CW mental health, suicide, gender dysphoria
The American healthcare system failed me. Through a labyrinthine cluster f*** of networks, insurance tiers, premiums, out of pocket payments, and hefty balances, I’ve been consistently left with an insurmountable amount of medical debt for less than satisfactory services. In fact, the health care system exacerbated my health problems twice, and both of these events could’ve proved fatal.
One of these incidents occurred in the Summer of 2017. At the time, I was working a dead-end call center job at a logistics company in Chicago. My assigned duty was to receive phone calls from truck drivers and provide them with information regarding their pick-ups and drop-offs. From 6:30 A.M to 2:30 P.M., I fielded 80-100 calls everyday, directing people to bizarre places like Santa Claus, Indiana or Dallas, Texas. I hated it.
The office job didn’t jive with my identity. Even beyond a soul crushing lack of creative freedom, the call center was problematic to my very existence as a transgender woman. Prior to taking the job, I had been transitioning to being a woman for only eight months. While the company was very accepting of my trans identity, talking on the phone was an entirely different matter. My voice didn’t (and still doesn’t) pass as female; I hadn’t taken any form of voice coaching that other trans woman have. In other words, I still sounded like a man, and for 8.5 hours a day, I was repeatedly misgendered by people over the phone.
The call-center job took a toll on my mental health. Before working at the call center, I was already self-conscious about my mind/body disconnect, but this job made everything worse. Even though the drivers referring to me with he/him pronouns didn’t know about my trans identity, enduring people who were unintentionally refuting my womanhood was still agony. I regularly left work early, had emotional breakdowns nearly everyday, and I hid in the restroom to conceal my tear stained face. On one occasion, I stayed home and searched for my dad’s rifle, and even though I didn’t succeed, my sanity imploded and collapsed around me. The pain was suffocating; I wanted to die.
Eventually I couldn’t tolerate the call center anymore. I drove to a nearby doctor’s office, and through sobs, I explained everything I was experiencing in extreme detail. In response, they informed me that I needed to be hospitalized. After I agreed, they dialed an ambulance (I would be billed nearly a grand on a later date). After a short trip to a local hospital via an ambulance, I was transported to the emergency room. In the ER, the doctors, nurses, and others helped do my intake and confiscated my phone and other items so that I could be transferred to inpatient as soon as possible.
This didn’t happen. My health insurance, the one I received from my full time contract work at the call center, didn’t cover inpatient psychiatric hospital stays. As a result, I was forced to remain in the ER for roughly 36 hours while in a suicidal and depressed state. Instead of treating my condition with therapy, prescribing helpful meds, and teaching coping skills, I remained motionless in the ER as the hospital staff, the people who were supposed to be helping me, apologized while they were trying to ship me to a hospital open to receiving me. To them, I wasn’t someone who needed help. I was only a problem.
This wasn’t the first time a hospital mismanaged my care. In the Spring of 2015, I went to the ER after I expressed severe suicidal ideation and capacity for self-harm to my parents. At the time, I had just come out as transgender and expressed my interest in transitioning, but my mental health state was too unstable. I wanted to stop existing, and if not that, then I desired to hurt myself by any means necessary. Punching. Cutting. Driving my car into a tree. Whatever. Hence the hospital.
Unfortunately, I ran into a snag. Despite having terrific insurance at the time through my father’s employer, the major hospital my parents drove me to -the one intended to heal my mind- didn’t accept my insurance for the inpatient psychiatry ward. I endured an overnight stay in the ER just so the hospital could arrange a transport to another hospital via an ambulance which I was later billed nearly a thousand dollars for just so I could go through the entire new patient intake regimen over again.
In 2017, I feared undergoing the same ordeal. Afterall, my 2017 ER visit began almost identically to the 2015 snafu. I was becoming anxious and agitated, and could you blame me? I was severely ill at a hospital that didn’t want to help me. For more than a day, I was denied necessary treatment, constrained to a bed instead of receiving medical attention. I perked up everytime a member of the hospital staff approached me. My mind raced: did they find a place that could help me? Are they sending me somewhere else? Are they relenting? Will they let me enter the promise land of the psychiatric ward? The answer was generally a long fluffy way of saying: “no.”
I felt powerless. Stuck in my bed, I desired to wreak havoc infront of the sorrowful doctors, nurses, and assistants who were unable to assist me. I would’ve loved nothing more than to unleash a tirade of curse words and profanities in the ER. Tell them how I really felt about the quality of their health care. But what good would it have done? The hospital staff weren’t the reason for my mistreatment. Like all workers, the hospital employees are the human faces at the frontline of a heartless uncaring corporation. They didn’t deserve an unruly patient.
Instead, I smiled and pretended everything was fine. I needed to maintain positive mindstate despite my horrible predicament. Even though my mistreatment was standard operating healthcare procedure in a cruel system, I internally joked that maybe they should let me call the other hospitals. Logistics and working on the phone was my current occupation, and while it’s sad that I took light of my situation, my sense of humor acted as my sole coping mechanism in this hellish scenario. God help anyone else who has to endure this.
My skirmishes with the American healthcare system have scarred me for life. While I eventually received the healthcare I desperately needed in 2015 and 2017, the business aspect heavily interfered with my mental, physical, and mortal well being. Even if I wasn’t experiencing severe depression and suicidal ideation, the amount of waiting was detrimental to my health. While I don’t blame the doctors and hospital staff, I do blame the very american health care system. It’s an operation that is rotten to the core.
This is why I decided to share my story. I’m not a politician or a healthcare expert. I don’t know exactly how to fix this. I just know that the status quo isn’t working. My experience exemplifies a healthcare industry that benefits corporations more than people like me who need help. Something has to change. Someone has to give a damn.