"Uninsured and Undeserved"

uninsured clinic experience story
How help is offered can be just as important as what is offered.
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It had been weeks since I started trying to schedule myself for an appointment with a gynecologist. My pap smear results came back abnormal and sent me scrambling for a colposcopy as a routine procedure in cases like that. As I was to find out, not an easy task for those with poor health insurance coverage. After years of serving people with special needs in a certain community, I discovered that de facto I do not have medical insurance. Clinics that will not bill my work organization directly (95% of them or more) will not see me as a patient. Figuring that out took me a while, because for the most part all the clinics in my area close when my workday is still in progress. Due to the nature of what I do, making phone calls while on the clock is a challenging endeavor.

After a number of snatched minutes and elapsed weeks, I realized that smaller clinics are parts of larger corporations, that corporations are reluctant to deal with someone without coverage, and the only way you can keep talking to them is if your bank account spits digits. The latter not being my case, I came to the conclusion that my only option was a free local clinic, for – according to their website – “uninsured and undeserved.”

I called the place up and, much to my surprise, heard a person addressing me as opposed to a robotic voice advising me to stay on the line, assuring that my call is important to them. I explained that I was in need of seeing an ob/gyn to carry out colposcopy. The lady asked a couple of general questions and set an appointment without further ado. I was excited to finally see the specialist. Little did I know that I was still two months away from reaching that goal.

Having requested time off work, I showed up at the clinic early, as asked, to fill out some papers. A woman greeted me with a forced smile and inquired my name. Even more challenging to spell than to write, my name tends to shock people in the US, so I presented her with my ID. Scornfully, she pointed out that I showed up early. I mentioned that I had been told to do so. She nodded and asked if I had an appointment. Somewhat confused, for didn’t it follow that I had an appointment, I answered that I did. In an apparent attempt to seal the issue for good, she persisted with, “You are early, and you do have an appointment?” More confused still, I confirmed. Then, she directed me to the waiting area while she was putting together the papers that I was supposed to sign.

The vestibule was clean, with comfortable chairs. Several Latino people and a cheaply dressed Caucasian woman were waiting for their turn. Every once and a while I would hear snippets of conversation from the front desk area: “Does she speak English?” “Ah! Yes, he has been here before!” “No, she will see the other one first!” “Who’s this?” “I’m on her file right now!” Having heard my own name tossed around, I felt awkward that they were yelling it out like that.

Before long, the lady emerged with a clipboard, four pieces of paper and a pen. She explained that the top two papers were to be filled out and signed by me, whereas the bottom two were to be kept for my future reference. I nodded and tried to take the clipboard, however, she wouldn’t release her clutch. At a measured pace, she tapped the pen against the papers, explaining that I should fill out and sign the top two papers and keep the bottom two. I nodded with more vigor, reaching for the clipboard, only to hear the same words come out of her mouth, again and again. It got to the point where I started doubting whether I understood correctly. Finally, I was able to get a hold of the papers.

In a few minutes, I was through with the task and went back to the front desk to return the clipboard. She was in the middle of a conversation so I made an eye contact and placed it on the counter with a nod that meant, “Here are the signed papers.” Soon after, a Latino woman holding paperwork called my name. Instead of ushering me to a room as I expected, she waved the pages in front of my nose and asked whether I understood what I had signed. I said I did. She wanted to know if I was sure and pointed out that the staff thought that I hadn’t. Somewhat at a loss, I again confirmed that I understood every word. As if awarding my reading comprehension skills, the woman sent me off to the next stage of my journey by directing me into the examination room to wait some more.

Half an hour later, the door opened to let in a nurse that measured my blood pressure and asked me to step on the scale. She said the doctor would be in shortly. “Shortly” turned out to be a quarter of an hour. Instead of the doctor, though, in came a young man with a badge that read “STUDENT.” The student had a lot to ask and write down. When done, he left with promises of the doctor being in soon. Later on, he reappeared accompanied by a woman in her twenties. The latter turned out to be the doctor I heard so much about. This time, she started with all the questions. Confused about what was going on, I told her that I was there for colposcopy (which obviously was not about to happen). Politely ignoring my words, the doctor, who clearly was a GP, advised me on getting tested for STDs and handed me the local test center card.

I must admit that I felt aggravated about the assumption underlying that suggestion and time I lost over the whole misunderstanding. Had they asked me anything at all about my intimate life history, I might have not resented that recommendation that much. When scheduling the appointment, I specifically stated that I needed colposcopy performed as I had my pap smear results come back abnormal. They never mentioned that my appointment was for something else or with a different doctor than a gynecologist. What crowned this experience was the fact that the GP recommended colposcopy. With a gynecologist volunteering at the clinic one day monthly and with that day having just passed, they put me on the waiting list.

At the time of the obligatory checkout process, a staff person wanted to know if I was “making a financial contribution.” Not in a position to afford any financial contributions, I explained that I was low on cash and got showered with judgement. I can still feel her steel gaze, see her pursed lips and hear reproachful, “No donation at all? I will give you a receipt for zero dollars.”

They called me in to see the specialist in over 30 days. Upon arrival, I was asked to wait. I read several chapters of my book by the time someone informed me that they couldn’t find my chart. They were really sorry. They are usually more organized. A few more chapters in, they were still looking. Some fifteen minutes after that, they decided to change tactics and search under my first name. Bingo! With the chart found, a nurse invited me in for taking my vitals before sending me off to my final destination – gynecology chair.

The specialist turned out to be a friendly, pleasant woman. She performed the procedure and told me to expect a call with the results within two weeks. Fifteen days later, no call followed. Soon after, I inquired with the clinic. Surprise! They couldn’t find my file and promised to contact me as soon as possible. I heard from them about a week later. The news was good; the doctor recommended a repeat pap test in a year. Will I do it? Of course. Am I looking forward to it? You’d better believe I am not.

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