My Day at the Free Clinic

Somewhere in the midst of pulling my hair out over the cost of my final round of Belize vaccinations and 4 months worth of Malaria pills, I got the bright idea to act as my own caseworker, and advocated my way into 3 “free clinics” (thereby reducing $300 worth of vaccinations to $155). As job perks go, I thought, hmm, I may not get discounts at GAP or summer vacations off, but in a pinch, I can find myself sliding-scale healthcare.

For the record, I am no fool. I spent the majority of 2006-2007 in WIC appointments, Medicaid appointments, welfare appointments, women’s clinics, Supershots and immunization clinics. I knew there would be a chance I would run into some old clients or caseworkers, that I would wait for hours to be seen, and I that I would receive public quality care. I even prided myself on not feeling like a lesser person just because my current situation—volunteering—required me to use the social services my tax dollars have funded for the last decade, services I have spent 5 years referring other families to. I sincerely felt that if the free clinic was good enough for my clients, their families, and kids at the BGC, it was good enough for me. I EVEN used one clinic while I was working at a great social service agency to be able to say I’d used it and could, in good conscience, refer other clients. (I dragged Sprinky along with me, and it was a terrible experience—I waited for 2 hours with two men who both admitted to being high at the time, was treated incompetently by a nurse who kept jabbing me with things, and could hear an entire prostate exam going on in the room next to me—yikes!)

Of course I didn’t tell my clients that or anyone, really, except a few coworkers, because when it comes right down to it, no one uses public health care if they have the means to private heath care.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I had a 10:45 appointment Friday morning. At 9:15 the receptionist called and asked what time my appointment was. I told her it was 10:45, and she asked if I could come earlier. I asked how early, and she said now. I said okay and started to get ready. She called back and asked what I was coming in for again. I reminded her it was just a shot. She called back and asked if I had called my insurance ahead of time to make sure the shot was covered. I reminded her that I was self-pay, which is why I was using the clinic, and that they had agreed to reduce the cost by 25% if I paid at time of service. She said she remembered and thanked me. I called her back and made sure she still wanted me to come in right then. She said yes, so I went. By the time I was signed in, waited, filled out the paperwork, waited, had my license copied and waited, it was 10:45—the time of my original appointment—and I had made friends with a newborn, a two-year old and a teenager in the waiting room. The teenager I knew from the BGC, and she was holding her newborn and watching the two-year-old, whose mother was 8 months pregnant, toothless, and being seen by the doctor—and by “doctor” I mean head nurse/midwife. Interesting.

Once I was called back, the nurse took my blood pressure three times, led me to a room and told me that the doctor (nurse/midwife) would be with me soon. The doctor came in pretty quickly and asked what I was being seen for. I told her I just needed a shot. She seemed really confused and eager to use the stirrups, so I explained about Belize, about having had the first 2 of the series of shots done at my family doctor when I had insurance and that I just needed the 3rd shot to complete the series. She looked sad and asked if Belize had recovered from the Tsunami yet.
I said, you mean the hurricanes?
She shook her head and said, no…that big—
and I said, cyclone?
She shook her head and said, no…that big Tsunami, with the wave of water and flood.
I was like, well the Tsunami happened in Indonesia, and Belize is in Central America, which is a totally different hemisphere.
She looked genuinely concerned and confused at the same time.
She gave me my chart and thanked me for coming and started to walk out.
I asked if I should follow her.
She said, sure, if you want.
I said, to get the shot?
She said, oh, the nurse didn’t give you the shot?
I said no.
She called the other nurse, who went into the fridge across the hall and pulled out a purple syringe and walked down the hall.
She said to the head nurse, is this the right one?
And the head nurse said, yes.
And then she said, do you do it like this?
And the head nurse said, yes.
And then she said, well, I just wanted to double-check and make sure after the whole flu shot incident.

I was like, Oh Lord, not the flu shot incident! I had no idea what “the flu shot incident” was, but I didn’t like the sound of it. I pulled up my sleeve, closed my eyes, and vowed not to go to the next clinic from 1-4 for my Hep B vaccination.

Let it be known, my 1:30 appointment with the Immunization Clinic at the Allen County Health Department was an in-and-out operation. I waited for less than 10 minutes, got the shot and was out in time to get my dollar back at the parking garage. Whew.

I am sure the doctors and administrators at clinics like this have big hearts and great intentions—anyone in the field would have to—but in all my experiences, I’ve never dealt with an actual doctor or administrator. Everyone who has ever seen me has been a nursing student. And now, a midwife.

Lucky for me, there was no “flu shot incident” and despite two sore arms, I consider it a pretty successful day. I am now vaccinated.

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