Medical Insurance: Essential and Infuriating

Roughly 24 hours after Jay and I had landed in Italy (it seemed weeks ago), Scarlett and I sat on hard chairs in the cramped hospital room, talking quietly to Jay. He seemed submerged – whether because of the drugs or pain or exhaustion, I couldn’t be sure – but stoic. He was alive after all, and had suffered no spinal or brain damage. In fact, I thought that if the pelvis would heal by itself as the nurses said it would, surely it must be a fairly minor fracture. Except if it was, why did he have to remain immobilized for 40 days? I longed for someone, anyone, to explain the matter!

Jay spoke little, and although I shared what I’d learned from my sortie to the nurses’ station , I couldn’t be sure he’d absorbed it. He insisted I not tell our children – his son, his daughter who was overdue to give birth to her first child, our two sons – anything about the accident. He didn’t want anyone to worry, we didn’t know enough yet. I agreed, though I wanted to tell them. I didn’t think I could deal with this alone.

The din in the hospital was raucous, the heat suffocating. Italians filled every room, shouting at each other. At the end of the wide hall doors opened onto a terrace; cigarette smoke wafted in. Jay had no appetite and the food they delivered was repulsive, the smell alone enough to make one gag. In this, if nothing else, Italian hospitals were no different from those around the world.

“It may be a drastic way to lose weight, but something good could come out of this,” Jay joked wanly.

I’d brought him his toiletries, but soon realized that these nurses provided no personal hygiene care. I helped him brush his teeth – a messy operation since he could not even lift his head – but had no cloth or soap to clean him up. It must have been 40 degrees in the room. He lay naked under a thin sheet, sweat pouring off him.

Along his left side a massive bruise blossomed, angry purple and greenish yellow. The area was swollen, hard to the touch. He also had scrapes and bruises on his forehead, elbow, shoulder – all on the left side. He had obviously landed there – and probably only survived because he was asleep and totally relaxed when he fell.

I wandered down the hall and placed another call to the insurance company, anxious to know if they would cover the cost of some sort of home care if Jay had to leave hospital. I couldn’t imagine how I would figure out those details, but it would certainly be expensive. When I reached the insurance company, the woman who answered knew nothing about my previous call.

“That was the emergency desk, the night desk,” she said.

I sighed and explained the situation again. Eventually she found evidence of my call; the name had been spelled wrong. She gave me a claim number. I asked what exactly was covered by the policy.

“If the claim is approved, everything should be covered. But you must get our approval before any medical procedures, tests, scans, operations.”

“Why wouldn’t the case be approved?” I asked.

“That’s hard to say,” she said, “The team will meet to determine the legitimacy of the claim in the next few days. If there was alcohol involved, for example, the claim might be refused.”

I felt dizzy. What did that mean, if there was alcohol involved? Surely we had not signed a waiver to forgo drinking in order to be covered. We were on holiday after all!

I promised to notify her before allowing any further tests, noting that they’d already done X-rays.

“Oh yes, that’s fine,” she said. “As long as it is medically essential.”

Did she think Jay might choose to have a mole removed in Italy because he happened to be in the hospital?

“When will they decide about the claim?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. You’ll be assigned a case manager who should be in touch soon.”

I gave her Scarlett’s UK cell number so they could contact me through her. My cell phone was not functioning properly, despite the outrageously expensive SIM card I’d bought at the airport. I could text out to Canada, but could not receive texts in return. Ditto phone calls. So I’d paid a king’s ransom for a one-way cell phone. At first that had seemed a minor inconvenience. Now it was a nightmare.


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