Those same feet have covered alot of territory between then and the trip to the emergency room last month. Jungles, mountains, my wedding dance floor, long late nights padding up and down the living room gently bouncing a mewling baby on my shoulder. How ignoble, then, to look down at a sudden weird snag during a barefooted meander out the front door, to find a fishhook sticking out of the side of my foot. Huh?
My husband, an engineer with a cool head and bold solutions, found the pliers. Just looking at those pliers made my sphincter tighten. I thanked him politely, but suggested I’d prefer going to the emergency room. In retrospect, maybe the pliers were the better idea.
The emergency room. The solace and safety of western medicine, 24/7. Hobbling into the hospital with my fish-hooked foot in the air was like walking down the log into that cool lake in the jungle, years ago, with the anticipation of relief. So very like that...
As I stood ankle deep in the cool water, I enjoyed the brilliant flash of the tropical hummingbird that buzzed overhead. I reveled in the odd call of the screaming pia from the high branches of a distant rainforest giant. But my shirt was plastered to my body with sweat and an insect repellant Deet smell (and worse) was coming out of every pore. The water was irresistibly cool. I had to jump in. I looked down at the log. That’s when I saw my feet. I suppose I would have noticed sooner or later. I have to say, I’m glad it was sooner.
Blood was streaming out of my toes in smoke-like swirls underwater. Odd. I felt no pain. I was puzzled and just stared at them for a few seconds. Then I saw a flash of silver underwater, and the deep frown of familiar fish. Piranhas.
I was out of the water in a heartbeat.
Piranhas. Efficient and well-designed carnivores. Teeth literally as sharp as razors. They’ll rob you of your life’s blood while you’re looking the other way. I didn’t even know they were there. That was the chilling part. What if I’d stood there a little longer? What if I'd jumped in?
The emergency room couldn’t do much for me except radiate my foot and verify it was, indeed, a fish hook. They gave me a tetanus shot. They sent me home with a dixie cup taped over the protruding metal and instructions to see a foot surgeon the next morning. I laughed at the thought of what they would charge for a dixie cup.
I’m not laughing anymore.
I expected bills. I even expected large bills, knowing the ER isn’t cheap. But the nature of the bills that nibbled at my toes left me chilled. The Sutter medical system is an efficient and well-oiled carnivore. It seems that the patient who walks in the ER door is a cash-cow opportunity that every medical professional within the building wants a piece of. I became the prey of a feeding frenzy. I was billed twice for the resident doctor’s time, once by her office and once by the ER. Same double charge for the radiologist. And then weeks later, I got a third bill for reading the x-ray. The cost of the tetanus shot, the time of the attendant that gave it to me, and the crutches was insane. None of this counts the cost of the surgeon who actually removed the fish-hook the next day (who I would recommend to anyone, BTW).
Flabbergasted and naive, I spent alot of time on the phone with the billing and insurance offices. All the bills were legit.
Our medical system. I know I’m not the only one to have the piranha experience at the hands of Sutter and other for-profit medical companies. And I know others have had much worse. I’m only thinking that it’s time to step out of the water. I just need to find the log.
Oh, and the cost of the dixie cup itself? $1,200.