Health Care Without Self-Advocacy Is No Health Care At All

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health care self advocacyI just got health insurance.

But before I recently got married, I was a part of the 49-million uninsured citizens living in America and the 18 percent of Blacks under 65 who were living without health insurance. I was aware of my problematic family history, including all the stereotypically Black ailments, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

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I knew for a fact I was diabetic, but I didn’t do much to deal with it regularly (I dropped some weight in the past and it became controlled but it still was a problem.) But marriage and the gift of health insurance gave me the weirdest feeling.…

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The feeling of responsibility.

Right up until I got the call that my insurance was official, if something was wrong with my health, I thought, Hmm, that sucks, and kept it moving. I couldn’t afford to see a doctor, so I put certain issues on the backburner and kept going as many, many Americans do.

As long as I wasn’t bedridden or coughing up blood, I figured I was in somewhat passable shape. But now I had the ability to seek help for a reasonable cost. A $20 to $35 copay now allowed me to seek the help of professionals for all of my ailments.

And holy crap, I have a lot of ailments.

After my first doctor’s visit, I was immediately placed on multiple medications. On my second visit, once they had the results of my blood work (I believe the results were just a picture of a plate of cookies and a glass of Crisco) I was put on stronger medication.

My doctor calmly explained that diabetes was progressive and that it would be hard to control but with medication and some diet modifications, I’d be okay for a while — they’d just up the dosage when needed. I didn’t know what to do with this. The voluntary ignorance that I had participated in had evaporated and now I had to acknowledge my own broken body, and I wasn’t happy about it.

But this wasn’t my only doctor’s appointment.

I have always quietly accepted that I probably “need to talk to somebody.” I was diagnosed years ago with ADD and hadn’t actively pursued any treatment because I couldn’t afford it. And even if I could, the idea of medication scared me.

I have always wanted to make a living through creative endeavors, and the concept of some sort of pill changing the chemistry of my brain frightened me. I didn’t want to lose my spark. In recent months, my creative spark created more work for me, and success required even more work and stricter deadlines, and I found myself struggling to keep up.

But now I have insurance.

As I went to complain about my lack of focus, disorganization, and various other issues that play a role in my day-to-day struggles, I was reminded I could seek help. I could be placed on medication and actually push through the fog that I found myself falling in to so often. That pesky feeling of “responsibility” kicked in again and hurled me toward making appointments with a psychiatrist seeking whatever methods they may have to create a new and better me.

And through all of this I started to learn a valuable lesson.

In the back of my mind, health insurance was some sort of magical fairy dust that once sprinkled on me would cure me of any and all physical ailments. But the reality was that this isn’t how it worked. Not only did I have to take the time and effort to seek help, but I had to sift through the help that was given—er, paid for.

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Our healthcare space in America is booby trapped with nonsense at almost every turn. I don’t have a fancy healthcare plan. I have regular old insurance and regular old doctors that in all honesty don’t know what’s best for me.

Doctors are mechanics of the human body. They aren’t experts on my body. I’ve had to switch psychiatrists and completely ignore one medical doctor because they weren’t doing what was best for me. One threw drugs at me but didn’t offer any support, even after I explained she was leaving me in a lurch by randomly ignoring me for a few weeks.

Another doctor told me I’d just have to deal with diabetes. Two weeks after being told that, I was able to stabilize my blood sugar simply through diet and exercise and completely stop taking the tons of meds she was prescribing.

But I had to take all of this into my own hands.

My mom is also diabetic and has been experiencing complications. She complained to her primary care doctor and they acted as if she was faking. They assumed she was a hypochondriac and that maybe she needed anxiety medication as opposed to a closer examination of her symptoms.

My mom reached to a point where she was just miserable and felt like there was no one to turn to. I begged her to keep seeking help until she found it and one day a doctor she worked with at her job heard her complaints and told her she wasn’t crazy. Her symptoms completely fell in line with his specialties.

After years of being pushed around by doctors, she finally had hope that she’d get the help she needed, and yet, her doctors wouldn’t refer her to this new doctor because he was “out of network.” After we talked, she realized she has to change doctors until she found the one who would understand where she’s coming from and listen.

Who needs to go through that?

I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by caring friends and family. I’ve studied a great deal about the various ailments I’ve had. But what about the person who isn’t well-versed? What about the person who just wants help and they run in to the same spaces I did but they don’t know how or which questions to ask? What about people who just want to be better and assume that the PhD or MD at the end of someone’s name makes them an expert at what’s right in their life?

During this entire nationwide conversation on affordable health care no one told me that self-advocacy was the most important aspect of health care you could have.

So I’m telling all who will hear me to advocate for themselves…it could save your life.

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