Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Flu Shot Adventure

I have spent the last week trying to get a flu shot.  Without the media fueled panic over H1N1 this year these vaccines have been traveling under the radar.  Nevertheless, while our pundits are busy wondering how the tea party could have triumphed in so many elections last week, others of us were reading our bulletins from the local hospital and deciding that protection against the flu is something that we can actually do to change our experience of the world.

As the economy tumbles and health care costs soar and people persist in worrying about the birthplace of our president instead of the graduation rates in our high schools, I chose to take a step toward furthering my own personal well-being.  I have been feeling disconnected from the things that made me feel strong, lately.  I hurt my shoulder dragging my suitcase through NYC last month so weight lifting has been on hiatus.  It's still too hot to garden much past 8am.  I'm not powerful enough to affect the balance of trade or the situation in Afghanistan but I can be responsible for my own health.  With that intention, I set out to get a flu shot.

I went to pick up a prescription at Walgreens.  Usually, I use the drive-thru window and receive my pills via the pneumatic tube system.  This time, I parked in the shade (its still in the triple digits here in the desert Southwest) and took my reusable tote bag into the store itself.  I grabbed Hershey's Kisses for G'ma and was tempted by the new school year pens but I resisted and presented myself at the pick-up counter for the medicine and the shot.  "Do you have insurance?  Oh, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona?  We will have to charge you $35 for the shot; we have no contract with them for this."  In stunned silence I paid for the chocolate and left, shot-less.  These aren't two fly-by-night entities - BCBSAZ and Walgreens should hardly be strangers to one another.  And yet, sadly, they are, at least where this year's flu vaccine is concerned.

The next afternoon found me in Target.  I had a $1 off coupon for toilet paper so, with G'ma's tush in mind I parked (no shade) and began filling my bright red cart with all manner of things I needed but really hadn't planned to buy:  a new shelf for the laundry room, a 6-pack of chocolate protein boosts for TBG, candles in fall colors and a new Nikon Coolpix L22 to replace the one I dropped on the garage floor.  The lens is fine, but the battery compartment lid is cracked and I've been unable to figure out a way to keep it closed without compromising my ability to actually take a picture.   I'd chalk it up to a business expense, but since The Burrow has earned me less than $17 in the 17 months of its existence I'm not sure just how far that will get me.  Wandering the aisles, I passed the pharmacy and inquired about the availability of the flu shot.  Yes, it was in stock.  Yes, I was in the right place.  Yes, they had a deal with BCBSAZ and there would be no out-of-pocket expenses for me.  But, no, he couldn't do it right now  because his computer was down and there was no way to tell when or if it would ever be functional. Thwarted again.

This morning, I went to Wallyworld to stock up on staples.  The checkout line was long and slow but, as usual, filled with friendly  people and proximity to mini-dramas to help pass the time.  With my ice cream and eggs safely ensconced in my cooler bag, I left the check-out line and walked past a cafeteria table covered with a white cloth.  Sitting behind it were two ladies who probably graduated from high school within 3 years of me.  There was a stack of insurance papers on the table and they were each wearing a sticker identifying them as employees of the Mollen Clinics.  I wasn't put off by the fact that the intake worker had her sticker affixed to her bare right biceps, nor did I care if the nurse drew up the serum before I sat in the chair.  I had ice cream a-melting and no time to be wasting.  It was the paperwork that did me in -  the procedure required me to copy the information on my insurance card onto a white form with blue bordered boxes.... three times.  On the same form.  Twice on the front and once on the back.  It was the exact same information but writing SAME was not acceptable.  So I filled in the blanks and sat in the chair set just a bit askew and now I have a bandaid covering a somewhat sore spot on my right upper arm. 

The ladies and I laughed about the fact that I had to write the same stuff over and over again, and they seemed somewhat abashed to be insisting on such a ridiculous activity.  I'm sure there is a reason that the information in the first set of boxes cannot be deemed to be the default answers unless otherwise specified.  I considered the possibility that the form was destined to be cut into pieces, each set of data going to another desk.... until I realized that it was a two sided form, with the same information written directly  behind itself on the other side of the page.  It was just dumb. 

I would put aside privacy concerns and opt into a thumb-print system in a heartbeat. Collect all the information ever created regarding my body and encrypt it in the cloud.  Set up a system where the information can only be accessed  by my thumbprint.  I don't know how to do it, or I would have done it already.  But there's a computer nerd out there somewhere who knows how to do this, I am sure.  Anytime I went into a physician's office all the relevant and irrelevant materials would be right at her fingertips.  My gynecologist's office is virtually paperless - she refilled my prescriptions from her desktop computer as I sat in the chair, she printed the directions for my mammogram on the same page as the prescription I am to hand to the receptionist next week, and it's printed in Times New Roman 12 so everyone can read it clearly.  She admits to a steep learning curve and some resistance from her staff, but the time saved and the clarity of the record of patient care more than compensated for the kvetching. 

All I know is that I invested a lot of energy in trying to secure something that will keep me healthy.  It was annoying and frustrating and time consuming and it really didn't have to be all that hard.  There are many times when I wonder if we are really as advanced as we think we are.  This was one of those times.

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