Going to the Health Fair was a new experience for me. Long spoiled by having had really good insurance the entire time I worked and even after that while my husband’s retirement insurance covered me, I approached the entire process with a sense of loss. Frankly, I looked at my need to make use of this service a step down from the privileged way I had always just gone to the doctor’s office to have lab work done and not worried about the cost because my insurance would cover it.
Changes in my husband’s insurance about 18 months ago made it financially impossible for me to continue to keep that great coverage I had. The coverage that I was able to get at a premium price that I could afford (just barely), meant the first $1,000.00 of medical costs each year would have to be paid for by me (as well as having to pay for all of my prescription drugs, which did not apply to that $1,000.00).
So here I was, at 6:30 am on a Thursday morning, heading out of the house for the local Health Fair before breakfast.
Arriving at the location, I went inside and stopped at the first table inside the door. Politely I asked where I needed to go first. “We aren’t supposed to start until 7:00”, I was told, to which I said “but it’s already 7:04”. Bad choice on my part I guess, as I was told to go down to the auditorium, with a wave of the hand in the general direction of the hallway.
So, down the hall I went, turning in at the sign hanging from the ceiling that said “Start Here”. Right behind me came the same unpleasant woman, saying “no, not here, I said the auditorium”. So further down the hall I went, finding the auditorium finally without any assistance from the half dozen dazed looking students standing around in the hallway.
Once in the auditorium, I was given a numbered ticket and told that my number would be called. The auditorium was already pretty full, and no one there seemed to have any idea what was happening. A volunteer came in with a stack of maps that showed where things were supposed to be. Then another volunteer came in and told us that we need to fill in the paperwork to register. As if one, everyone in the auditorium files back out into the hall and forms a line back down to the “start here” sign to get the paperwork, fill it in and pay our $30 for our blood work.
As soon as I have handed over my form and my check, they check over the form then hand back two copies of it to me. “You’ll need to give this to the lab when you have the blood drawn” I’m told. Then I’m back in the hall waiting in line to have my “vitals” taken. It’s taking forever to do this simple measurement, and after about 15 minutes several of us go back into the auditorium to wait until they get caught up with the blood pressure measuring.
After a while a volunteer comes in and says the line has cleared up and we can try again. Once I’m in the room for blood pressure measuring, I figure out why it was taking so long. The “volunteers” are very beginning students. The one that takes my blood pressure isn’t sure she’s getting the right reading and has to ask an instructor to double check it. She never can find my pulse, and another student who has obviously had more training, has to do it. All the while the first student is giggling like a 12 year old. I’m thinking it’s a good thing this isn’t the only place I ever get my blood pressure checked.
Back into the hallway, they are calling groups of numbers six at a time to go have the blood work done. They are about 30 away from my number, so I decide to wander down the hall and try to find the “community information” room where I hope to pick up information about low cost mammograms. No information available on that, but I get a booklet on stroke and heart attack and a new toothbrush. The girls behind one table are inflating a pig’s lung to demonstrate the effects of tobacco use, and want to give me a nicotine patch, which I decline telling them I gave up that nasty habit a long time ago. As I head out the door I pick up a small piece of chocolate and a mint that I put in my bag to eat on my way home.
I walked down the hall to see if they are doing the Bone Density Screening or the Foot Screening or the Breast Screening that was listed on the web site for the site. They aren’t. In addition, they have already run out of the colon cancer screening test packets. So much for one stop shopping.
Back down the hall toward the auditorium, and I decide to talk to some of the other people that are waiting with me. I admit I had a preconceived idea of who would be at a Health Fair. I am surprised by the wide variety of folks that are. There is a large group of people that are there to have the blood work done because the $30 gets you about $500 worth of lab work, and they either have no insurance or they have such a large deductible that they can’t afford to have the work done.
One young woman tells me she is on Medicaid and for eight months she has not felt well, but even with Medicaid she can’t afford to have lab work done. She’s hoping this one day shot will help her feel better.
Another athletic looking couple in their 40’s are there because it’s “such a good deal”. A lovely 50-something artist waits with me and tells me that she too has had a problem finding an affordable individual insurance plan. There are about half a dozen young women in there 20s that have no insurance because they are no longer covered under their parents’ policies and their employers don’t offer a health care program.
At last it is my turn to go to the area where the lab work is being done. They take six of us and have us sit in the hall. One of the women is checking her watch every two minutes. It’s now almost 8:30 and she’s late for work.
Before we go into the room the volunteer at the door takes our paperwork and makes us recite to her what we have written on the form (I wonder if they think I’ll tell them I’m someone else at some other address than I used on the form). Once I’m in the room, I see that we are again dealing with students. As I’m shown to a table, I tell the young lady that I am her challenge for the morning. “How’s that?” she asks me, and I tell her “the veins are deep and they roll and you get ONE shot at it”. I’ve been to labs with fully trained staff and looked like I’ve been beaten for days after because they didn’t do it right, I’m not letting a student use me for a lab rat, no matter how inexpensive it is. I’m surprised, she gets it right without problem, she’s the first student that has impressed me. She takes the original of the form and hands me the yellow copy. “That’s your receipt,” she tells me. “Your test results will come in the mail in three to six weeks.” I can tell she has said that a lot.
Back out in the hall I overhear someone talking to the unpleasant woman that I encountered at the front door. The couple is saying they have been to a lot of other Health Fairs and none of them has even been so disorganized. I hear her say “well, we started with a plan and departed from there” and laughs. To her this is obviously just another day’s work. It would be nice if she had some understanding of how important what they are supposed to be doing is. I decide not to get into that conversation. I’ve had enough of her today.
On my way back to car I put the chocolate in my mouth. It’s been quite an experience, but next year I think I’ll go to some other facility. Once is enough with this group.
It’s a humbling experience. I feel like I’ve been treated like part of a cattle call. I remember my daughter complaining about a clinic when we lived in California. She said that she would have gotten better care from a veterinarian and threatened to growl, bark and pee on the floor to see if she could get a response. I understand that feeling. I need a lot more chocolate.