Recurring chest pain and surprising discounts from our Healthcare Sharing Co-op

Hi, Girlfriends.

Before I start, let me say one thing. 

Honesty

These real-life medical stories are certainly not what I wanted to share with you in my blog, and I hope this post is the last installment! I much prefer to share cool RV life adventures with you, but real-life crap seems to be taking the spotlight recently. 

When I started this blog, I promised transparency and honest stories of life on the road.  This is easier said than done. As I watch words spill from my fingertips, it causes me to relive the pain of John’s recent health issues.   

But hey, if our health crisis management helps one of you prepare for a severe health situation, then it is worth it!

Three hospital visits in three months

You’ll recall John’s health issues entered our RV life in January. I titled part 1; We interrupt this RV lifestyle with a medical crisis…and 18 coping strategies

Next, John managed to squeeze in a car crash and a trip to the Trauma Unit for his second episode; Two Girlfriends, one car crash, and seven life lessons. Yes, I have a photo of the totaled car in the post.

As you recall in episode two, John ended up in the Trauma Unit after being T-boned in our friend’s car.   John’s scheduled heart catheterization was delayed by a week because he needed time to heal from the car accident. 

While his sore body healed, it was impossible for him to work.  Coincidentally, we had friends Beth and Randy scheduled to visit us from Philadelphia which proved to be a healthy distraction while we waited for his heart cath.    

Why didn’t Plavix work? 

Dr. Shaheen performed the heart catheterization the next Friday.  We learned that plaque had already begun to build around the stent placed in January.  The reasoning for this?  Some people don’t respond well to Plavix.  John is one of them.  Dr. Shaheen used a balloon technique to push the mushy plaque against the walls of the artery releasing it to flow freely again. 

John’s post-op instructions included a follow-up appointment in six months and a switch to a more expensive anti-coagulant called Brilinta. 

Cautious waiting

So now we wait.  We’ll feel better if John can make it passed a three-month time frame without any chest pain.  Instead of heading to the east coast to visit our sons for the summer, we are intentionally staying close to Tucson…just in case, John needs another catheterization.  Our temporary address for the summer? Venture In RV Resort, located in Show Low, Arizona.

Stumbling into early retirement

The past couple years we’ve been tossing around the idea of having John retire from working part-time each winter at The Voyager RV Resort. It’s not just his heart issue that accelerated the retirement discussion. Recently John’s arthritis has been flaring in his hands causing swollen joints and pain on days especially when he needs to do deep tissue work with his patients. Couple arthritis with a cardiac condition and it was a no-brainer to discuss retirement. Our focus began to shift away from the meaningless distractions of life in order to adopt a healthier perspective on our circumstances. We are optimistically looking forward to this next chapter of our life.

Paying for health care as fulltime RVers

We have been fulltime RVers for four years now.  The first year we had an insurance plan (with a massive deductible) through the state of Texas that covered us nationwide.  Three months into our fulltime experience Texas decided to cancel this program – forcing us to scramble for new coverage. 

Health Sharing alternatives

Friends of ours told about their health sharing network as we discussed our health coverage dilemma.  We did our research and the organization that best suited our needs was Christian Healthcare Ministries or CHM. 

Here is some information about this health sharing ministry;

  • Our monthly policy cost for both John and I = $300. 
  • We also pay an additional $40/quarter for another program which increases our coverage to 1 million per episode of health costs. 
  • CHM is made up of more than 400,000 members across the country. It has been in operation since 1981, is a Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity, and is a suitable option for individuals under the national healthcare law. Since it’s inception, members have shared more than $3.5 billion in one another’s healthcare costs.

How it works

Health-sharing networks ask members to negotiate a cash pay cost for health services upon check-in.  There is no need to be pre-qualified. 

When John was going to be admitted for his first heart catheterization, I called CHM to make sure I didn’t need to do anything else and to inform them of John’s impending procedure. 

The gal on the phone from CHM assured me all was well.  Luckily, Tucson Medical Center was familiar with CHM and took a small deposit of $400.  At this point, we didn’t know how much of a discount “cash pay” would be from the medical center, but keep reading to learn the surprising amount.

About three weeks after John’s procedure, we began receiving bills for the medical services. I made copies of all the invoices and sent them to CHM.  Just yesterday I received a check from CHM for the full amount of all the bills I submitted.  The turnaround time was about three months. 

Crazy discounts

You may want to brace yourself as you read this next section. 

Our average discount negotiated off the standard hospital charges was…68%!  We could have received an additional 20% off had we qualified with a certain annual low income, but we did not meet the requirements.  John’s Cardiologist gave a 30% discount; the lab work company offered a discount of 50%, the other three vendors gave discounts between 20-50%. 

