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Motherhood and My Fear of Medical Bills

I recently sat and enjoyed some me time—a cup of coffee and my favorite binge-worthy “Housewives” show—something I rarely get to do on a Friday morning. My girls were shopping with their granny, which they often do on a holiday weekend home from school, and this Good Friday was no different. Little did I know the day would take an unexpected turn, stirring a whirlwind of emotions and challenging my beliefs about healthcare and finances.


An ambulance is the “most expensive ride you'll ever take outside of your funeral.”

The day began like any other weekend outing for my daughters: a mall trip filled with laughter, selfies, and the anticipation of spending someone else’s money on the perfect accessories, or clothes I might not approve, but grandmas trump mom’s vote, when they are spending. I couldn't help but smile at the thought of not having to follow behind teens or sit in the food court to give them their space as they shopped.


The news of my 16-year-old daughter, my baby, fainting at the mall hit like a gravel truck. Panic initially surged through me, but it was quieted as I spoke to her and heard her voice. Her grandmother calmed my nerves with the assurance she was in good hands, attended to by on-site medics who had checked her vitals and found her responsive.


The suggestion to transport her to the ER via ambulance died quickly, guided by a long-held belief instilled in me by my late grandmother: Avoid ambulance rides at all costs. It’s the “most expensive ride you'll ever take outside of your funeral,” she’d say.

My deep-rooted fear of exorbitant costs had shaped my decisions even in the face of personal illness a couple of years earlier, resulting in emergency surgery over a ruptured cyst, all because I preferred to drive myself rather than call the ambulance. Seeing me make those decisions for myself is why my oldest daughter declined that service for her sister, knowing I was only minutes away to drive her myself.


We navigated medical decisions all evening, each one revolving around the same theme: fear and financial constraints. Inconclusive test results from urgent care prompted a subsequent visit to the ER, each step accompanied by inquiries of payment and insurance coverage. The need to know my daughter was OK was always tempered by the financial burden of pursuing those answers. We still don’t have an answer to this day, and my daughter is now wearing a monitor to check her heart for irregularities.


We gave God praise the day after her ER visit, as we dragged out the door to her dance performances, for her being able to do so. But then it hit me that years of unchecked trauma surrounding the intersection of health and finances had left me wary of seeking my own preventive care. Even as a grown woman with access to health insurance, I still put off preventive care appointments, opting to see a doctor when no other choice is available, which can increase the likelihood of the higher financial burden of an ER visit after an issue has gone unchecked for so long.


Angela Grayson is the Advocacy and Outreach coordinator for the Lighthouse and an overworked mom.


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