Thursday, April 24, 2008

Incidental Economics of Illness

In a freakish turn of events, I dined out recently with two friends and I was the healthy one. (Well, okay, the visibly healthy one, if you must).

My two friends are preternaturally athletic, the type who run marathons and triathlons, who scale mountains on other continents, and generally amaze me with their natural ability and iron work ethic. Yet that night, they were wearing identical walking boots, having each suffered metatarsal injuries of some sort. One was even on crutches.

And there I was, not a sprained ankle, torn ligament, or broken bone to be had. Finally, I got to hold doors open and offer to carry bags for someone else.


As our little trio limped down the city street, one my friends commented on the hassle it was being somewhat incapacitated.

“It’s really expensive,” she added, commenting on the number of cabs she’d had to take lately when the walk to public transportation would have been too much for her injured foot.

I nodded vigorously.

She’s right. Now, I realize just how far down on the priorities list this topic is. I know how expensive chronic disease is in terms of productivity and lost wages. I’ve seen Sicko; I know people with health insurance lose their homes and livelihoods, and even their lives. I know many other people do not have insurance, so a broken bone or X-ray or MRI can be a catastrophic cost.

I’m certainly not arguing any of that. But that topic is much larger, more unwieldy and complicated and frustrating, than what I am attempting to focus on here. So with that caveat in mind, shall we?

When you add up all the little expenses that come with being sick, those incidental little things that aren’t neatly categorized like co-pays and deductibles are, it really is costly.

Like my friend, I’ve definitely paid for many, many cabs when I’ve been too broken/adrenally-depleted/infection-ridden or otherwise worn out to take public transportation. I’ve paid tons of exorbitant parking garage fees because I couldn’t walk to a place or knew by the end of the event or appointment I wouldn’t be up to commuting.

Don’t even get me started on the number of non-refundable plane, train, theatre, and concert tickets we’ve lost money on when my health status changed quite rapidly and we had to cancel our plans. (Yes, sometimes people are understanding and work something out with us, but that is not the norm.) And of course there are the projects and jobs I’ve turned down because I’ve gotten too sick or landed in the hospital, but that’s another issue.

Despite our insistence on store brands and the fact we only buy enough for the meals we eat in one week, grocery shopping is more expensive because, frankly, most of the inexpensive food I cannot eat. Now, I do love me fresh produce, and all-natural, gluten-free grains, soymilk, and the $2 GF energy bars I grab to keep in my briefcase as a quick non-perishable snack, but they are by no means inexpensive. I’m sure all of you with various GI issues and dietary restrictions can relate.

Even dining out costs more than it might for the average person at the average restaurant because very often, the only “safe” menu choices beyond a small garden salad are the grilled fish entrĂ©e or the steak. No cheap middle of the road burger or sandwich or affordable domestic beer.

Anyway, I could keep listing all the ways illness sucks money out of my pocket, but I realize to even notice these incidentals is a luxury. It means the truly costly parts of life with chronic disease are under control.

It could be a lot worse.

(But I know you’re nodding your head and mentally cataloging your own incidentals list, too. It's okay.)


Anonymous said...

funny you post this...i'm about to call a cab to take me the mile to work b/c i can't walk there on my foot...and i felt so extravagant at dinner the other night (and embarrased about it) b/c everyone else was getting appetizers (fried food i can't eat...and i can't eat salad either) and i was all...can i please have the grilled salmon?

anyway, you've hit the nail on the head here!

Never That Easy said...

Oh boy, that incidental list could be out of control! (And that's not even counting all those stupid 'cures' I tried, or all of those expensive treatments that wound up doing... nothing at all.) As usual, totally on point.

And oh my goodness, I just saw that you have a book signing at the Porter Square Book storein July! I'm going to do my very best to come (although we'd have to be all incognito, cuz... you know, my family doesn't know I blog)! Does that mean I have to wait to buy my book?

SE said...

I agonized over the expense of taking a cab to and from work every day, but the strain and risks of having to take two trains in Chicago weather (either too hot, too cold, too wet or too windy and almost nothing in between) when my friend finally helped me come to terms with the reality that it is better for my health and well-being to bite the bullet and take the cabs. It makes my life better, and with three heart conditions and three other chronic conditions, I certainly need all the help I can get.

I spend almost $400 a month on cabs. But I don't own a car. I hate what it does to my carbon footprint, but I work on that in other ways.

And don't get me started on food--I too have been in a restaurant and everyone is getting giant burgers, salad and pizza and I have haute cuisine plate of beluga lentils, spinach and foie gras. Quelle domage! (and yes it was a strange restaurant that had a menu with all those things.)

Anney E.J. Ryan said...

You call those incidentals a luxury. When I think in global terms, I guess they are. But isn't it those little luxuries that help us feel not so chronically ill? (I am only referring to myself as one, because I've been dubbed as one recently; you may remember). With my IBS, I have to drop extra bucks for organic vino and high fiber-no refined sugar cookies. Do I NEED that stuff? No way. But after a busy week or crappy day, it's nice. My father always makes me think of expenses in terms of not cost, but worth. Is it worth it to you to spend $$$ on Sox tickets, for a game that you might not attend? Is the chance worth it?

Laurie said...

You make a great point, Anney. These things are definitely worth the chance. They aren't the luxury, per se; being able to notice them enough to comment on them/complain about them is a luxury of sorts, because it means we are not worrying about basic survival, about life versus death, about whether we have insurance at all or if we'll lose our house or job or any of the things other people are worrying about at this moment, if that makes any sense.

Wow, that was a long sentence. I need to take a breath :)

Dreaming again said...

My mother has celiac, so I get that part, all too well.

I don't live in a town where public transportation is even used I don't identify with that... but the copays? People say things like "well, at least you have insurance"
yeah, but try paying the copay on 24 medications every month ... and having 9 doctors ..each one has a co pay ... you see each one 3 to 4 times a year (at least)

That adds up A LOT of $$$$
If there is a hospitalization or surgery, automatic $179. (*If* we make it to July 6th,our family will have gone a whole year without anyone going into the hospital for the first time in 18 years!!!)

Oh ..that 24 meds and 9 doctors *MY* stuff husband had polio ..he's on 6 meds and has 4 docs. I have lupus and myasthenia gravis and a few other bugaboos.

The tickets ... when my son was 2 (18 now) we got him tickets to Sharon Lois and Bram's Elephant Show ...he was SOOO excited!! ! !!
He got pneumonia ... was in the hospital and I called to get the $65 PER ticket refunded. The very nice gentleman, felt sorry for the 2 year old boy in the hospital.
He was about to refund and I opened my mouth, in tears thanking him. It'd been so hard to cope with having an immune deficient child.


"oh, so you had an expectation that he could have gotten sick when you bought the tickets? sorry, no refund, goodbye"

MJ said...

Laurie, this post really hits home for me! I'm a migraineur myself, and while I'm fortunate that that is the only chronic ick I have going on, it's enough to really rack up those expenses. It's amazing, the amount of money I spend a month just to make the daily pain a little more tolerable. I've also been keeping a GF/dairy-free diet since January - while I don't have celiac, there is a big gluten sensitivity in my family and I have fewer GI issues when I avoid eating it. But my food expenses are now bordering on extravagant!

I'm happy to have stumbled on your blog - I found you through ChronicBabe and I can definitely say I'll be a regular reader. I've just started blogging about my migraines, but I would love for you to visit.

Thanks for this entry - I'm looking forward to more.


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