Thursday, July 19, 2012

Healthcare Changes, Dirty Needles, and Me

Within the past month, I received two important letters in the mail.  

The first was a letter from my insurance company.  It stated that the health care law has some new requirements going into affect at the beginning of August.  They will now be covering all costs for birth control, sterilization, well women visits, tests for gestational diabetes, HIV testing, HPV testing, and more.  

Most of that doesn't effect me personally. We're done having kids, and my husband has already had his vasectomy  Still, it made me feel good to know that other people out there will be better off. I felt good reading the letter, knowing people would get the preventative care they want and need.

Then, last week, I got another letter in the mail. It's very personal, and it's very scary. It came from the Colorado Department of Public Health, and it informed me that I might have been exposed to foreign blood from reused needles back when I had my wisdom teeth removed in 2003 (news story here).  It recommends I get tested the viruses Hep B, Hep C, and HIV.  It also remarked that I am responsible for the cost of testing.

I felt angry. I'm angry at this surgeon for putting my health at risk. For what purpose?  To save a few bucks on syringes?  Also, I'm angry that his unsafe practices mean that thousands of patients need to be tested for viruses, yet he is somehow not responsible for the cost of testing.  This should be his responsibility.  It should also be noted that, so far, this surgeon's only "punishment" has been to agree to stop practicing.  There have been no criminal charges filed.  Why is he able to get away with this, yet people like me have to sit in fear for weeks, waiting to get tested and get results?

I hated that I had to make an appointment to get blood drawn. I hate blood. I hate needles. In fact, I remember when I got my wisdom teeth out. It was my first time getting an IV, and I was so scared. I sobbed uncontrollably, and so they let Andrew be in the room with me when I went under. In recovery, I got hysterical over the IV in my arm. They got Andrew to try to help, but I was inconsolable. I finally told them that if they didn't remove the IV from my arm, then I'd do it myself.

In the midst of all these thoughts and feelings, I remembered my letter from my insurance company last month. Beginning in August, HIV testing is fully covered by health insurance companies. I scheduled my blood test to be done after those changes go into effect.  Isn't ridiculous that I have to worry about the costs for a test I need?  Tests like these are a matter of public health!  I guess that's why the new health care laws require insurance companies to cover their costs. Better late than never, I guess.

So, as it turns out, the most recent changes going into effect from the Affordable Health Care Act do affect me directly. I just didn't know it at the time. You see, people can be exposed to deadly viruses without knowing it. While some people might like to think that only drug users and people who are too stupid or careless get exposed to blood viruses, that's simply not the case.  We should all be able to get tested for deadly diseases like HIV. It helps public health. People might be infected and have no idea. If everyone gets tested, then those who find out they're positive can take measures from infecting others.

When I was pregnant with my first, a well-meaning friend advised I forgo the Hepatitis B vaccine for my baby.  I remember her words, "The first vaccine they'll give your baby boy is a Hep B vaccine--a sexually transmitted disease! What the hell do you need to give them that for?"  So, I read up on Hep B and learned that one out of every three people in the world get it at some point in their lives. For some people, it's fairly harmless, while others can sustain severe liver damage, cancer, and even die from it. There aren't many treatments available for Hep B, but you can prevent it through vaccination. Most importantly, I read the most common type of transmission is from mother to child during birth, which is why the vaccine is administered to newborns. So, even though I assumed I wasn't infected with Hep B, I made the decision to vaccinate my baby as a precaution.

Now, as it turns out, that was a very good decision.  I didn't know it in 2009 when I gave birth, but there was a chance I was exposed to and infected with Hep B thanks to the dangerous practices of my oral surgeon.

My mind is a whirlwind of feelings.  I'm anger at the surgeon; anxious about getting tested; afraid that I could be infected with something, and, worse, could have exposed my family; and proud that our nation's health care system is now set up to protect the public and help people like me have access to these tests.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I can't believe this post hasn't gotten comments. This is SCARY. And real. And, so true. There are so many misinformed people out there.
Thank you for posting this--it couldn't have been easy.