A Morning With My Own, Personal Glass

I never got the whole glass half-empty or half-full scenario.  Give me a choice like that and I immediately become literal-minded:  Half-full of what?  It does make a difference, you know.

Anyway, here are the jam-packed events of my morning.  Half-empty, half-full, you tell me.

9:30 a.m.  I am walking along Central Park South.  It’s snowing and the tree branches spike upwards, like yearning fingers, turning white.

(Sounds like a full glass to me, even if I am heading to the doctor.)

9:35 a.m.  An enormous fake rat looms on the sidewalk.  “Welcome to the Helmsley Rat Hotel!” the placard says.  Nearby, two men in hotel uniforms talk heatedly.  “You have got to get rid of that,” one tells the other.

(Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, who left her billion-dollar kingdom to some lousy mutt!  Oh, baby, my cup runneth over!)

10 a.m.  I meet my new doctor, whom I immediately like, and tell him about two of my health concerns — a small lump, a left hand that isn’t typing as well as it once did.  The latter symptom, I tell him, relates to my great fear of the horrific disease that killed my mother, accelerated Parkinson’s.  She died at 73, having lost all physical and mental functions; at the end, all she could do was moan and scream.  Sometimes, I can still hear her.

(Glass is trembling, spilling its contents.  Emptying out?)

10:50 a.m.  I am examined from head to toe.  Blood pressure, pulse, reflexes, breathing, getting pokes here and there.  I am in admirable shape!  (He didn’t say that, exactly, but it’s my interpretation.)  Lump, slight tremor, are probably nothing.  Even better, I am back to my old height of 5’7″.  Does this mean I’ve grown since I came to New York?

(Glass running pretty damned full.)

11:25 a.m.  Technician takes bodily fluids painlessly.  Tells me I remind her — exactly! — of some movie star whose name she can’t remember.  She puzzles over it.  I keep hoping she’ll say Helen Mirren, but she doesn’t.  “I’ll have to think about it,” she says.  I’ll also take Meryl Streep or Diane Keaton as backups, I think.  But please — not Linda Hunt.

(Glass holding steady.)

11:45 a.m.  Doctor’s assistant, who’s been on the snotty-to-cool side all along, shoves a bill under my nose.

“A thousand nineteen dollars is what you owe this morning,” she sniffs.

Oh, I say, but what about my insurance?

“We don’t take that insurance.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me earlier?  Why did you even take my insurance card?”

“We take everybody’s insurance card.  You have already been informed of this.”

“No,” I say, “I haven’t been informed.  I tend to remember things that are contrary to my financial interests.”

She says yes, I say no, we go back and forth, I repeat my outrage, we are at am impasse, I pay the fucking bill.  She hands the receipt back to me.  “Thank you,” she says.  For one of the first times in my life, I do not say “You’re welcome.”

(I have now telepathically — and in no uncertain terms — informed the assistant what she can do with the goddamned glass, whether empty or full.)

12:05 p.m.  I wander down Madison Avenue in a foul mood, peering into shop windows with objects I can now barely afford to look at.  I pass a jewelry store in the 60s, cordoned off by yellow tape, flanked by police cars.  Minutes later, a cop car with a loud speaker goes up Madison, broadcasting information:  A robbery, a 71-year-old man shot dead, a perpetrator loose, a $2,000 reward.

(Glass?  But whose glass is it, anyway?  Mine?  The 71-year-old man’s?  Doesn’t it always come down to this — the stark comparisons and sheer randomness of life?  I’m $1,019 lighter, I probably won’t find the perpetrator and score the $2K, but hey, I am still alive and whole, walking along a sidewalk slick with melting snow, wondering where I can find a very cheap lunch. The glass, as always, is subject to interpretation.)

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about communing with ghosts

21 comments… add one
  • Just reading about that doctor’s policy of not taking insurance and not bothering to mention it made me really mad.  And I was already mad because this morning I tried to make an appointment with an ob-gyn who has been taking care of a pre-cancerous condition of mine for years, only to be told that “now he only does baby-work.”  Nobody in his office bothered to tell me until I had a problem.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Maybe I should write Olympia Snowe, who used to have a conscience, about this.

  • Ruth, I particularly like your line about telepathically–and in no uncertain terms–informing the assistant what she can do with the goddamned glass. Wonders of  health care in America!

  • Wow; I’d be mad too to be handed a bill like that with no heads up about the doc’s insurance policy.  Bummer. Wish there was something you could do about this….

