The waiting room is cold. The morning news program on the television plays in the background, the anchors’ lively banter hardly registering with me. The room smells like old coffee and faint antiseptic. The chairs are stiff and uncomfortable. My little brother and sister are arguing in the seats across from me about something I am not paying attention to, maybe a card game? The outcome of a movie? I can’t believe they can chatter away at a time like this. I’m in a fog, I barely notice my surroundings because my father has been in surgery for the last six hours to repair his mitral valve. I’m nervous and worried because it’s my dad. He’s young, only forty-nine years old. He’s strong, he built a jungle gym for us kids to play on. I can’t believe he’s sick. He’s worked every day of my life so my mom could stay home from work and raise my three siblings and me. I keep reminding myself in the big scheme of things, we are ok. It wasn’t an emergency like a heart attack that uncovered his defective heart. It was a routine physical just like he gets every year that detected the murmur. It probably had been there his whole life, words like congenital were mentioned at his last appointment. The bottom line was he needed surgery to repair the valve. It wasn’t something he could put off for when we had more money saved or I was out of college. It needed to be fixed immediately. I recall my mother mentioning, “Thank goodness we have insurance”.
My dad is wheeled to recovery and my brother and I go in to see him. The younger children must remain in the waiting room, no one under twelve is admitted to the critical care unit. He looks pale and tiny in his bed. He has no idea we are in the room. I’m not sure if I feel relieved seeing him or worse, because it is now apparent how much time it will take for him to get back on his feet. I guess I was thinking, “Okay, he’ll have the surgery and then be fine.” Now it is clear to me that his recovery will take weeks, if not months. I’m grateful he is alive, but still worried.
The week he is in the hospital is a blur. It’s a constant throng of well-wishers and visitors here at the house, dropping off gifts and meals for us. I’m touched by the support but exhausted by having to answer the same questions over and over, especially since I don’t know the answers. I’m the oldest child and since I am majoring in Nursing when I get to college, I guess people assume I know more than I do. All our church friends are asking when they will see him again. My dad’s buddies from work are all asking when he’ll be back. That gets me thinking, my dad is the only one with a job… When will he go back to work? I look at this tiny, pale man on the couch and think how is this going to work? My dad is home with us for six weeks. I don’t want to ask my parents what we are doing about money because I think it may be bad manners. Neither of them seem too concerned, but I am not a little kid anymore. I know how much things cost. I start to worry we won’t be able to afford our house. My mother, seeing I am distressed, asks me, “Why the long face? Dad is home and doing well. Why do you look so worried?” I break down and tell her I am worried about how much all this is costing and how we are going to survive. She smiles and agrees this is costing so much, but not to worry because that’s why we have insurance. She shows me the bill for the hospital stay and the surgery and after care. I can’t believe how much everything costs! I don’t know how anyone could afford to pay this. Then she shows me the explanation of benefits forms provided by our insurance. After several thousands of dollars in deductibles, all subsequent bills were paid in full by our insurance. While our savings account, including my college fund, certainly took a hit, I was no longer worried we were going to lose our house.
Insurance played an extremely important role in diagnosing my father’s condition and providing after care. If my family did not have insurance, we would not be able to afford to go to wellness checkups once a year. Had my father not gone to his annual physical, his murmur would not have been detected. His condition likely would have worsened, leading to congestive heart failure or even a heart attack. Imagine how much time he would have been out of work had that occurred? Would he ever be able to return to work full time?
What a congenital heart defect means to me and my brothers and sister is we are always going to need insurance. It is imperative we go for wellness checkups yearly to monitor our hearts. Seeing what could have happened in my father’s situation has made it clear that preventive care is necessary for our family. Insurance will always be a part of our lives.
My time spent in the waiting room was a blur. I was wrought with worry. When I saw my dad immediately after surgery, it did nothing to appease my concerns. I was relieved he was alive, but I couldn’t stop thinking how all of this was going to work out. The one true thing that made me feel better was knowing we had insurance. The peace of mind our policy provided helped me to be able to concentrate on my dad getting better every day. I am pleased to report he is almost back to full strength; although I don’t see him building any more jungle gyms in the future!
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