I am not a numbers person. I never have been. I got by in math class until I graduated high school and then let my math brain go into early retirement. When the bill comes at dinner I hand it to someone else to divvy up. I throw my pay stubs in an envelope and with little to no thought (until its time to panic at tax time). I forget to look at price tags and then have zero ability to quickly add up in my mind how much things are worth to determine if I'm being overcharged. So, when it comes to navigating deductibles and insurance coverage that same numbing of my synapsis always seems to occur. I can hear the insurance representative speaking in what seems to be a reasonable tone seemingly laying out a logical progression of thoughts, but her words are not translating into my language. It can feel belittling and I often feel the need to interrupt the representative and suggest that perhaps she ought to speak to a grown up about this rather than myself (then I remember I am one of those). So the first part of the armor has been wrapping my brain around deductibles, co-insurance, EOBs, COBRA, and all manner of other acronyms I never had reason to know before. I've had to demystify this process for myself and take ownership over it. I've had to remind myself that no one expects me to be an expert on everything (except myself apparently). It has been my new strategy to remind myself that informed deferment to the people that actually are experts on this stuff is okay.
The next part of the armor has everything to do with self-advocacy as it pertains to my medical plan. It's strange that this should be difficult for me as a big part of my job at the hospital was being a patient advocate and encouraging patients to advocate for themselves. However, when it comes to my own life it feels quite a bit more complicated. I get paranoid. I do not like to be a bother. I don't like the idea of being the patient about whom the medical secretary secretly rolls her eyes. However, I am finding that if I don't keep track of the intricacies of my own medical needs and follow up on them with the doctors myself, they will often go unaddressed. Sometimes this takes multiple calls, call backs, emails, and, hey, sometimes it takes tracking down a physicians vacation home and staking out in the backyard overnight (kidding. don't be frightened).
I think self-advocacy is key in many medical specialties, but there is an added layer that I am beginning to uncover when it comes to reproductive endocrinology. The more I am in this world and speak to other women who are as well, the more my theory is backed up. No physician or nurse or secretary would ever admit this, but there is a certain underlying attitude toward women who require reproductive support. I'm not suggesting this energy is created maliciously. It's indirect and never acted on, but it exists. It's palpable. It's a certain gentle implication of desperation, a nod toward the archetype of the neurotic woman with biological clock ticking , a hint of blaming deep-seated and justified emotions on simply being "hormonal". A certain degree of this exists, but you know what else exists and trumps all that? The questions that I need to get answered. If it takes persistence and fortitude to get those answers -- I've decided I am ready to go to battle.
So what I am turning over in my mind today is how to be this empowered warrior in a strange land unapologetically. I am finding that the more of my genuine self I bring to the process, the more I am treated with humanity. I have had to rise above the paranoia about being "that patient" and reframe it for myself that I am the hero of my own healthcare plan. I've had to remind myself that when I was on the other side of this, I never thought patients with a lot of questions were a bother, I thought they were engaged. I felt for them. I wanted to help all the more. This is battle none of us signed up for, but we were drafted into it and now our best strategy is bravery, heart, knowledge, and hope.