The High Cost of My Idiocy. Or, a Tale of Medical Expenses

I hate going to the doctor. I find the business of medicine extremely difficult to navigate and I’m often unsatisfied with the result of the visits. However, sometimes you just have to go.

A few months ago my dogs got into a fight, something they do about once a year. If you’ve never seen a dog fight then let me tell you, it’s pretty scary. So I wasn’t content to let them fight it out, I had to try to break it up.

One doctor told me about 90% of dog bites happen when people get between fighting dogs. I believe it. Can you tell where this story’s going?┬áThat’s right, I got bit. Right on the hand. It could have been worse, I’m not sure if I was saved by my own reflexes or if the dog realized I was there and pulled back, but it was still a fairly deep puncture wound.

I didn’t want to hassle with ER fees. It happened late at night and I was going out of town the following morning, so I decided to take care of it as well as I could then find an urgent care clinic when we got to the area we were staying. Well, there was no urgent care in that little mountain town and I ended up in the emergency room anyway. I considered skipping the doctor altogether but there was quite a bit of swelling and pain so I wanted to be sure there was nothing seriously wrong. I’m a musician, I need my hands! They thoroughly cleaned out the wound, prescribed an antibiotic and gave me a tetanus shot.

Total due for the ER: $474.33

Total due for the prescription: $24.79

After a few days I realized that the top inside strip of my thumb was numb. I called the nurse line for my insurance company to see if I should get it checked out or wait a bit longer. She told me to see someone immediately, that night if possible. I went to an urgent care clinic near my office only to be told to see a hand specialist.

Total for the urgent care: $130. That’s right, I paid that much for a doctor to glance at my hand and tell me to see someone else.

I made the appointment for the specialist. The verdict? There’s nothing he can do. In fact, he was surprised the second doctor even bothered referring me. He did think it was just a contused nerve rather than severed and said the feeling would return in time. While I was there I asked him about a finger on the other hand that has limited mobility so I was able to get that checked out as well (there’s nothing he can do for it either, but it’s good to know.) I’d been meaning to get that finger looked at for years so it made the visit worth the time and money.

Total for the hand doc: $232.42 Includes x-rays for my wonky finger.

Total for all visits and meds: $861.54. All out of pocket because I haven’t met my deductible yet, however some of the amounts were reduced because of the insurance company’s negotiated price. Still, that’s a lot of money to pay for a few seconds of foolishness. Of course, it could have been much, much worse. The tooth could have broken or crushed a bone, or tendons and ligaments could have been torn, or an infection could have set in, or any other number of worse things so really, I got off lightly.

I paid the bills with a credit card to get some cash back then paid the card off with savings. I increased my HSA contributions through payroll and will reimburse myself with pre-tax dollars once the balance is higher. I should’ve had higher contributions to begin with but that’s another story.

The moral of the story – don’t try to break up fighting dogs when you’re by yourself. Especially when the dogs’ weight combined is greater than yours. If there’s another person there you can grab the dogs by the hind legs and “wheelbarrow” them to keep yourself out of the action, but stay away from the heads.

The other moral of the story – keep an emergency fund so that you can pay for unexpected expenses that need to be paid. Case in point, while I was in the urgent care waiting room a woman was there with her daughter. The receptionist told Mom that their insurance couldn’t be verified and they would have to pay up front, $125 for the visit plus $50 if they did x-rays. Mom was shocked and soon left with a heavily limping girl. Maybe they were going to another clinic, maybe Mom decided that since the girl could put some weight on it the injury wasn’t urgent enough to pay out of pocket, but an emergency fund would mean that she could have paid it then worked with the insurance company for reimbursement.

PS- In case you were wondering, my dogs settled their fight while I was tending to my wound and promptly went back to being best friends. They got a little scraped up but had no serious injuries. Also, my thumb is back to normal and I only have a small scar to show for this whole thing. And a slightly smaller savings account.

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