Also, we were NOT required to pay our $500 deductible because any amount negotiated off the standard charges gets applied toward your deduction. 

Get this. The balances that we owe for all of the invoices from these three hospitalizations? ZERO. You heard me right. ZERO. And the reimbursement check from CHM comes with a thank you letter for participating in the health sharing network.

Other Health sharing networks

Are you under 65 and not eligible for Medicare?  Does our health sharing network sound crazy to you?  Would you like to review some of the significant health sharing networks out there?  Here are some links to help you become informed.    

Thanks for ready my blog and helping me work through the health issues we’ve experienced.  I hope you have learned a few things.  Let me know what was helpful, and please share stories from your own lives that might resonate with mine. 

Love,

Gretty

Related posts:

We interrupt this RV lifestyle with a medical crisis…and 18 coping strategies

Two Girlfriends, One car crash, and Seven life lessons

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We interrupt this RV lifestyle with a medical crisis…and 18 coping strategies

Hi, Girlfriends.

Reason for my absence

My man has had not one but THREE health crisis since the beginning of 2019. 

Naturally, it paralyzed my ability to write any blog posts.  Medically it’s been a scary time for both of us, and we needed private time to process what happened before I could share it with all of you. 

John’s health issues also put the kibosh on our summer road trip plans since we need to stick close to Tucson and his health management team.  Instead of writing, I’ve been juggling John’s health situation, revamping travel plans, gathering medical invoices from three hospitalizations, and doing regular life stuff.

Finally, the dust has settled a bit, and I’m ready to share.  Strap in.  These next three blog posts are doozies.     

Don’t ignore this

One mile into our hike up Soldier Trail in Tucson John began to experience chest pain.  

“It’s different this time, Gretty.”  I watched him rub his chest just left of his sternum.  “It’s radiating and about seven on a scale of ten.”

We immediately headed downhill and found ourselves at the Cardiologist’s office three days later.  Dr. Shaheen listened intently to John’s symptoms and, after proclaiming John’s family health history “atrocious” we were sent directly to the Emergency Room.  John would be admitted for a heart catheterization the following morning. 

Crashing into reality

We could not believe this was happening to us. 

Didn’t John successfully climb Mt. Kilimanjaro nine months ago?  Heck, didn’t he bike 30 miles just five days ago?  Yes, he occasionally was getting “pain” in his chest, but each time it would go away after about an hour of exercise.  Since when does cardiac pain go away upon exertion?  Plus, what about his GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)?  Couldn’t these symptoms be as simple as gastric reflux? 

It’s happening sweetheart

Even though the ER was super busy, John’s chest pain “fast-tracked” him to the front of the line.

I stayed with John until he was settled into his hospital room, then headed home to check on Penny, our Cockapoo.

By 4:30 the next morning I was ready to rejoin John at the hospital.  With coffee in hand, I arrived at John’s bedside by 5:30 a.m.- a full two hours before his procedure.  Like clockwork, the OR transport personnel arrived and off we went to the pre-op area.  Still filled with disbelief, John and I filled the sterile surroundings with silly comments, nervous laughter, and laser locked eye gazes as the team probed, shaved, and poked his body in preparation for the heart catheterization.

Finally, it was John’s turn for his procedure.  As the transport team paused at the OR door, my shaky lips kissed John one more time, and I whispered a prayer in his ear. 

The Verdict

Ninety minutes after that kiss I spotted Dr. Shaheen striding quickly across the waiting room. His eyes seem glued to mine. 

I recall attempting to read his face and body language in his 10-second commute.  Was that fast gait carrying good news? Did his eyes look frantic or relieved?  Why did John’s procedure take a half hour longer than Dr. Shaheen had said it would?   

A small entourage of medical students accompanied Dr. Shaheen encircling me with white lab coats and staring eyes.

He touched my shoulder, and I heard him say “I am so glad that I insisted that you went directly to the ER yesterday.  One of John’s coronary arteries was 95% blocked and is now stented.  The good news is John did not have a heart attack, and his heart muscle sustained no damage.”

Relief!  Kind of. 

Dr. Shaheen gave me a brief hug before turning away.  Honestly?  Part of me thinks it was to steady my body and prevent me from falling backward upon hearing this news. 

The Recovery Room

You never know how stressed you are until relief sets in. 

Now that John was safe, and out of danger, I could relax and respond emotionally. We kissed, and I began to cry.  After several sobbing snot-nosed minutes, John’s nurse Karen wrapped her arms around me and held out a box of tissues. 

