As we turn into the new year, I want to share my tale of a random act of kindness bestowed on me that I received as a result of a moms’ story swap. It all started in the fall of 2011, when Sudi cut his leg on a piece of glass on a Saturday morning. He could not stop the bleeding and he called me from Oakland in a panic.
After determining that none of the Urgent Care options in the East Bay are open on the weekends, we realized he had to go to the emergency room. A roommate drove him to the ER of a hospital that will remain unnamed. The ER doc stitched up the wound and released him without giving him crutches or a pain reliever (not even a suggestion of a pain reliever). He could not walk and he called me the next morning to tell me he had been in such pain that he hadn’t slept that night. He had nothing at home to eat and he couldn’t drive his standard transmission car with his leg out of commission. I called an adult friend of ours in Berkeley and she drove over and picked him up and took him back to the ER where a doc gave him crutches and some ibuprofen. He used the crutches for a week until the leg calmed down and he could put weight on it. The ibuprofen did the trick for the pain. All good. He went to his classes, didn’t fall behind in school; problem solved. Almost.
Problem solved until the ER bill arrived. The ER he went to is an “out-of-network” hospital on our health insurance, which means the insurance paid for very little of his visit. We received 4 bills – 2 from the hospital for the use of the ER facility for each of the visits and 2 from the doctor who treated him on each of his visits. The doc charged us for both visits even though the second one would not have been necessary had he done his job properly the first time. I called the doc’s accounting office and managed to get the second bill removed. Our portion of the ER bill was about $1200 for the first visit and $800 for the second. That was $800 for them to hand Sudi a set of crutches and some ibuprofen! I called the accounting office at the hospital and disputed the fee for the second ER visit. When the accounting clerk informed me that the fee could not be removed, I restrained myself and did not go off on a rant at the poor shmoo who got stuck dealing with me.
That shmoo transferred me to a woman in the hospital’s accounting office who could set up a payment plan for me to pay off the $2000 in small monthly increments for the next four years. While she was putting all the information into the computer, we got to chatting. I told her the short version of the story of my son’s injury and I was so exasperated by then that I had crossed over into semi-hysteria so I had her laughing. I can’t resist an appreciative audience, so I proceeded to tell her the epic story of Akili’s broken ankle of the previous year, which she found even more hilarious because by then I had reached a level of humor only attainable by Jewish mothers. Then she shared with me the story of the car she bought for her young adult daughter and how her daughter managed to get in an accident in the car during the six hours between purchase and securing insurance coverage (car was not insured when the accident occurred). Tables turned and she had me laughing my head off. After that, I could not resist telling her the story of how the first car we bought for a teenager to drive got totaled; complete with the phone company attempting to charge us $4000 to replace a telephone pole knocked over by the car thief who made off with the car. We were soon talking about all the cars our beloved offspring had managed to destroy. And about how much our children cost us in general, dropping a cell phone into a pot of boiling spaghetti and forgetting a digital camera at the Skate Park, knocking a computer off the desk and shattering the screen, rear-ending someone on the freeway, yanking the charger to a laptop from the wall socket so it landed in the dog’s water dish. Ayeee! Grown children are astonishingly expensive.
So this accountant-mom and I were on the phone together for ages, cracking each other up and commiserating. I gave her some useful advice about helping her teenager get into a California State University (she didn’t know about the eligibility index) and I told her something creative we had done on our taxes that was perfectly legal to help our family qualify for a student loan for our son. As our conversation started to wind down, after maybe an hour, the woman said to me, “I’m going to readjust your account here so that you don’t owe quite so much for these ER visits.”
“You can do that?” I asked
“Sort of. We won’t tell anyone,” she replied. She pressed a few computer keys and cut my outstanding balance on each account almost in half!
For the past year I have made monthly payments to pay down the remainder on the account. A few days ago, I called the accounting office at the hospital to find out how much I still owed, since they don’t send me statements. They informed me that I had $130 left on one account (for one visit) and that the other account had a $20 overpayment credit (for the other visit). That woman must have gone back into my account and reduced the charge even further at some time during the past year! I don’t know her name or how to find her again in the maze of voicemail and accounting procedures for that hospital. She apparently “forgave” me over $1200 on that ER bill as a result of our mom-to-mom conversation and I have no way to thank her.
As another year turns, thinking about my ER bill saga, I am reminded that the web of relationships that we create, even with people briefly encountered, are the heart of our lives. We need to take the time to chat, to share our stories, because those stories we share, especially the ones that make us laugh together, contain a tremendous power for transformation.