As a kid, I remember running to my mom crying. I told her that I could NEVER have children of my own because I’ve never worked in insurance like her, and wouldn’t be able to figure out how to fill out the paperwork. She laughed, and told me not to worry- I’d have enough life experience by then that it wouldn’t be an issue.
After college, my mom moved to California to work at an insurance agency for a few years. Those job skills came in handy for her later career as a diplomat, as well as on the home front, dealing with doctor’s visits and sports physicals for her two kids. Growing up, I knew that insurance played a huge part in keeping our family running smoothly. However, it wasn’t until I got to college that I truly appreciated health insurance and its impact on my life.
Almost immediately after I started my first semester, I had health issues cropping up left and right. My freshman year, I suffered from severe panic attacks, sometimes on a daily basis. With a heart medication and biofeedback therapy, I had these under control within a few months. As a new young adult, I had to start figuring out the insurance paperwork on my own- under my mother’s expert guidance, of course. Thanks to my health insurance, my copays were tiny enough that my college budget could handle them. However, my sophomore year began with excruciating abdomen and back pain, which would pulsate for days at a time and keep me from exercising or concentrating in class. A trip to the emergency room, a letter to the deans, and a few prescriptions later, we still had no idea what was happening. But it eventually left as quickly as it came a few months before my study-abroad trip to Asia,and we figured it was gone for good.
As soon as I boarded the plane from Seattle to Beijing, though, I knew the mystery pain was back. It was manageable for the first few nights, but soon I was lying in the fetal position on my hotel bed at four in the morning, with my roommate frantically calling one of our professors down to the room. As I scrambled to get dressed, the two of them leafed through booklets of paperwork trying to find the travel insurance number. My professor and I left the hotel and in a cab for the nearest hospital with a doctor that spoke English.
Unfortunately, our driver dropped us off at the wrong locale. Not only did no one there speak English, but the hospital was closed, as I found out from the rather miffed security guard posted inside the front doors. My Chinese is semi-conversational at best, and my professor spoke not a word of it; we found ourselves stumbling around the city, grasping for phrases like “international hospital” and “American embassy-“ anything to get medical attention. After our unsuccessful excursion, my professor and I decided to wait until we got to Shanghai later that day via train to visit a hospital. Until then, school administrators back home would work with the insurance agency to make sure everything was ready when we arrived.
The agency made good on their word- as soon as my professor and I arrived at the hospital, we were notified that our insurance had already been sorted out, and I was ushered into the emergency room. A small part of me relished the unique experience that I was in the middle of. I had the chance to learn new vocab words and practice my conversation skills in an authentic, high-stress situation with the nurses in the ER. I was, however, relieved when my Wisconsin-born, Stanford trained physician entered the room to begin her examination.
All in all, I spent twenty-four hours in hospitals in both China and Japan. I saw eight different doctors who performed countless tests and exams- all inconclusive. I also racked up an enormous medical bill. However, even though my friends and family were all worried about my health, no one had to spare a thought to the expense. My college’s medical insurance picked up the tab in its entirety. If I hadn’t yet stumbled upon a diagnosis, at least my team of doctors had ruled out pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer, and a whole host of life-threatening complications. Without insurance to back me up, the process would have been bumpier, longer, and infinitely more expensive. Maybe my mom was right- after this whole experience, maybe I can have my own kids after all.
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