To celebrate turning 50, I decided to pay some attention, and by attention, I mean money, to two old friends I had neglected for years—my health plan deductible and out of pocket (OOP) accumulator. Up to that point, I had only seen my primary care doctor. I paid him 25 dollars, which covered anything he could do in his office. If I stepped outside his office, I had to feed the deductible first before the plan paid anything. Once the deductible was satisfied, the plan would pay 70 percent, and I would pay 30 percent, which went toward the OOP. If the OOP was ever fully satisfied, then the plan would pay 100 percent, and the possibilities were endless.
I intended to accept every specialist referral my primary doctor recommended, and have every test they requested done. I would get, in return, a supercharged assessment of my physical well-being. My emotional well-being, usually treated annually with a vacation, would have to wait.
Deductible was skinny and a relatively cheap date. After two specialist office visits and an abdominal ultrasound, she let out a small burp and said, “That’s it. I’m full.” I promptly took her home, thanked her for the good time, and told her I may or may not see her again next year.
OOP was much larger, with a notoriously voracious appetite. One look at her size indicated she knew her way around a medical buffet table and would take considerably longer to satisfy. I gave it my best shot. We went to see a hematologist, a hepatologist, a neurologist, a gastroenterologist, and an orthopedic surgeon. We became regulars at LabCorp. We had X-rays, an MRI, an EMG, a colonoscopy. We traveled all over Charlotte, visiting medical offices where the only difference seemed to be the sign on the door. The experiences took on a surreal quality, as if we had slipped through the looking glass, and we were giddy from the aroma of disinfectant.
We listened to news good, bad, and indifferent. The good results were quickly dismissed. Other results were puzzling, requiring yet another specialist to weigh in with an opinion. Nothing was serious enough to require any action beyond monitoring.
My main concern had been with my legs and feet. I’m a walker. Walking is my stress relief, my sanity, my time to think, plan, dream, scheme and scream. But my walking had become slower, more labored, and I found myself occasionally tripping over my own feet. My right foot would roll outward when I stepped down and my left foot would droop when I stepped up. There were times when I walked like a drunk, stumbling down the sidewalk after last call, teetering to retain balance and remain upright.
The neurologist gave me his diagnosis for my left foot, then looked me in the eyes and said there was nothing he could do about it. It could get better, worse, or stay the same. Only time would tell, so please schedule a follow-up visit in six months. I thought, what for, so I can tell you whether it is better, worse, or the same?
After pointing to various problem areas on the X-ray of my right foot, the orthopedic surgeon said, “The only thing I can do for you is take a sledgehammer, smash your foot, then rebuild it from scratch, which I’m not going to do.” I thought, “No shit, Sherlock,” and made my way to the checkout counter, where OOP waited patiently to be fed.
Approaching the end of the year, I added up the cost of everything spent for no gain at all, and I was pissed. So I broke up with OOP.
“No,” she pleaded, “I’m still hungry, and you need to have your eyes checked. And your skin. All that time you spend in the sun….” Her words fell on near deaf ears, as I assumed an audiologist would tell me, had I been up to seeing one.
For kicks, I swung by to check up on Deductible. She told me she would be ready to go out again next year, but for now she was still fully satisfied and happy. Under my breath I mumbled, “I’m glad one of us is.”