So yesterday, beat up and having spent another pretty dreadful sleepless night, I gave in and decided to go see a doctor to beg for poison ivy relief. Marie – and every other source I can think of – had me incredibly worried about the bill. It is a well know fact that the cost of medical care in the US is completely outrageous. In the land of liability and insurance, the poor and uninsured – that would be me – suffer. She had thrown out figures in the hundreds of dollars and remembering the $500 bill for Estorbo’s emergency vet treatment, I shivered.
But the lack of sleep and an intense need to tear my skin off and throw it to the wind got the best of me and I headed across the street to Long Island College Hospital after a phone call to verify that they accepted walk-ins. The expected wait was around 2 hours. There was one doctor on duty.
Putting socks and shoes on was about as much fun as stepping into a fire ant nest. I had grabbed William Gibson’s prophetic Count Zero for the wait and nervously pocketed my wallet, expecting the worse. The small waiting room on the fourth floor wasn’t too difficult to find at the opposite end of the huge building and I noticed with relief that only three people were already seated there.
“Ah, you’re a walk-in,” she stated. As if it were a decease.
I walked over to the little reception booth and said hi. "Can I help you?" said the lady while messing with her fax machine. "Yes please," I answered with a smile, rather happy with myself. She frowned condescendingly. She didn’t think it was funny. "I was hoping to see a doctor," I added, my tone apologetic. "Ah, you’re a walk-in," she stated. As if it were a decease. "Write your name on this, please."
I was handed a pad with a photocopied sheet already showing three names, one having been crossed off. Name, address, time of arrival. At least, my predecessors had only waited an hour or so. I signed in and took a seat, my head lowered in shameful resignation like a punished school boy. The wait started.
After less than 15 minutes though, she called me back to the booth to fill the usual medical info sheet for my file. "Do you have insurance?" she said. "No." She arched an eyebrow. "I’m Canadian," I explained as if it were a defect. She gazed at me for a moment and nodded. "Right. It’ll be $50.00 then." I stared a her for a second, unbelieving. I think my left eye might have twitched. Fifty mere dollars! After the horror stories I’d been fed for years! I was so thrilled I considered leaving a $30.00 tip, but she might have changed her mind and decided she’d forgotten a zero.
The total wait was indeed close to two hours. The doctor finally called me in, took a look and a half at a third of my rashes and said "Ok, uh-uh, I see, uh-uh, oh yes, ohhhhh boy! All right, I’ve seen enough." She grabbed her prescription pad and began to write feverishly, and then handed me a couple of sheets like one would give out directions to a good restaurant. Take this, you won’t regret it. It came to $27. The cost of an average meal.
I haven’t regretted it. I slept like a rock, all afternoon, finally, knocked down by prescription-strength antihistamines and the itch temporarily relieved by corticosteroids. I can breathe. The end isn’t near yet, but it exists.
So my medical day cost me $77 altogether, with 10 days worth of medications. It’s not cheap, but it sure ain’t expensive either. Is this the ugly monster the US medical system is supposed to be, or was I just lucky? Granted, my previous US medical exam, for official purposes this one, was tagged at $250. Maybe it’s all decided à la tête du client.
Any way. Score.