Saturday, October 11, 2008

More Challenges

I feel it was dumb luck that I survived my aneurism while I was visiting in the US, but the care I have received in my own province since I returned has been less than what I hoped for or expected. Now I face hospital bills that no insurance company will touch, though I carried all the insurance I should have needed.

After spending almost three weeks in the hospital – most of that time in intensive care – they released me and I eventually returned home to Vanderhoof British Columbia with instructions to get a follow-up CAT scan and see a neurosurgeon within two weeks. As soon as I got back I made an appointment with my family doctor who ordered another CAT scan and worked to get me a follow-up with a neurosurgeon. The report from the scan stated that I was recovering normally and everything inside my brain looked fine. My family doctor is a general practitioner and relies heavily on reports from specialists in situations like this one. We didn’t find out until much later how wrong the report had been. Doctors expected recovery to take a long time, so I chalked up my nausea and other symptoms to medication and the healing process.

The earliest appointment I could get with a neurosurgeon wasn’t until November 2008 – over eight months after my original emergency. In the meantime, the Oregon Health and Science University offered free follow-ups. I was still very sick so I took a copy of my CAT scan with me when my wife and I went to the US to discuss my health concerns with someone who was familiar with my case. The surgeon was immediately concerned when she viewed the scan. Even a layperson could see the large space of air inside my skull (approximately the size of two golf balls) caused by a hole somewhere in my sinuses that allowed air to be drawn inside. The doctor wanted to have another CAT scan done immediately, but when I explained that we were from Canada she suggested that I get another scan as soon as we got back to our own country. Again, she told me to see a neurosurgeon as soon as possible. The CAT scan was easy enough to take care of, but finding a neurosurgeon proved no easier than it had been before.

Meanwhile I was getting sicker and sicker. I required continuous care at home because I might need emergency care at any time. My wife stayed home with me as much as she could and my parents were especially helpful looking after me when my wife couldn’t. Every time I got nauseous and threw up, I ended up in the emergency room with an IV to combat my dehydration.

As a teacher I receive wages only during school year months and this made the summer very difficult to bear. We had little income and our expenses were beyond normal. As a result it’s going to take most of the year to rebound from the cost of the numerous trips south. Combine that with the expenses associated with sending an eighteen year old off to university and a newly adopted daughter, we are finding our situation quickly becoming unmanageable.

The second CAT scan revealed that my situation had not improved and my brain was becoming inflamed from the constant exposure to the outside world through the hole in my sinus cavity. My risk for meningitis was ever present as well. My family doctor was becoming more and more concerned and he increased his efforts to find help for me. Though he reminds me that he did very little for me during this time, I will always appreciate his efforts and concerns in light of the fact that even as a doctor, he does not have the authority to act on my behalf because he is not a neurosurgeon.

Yet again, I traveled again to the US for another appointment taking along the second scan which I gave to the doctor immediately upon my arrival. He left the office and when he returned, his first words were that he was scheduling another surgery for the following week. It was obvious that he considered my condition an emergency. Why couldn’t the medical system in BC see the same urgency? I asked about the list of questions we had brought with us but he said that everything I was experiencing was likely due to the air and that the surgery would alleviate all of the symptoms.

I accepted the appointment thinking that between my travel insurance, my BC medical insurance and my extended health insurance I’d find a way to be covered, or I would find a way to get help in BC before the surgery date. None of that came to pass.

I called my various health insurances and contacted our local MLA. All the insurance companies denied helping. My doctor managed to get the appointment with the BC neurosurgeon moved to late September, but my surgery was scheduled for August 4th. I thought that I might be able to hold on when suddenly I came down with some kind of flu and I ended up spending four days in the local ICU. The hospital released me just a few days before we were scheduled to be in the US again. We were out of options and I felt like I was out of time. Every day I was getting sicker and I knew that any unlucky turn for the worse could be my last.

The phone rang in my Vanderhoof home just three days before my scheduled surgery. I thought it might be good news at last. My doctor could put me on a life flight to Vancouver to see a neurosurgeon. I accepted the opportunity, packed and went to the hospital. Things were not as simple as he thought however. There were no beds available and if I went to Vancouver I would be seeing a surgeon for a consultation only. After hearing my case, the surgeon decided that he did not want to try and deal with the problem because according to him the original surgeon aught to do the second surgery. He suggested I borrow the deposit for the surgery and go to the US for care. To me, this was a least a statement that care could not be provided in BC and that if I might be able to have the surgery covered by my medical service plan after all.

I drove to the US. The surgery was a success and two months later I am beginning to feel more like my old self, but the loan and outstanding bills are now making it impossible to carry on my life normally.

Thanks to our local MLA, BC Medical has agreed to look at my case retroactively provided that a neurosurgeon from British Columbia fills out the appropriate forms and submits them. Unfortunately, no surgeon is willing to make a judgment on a case and surgery that they had nothing to do with - regardless of how compelling the evidence is. We are out the cost of the initial fee and are receiving new bills every day. We had just sold our properties and we were looking forward to purchasing a new home when this happened. Now we are ineligible for a home loan and we are currently staying with my parents who have been very gracious. They remind us that we can stay as long as we need to.

I am an insured BC resident who has lived in this province almost my whole life. I went to university here and became a teacher. I’ve been employed by school district #91 for almost twenty years and have maintained a healthy lifestyle along the way. I did nothing that would increase my odds of having an aneurism and I waited for as long as I could possibly wait for the care that I needed. Health insurance means nothing if when there is an emergency no help is available. I needed immediate help and my only option was to go where it was available. British Columbia effectively denied me care by the impossible bureaucratic expectations amidst an urgent situation that could wait no longer.