January 3rd. On a night when I was supposed to enjoy myself with friends, one wrong turn on an electric tricycle, I would find myself in pain and debt for the next few months.
Complete fracture of the left humerus. I read on the diagnostic file while wheeled into the emergency room. A normal human being would probably writhe in pain once the adrenaline stops rushing. Still, I was more worried than about the work I was leaving behind or what I would tell my family, let alone the expenses I would incur once the whole ordeal was over.
The Medical City – Clark is one fine facility. After spending my first night doused with narcotics, I remembered that it almost looked like a hotel. By then, I thought I wouldn’t miss it. After all, my doctor told me that I would get surgery the next day. So I should be out in a couple of days anyway.
And then he got COVID
I remembered the RT-PCR test, and I doubt anyone who underwent it would forget how freaking painful and uncomfortable it was. But it was a tiny sacrifice to make to get along with the surgery. You should be fine for surgery tomorrow once the test comes back negative, one of the multitudes of rotating nurses on that shift said.
The next day, another nurse confirmed the worse: I tested positive for antigen and swab tests. The nurse said, we will refer you to an infectious disease doctor, which didn’t make sense because I felt wonderful. I was one of the few clean ones in the sea of flu-stricken post-holiday-mongers. But I digress.
Getting COVID meant that my surgery would be postponed until the infectious disease doctor gave her the green light. We need to make sure that your antibodies are up, she said. But Doc, I don’t feel anything, I protested. She frowned, or at least I thought she did. You can’t see anything from the double N-95 masks, glass face shield, and PPEs. Well, we still need to be careful, even if you are asymptomatic.
Being careful meant being stuck in the COVID isolation room for the next eight days, just making sure that my broken arm stayed pretty in its cast. I busied myself with Netflix shows (I finished “Schitt’s Creek” during this time) using my data since the Wi-Fi password they gave me sucks. I am probably the first hospitalized person to gain weight because my friends did nothing but send me food. I learned to gouge on Lola Nena’s cheesy donuts and fried siopao. I ordered so much that I had to throw some before I went.
Finding something to do in isolation was a mental health struggle in itself. I was one of the lucky ones, being stuck in a comfortable hospital bed with a cable TV turned on 24/7 (although it wouldn’t hurt to have given me a functional remote, so I didn’t have to change the channels manually!). I also had my company laptop to play Diablo II when my arm permitted me illegally. I got so bored that I went back to work on my fourth day in isolation! I did interviews in a sling and high on Tramadol, which pretty much guaranteed I could handle anything, even a metal rod and screws being stuck in my arm.
The 11-year cycle
Thursday, ten days after the accident. I finally got the signal to proceed with the surgery. It matters to explicitly say that I pretty much handled all this on my own. Of course, Telle and Marius (THE friends) were there virtually for support, but because of COVID restrictions, I had zero visitors and underwent surgery alone with no backup. Had I died there, I wondered if they would have phoned someone. Surely they will, though it would be an awkward moment, given that my emergency contact is in another province altogether.
The surgery wasn’t a source of stress whatsoever. I got my appendix removed eleven years earlier, also requiring general anesthesia. The risk of infection was higher than, and recovery time was longer, and I survived that. This was nothing. I was in a more excellent hospital with ten doctors and nurses, so it was the best place to be if I flatline. They stuck propofol in my system, and I was out after a few seconds or so (who knows, really?) I remembered rotating nurse #1283716287 that my “honest” was one of their best doctors. What the hell is an ‘honest?’ I asked myself. I only realized post-surgery that it was short for an anesthesiologist. Welp.
The hospital wanted to kick me out the very next day after surgery, so I made it a point to call my brother from Manila to Pampanga to bail me out. Ironically, the night after surgery was one of the best sleep ever because of all the narcotics they pumped inside me. Looking back, drilling three holes and inserting a foot-long titanium rod inside my arm sounds painful, but I slept pretty well.
Never forget: Where is the 65B, Philhealth?
My brother arrived the next day. I felt good—not too worried about the bills. I already paid the 57 grand for the titanium rods and screws in cash, so I figured my HMO and Philhealth could cover the rest of my bills. WRONG!
All in all, I had to pay like 200k grand out of pocket while maxing out my HMO and Philhealth paying a squat 13k. I don’t remember them being so cheap: in my previous operation in 2011; they paid like 30k, then my card paid 50k. It was appalling that they didn’t cover more, but then again, with the Philhealth scammers shouldering like all the COVID bills, it is easy to see why they would cut corners elsewhere.
The fact that none of the health personnel want to put their trust in being paid by Philhealth supports this. Well, they don’t want to get paid by my HMO either. They want cold hard cash, which was what killed me. But, considering what the pandemic cost these HCWs, I will give them a pass.
The last sentence was no joke. There was a sheer shortage of nurses in TMC – Clark when I was there. My entire discharge scenario was a comedy of errors. The hospital was so understaffed that they only had one nurse (trainee) assigned to my wing. Since I paid via credit card, I had to be there at the billing station to pay, but I could not because of policy. So that kind (but visibly annoyed nurse) had to shuffle the receipt back and forth until I was fully paid, something totally out of his scope and was a poor use of his niche skills.
Pay up or just get buried, I guess
The Philippines is no stranger to exorbitant healthcare fees. Despite being one of the top medical tourist destinations in the region and having one of the highest HCWs per capita, we somehow could not keep the costs down. Sure, we have government facilities that cater to the worst infectious/chronic cases. Still, these are also overtaxed, especially during the pandemic, when entire wings and a slew of hospital beds are converted to COVID wards. I was one of the lucky ones actually, getting the best care at one of the best hospitals in the country. But at what cost?
My entire emergency funds and half of my savings that is. Worse, looking at the bill was sickening, knowing you pay through the nose for every single thing like face masks or PPEs or other staff you usually don’t think about. So I should be thankful, and I am.
I am not one of those I heard die on the way to the hospital. If not, they die outside the ER while waiting for disgruntled help that never came. If help did come, I wasn’t worried about how I was getting out since I could pay. My family wouldn’t be concerned about getting my corpse because they owe the hospital millions.
But what about those who are not me? What about them? Everyone knows someone with a hand-to-mouth existence. Yet, even those who live a comfortable life told me they would rather die at home than owe millions in a hospital. Is this the right way to live? Is this not against human rights?
Everyone deserves to live. Healthily.
Look, countries exist with garbage healthcare, like the US. And there is Canada and those welfare state countries in Europe that don’t charge 100 grand for an ultrasound. Idiots vilify high taxes for the sake of social-democratic welfare programs, like subsidized housing, education, and, yes, HEALTHCARE.
We can do it too. We should be one step from doing this with Philhealth mandating free healthcare for all senior citizens. But until we get our shit together as a nation and stop voting for thieves who will steal or appoint someone to steal from these important institutions, I am afraid we are on our own.
Get a health insurance plan. It will cost you a few bucks, but it will save you. The government surely won’t.
Jay-ar G. Paloma
Jay-ar G. Paloma is an HR executive by day and a frustrated artist by night. Jay-ar likes to read and write fiction and opinion pieces relating to LGBTQ, social media, and culture. When not engrossed in a book, he is probably playing a tune on his guitar or keyboard. Leave your love notes to Jay-ar here: firstname.lastname@example.org.