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So, in the end, I went in to apply for disability, right? I had very little choice in the matter. The problem I was having---and a very odd one, at that-- was getting so bad that I could no longer function, at least not as an assembly line worker. I was alarmed at first when I noticed the lump that seemed to be slowly forming on my abdomen. In the very beginning, I thought it was all my imagination, but slowly, day by day, it grow larger and larger minutely, until I had to acknowledge its presence. By the time I went to see a doctor, it was the size of a golf ball. The doctor filled out a work order, and the following week I checked into the hospital as an outpatient to have the lump tested. By now the lump had swollen beyond the size of a golf ball, and was nearly the size of a tennis ball. By the time the test results were returned to the doctor and I returned for my follow-up visit, the lump had exceeded the size of softball. At that appointment, despite the distressing rate at which the lump was growing, my doctor assured me that there was nothing to worry about. The mass (for here he called it just that-- ´the massµ: an infinitely more disturbing word than ´the lumpµ) was nothing more than a fibroid tumor. He went on to explain that fibroid tumors, although they can become frighteningly large, were virtually never cancerous. The problem could be cured by a simple surgery. I thought that ¶simple surgery· sounded too much like an oxymoron, but kept my mouth shut as he wrote out a referral for me to see a specialist. By the time that appointment came, the lump-and here, even to me, the word now seemed inappropriate; it was actually more of a hump-- was fast approaching the size of a soccer ball. For several days already I had been suffering back pain from the sheer weight tugging downward from my stomach. The specialist gave me a prescription for muscle relaxants for my back, and wrote out a work order to have more tests. Those tests turned out to be the exact same tests my family doctor had ordered previously, only now the growth had grown to a size so large it could no longer be described in terms of sporting equipment. At work, where I was already tolerating an endless series of pregnancy jokes, I was having a hard time performing my job, what with backaches at first and then with difficulties with my breathing due to the sheer size of the growth. My supervisor suggested that I go on
medical leave until I could have the surgery, and that was just what I did. I ended up staying at home, trying to find a comfortable position on the sofa so I could watch cable television all day, which, at first, was a welcomed change of pace from my regular routine. As it turned out, my follow-up visit to the specialist was postponed for a week, because he had to leave town on a family emergency. While waiting for the new appointment date, I noticed it was with increasing difficulty that I could do simple everyday things, like eating meals, going to the bathroom, getting dressed. Even the mere acts of standing, sitting, lying, and walking were being greatly impaired by the growth, which was reaching gargantuan proportions, hanging over my belt like an enormous drop of flesh whose dead weight increased daily. I despaired at the thought of going to see the specialist now. I had to have someone drive me to the medical office, for I could no longer sit behind the steering wheel of my car. Walking could only be accomplished by bending drastically forward, allowing the growth to swing somewhat free from my body, so that I could more easily inch my feet forward. My next door neighbor heard of my problem, and paid me a visit one day. He was a retired welder, a religious man from the local Baptist church. Much to my surprise, he informed me that his aging aunt, many years before, had had a similar growth, and he assured me he would return in a couple days with something that would greatly help me. What he brought me didn·t look like anything so much as a small shopping cart with one side open. If I stood close to the open side of the cart, I could rest the growth upon a padded shelf inside the cart, thereby taking the weight of it off my back so that I could stand erect. I could walk, using only small steps-- for the cart had to be held so close to my body; it was awkward at first, but after a while, I found I could move about quite comfortably. When I returned to the specialist, he marveled at the ingenuity of the cart. He examined the growth, which he estimated as weighing about seventy pounds. He tried to make me feel better by noting that a woman in Texas once had a fibroid tumor that weighed over two hundred pounds, and then quipped that, well, he guessed they grew just about everything in Texas bigger. He gave me the name of a surgeon, and instructed me to call his office to arrange for a date to check into the hospital to have the growth removed at last. I was relieved that soon I would be rid of this hideous thing that was erupting out of me. I really needed to get back to work; I was not being paid for my medical leave, and my emergency money-- not much to begin with, as I·d never been a big saver-- was dwindling fast.
