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Being Sick is Expensive

Illustration by Michelle Farrelly

 

You know what’s more difficult than being sick? Being sick and being charged for the privilege.

You’re 16, a teenager, and the world seems full of opportunities. Then one day you get sick. You shrug it off and try to keep going, hoping it’ll go away soon. But a week passes, then a month, and you don’t feel any better. You might even feel worse.

You go to see a doctor. They brush you off. “You’re just stressed,” they say. Your parents seem to agree with the doctor; after all it’s normal to be stressed during VCE, right?

It doesn’t improve. You insist on seeing more doctors, but they all say the same thing. Your parents are getting less and less willing to take you to appointments. You start doubting yourself as well. Are you just making a big deal out of nothing? Maybe everyone feels this way and you’re the only one weak enough to complain?

Several doctors later something changes. This doctor is still sceptical, but you manage to convince them that something needs to be done. They give you a referral to a specialist and it’s amazing; finally, some progress!

The specialist appointment is a few months wait away. When the day finally arrives you’re nervous, but eager for some answers. Walking into the waiting room, you notice that everyone else seems to be at least 50 years older. Self-conscious, you try not to contemplate their possible thoughts on your presence.

After the appointment, you go to pay. It’s a bit over $100, though half is to be refunded by Medicare. You’re grateful that Australia at least has an okay healthcare system.

It starts with a specialist appointment every three months, and one prescription a month. This eventually turns into two. It’s an average of $35 dollars a month since you have a health care card, but it would cost significantly more without one. The possibility of not having a health care card one day makes you terrified and anxious. You overhear people at school talking about buying stuff on eBay with their spending money.

Then comes election time. Politicians discuss government spending. You read an article about the burden of sick people on taxpayers. You’re told that you’re a drain on the rest of the country. You struggle with a declining sense of self worth.

Several years later, you’re at university. Balancing university and appointments is hard, and it becomes even harder when your specialist suggests a hospital treatment. You don’t get to choose the time of your treatment when you’re on a public waitlist, so it coincides with the beginning of the semester. It’s a bit weird trying to study in a hospital bed, but it works. All your meals are taken care of which is a small blessing – something about the combination of not needing to cook and free food…

When you’re discharged the nurse keeps offering to call you a taxi. You don’t even consider it because damn, taxis are expensive. They warn you against trying to catch public transport home, but they can’t exactly stop you, so you do it anyway.

You’ve learnt to take most things in stride, but out of all these things, it’s the cost of the proposed medication for yet another illness that gives you pause. It isn’t on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so you have to pay the full price with no discount. Each pill costs about a dollar and you need two a day, which means paying a terrible $60 per month for the privilege of slightly improved (but still not ‘normal’) functioning. You reluctantly agree to give the drug a try – what choice do you have?

You’re now 22, a young adult, and you can’t function as well as a healthy person. The world of opportunities you believed in when you were 16 feels more like a distant dream. You didn’t ask for this experience. None of it is even remotely your fault. But when you’re chronically ill, life is not even remotely fair.

***

This is an example of life with chronic illness in Australia. The sad thing is, the stresses of existing while sick in Australia is felt tenfold in countries like the U.S. I have no solution for this, I just hope that what I’ve written might increase your compassion for those who are often unwell. We are more than a burden on the healthy, we are real people with hopes and dreams and feelings.

Basia Mitula

The author Basia Mitula

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