As I flew through the air Superman-style, arms outstretched and legs trailing behind me a good four feet off the ground, a frantic stream of panicked messages streaked my consciousness. “Shit, don’t land on your knees, your knees are for running, not the knees, this is not good…” then SLAM! I was buried face-down in the sand, unable to breathe and feeling lightning bolts shooting from my left rib down to my calf in a way that had me screaming and hyper-ventilating simultaneously.
It was my third lesson in kiteboarding and my lovely instructor Angel from Spain had been coaching me in a practice exercise where I sat on the beach with knees bent and feet flexed so I could power up my kite using a figure-eight motion, which would pull me up and onto my feet with a gentle force. In total control, I would run forward, de-power my kite, and Angel would explain how, in the water, I would need to turn my body to the side more so the kite could pull me up and forward on the surface of the water.
It made total sense. So I practiced my figure-eights based on the twelve-hour clock of kite positions I’d learned. Eleven to two. UP! De-power. Twelve o’clock. Sit down. Eleven to two. UP! De-power. Twelve o’clock. Sit down…Piece of cake…Hey Ryan’s in the water! I wonder if this might be safer over there…
“Try it one more time and we’ll hit the water!” Angel said. One more time? No problem…
But instead of the water, I hit the beach. Hard. And, after that, everything became a blur.
According to Angel, when he said “one more time,” I didn’t do exactly as I’d done the five times we’d practiced before that. I got a little sloppy and took my kite from 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock, which super-powered the kite on this already windy day, and had the effect of yanking me off the beach like I was a six-year-old walking a St. Bernard who’d just spotted a squirrel.
In a haze, I remember as I screamed, the beach sprang to life and dozens of kiteboarders dropped their equipment and ran to my aid. I was spitting out gobs of sand into Angel’s lap while begging him to get my harness and helmet off so I could breathe. Then suddenly a stranger appeared and shoved a pill in my mouth, telling me to swallow. I think he said “Vicodin,” but I wasn’t sure. Frankly, he could have said “crack cocaine” and I wouldn’t have cared.
For a moment, I thought, “Don’t panic, you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you…don’t bother Ryan…this will pass…once they get this harness off, you’ll be fine…DON’T PANIC.”
But then the harness came off and the pain seemed to intensify. And as I rubbed my hip, I realized I couldn’t feel the skin on my side, while my leg was stabbing me with pains that shot all the way to my skull.
Which brought back memories of lying on a roller derby rink in New York exactly a year ago, after being hit from both sides simultaneously in a scrimmage and hearing a snap so loud in my head I thought I’d broken my helmet. And as I laid on the floor, I put my hand on my right collarbone and realized it was in two pieces. I didn’t know yet that my left collarbone was also in two pieces. I just knew I was terrified and in excruciating pain, and yet the first thing that came to mind was the medical bills. “How much is this going to cost?” was my first question to the medics as they lifted me into the ambulance.
And now I was lying on what Ryan would later call “a Dominican stretcher,” which was a beach lounger that five guys had lifted me onto and now sprinted up the beach carrying. They were yelling at people to get out of the way as they dashed out to the street and flagged down a taxi. Meanwhile, I was wailing in pain and panicking in my head, “Shit, what if I’ve broken something…what about sailing…how am I going to get back on the boat…where is Ryan…HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST?”
Now, if you are an American, or you know an American, then you already know that the subject of medical costs in the U.S. can drive a Yankee’s blood pressure from 0 to 60 in a nanosecond. Our voices grow louder as we recount tragic tales of friends who went bankrupt over, say, a botched appendix operation, and we whine about our monthly insurance bill and the things it doesn’t cover. Or we blurt out a stream of justifications for why we don’t have insurance and probably don’t need it anyway. “Live free or die!” or something like that…
If you are nodding your head, recalling the last annoying conversation you had with an American about our health care system, then I have to ask you to excuse us, please. It’s not our fault. We, as a nation, have endured major, prolonged trauma in the form of the world’s most expensive and unattainable health care. Despite the fact that we spend more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, we are ranked a dismal 38th in the world by the World Health Organization for quality of care. We’re like those abused children who duck instinctively when a hand is raised, except we immediately bark “HOW MUCH?!” any time we see a doctor.
So, if you think it’s crazy that — as I got wheeled into a private medical clinic in Cabarete and was attended to immediately by half a dozen doctors and given over a dozen X-rays and sonograms along with an IV drip of painkillers in the space of under three hours — all I could think was How much is this going to cost?, then just remember I AM AN AMERICAN.
Which means I pay $1,000/month for my and Ryan’s insurance coverage, and yet that only covers us in three states in the U.S. And even then, after all the money I pay, my insurance doesn’t cover ambulance rides, so my 10-minute trip to the hospital with my broken collarbones last year cost me $1,000. And, still, I was grateful because if I’d had that accident outside of New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, or if I’d not been insured at all, my bills would have cost me upwards of $10,000. No joke.
So with each X-ray my Dominican doctors gave me, Ryan and I anxiously played a real-life game of “The Price is Right,” mumbling guesses back and forth as to how much the bills would come to in the end. Ryan guessed $1,000 after four X-rays. But, after a dozen more tests, we said we’d be happy if it cost less than $3,000.
I smiled with relief once the X-ray and sonogram results came back and the doctors assured me I hadn’t broken anything. The mix of good news with strong painkillers numbed my worries…apart from the ones related to expenses. “How much is this going to cost?” I muttered to Ryan again, as the nurse removed my IV and helped me into a wheelchair.
“Ssshhh. It doesn’t matter,” Ryan said, trying to soothe my anxiety. “Whatever it is, we’ll pay it.”
So, when Ryan returned from the doctor’s office laughing out loud, I knew we’d way over shot with our guesses in “The Price is Right.”
“How much?” I asked.
“Eight thousand,” Ryan said.
“Dollars or pesos?!” I exclaimed.
“Funny you should ask,” Ryan said. “That’s exactly what I said to the doctor. I thought he was going to choke! It’s in pesos.”
“Two hundred dollars?” I asked.
“Two hundred dollars,” Ryan said, laughing. “And this is in a private clinic. If we’d gone to the public one down the road, it would’ve been much less.”
“I love this country,” I said. “I can play sports and hurt myself and I don’t have to worry about going bankrupt.”
“That’s anywhere but America, by that criteria,” Ryan said.