A day before I was scheduled to enter the hospital, a representative from its billing office called me. She was polite and sympathetic, but she had to inform me that my medical insurance would not cover the surgery. As it turned out, surgeries to remove such large tumors were rare, and the insurance company considered such surgeries experimental because of their infrequency. Besides that, my condition was not considered life threatening. I was stunned into speechlessness; the idea of having to tolerate this-- this beast protruding from my body any longer«. The woman went on to say she regretted that the hospital could not do anything for me, and that she knew how I must feel-- which I highly doubted. She promised to refer my name to one of the social workers at the hospital, who would call as soon as possible to see if there whether I qualify for outside assistance. Nobody could imagine the depths of depression I suffered after that phone call. Had I been more mobile, I would probably have moped around the house twenty-four hours a day. As I was, I ended up sofa-bound for the most part, watching television, or sometimes just staring at the blank screen with the television off. Always, I had the cordless phone at my side, awaiting the call from the social worker, fearful of missing it. As days passed, I began to believe, surely, that there would be some kind of outside help. Of course, there would be-- there had to be-- how many people do you see walking down the street with freakish conditions such as mine? Not many, if any at all. Society would not permit such a thing. If an insurance company failed, a state agency would not; if state agencies failed, a private agency would not«. The social worker called me at last. She sounded very professional, and spoke in very soothing tones. Try as I might I couldn·t imagine what how she looked. She mostly asked questions, long strings of questions, the point of which was lost on me. How long have you been on medical leave?« Are you covered by an insurance program at work? « What was your monthly income when you were working?« How much money do you have in the bank? And stocks, bonds or other investment?«Do you own a car?-- what year, make and model?« My financial existence had never really been very good, but it wasn·t until after answering all these questions that I realized what a miserable failure I had been at managing money. But, in this case, that ought to be a good thing, right? When she had finished asking questions, she suggested that the first thing I ought to do was apply for disability. In case all else failed, she said, at least you would
have that. I was disqualified from getting cash or food stamps because the blue book value of my car was too much-- here, I was stunned that she had checked the blue book value of my car. For the time being, she would send me an application for state aid, to get a medical card. However, she warned, she was not certain it would be approved, given the fact I had private insurance coverage. But she would send me the application, plus a list of requisite documentation, for me to submit. I would get a determination with sixty days. Sixty days! I was appalled that it would take so long. I could hardly afford the time; who knew how large the tumor would become by then? The specialist had assured me the rate of growth would decline, and eventually the tumor would remain the same size. But he couldn·t say exactly when that would be. When I received the application for a medical card, I filled it out and mailed it back. I also ordered the forms to apply for disability, and sent those in, too. Now all there was to do but wait, wait and hope that this monstrous lump, so remindful these days of another entire body, would stop growing. I had a telephone interview with a representative of the social security administration. He reviewed my application, and once informed as to the natural of my disability, assured me that I sounded severe enough for approval upon the first submission. I was somewhat relieved that at least I would have some money coming in to pay my bills, on which I was falling behind to a troubling extent. Bill collectors had begun calling the house, at first concerned that I was falling behind-- as I had always had a fine history of payments-- but now, lately, they had started calling not with concern or sympathy anymore, but rather with rude demands for payments. By the time the state medical card was approved, the growth weighed a staggering hundred and thirty-seven pounds. The small cart I used to carry it around now creaked and groaned with each turn of its wheels. The only good thing was that it appeared that the growth of the tumor had ceased, and it would become no larger. I called the surgeon to reschedule the surgery, now elated that at long last I would be rid of the growth. Seconds ticked off torturously as the day of the surgery approached. I received a call, one day, from billing office of the hospital. It sounded like the same woman who had called me before, only now she sounded curt and direct. She
