Hoarding Opiates in a Post-Obamacare World

I just had a small, benign tumor removed from my right index finger and I’m typing this very awkwardly, with seven fingers and two thumbs. You don’t know how much you need your right middle finger until you try to type the letter ‘I’ without it.

But I have something I want to say, and I figure I might as well say it while my finger is still numb.

I went many, many years without health insurance. Many. From the time I graduated high school in 1989 until Obamacare, the only time I had reliable health insurance was when I was pregnant.

After I got married in the early oughties, my husband was sometimes offered health insurance at work, but not always. Not reliably. He has always worked. We both have. Decent jobs where we earn enough money to make it so that our kids wouldn’t qualify for Medicade, but not enough to cover health insurance premiums.

My older kids were covered through their father’s health insurance, usually. But my youngest daughter did not have health insurance when we didn’t. We paid out of pocket at a health clinic when she needed a doctor. When she was five, she had pneumonia and needed to spend three weeks in the hospital and surgery to drain the liquid from around her lung,

I had to quit my job so we could be poor enough to qualify for Medicade. She got sick over Thanksgiving weekend and eight years later we’re still paying off the bills for the last days in November that Medicade wouldn’t pick up.

Let me repeat that.

I had to quit my job, a government job at the school district (where I was given fifteen minutes a week fewer hours than I needed to qualify for health insurance), so that my baby could be on welfare. Just think on that for a minute.

I have self-treated strep throat and ear infections with whatever I could take over the counter and Doctor Google’s advice. I have scars where I should have had stitches, but didn’t. I’ve broken a finger that I just set myself as best I could. I’m missing several teeth because I couldn’t afford dental care.

One of the side effects of so many years of living without health insurance is that I’ve conditioned myself to hoard certain medications. I lived in constant fear of pain and infection…so I held on to any opiates and antibiotics that came into my possession.

My doctor gave me a small prescription for Norco this morning. I don’t need it. I don’t like taking it and Tylenol will probably do, but also? I have a stash already. Left overs from some other pain.

I don’t horde antibiotics anymore. I finish my prescriptions. But there were years when if I was sick enough to go to a doctor (which meant, of course, the most expensive alternative…a trip to the ER,) I would only take the pills until I felt human. Maybe three days instead of ten. One prescription could get me through three boughts of sickness. I’d save the rest for the next time my ear or throat or tooth hurt.

I watched some doctor show on TV the other day. A man nearly died because he’d taken so many unprescribed antibiotics that eventually they stopped working and he had an infection that went on a rampage.

That hit home.

I have health insurance now, but my deductible is so high that it didn’t cover any of this morning’s surgery. My doctor would have preferred for me to have an MRI on my finger, to help guide him during the surgery. I couldn’t afford it.

Having insurance meant I could go to an orthopedic doctor and schedule the surgery at all, but it did not pay for any of it.

Having crap insurance meant I lived for two years with a benign but very painful tumor in my finger until I could afford to pay out of pocket for the surgery to remove it.

I am a citizen of the richest nation in the world. This is not the way it should be. I should not have had to quit my job to go on welfare when my daughter was sick. I should not live with a lingering fear of pain and infection that borders on post-traumatic stress.

I should not have this lingering need to horde narcotics and antibiotics.

I’m going to fill that prescription for Norco, because I can’t shake the idea that maybe I’ll need it sometime, for some other pain.

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