A few months back, a wild cat bit me on the wrist and sent me to the ER.
This wasn’t my first interaction with that cat. It was orange and male, a big brawny thing with yellow eyes and fleas and tufts of mangey fur. It would come by the house now and again, I’d set out food, and it would let me scratch its ears. I named him Hamilton, because Martha Washington named her feral tomcat Hamilton. So it shows up one day, snow day, wicked cold out, on the wrong end of the house to get fed. I think, well, might as well pick it up and move it to the feeding spot. So I trudge outside in rain boots and my pajamas and pick up the little orange spot out of the snow. What I didn’t know was that most wild cats, however willing to be groomed by humans, don’t ever want to leave the ground outside of their own volition. Especially not Hamilton.
His jaw, a black hole into which I’d poured cat food for months, clamped down hard on my right wrist, digging sharp little teeth into my skin and, as the nurse said later, just missing the main artery on my wrist. I dropped him, he hissed, I screamed at him, and he ran off. I stood there for a moment, weighing my options, and eventually went inside and smothered the bite in witch hazel and called it a day. But when Mom came home and asked why I was all bandaged up, we set a course for the emergency room almost immediately.
By the time I’m registered and waiting my turn in the lobby, my hyper-anxious mind has run through and categorized every possible bad ending to this situation. It could be too late and rabies has already taken hold in my body — I read in the car that only fifty-five people in the United States have ever actually been infected with rabies, and all of them died within days. Tetanus could also be a factor, and I couldn’t remember when I’d last been immunized. As we waited for someone, anyone, to come steer me to a hospital bed, I felt that I was surely facing my last mortal hours. The nurse didn’t.
“You’ll get one shot in each arm and leg, and five localized shots around the wound,” the nurse explained, apparently attempting to calm me down. “And then you’ll come back in two days for three more. It’ll be really quick.”
I twisted the wristband the hospital gave me over and over while the nurse filled up the torture devices the hospital had carelessly mislabeled as means of healing. She got to work, pushing needle after needle into my skin until I felt like my own voodoo doll. The wrist shots were the worst; I’m pretty thin, so there was nothing but skin and bone for that needle to hit. I was done in half an hour.
Now, I don’t know much about insurance, or copays, or how anything is calculated. I don’t take a personal finance class until this fall. So when the bill came back, I thought for sure I had impoverished my own family. College was beginning to be a concern, and that was already money we don’t have. Twenty-two thousand dollars. Twelve shots, a little time, a bed. Twenty-two thousand dollars. My parents weren’t even phased.
“How can we afford this? How can anyone think to charge this?” I asked, wishing the rabies had just finished me off (a funeral would be cheaper).
“We’re only paying a thousand of the bill,” Mom explained. “Our insurance picks up the rest, just like eye appointments and dentist appointments and annual physicals. Don’t worry.”
Worrying is a professional sport for me. I visit a counselor once a week (which I now know is covered by our insurance) just to fix my worry. The relief of knowing that I hadn’t trashed my family’s bank account, that we were fine, we were protected, we were insured, came over me in a wave. Comfort and solace is in short supply in the medical industry — everyone is dying, everything is an emergency, and there’s no time to think about monetary consequences to heart attacks and broken bones. People get sick. People get hurt. Doctors and hospitals save the life, but insurance saves the future.
I still have a small scar from the bite, and I haven’t seen Hamilton since. I’ve kept my nose out of trouble (and the emergency room) so far. I continue to research insurance as i get older and closer to the time when I must have my own. I can’t go a week without noticing my scar and remembering the ordeal, and I thank my lucky stars we had insurance.
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