I cried in the middle of CVS the other day. But what’s important is not that I cried, but that I only cried a little bit, and not for very long, and there was no screaming or throwing of products up and down the aisles.
Because given the circumstances, that’s super impressive.
Chris and I were in CVS because we were waiting for his prescription of Oxy-codone, because he’d just gotten out of the hospital after having surgery on his shoulder for the second time. Only this time, they also did a bone graft from his leg. So he has double the pain, and double the difficulty getting around. We’d arrived at the hospital the day before at 10:30am, and now at 6pm the following day, all we wanted was to get his pain meds and go home and forget the laundry list of frustrations and indignities he’d been subjected to (including waiting in pre-op for 4 hours because his surgeon was late, having a random part of his leg (not near the incision) shaved with what I can only assume was a dull butter knife, being catheterized, having to ask for hours for ice for his leg, and being forced to eat hospital food, to name only a few).
For my part, I’d been at the hospital the day before from 10:30 am until 11pm, and then gone to work the next morning and then to the hospital at 3 where I sat with him until he was discharged at 4:30. We got lost getting out of the hospital, (completely my fault. I suck at being in charge), and it meant he had to walk really far on his bad leg. Now we were at our second CVS because the first didn’t have any Oxy in stock, and now there was a problem with the DEA number on the prescription that the intern had written. We’d been in this CVS for over an hour, I was freezing, and hungry and losing patience with the entire medical system in this country. Chris’s pain was etched all over his face and for the millionth time in the last two days I had to see that and know there was nothing I could do about it.
As we stood in the middle of the store trying to find something to distract him from his pain induced nausea, I kept thinking “We’re hostages. Hostages of the medical system.”
That’s when I wanted to start screaming, like an actual hostage would, in the hope that someone would hear and be able to rescue us.
Because it wasn’t just Chris who was captured in the system and divorced from all agency and recourse. I was trapped too.
And not just because I am Chris’s partner. I have my own medical dramas going on.
See, about 6 weeks ago, I found a lump in my breast. I’d had a benign lump removed about three years ago, so I assumed it was scar tissue.
After seeing my doctor, and getting a referral to the Breast Diagnostic Center where I had my first mammogram (a story for another blog post), and an ultrasound, I was scheduled for a biopsy. And around then finally accepted that it wasn’t scar tissue.
After the biopsy, the radiologist decided I actually had two lumps, and she’d only biopsied one of them, but needed me to have a breast MRI so she could better visualize the second lump before doing another biopsy.
So I made an appointment for the MRI. All of this took place in the span of about 2.5 weeks. Everyone I interacted with from schedulers, to techs, to the doctors themselves were helpful, warm, pleasant and reassuring. I felt confident that the lumps were nothing, and that everything would be sorted out and it would all be a distant memory by Thanksgiving. I was really calm and remarkably unstressed out. For me, anyway. I mean, I was still a gigantic baby about the biopsy and acted like I’d had a piece of my boob removed with a hunting knife, but for ME, that counts as being a trooper.
Then, the day before the MRI was scheduled, I got a call from the Breast Diagnostic Center that they had to cancel it because my insurance company declined to pay for it.
Cue screeching record sound.
There were a lot of calls and messages back and forth between me and the radiologist, the radiologist and my primary and my primary and me. At the end of the first week, the theory was that only my primary could sort it out. I talked to her and she promised to handle it and to stay in touch and that if she didn’t follow-up, that I should call her. In the week that followed I left two more messages and she hasn’t called me back yet. Which seems out of character for her, and so my theory is that the women who answer the phones aren’t giving her the messages because they always seem super annoyed that I insist on talking directly to the doctor instead of leaving a message in the physician’s assistant’s voice mail.
The last message I left her was right after they took Chris into surgery, and I’d been waiting on pins and needles for her to call me back. I was really needed to have an update, some information, so I could have a sense of agency, of control, over this one part of my life, since I had no control over anything happening to Chris.
But no. No call back. No information. No forward motion. Also, I’ve become convinced that in the downtime since the MRI was canceled the lumps have tripled in size. Like they know they’re unsupervised and are running rampant.
And there’s nothing I can do. Again. I’m a hostage of a medical system that lets insurance companies make decisions about care, and receptionists that think they know everything.
I want to scream, and tear things off the shelves in this CVS, and kick and scream until someone hears. Until someone rescues us.
But really, I know that’s not going to do anything but get me arrested. And that would definitely be a step backward in this whole quest to be in control thing.
So instead I cry. (But JUST for a minute or two.) And Chris shifts into the position of caretaker, gently hugging me with his one good arm. And I’m aware that I’m supposed to be taking care of him, not the other way around, and I start to cry more because I feel like a terrible girlfriend/person. But then I think, “Who am I kidding?” because these are the roles we’re most comfortable in anyway. Chris is a caretaker to his core, and I’m constantly in need of care, and I think this is a big part of why we work.
Once I stop crying I can tell Chris’s energy has shifted, and he’s gone from withdrawn and cranky to cheerful (albeit forced), and when the pharmacist calls his name, he acts like a man receiving a prize as he limps up toward the counter, like he’s not at all frustrated, or in overwhelming pain, and I can’t help but smile.
So fine. I’m being held hostage. But if I’m going go through this, at least I’m going through it with him.