Friday, May 12, 2006
Malpractice Mexican Style
Here is one of my essays looking for a home:
Malpractice Mexican Style
By Mary Grabar
I am so glad that President Bush will not make us sing the National Anthem in Spanish.
Lord knows I have been having my troubles with everything else being in Spanish. I once got lost in the Chamblee-Doraville area of Atlanta and I felt as if I had crossed the border. I was trying to find my way to a party, stopped, asked a nice man in a cowboy hat for directions, and we ended up dancing the salsa.
But though I did learn some new steps, the next experience I had with not knowing Spanish could have cost me my job as a temporary visiting-for-four-years adjunct assistant professor. It all began as a result of a sliver in my foot.
My foot injury occurred in Florida at a contra dance weekend that took place at a camp beside a lake.
I had been swinging, dosy-doe-ing, and allemanding my partners down the line until I had worked myself up to an ecstatic state. During a waltz, that takes place in part to cool down this largely aging hippie crowd, a gentleman suggested we take a walk.
So the following afternoon, he led me down to the beach. To put himself into the romantic mood, he stayed in the flowered skirt he wore for the dance. He had let loose all 54 hairs from the ponytail band so his hair could blow in the breeze like Fabio’s.
I took my shoes off and felt the sun-kissed sand between my toes. But as I was listening to his wooing, I took my eyes off what was under my feet.
I gave out a little cry and we stopped. I investigated the bottom of my foot to find six burrs embedded in it. I pulled them out cleanly, except for one. It broke off. Though I was able to dance the rest of the weekend, I could feel that little thing still lodged there.
After I came home I would still feel it. Apparently, my paramour’s homeopathic technique of applying his energy fields and then sucking it out did not work. So I decided to take advantage of my HMO and called my doctor.
I thought my general practitioner would surely know how to get the sliver out of my foot. I called the number to set up an appointment.
But something was wrong with the phone system. After I had gone through eight different keys and entered my date of birth, Social Security number, and policy number, I got only a voice in Spanish. Apparently that part of the recording that says “press one” for English was broken.
After an extensive search I found a translator and learned that my policy required a referral to a podiatrist (she was able to translate the medical language from Spanish: “the general practitioner is not allowed to do feet”). I made an appointment for the following week at 8:30 a.m.
On the appointed morning, I filled out the stack of papers, and let the receptionist make a copy of my insurance card, driver’s license, life insurance policy, and utility bills for the last six months. The receptionist in a Spanish accent then said, “Hmmm, looks like your policy has an exclusion for slivers.”
I said, “That can’t be. I have a referral.”
She tried to call the insurance company’s 800 number but could not get through.
“I’m afraid, Ms. Grabar,” she said, “that if you want to see the doctor today you will have to pay for the bill in full upfront.”
I asked her how much it would be.
She looked through a thick three-ring binder. “Well, a surgical extraction carries a minimum fee of $200.”
I took out my checkbook.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We no longer accept checks. We prefer cash.”
“But I don’t have $200 in cash,” I said.
“Okay, then. A major credit card, but you’ll have to let me take your fingerprints.”
I consented, then made myself comfortable in the Naugehyde chair and began attacking my 96 papers. I spent the next hour cheerfully circling comma splices and apostrophe errors, when I heard the sound of a large vehicle screeching to a stop.
I looked out the window to see a bright red, green, and white bus painted with Spanish words still rocking. Out jumped about twenty Hispanic people, and a Caucasian woman dressed in a power business suit. Another Hispanic woman was dressed in a similar manner. Among this group were three extremely pregnant women.
The two professional women clicked assertively on their heels to the door of the doctor’s office, with the men and other women helping the three pregnant women.
The door opened quickly and the two professional women began speaking sharply in Spanish. They appeared to be giving orders. The receptionist replied and soon three nurses appeared with wheelchairs.
The pregnant women were helped into the wheelchairs and whisked to the back examining rooms. The waiting room was full of commotion and patients held on to their crutches and walkers with looks of amazement and fear. Speaking pleasantly in Spanish, the receptionist brought out a silver tray with ice-cold Dos Equis beers and passed those around to all the new guests.
As they settled in the few remaining chairs and on the floor, we could hear the rushing and bustle from the examining rooms. A barefoot old man, looking startled, made his way from the back to the waiting room with his walker. I offered him my seat.
It was a little more difficult to grade papers standing up, what with all the noise and excitement, but I was able to do it for another hour. But then nature called and all available help seemed to be in the back room. By the time the receptionist came back to check and see if the guests needed anything else I was crossing my legs.
I minced my way up to the window.
She turned around: “Yes?”
“Um, if you need a urine sample, I could fill the jar to the top.”
“We don’t need one,” she said, pulling the window closed.
My attempts at humor fall flat in the classroom too. I rapped on the window. “I re-e-ally have to go,” I said.
“Okay, down the hall on the right.”
I was able to wait until the last Mexican came out, fortunately, and then resumed my spot at the wall.
By now it was late morning. Soon we heard a baby’s cry and a universal “ooh” and clapping from the crowd. One of the Mexican men pulled a flask from his back pocket and passed it around among the other men.
And then in quick succession we heard another baby’s cry and then another’s. The room broke into applause. The podiatrist appeared in scrubs in the doorway. He was flanked by the two smartly dressed women.
“All boys,” he announced, pulling down his surgical mask. The Hispanic woman translated.
The Mexicans applauded and shouted “Viva la Mexico!”
With all the birthing finally over, I thought that if the doctor could see me right then I would be able to make the three classes I had to teach that afternoon, if I skipped lunch.
I went over to make my case to the receptionist. Some of the non-Mexican patients looked at their watches and started gathering up their purses and walking aids.
The smartly dressed Hispanic woman held up her hand.
“Not so fast, Gringos,” she said. “I am from the Latino Legal Defense Fund and my partner,” gesturing to the suited woman next to her, “is from the A.C.L.U. I need you all to sign these forms saying you witnessed the birth of these three new American citizens.”
It took some time to get all the forms filled out. She had to give instructions in both English and Spanish. She had to repeat the instructions because three of the men had gone to the back rooms to admire their new American progeny.
As a result, I missed my first class. I just hope I don’t get fired and lose my health insurance as a result of it.
I'm sorry you had to go through all that trouble just to see the doctor. Irresponsiblity and law breaking are rewarded in this Country. Illegals and pregnant or with children Americans not married get health care. My daughter 24 had to pay when she went to the emergency room. Well she's single and has not kids. But they told her that if she was pregnant or had children they can take care of her medical bills. Go figure!