informed me that the state was refusing to cover the cost of the surgery. How could they possibly refuse to pay for it? I wondered. The woman explained that-- and here I could check with the state myself-- the position of the state was that I already had valid health insurance, and that that policy ought to cover the surgery. Although my lack of income qualified me to get a state medical card, the existence of private insurance relieved the state of having to cover my medical bills. I reminded the woman that my private insurance wouldn·t cover the cost of this kind of surgery. She assured me that she understood this, and that she mentioned it to the supervisor she·d spoken to on my behalf. She said that, on that point, the state·s position was that if your own private insurance won·t cover the surgery, why should they, the state? Of course, I could appeal this decision, request a hearing, and then maybe in sixty days«. Now I was incensed. The weeks of wading through red tape and morons-- and in the end to be denied, to be coldly informed that I would be burdened indefinitely by this deformity of my body. It was almost too much to bear. I felt if I were not rid of this growth immediately, I would lose my mind. Each night, now, as I struggled to get comfortable enough to fall asleep, I wondered why me? What crime or sin had I committed in my life that caused me to now suffer such an awful punishment? Each day, I fended off the phone calls, virtually every one demanded money, money for past due credit card payments, money for past utility bill payments, money for past due mortgage payments« and on and on. And, oh, the threats, threats of foreclosure, threats of ruined credit, threats of having the electric and gas shut off«. I began to pray, literally, though not really a pious person. I·d pray to God that though I couldn·t have the surgery to relief me of the abominable affliction, at least grant me some peace of mind, at least relieve me of fear of being put out on the street, at least allow my disability to be accepted readily so that I·d have some income to pay off my bills. Days passed, and then weeks, but there was no word of my application. Whenever I called, I was told the application was still pending. What could possibly be taking so long? This was a simple determination, after all. Look at me: I have that hideous misshapen mass of flesh sprouting out of my midsection«. And yet time dragged on, and each day I made my torturous outing to the mail box looking for something that wouldn·t come.
At long last, I found an official-looking letter in my mail box. This was it, I was certain, already thanking God for the relief I was about ready to receive. I ripped the letter open and my eyes devoured the determination, which read, ´After careful review of your application and medical records, we have determined that while your medical condition(s) prohibit you from performing jobs that you have held in the past, it is still possible for you to perform less physically demanding jobs. Therefore, we have no choice, at this time, but than to deny your claim of disability«.µ I must have let the notification slip through my fingers, then, the paper fluttering to the ground, where the wind blew it around just like any other piece of litter. I now entered that sphere of human existence were anger was no longer possible. I was beyond anger, and entering the giddy, otherworldly realm of true madness. I was even giggling, then, as I walked back into the house-- giggling mindlessly, as I pushed before me the little cart whose ugly hulking passenger in no way rendered me disabled. Oh, yes, I could still find gainful employment-- maybe in some sideshow, along with Luther the Dog-faced Boy, the Bearded Woman, and Pete the Pinhead. I wandered into my kitchen, and peeked into the refrigerator, which was fast growing empty. Hidden far back on the top shelf there was a bottle of beer. I·d lost the taste for beer long ago, and the bottle must have been there untouched for a couple years. I grabbed the bottle, and rifled through the cabinet drawers, searching for a can opener. My eye caught on the gleaming blades in the drawer, and then fixed on the one I·d always found so enigmatic because it always came in most knife sets yet I·d never had a use for it. Now I grabbed the clever and studied my reflection in its shiny wide blade. I set it atop the counter. I found the bottle opener, and opened the bottle of beer. When I took a sip, it tasted odd and bitter, but I kept drinking it. I walked to the phone, and dialed my insurance company. When I got a representative on the line, she sounded most pleased to help me with any questions I might have about my policy. I explained that I just wanted to confirm my coverage: wasn·t it true that I was covered one hundred percent for emergencies. After a few seconds she told me that Yes, that was true. When she asked whether she could help me in any other way, I assured her that she·d done enough. I hung up the phone, took a sip of beer, and headed back to the kitchen. I was already laughing like a madman.
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