It all happened so suddenly. No one gave me a warning. No one told me in advance so that I could prepare. But I am pretty sure I know what happened. I am pretty sure my mama received some letter in the mail from Allstate Insurance informing her that our benefits were ending. I am assuming it was a perfectly written letter on Allstate letterhead, written by some asshole in the Accounts Department, who was just following protocol by letting her know (in English, which she didn’t speak, much less read) that Allstate would be discontinuing our benefits. It probably said something like:
Dear Mrs. Velez:
According to your policy XYZ, you have received the maximum allotted treatment of six months and your coverage will be ending on some randomly selected date. Thank you, and we hope you’ll choose us next year for your continued coverage.
-A complete jerk with no empathy.
Regardless of how it happened, I wasn’t prepared for Allstate to discontinue their coverage, because without Allstate, my options were limited. It meant that as an uninsured family we had to pay for all treatment out-of-pocket, or worse, I would have to stop seeing Dr. Gray altogether. And for me, not seeing Dr. Gray was not an option.
It was not an option, because I had such high hopes for what Dr. Gray could do for my scoliosis, what he could do for me. Perhaps I should have never placed such high expectations on him, but he was so convincing. With his reassuring words, I felt confident that I would one day be just like everyone else. I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. I believed him when he told me that I shouldn’t worry about my scoliosis. I never questioned the fact that maybe he couldn’t really help me. I never stopped to think that perhaps my condition was too advanced and I needed another type of treatment. I never doubted his abilities, because I didn’t know there were other options. I didn’t realize that there might be others who could help me. At the young age of nine, I placed every ounce of hope I had for my future well-being in his hands. With his adjustments, I saw my perfectly straight spine come to fruition—I just had to have patience (these things took time).
And despite the fact that he was a bit monotone and kind of lifeless, I looked forward to seeing Dr. Gray during my tri-weekly appointments. His perpetual optimism towards my condition made me feel as though his hands held the cure to scoliosis. But all that faith came crashing down the day he informed me that my car insurance would no longer be covering my chiropractic visits. He stared at me without the familiar optimism and said, “We received a letter from your auto insurance and it looks like the coverage is ending next week. I won’t be able to see you, unless you pay for treatment out-of-pocket.” He said it so nonchalantly—so casually. I could tell that he was completely unaware of the expectations I had of him. With that one statement, it was as if everything else was meaningless. In that moment, I felt lost and completely confused. I didn’t understand how he could completely disregard the promises he had made to me or how he could be so oblivious to how much his words crushed my soul. He looked at me expectantly, and all I could say back was, “Okay.”
I walked out of the room, my mind drifting off. I couldn’t help but think about how fast the time had gone. Had it really been six months since my car accident and my diagnosis? I wasn’t ready for the end; I wasn’t prepared for another option. All those endless daydreams of a perfectly straight spine felt like such a waste of time now. They were dreams that would never come to be. My world seemed to be crashing at a million miles an hour, and I had no way of stopping it. In my mind, there was no other option. He held the cure to my scoliosis. He was there to make me stand straight. To fix my issues. But the end of coverage meant the end of treatment, and the illusions I had formed about one day having a straight spine were gone too.
And just like that, I felt like I was doomed to be curvy forever.
I stepped out into the waiting room numb to what had just happened. I didn’t understand why the insurance didn’t want to continue paying or how Dr. Gray could dismiss me so easily.
My mama was sitting in there dozing off to the sounds of Toy Story in the background. “Mama, vamonos,” I greeted her, telling her we should go. Her tired and watery eyes looked up at me, and I could see the confusion in her face as I woke her from an all-too-deep afternoon nap. As she scrambled to stand up, picking up her water bottle and reaching down to grab her purse, she said, “Que paso?” My mama could sense my state of mind. I told her that the coverage had ended and that we would have to pay out-of-pocket for any future treatment. I remember my mama saying that I shouldn’t worry about it, that we would fix it, that everything in life had a solution. And that was it; we drove home in silence.
Throughout my childhood, we didn’t have health insurance, so naturally, payment arrangements were not foreign concepts. For years earlier, my brother and my mama were forced to deal with making payment arrangements for my father’s illness. My brother was just a kid at the time, but he was the oldest, the most responsible, and the male of the family, and because of that, he held the torch and was forced to deal with all bill collectors and making all payment arrangements for the family. I was still a baby when all of my dad’s issues went down, but I still remember a lot of it, and every time I think about it, I wonder how they survived both my father’s illness and death, and my battle with scoliosis.
It took a week after my last appointment for my brother to contact Dr. Gray. If he was uncomfortable or upset by the situation, he never showed it, he never told me, but I am pretty sure it was all too much for him. As a sixteen-year-old kid, he was determined to find a solution that worked for everyone. I think about it now, and I do not know how he knew what to do. But at sixteen, he was pretty fearless, and it was probably his determination that drove him, his fearlessness that fueled him, and his persistence that made him unstoppable. In the end, he was just a child, and dealing with this was not something he should have ever had to do. But there was no alternative. At least that’s how it seemed. If he hadn’t done what he did, I am not sure who would have.
By the end of it all, my brother had arranged for me to go get chiropractic adjustments twice a month, and massages once a week. The compromise significantly reduced the amount of adjustments I was receiving. I had gone from twelve adjustments a month to two adjustments a month—it wasn’t the ideal situation, but it was all we could afford.
I realize now that this break in insurance gave us a window of opportunity to look for alternatives, but we didn’t take it. We could have sought other opinions, different doctors, alternative medicine—anything else. But I didn’t believe I had other options; I thought Dr.Gray was the only solution to my scoliosis. It was this fierce belief in him that made it extremely difficult for my mama and brother to see the fork in the road as an opportunity, instead of a doomsday scenario. I sometimes wonder how different things would have been had we had some guidance along the way. Perhaps we would have sought some alternative treatment that specialized in scoliosis or even gone to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon. Oftentimes, though, we aren’t ready for alternatives. All too frequently, I think we want to believe in the familiar, because it’s hard to seek novel paths and walk into unknown territory.
In the end, though, it was my extreme tenacity that drove my family and I to continue treatment with Dr. Gray. As it was, he was the one person I believed could cure me, and I wasn’t about to let that go.