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Opening a Health Bill After My Child's Hospital Stay

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One weekend.

$32,000 in one weekend.

Anxious eyes scan from $32,000 to the bottom account balance you may owe. “This is not a bill” it says. But the weight has already jumped into your stomach. The statement is the harbinger of the bill, the great gust of wind that slams and bounces the screen door open and closed, a squeaking Paul Revere: the bill is coming, the bill is coming!

Yes, it was the 19th floor. No, not the penthouse. Yes, we had room service a couple times, but it wasn’t that kind of party; we didn’t want to be there. We don’t want this statement. It has my child’s name on it from the nearest children’s hospital. It has my name on it as the guarantor.

I swallowed hard, as my brain flashed to the annual salary listed in my very first job offer-letter 20 years ago. This is more. It is more than my brain can imagine for a bill. Not true, I have seen bigger, as memories of hospital sleepovers past dredge themselves up. Still, it jolts me to see a bill with that many numbers next to the two digit utility bill.

“You may owe $8500.” More than a vacation costs — we could buy a used car for that amount. A bill like that can do some major financial destruction. I jump to the computer, looking to see if it has been processed yet. I want to pray, but am unsure what exactly I am even asking. Will we owe that amount? Will it already be processed?

My child is still awaiting a full diagnosis and we have another test tomorrow and five more specialists to see. I don’t know if I have enough adrenaline left for this life. Could my heart please slow down?


One more click. The explanation of benefits file opens. I realize I wasn’t breathing. Deep breath. Out of pockets costs have been met. Congratulations self, you just went from a $32,000 statement, to a “may owe $8500,” to only owing $2800. Only. The statement did its job in managing my expectations, as now the coming bill seems a little less like doom.


But my gut still feels punched because all I can think about is how fast and easy it is for a family to lose footing over health bills. I’ve scanned news articles this year, trying not to be scared about what is happening in healthcare and government while I am up to my ears in caring for my own family. I am exhausted, I can’t write to every politician or dredge up energy to loudly protest. Not today, anyway. Today, I can barely get dinner made and yesterday’s dishes are still in the sink. And there are more, so many more families like mine, so many parents like me.

My husband gets home, and with the opposite of my panicked look, reminds me, as always, “It will be OK.” And this time, for us, it will be, somehow. I am grateful. I know I am lucky, privileged, blessed. But my heart still aches.

It aches for my own family and how illness impacts each of us. It aches for the other families I know, struggling with their own illnesses and bills.

It aches with a feeling of powerlessness, for all these things I cannot control, for the people I cannot help. Discouragement is a
mighty enemy. But this fight is far from over.

Hope is a powerful four letter word.

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Originally published: August 7, 2017
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