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What’s the worst that can happen after the worst that has happened?

June 14, 2012

The phone rings at nine in the morning. I pick it up. There is a brief silence. I figure it’s some type of sales call and hang up before I hear a voice. I walk away. And it rings again. I figure it’s a friend who just didn’t speak quickly enough.


“Is this Frederick Reiss?” said an uninflected, hardened and indifferently direct sounding female voice.


“This is collections. This call is being recorded. You have an outstanding bill for the Stanford Hospital if $1,329. When can we expect payment?”

“Never. I lost my job and I’m filling out the forms to0 send to Stanford to tell them I’m unable to pay.”

“I’ll note that in our report.”

“Thank you,” I say, hanging up. But wanting to say, “Don’t ever lose your job and get cancer.”

It’s a deadening feeling owing money for an expense that isn’t your fault. It’s bad enough knowing I might still have a tumor growing in my body, but to know on top of that, I’m being charged interest on a past due bill. Metastasized debt. I’ve reasonably lived within my means. But under the penal health care system my body is on a reverse mortgage. I have insurance, and the hospital has made a nice chunk of change on me. But to turn me into collections while I’m still receiving treatment is so low. Who would ever think cancer is a pay-as-you-go program?

And what’s the worst that can happen? Well, the worst has happened to me: cancer.

I feel like I’m at the bottom of the ocean, watching air bubbles go up to the surface. I’m weighted down with lead shoes of debt. But this isn’t the worst that can happen. Somehow my cancer experience has given me survival gills, and I slip out of the shoes and swim away to another world in the future.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Geiselman permalink
    June 14, 2012 5:18 pm

    Nicely worded. Sadly, many others have written about similar experiences in similar circumstances. A desk worker receives an outstanding invoice in his/her inbox and goes through the motions of calling the indebted party and asking in robo-cop based language when the debt will be paid. The dial landed on you. The rest of us read about it and cringe hoping that we don’t fall victim to the same circumstance. A relative of mine made his living as a roofer. One day he fell off the roof in 95 degree heat and needed major emergency medical care. Six months later I was at his kitchen table and saw a bill that he received for $30,000. Mind you that was for just a portion of the care he received. The bill could have been $30,000 or $300,000 or $3,000,000. Regardless he was in no postion to pay it. His salary was garnished for years until he died of pancratic caner 15 years later. There has to be a better way.

  2. Laureen permalink
    June 14, 2012 7:03 pm

    I hear ya…I think the collection people have me on speed dial….it really messes with your head after working hard and supporting myself my whole life to be helpless to pay all of these bills that I didn’t ask for…oh…there’s my phone now!..It would be different if I had a great car and all kinds of fun trips to earn this debt! Haha!!! Luckily…the best things in life are free 🙂

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