If Only I’d Had Obamacare When a Cyst Ruptured Near My Spine

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Oct. 1 2013 8:11 PM

If Only I’d Had Obamacare

I lost my job and lost my insurance. Then a cyst ruptured near my spine.

Doctors and nurses work on a patient in the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida  September 30, 2013.
Had Obamacare started earlier, the worries of countless U.S. patients suffering from pre-existing conditions would have been resolved sooner through access to treatment.

Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

Two jobs ago, I had the best health insurance I’ve ever had, or probably ever will have. It helped that I worked at UAB, which meant there was a world-class academic health center literally right down the street from my office, but regardless, I could walk into UAB Hospital and have just about any procedure performed for next to nothing.

And this came in handy a lot more than I would’ve liked. Around 2007, I started growing cysts on the CD instrumentation that had been installed to treat my moderate-to-severe scoliosis when I was 16; as doctors discovered years later, the cysts would begin growing on the surface of the apparatus itself, then gradually make their way to the surface until they ruptured, at which point I’d have a nice little open wound over my spine. Five times from 2007 to 2009, I went in for surgery and one of the plastic surgeons cut out the cyst material, cleaned up the wound and sewed it up, but the cysts kept coming back. It wasn’t until the sixth surgery that the doctors were able to deduce it was probably the CD instrumentation itself that was providing the cysts a place to start growing.

Unfortunately, by then I’d been laid off as a result of Great Recession-induced budget cuts, and there went that wonderful health insurance. I did manage to sneak in one last surgery under the wire, though, literally days before my insurance was due to officially run out. An orthopedic surgeon went in and removed a piece of the CD instrumentation that looked like it might be loose and carving out a little spot in my back for the cysts to grow; thinking I’d finally put this behind me once and for all, I moved back in with my parents and started looking for work.

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In the interim, of course, my wonderful health insurance expired and I was left completely uncovered. COBRA was available, but too expensive for someone who was surviving on unemployment checks and effectively zero savings. Stupidly, I let my pride prevent me from going to my parents for help, thinking they were already doing more than enough by letting their 31-year-old son move back in rent-free.

The following spring, I still had no job and no health insurance—and I felt a lump growing on my back.

The cyst had indeed grown back. The doctors in Columbus, Ga., later determined that the proper course of action was to just remove the CD apparatus entirely, since my bones had grown as much as they were going to and I didn’t need it anymore. Unfortunately, I had no major-medical coverage with which to make this happen. And even when I did finally get a job at Aflac in June 2010 with pretty good benefits, my 10-month lapse in coverage meant my back cysts were a pre-existing condition and I’d have to wait another 12 months to actually get treated.

All told, I’d say I spent about a year and a half walking around with an open wound directly over my spine. My fiancée Holly, God bless her, had the privilege of placing literally hundreds of Band-Aid Large Adhesive Pads over said wound, though—particularly for someone who’s never been particularly flexible—I got pretty good at reaching around and putting them on there myself when I needed to. I didn’t just need the Band-Aids to keep the pink goo in my wound from seeping out and staining my clothes; there was a small, though very real, chance that if the wound got infected it could work its way down to my spinal cord and do some truly catastrophic damage.

Had Obamacare been in effect during all this time, almost all of these worries would’ve been taken care of. Thanks to the provision preventing insurance companies from disallowing or instituting waiting periods for pre-existing conditions, I could’ve walked into a hospital and had that surgery within weeks of starting my job at Aflac; instead of having that open wound over my spine for 18 months, I probably would’ve only had it for three, tops. And if I’d been 26 or younger, my medical coverage never would’ve lapsed to begin with because I could’ve just had it all taken care of on my parents’ insurance.

This is what the Republicans in Washington are fighting against. This is what they’re calling a threat to the future of our republic. They’re willing to bring the legislative process to a grinding halt and shut down the federal government entirely just to make it known that they don’t want the poor, the unemployed, the just plain down-on-their-luck to have health care.

Obamacare didn’t arrive soon enough to keep me from walking around for a year and a half with a hole in my back. But maybe it’s arrived in time to keep someone else from having to go through that. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that poor person get knocked back to where I was in the spring of 2010 just so Ted Cruz can score brownie points with the Tea Party. Go ahead and shut the government down, Ted—that sure worked like gangbusters for y’all the first time. But we are not going back.

A version of this piece originally ran on Doug Gillett's blog.

Doug Gillett is an Atlanta-based writer working in higher education development.

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