20. The Search For a Pot of Gold

Some people say that things happen for a reason. Sometimes you have no idea what that reason is, and sometimes the reason is so obvious you can’t ignore it. Maybe the reason things happen a certain way is because they need to happen in that particular way. I know it sounds trite, but in the moment, it’s hard to see it that way. When things happen and doors close, it’s hard to see the possibility of it all.

For me, the closed door was no health insurance. It was getting denied for Medicaid. It was knowing that at least for the near future, I would not have surgery. It was the uncertainty of my own future health.

I looked at that closed door and realized that life had taken a very unexpected turn. I had been so confident that Medicaid would be approved that I hadn’t considered the possibility that it wouldn’t be. Flor, my mama’s friend, had a family member who worked at the Medicaid office in Orlando and she had offered to help. She came over one day and helped my mama fill out all the necessary paperwork to make sure we would get approved. She had said there would be no issue with our application and it was pretty much a done deal.

But after a few weeks of waiting for the decision, my mama went back to her and asked her what the status was and she mentioned that it appeared that the income was the issue. We had submitted the application for Medicaid right after we sold the one piece of investment real estate my father left for us before he died. And of course, to Medicaid office, it seemed like we had so much more at our disposal than we normally had. And that was enough for them to deny my application.

“El edificio,” as my mama would say, “the building,” was our inheritance that my father had purchased in partnership with his sister, my aunt, Leticia. My mama had been wanting to sell it for years, mostly because it was located in Union City, New Jersey and we were living in Orlando, Florida. I am convinced that managing el edificio from a distance was just too much for her to handle. I get it. I am not too sure I would be keen on keeping a building under those circumstances either. But even though my mama was eager to sell, Leticia wasn’t. She had dedicated her life to el edificio, and she hadn’t wanted to give it up so easily. She had spent almost 20 years of her life managing the tenants in that building, and she didn’t really want anyone else involved. I am not too sure what made her change her mind, but that fall, Leticia decided she was going to sell her part of the building as well. My mama says that Luis Alfonso, my uncle, talked her into selling the building. I think he thought that she would be better off in Florida, where her family was living. She was getting older and it probably didn’t make much sense for her to be in New Jersey all alone while her family were all in Florida. Regardless of what actually happened, she agreed to sell el edificio, and that one decision was the catalyst of it all.

You would think this would be the best thing that could happen to us, but it wasn’t. When my mama signed the paperwork, our income went from almost non-existent to clearly measurable. It was because we sold el edificio, because Leticia finally gave in, that Medicaid denied our application. And unfortunately, the income generated by selling the building was simply not enough to cover the cost of the surgery.

So, there I was—the door of opportunity had been slammed shut in my face and I didn’t see a way out.

I think back to that time, and it’s almost like I erased that episode in my mind. The memories are so faded, it all feels like a dream I once had, not a reality I once lived. Every day had begun to fade into the others and they no longer had individual characteristics. Each day that passed was just like the day before it and I had begun to feel like time was no longer passing, and instead, I was trapped in one eternal day. Like the main character in the movie Groundhog Day, I too fell into the never-ending cycle of repetition. Numbed by the circumstances, lost in my own mind, I proceeded to carry out each day as if nothing really mattered, because without health insurance, without the ability to get the surgery, I felt like it didn’t matter.

As the days passed, my mama was growing increasingly wary.
With the lack of health insurance, getting denied for Medicaid, and no chance of getting private health insurance to cover my surgery, you could feel the desperation in my mama’s entire presence. She didn’t know what to do.

Quite often, she would talk to my brother about my situation. They would sit at the kitchen table talking about it and it was clear that no one knew what to do. Quietly, secretly, I would sometimes sneak out of bed to listen. My mama would always desperately seek out my brother for a solution to the health insurance issue, and my brother would try to calm her down, even though he was also lost in it all. He didn’t have the answers. He had no solution to my issue.

But after so many of the same conversations, my brother decided to come along to my next checkup with Dr. Sinclair to see what my options were.