With tear ducts wholly depleted, and sanity restored, I sat next to John.  Throughout the next six hours, the staff attended to his post-op needs, and I ignored the voice mails on my phone. While it’s great having a supportive tribe during a time like this, frankly, just sitting next to John proved to be medicinal for both of us.       

After the first hour, an essential medical process began.  Karen pulled 5cc of air from the high-tech pressure dressing over John’s right wrist.  (Picture a small-scale ankle air cast).  With the cuff fully deflated and no sign of bleeding John was taken to a general floor for overnight observation. 

Home and back to “normal”

The next morning, I again arrived at the hospital around 5:30 a.m. bringing John home-brewed coffee.  I remembered everything I was supposed to bring except a pair of pants for him to wear!  Luckily the staff had scrub shorts for him to borrow because I guess I’m not the only pre-occupied forgetful wife they have encountered.  After a good laugh, we made it home!

The story doesn’t end here

Unfortunately, this is true.  We thought this was the end of our story, but sadly it’s only part one.   Check out part 2 ”Two Girlfriends, One Car crash, and 10 Life lessons”, and part 3 “Recurring chest pain and surprising discounts from our Health Sharing Co-Op.”

Helpful takeaways

Have you been where John and I were?  Are you wondering how you can best help your loved one through a severe health crisis?  The following 18 points will help in case you run into a medical emergency.  Although not exhaustive, it certainly is a start. 

  1. Listening to your body. John has learned the difference between cardiac pain (angina) and his GERD symptoms.
  2. Listen to friends advice. We have a good friend, Mark, who suffered a heart attack at age 45.  Upon hearing of John’s occasional chest pain, Mark’s response was always, “Dude, go to the ER.  Don’t mess around with this.  Trust me.”  Yup.  We should have listened to Mark a few months before John’s episode. 
  3. Pray!  Even if you’re not the praying type, now is the perfect time to quietly offer up your loved one to the Creator of the Universe.  Be honest in your words.  Verbally pound on God’s chest for a few moments. 
  4. Determine your family health risk.  Does John’s experience resonate with you?  You cannot erase your family health background.  Make some life changes if you have an unhealthy family history.
  5. Do you know where the nearest hospital is while traveling?  Have a plan, even if you don’t have medical issues.
  6. Do you have a medical power of attorney?  If you are an RVer, know that not each state will recognize the medical POA from your home state.  On the advice of our attorney, we have a written medical POA in each county we spend the most time.  During a crisis is not the ideal time to find out you cannot make decisions for your loved one.
  7. While I’m on the topic, do you have your living will complete?  It’s so simple to do.  Make copies for your family, the local hospital, and your significant other.  Here are some free online forms to create yours. 
  8. If a friend offers help, take it!  Let them bring dinner, walk your dog, or ride in the car with you.  They want to feel like they can do something.   
  9. Remain positive.  The best time to be positive and take responsibility for your peace of mind is when you don’t feel like it.
  10. Remind yourself that your loved one is in good hands at a medical facility.  You can relax a bit.  Grab a soothing latte at the cafeteria and take a walk outside.
  11. Don’t stuff your emotions. Say it out loud.  “I’m scared” “I’m freaking out here” “I am so angry” “I feel so frustrated.”  Verbalizing your fears will lessen their hold on you. Let the tears flow if they need to.
  12. Don’t bring unnecessary stuff to the hospital.  The lost and found doesn’t need your donation.  Keep valuables at home.
  13. Stop by medical records and obtain a copy of your records especially if you are not staying in that area very long – or sign up for the online portal local portal web to access your medical records. 
  14. Remember to bring shorts or pants for the ride home. (Because I didn’t!) Make a list of tasks you have to do. Your brain will be elsewhere, trust me. 
  15. Turn off your cell phone while in the hospital – avoiding the temptation to “check in” on what’s up.  The world will not stop spinning while your phone is off.
  16. Delegate one family member to disseminate information to the rest of the family.  Same thing with your RV friends back at the campground.  Everyone gets the same information and avoids spreading false information.
  17. Use your phone to record (with their permission) any instructions or explanations from medical staff.  They will be ok with this request.  Sometimes medical personnel’s accents are difficult to understand, they talk fast, or perhaps your hearing isn’t that good.  Remember, you are under stress, and these instructions are essential for your loved one.
  18. Take advantage of the social work team and the spiritual support teams at the medical facility.  They are eager to assist you.    

Love,

Gretty

Curious about part 2 and part 3 of my story? 

Click here to read about our Friend’s special visit and how it was interrupted by John’s car accident and second hospitalization.

Click here to read about our second unsuccessful attempt up Soldier Trail and third hospitalization.

Click here to enjoy a good laugh as Penny our Cockapoo takes over my blog.