  • Craig Link

    I enjoyed this one Ruth. Through a glass darkly as it were

  • I agree it sounds like this doctor’s office was not very helpful with the billing portion of the process.  That said, at the risk of being booed out of the comments section, let me first disclose I am a physician spouse and ran a surgical practice for two decades.  It is my belief doctors are not the ones who broke the systems, folks, in my view they have gotten methodically screwed by insurance companies along with everybody else.
    It is hard to get it right every time.  Offices that spend much time discerning up front with worried potential patients or their relatives if insurance coverage is available are very often accused of being callous, being only/all about the bottom line.  Gloss over the financials, and your patients end up like Pennebaker, finding out they’ve been part of a cash for services experience they did not anticipate.  Plus there is always the potential a worried patient is distracted, not paying close attention to the hoops involved because they are reacting emotionally.
    Bottom line is, it is your personal insurance coverage, your independent choice of a physician to see, and thereby your own responsibility to find out, ahead of time if you so choose, if your visit and services are potentially covered by your policy.
    Now I feel much less like telling anybody where to place their goddamned glassware.  Phew!

  • Winston Link

    The glass– a great hook to lead us through your morning.
    A doctor’s appointment in NYC?  Already?  You must have made it last summer before you left Austin, right?
    That technician was trying to summon the name of Shelley Winters.
    Nobody accepts insurance– only cash.  Claims payouts are traceable.
    And the loose perpetrator is the assistant– her glass is full of diamonds!
    (And once pilfered from the dining room of the Helmsley Palace Hotel.)

  • Cindy A Link

    A doctor’s office has a distinct vested interest in getting paid and should therefore always determine the acceptance of insurance before treating a patient.  I hate the cold, cold world of medical finance and the repeated handing over of my insurance card — but am WAY all right with it compared to handing over a thousand bucks or more for treatment.  If they ask for your insurance card, IT INDICATES THAT THEY ARE CHECKING TO SEE IF YOU ARE INSURED.  They should tell you before you are treated unless it’s like a ten dollar flu shot.

  • As always, your writing blows me away!

  • Oh my gosh – this is a perfect example of the problems with health care. Of course they didn’t tell you – did they think you would go ahead with the appt knowing you had to pay $1k out of pocket? And how can one visit cost $1k for God’s sake? I am so tired of fighting with doctor’s offices over bills and insurance. It is a part-time job for sure. I’m glad your health was good – that at least is half full.

  • I’m not so sure this post was about health care.  Or I didn’t read it that way anyway.  It struck me as about the randomness and connectedness (if that is a word) of how we experience the world.  I reckon you are telling us your glass is mostly keeping topped up, despite some leakage. 

  • I was interested in the comment from the doctor’s wife.  Gosh, I thought, as I read that, poor thing.  She and her physician husband are just a couple of victims of nasty insurance companies and careless patients who should get over their emotional confusions and keep their minds on the main thing.
    It’s money, honey.

  • Holy shit! a thousand bucks for a few simple tests? Ruth, I had exactly the same type of physical carried out last week, with a Pap test thrown in, for zip, zero, nada dollars, courtesy of Canada’s universal health care system. Yet ordinary Americans are being bamboozled by Faux News etc. into protesting against a public option on health care reform. Colour me gob-smacked.
    (One thing common to both countries’ health care system, it seems, is snotty and/pr bad-tempered doctor’s assistants!)

  • Ward Link

    Thank God our government tells us we have the best healthcare system in the world! No fixes needed. What you need, Ruth, is a tax cut. That will fix everything that ails ya.

  • I don’t think you should have paid that bill Ruth. I think those doctors are crooks and their behavior was totally unacceptable. I think you should have told them to bill you and then fought it. But this post is about so much more than that. You are alive and healthy, not gunned down like a 19th century buffalo. I’d say the glass is full. And I appreciate the reminder to think positively in spite of the crooks in our health care system!!

  • Sheryl Link

    Ruth, I was having lunch around the corner on that day, celebrating a good friend’s birthday.  When we walked out of the restaurant, we saw the crime scene and were told someone got shot and killed. All I kept thinking was, “How sad, while I was enjoying my lobster ravioli and lemon tart for dessert, someone was losing their life.” It did really shake me up.

  • I’ve been living in NY too long.  I always ask outright, “do you take my insurance” because I know that taking the card is not an indicator that they’re billing anyone for me.  C’est la guerre

  • Ruth, I always enjoy reading your take on the day to day.

  • This is so great; funny and moving at the same time. Your back and forth structure reminds me of this children’s book I read as a child, then hunted down in a used book store for my own kids. It was called Fortunately….Unfortunately… and related a series of related cause-and-effect events in which one fortunate event would then trigger the opposite, unfortunate consequence. It was hilarious and very perspective enhancing and I often think of it to this day.

  • Enjoyed this piece, Ruth. I started out thinking I knew where you were going but then you surprised me, as you always do.

  • I love this! It makes me want to take note of my own personal glass throughout the day. Excellent way of framing things.

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