band concert. I heard an old, haggy, unhappy voice yell out, “Do you have your insurance card?” I looked up from what I was doing and her eyes were focused on me. Now remember, I was not new to this office but I was definitely new to having to remember to bring an insurance card with me. I had also called with all of the information prior to the appointment. That’s when it happened. I can still hear the tone, the volume and the disgust when I told her that I had forget it. “They are supposed to tell you people to bring it to every appointment!”…..
Time stood still. I felt like an old furnace that was going to overheat. Every cell in my body suddenly started to get hot. My heart began to race and I started to shake. Did that woman really just call me “you people”? What in the hell does that even mean? I looked around and suddenly the waiting room went silent. If I could have clicked my heals to get the hell out of there I would have. Thank GOD the nurse came out before I could really process what just happened.
As I sat in that little room waiting, I couldn’t help but look at my precious child and wonder what it must be like to feel such disregard on a regular basis. I had never experienced this feeling of less than before. Never had I been treated in a way that made me feel this embarrassed and ashamed. The value of myself or my child did not depend on a damn insurance card.
Once the doctors came in I let him do his thing. I’m pretty sure it was another ear infection or something similar. He was signing the prescription and I told him what has happened. He sat there and listened to me. I don’t know if I was expecting him to go fire her, or publicly reprimand her, but I sure wasn’t expecting his response. He said, “In her defense you are supposed to bring your insurance card”. Did he just miss the whole point? Again I explained it had little to do the the card and more to do with the “you people” comment.
The furnace was kicking on again. I grabbed Morgan and I grabbed my stuff. As I was exiting the room in a furry he reminded me of the prescription. I snatched it out of his hands and left. I never went back. He called quite a few times after that, but I never answered. I’d like to think he was going to apologize but in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that experience gave me a dose of humility, shame, and embarrassment that I in turn, have woven into a hell of a piece of empathy in my characteristic quilt.