New Castle News

July 7, 2012

Josh Drespling: As I near 40, my body’s a wreck — and so is the system

Josh Drespling
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — As I approach the monstrous hurdle of my 40th birthday, I have come to the startling conclusion that my body has declared war on me.

Not a simple attack that could be easily warded off with some exercise, Advil, or extra sleep, but rather a full-blown invasion, bent on total and complete elimination of me.

As most of you know, I was in a serious auto accident in January of 2011. I broke five ribs — one on my left side, two in my back, and one in my chest, right where they come together to form my sternum. I also banged my head around and messed up my leg. I ended up spending nine days in the hospital in Pittsburgh with an epidural in my back to ease the constant pain.

On Sunday, Jan. 16, I was able to muster the strength and stamina to hobble out of Allegheny General Hospital. The next day, I even fought through the pain and made it to a Penguins game (they were free corporate box seats; I couldn't say no). Much to my family's dismay, I went to work on Tuesday, despite my struggle to make it up steps or even go from a sitting position to a standing one, or vice versa. I actually spent the next four to six weeks sleeping in an upright position, because any and all pressure on my ribs was excruciating.

Now, as I sit here, over a year removed from the accident, I feel my body slowly exacting its revenge on me for my inadvertent mistreatment of it. Its first, yet longest running attack, has been to my right leg. It never really was right since the accident. It gets completely numb from my hip joint down to the knee cap. So numb that I could stick a needle in it and I would feel nothing more than a slight pinch.

Additionally, my sternum still aches where the bones were broken. If I move quickly or pick up something heavy, I can feel the tinge of pain radiating from the spot that was broken.

A second affront was discovered in follow-up doctor visits for the accident. I was tested for and diagnosed with diabetes. Foods never seemed to bother me, but once I was made aware of them, carbs and sugars made me lethargic.

The third offense was delivered with a diagnoses of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which has kept me from getting a good night of sleep for an excessively extended amount of time.

More recently, I have developed severe pains in my abdomen, just below my naval, only to find out that I have a Umbilical Hernia. Now every time I move, bend, lift, or even eat, by stomach reminds me that I have no medical insurance and I am in need of a simple surgery that is out of reach.

I also have ongoing problems with my right eye after I had a 3mm paper-cut in 2003. Several times a week the tissue that has healed over is ripped off as I awaken in the morning. Needless to say, this is a quite intense pain and every attempt to remedy with drops, cream, and salves has been fruitless. I have had all the scar tissue removed from the surface of my eye and a series of holes put in my eye to help the healing process, to no avail.

My knee also hurts every time I stand up. It eventually goes away, but is troublesome nonetheless. This all goes with out mentioning the sharp dagger-like pain I have daily in the middle of my back and the burning between my shoulder blade and collar bone.

As you can see, my body is falling apart and there is no end in sight. I wouldn't be surprised if parts start falling off like an old jalopy or if it just gave up on me any day.

I have always worked hard, always been employed, and at some points, even held down multiple jobs. I also do lots of freelance design work to bring in extra income for the family, but medical insurance is simply out of my reach. It's not for the lack of trying or frivolous spending. We, in fact, have no credit card debt nor car payments. Only a mortgage on our modest, yet interesting home, a personal loan, and my wife's student loans.

When your employer includes information on welfare and CHIP insurance systems with your open enrollment packets, you know you're in trouble. They know they don’t pay the average employee enough to afford the insurance plans they are offering, so their solution is to push you to a government-funded plan. Not only is this aggravating, it's a slap in the face that you are working at a wage that is low enough to collect government benefits in spite of your employer expecting your undying dedication and willingness to give up personal life and family time for their benefit.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm looking for a handout or anything for free, but there has to be a better way. What I am saying is that the system is broken, and something needs to change. For me to even take care of the most pressing of my medical conditions, I will undoubtedly have to remortgage my house or make payments for the rest of my life. Additionally, most of these ailments have been diagnosed by a medical professional and are now “pre-existing conditions.” Without the help of the Health Care Reform Act, these conditions would have been excluded from most medical coverage.

I'm not writing this in support of any political party or candidate, but as you ponder your own position on such topics, consider the situation of a person such as me who, unfortunately, has been caught in the cracks of a system. A system that punishes me for working hard and making a livable wage. If I made less, I could walk in and get free health care. If I made significantly more, I could pay the inflated insurance premiums. But alas, I am a 40-year-old white male, who does what he is supposed to do. I pay taxes, work hard, and take care of my family, but I am cast aside by my employers and my own government.

What can we do? I don’t know, but something grand and full of sweeping change needs to happen, and happen soon before I lose any more parts.