For months after getting denied health insurance, I saw Dr. Sinclair only to monitor the progression of my curve. I didn’t have physical therapy or alternative treatment done. I didn’t see anyone for pain management. I stuck to my monthly appointments in a libo-state, waiting for the day that my surgery would take place. Defeated by my circumstance, I was tired of trying. Instead of doing something, anything, to try to stop or slow down the progression of my curve, I did nothing, and it got worse and worse. In retrospect, I realize that this was a horrible decision.

The day of my checkup, we arrived extra early. We were so early that the offices hadn’t opened yet, and we had no choice but to sit and wait for someone to acknowledge our presence. Eventually, a squeaky voice in the distance called us over to her office. We all stood up, filled with both dread and hope, and walked toward her office.

The lady behind the desk was wearing a black-and-white polka-dot dress, and mesmerizing red lipstick. She looked like she was about to go out swing dancing but ended up stuck at work instead. She didn’t look up to greet us when we walked in. She simply pointed to the chairs and told us to have a seat. Focused on her screen, she muttered,“I’ll be right with you,” and continued to type. “Okay, I have your information pulled up. How can I help you?”

My brother began to explain my situation.

He told her about my time at the chiropractor, my doomsday visit with the geriatric orthopedic, the building we had just sold, getting denied for Medicaid and the ultimate reason we were there: because we needed a concrete solution. He spoke and spoke and the more his words came out, the further and further I went. I couldn’t listen anymore to the same story again. I didn’t want to relive my situation through his words. So I zoned out. I thought about anything other than the words that he was saying.

After about five minutes of his ceremonious explanation, I could finally feel like it was coming to end, which was when she she took the opportunity to say, “Oh, I understand the issue you are in, but you probably qualify for some aid from the new Florida state-funded program called Florida KidCare.”

As she pointed out, however, there had been only a handful of kids who received full coverage. My mama sat there nodding emphatically as she looked at the woman, thoughtfully trying to grasp at any word she could understand from the conversation.

The woman paused for a moment as she looked inside her desk and pulled out a yellow brochure that explained the details of the program. She handed it over to my brother and he sighed with relief. I could tell he felt comforted by an option, any option, that might be able help me get through this.

I, however, wasn’t so optimistic. I decided that I was not going to get my hopes up. I wasn’t prepared, at the time, to deal with another disappointment. So while my brother and mama seemed to have a new-found confidence. I stepped out of her office prepared for the worst, because after all, I had already been through so much and I wasn’t really prepared for more.

It took exactly six weeks for us to get a decision from Florida KidCare. The day the decision arrived, I walked to the mailbox with Beau to get the mail. He had come with me so many times to get the mail that I never put a leash on him anymore. It was the same path every day, and he walked it with confidence. I put the key in the slot and turned it to the right, and when I peeked in, there it was, a brown manila envelope. I pulled it out and grasped the envelope with both hands. I was so relieved that something had arrived, but I was also terrified of what was actually inside. I closed my eyes and secretly prayed that this envelope held the solution to my problem. I held it close to my chest and walked home.

I came into my house and yelled for my mama. She ran to the entrance of the house and together we opened the envelope. I pulled out the paperwork and read through the decision. The good news was that they had approved me for 90 percent coverage. The bad news was that the additional 10 percent was our responsibility, as well as all doctor’s visits. The sheer happiness on my mama’s face was truly a priceless moment. She hugged and kissed me and together we celebrated the news.

Sometimes things do work out exactly the way they are supposed to. In my case, selling el edificio led to me getting denied for Medicaid, but it also meant that we had the money to afford covering the 10 percent for Florida Kidcare. Maybe things could have happened in a different way, or maybe they happened the way the needed to happen. Either way, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was one step closer to the surgery I needed.

4 thoughts on “20. The Search For a Pot of Gold

  1. This made my eyes wet. Hard to understand how anyone can be denied a life saving surgery. I know docs have to be paid, hospitals have to earn income to pay staff and expenses, but….. there should be a better way. Happy to read you found your pot of gold and lifesaver!

    1. Thanks Marie ♥ There must be a way, it’s just not always easy to find. I know there are hospital like St. Jude’s, but at that point we had no idea there existed a hospital like St. Jude’s.

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