When I entered the professional world in 2006, the first newspaper that would have me paid a not-too-princely sum of $9.63 an hour plus mileage reimbursement.
A copy editor at the San Antonio Express News who was friends with my mother wrote me a letter when I first expressed interest in being a journalist and warned me to prepare for “living in virtual penury,” at least at the beginning.
And he was right. He could have even left off the part about “in the beginning” because the entire enterprise has not been all that lucrative. It’s been fun though. Some of the time.
Although the pay at my first job was awful, the benefits were great — dental, vision and health insurance so comprehensive, I could go to the doctor for whatever half insane reason that struck me and it only cost me $25. You can’t even get brunch for that these days.
“Hello, John,” the doctor would say. “What’s bothering you today?”
“Well doc,” I’d respond coquettishly. “My balls kind of ache.”
“You’re balls ache?” he’d ask, head drooping so he could gaze at me disapprovingly over the top of his glasses.
“Well, let’s see what we can do.”
One unceremonious rectal exam and what I felt was an inappropriate joke about my mother later, and I left with what would be the first of numerous mental illnesses. This time it was obsessive compulsive disorder. I went back to the office and told everyone. I was so excited. This diagnosis finally lent me credibility as the tortured writer I always knew myself to be.
This wide open access to medical care had it’s setbacks, however. Chief among them is the propensity of some doctors, when it comes to mental health concerns, to prescribe 55-gallon drums of addictive narcotic anxiety medication.
“Now John, make sure you don’t take more than three of these a day, OK?”
“Sure thing doc. One question, who the hell is John?”
“That’s very funny.”
“But I’m not joking.”
Of course, all that access to doctors, drugs and impromptu rectal exams is gone now. Upon moving to Colorado five years ago, I switched health care plans to a “one stop shop” provider that immediately proved unimpressive. My former employer later switched our plans to cheap, high deductible garbage in order to save money. There would be no more 55-gallon drums of narcotics, only thousands of dollars of medical bills stemming from a pair of emergency room visits. It cost me $200 for a five minute visit with a psychiatrist who ordered me to leave his office over this exchange:
“No marijuana smoking, John.”
“But it makes me want to kill myself less.”
“We can’t have that. But I’m going to prescribe you a drug that will make you fat and cause your liver to explode. There will also be uncontrollable drooling.”
“Can I just have some pot, please?”
“Out of my office, junkie.”
Anyway, I’m writing this because I currently have no health insurance at all. I just shelled out 40 bucks for a flu shot at a Walgreens and my arm hurts. At least the cans of chicken soup are on sale.