Saturday, June 19, 2010

Floppy Eyes

No, that's not my new gangster pseudonym; it's a disorder which I was diagnosed with this past week. As funny as it sounds, it's not that much of a joke for your struggling, on-the-rise-if-you-will artist. This is a brief (believe it or not) account of my battle with the shameful facade of what we call our health care industry.

About two and a half years ago, I began to experience signs of an infection in my left eye which worried me when it started to affect my vision. At the time, I had no insurance and opted to visit a local Clinic to investigate what could be wrong with me. I was diagnosed by a doctor who told me I had run-of-the mill conjunctivitis (pink-eye) after taking a quick glance at my running mess on my face.

"Pink Eye" (Inks on Paper / 2007)

I treated my eye for conjunctivitis with the prescribed medications but yielded no change for the better. Upon returning to the Clinic, the doctor referred me to a local ophthalmologist.

My new doctor put some dye in my eye and scanned it while he ummmed and ahhhed. He eventually diagnosed a bacterial infection for which he prescribed a wide variety of expensive ointments and eye drops over a period of a few months. I filled my eye with uncomfortable, irritating, and burning substances for months of what just seemed like stabs in the dark and trials and error. I am convinced the guy just had a board full of pharmaceutical company logos. I could picture him coming in and greeting me and umming and ahhing and going back to his office, throwing a dart and saying "Aha! He needs Tobradex!" Apparently other folks caught on to the mumbling dart artist since he went out of business shortly after I gave up on his shenanigans. Upon my last visit to him, he told me he no longer felt it was a bacterial infection but rather a "seasonal allergy" which I'd simply "have to deal with for the rest of your life." (NOT the answer I hoped for consider I had drained my saving account with his $200 office visits and $80-$200 prescriptions)

I decided I may want to see a "REAL" doctor now for my eye now so I visited our brand-spanking new $102,000,000 state-of-the-art hospital here in town. I was awe-inspired by the beautiful waiting room, plasma televisions in every nook and cranny, and new furnishing gleaming with unscathed, mirrored finishes. It was all quite moving. I went through the usual motions describing my symptoms and getting my blood-pressure checked to gain entrance to a bedded room to patiently await an authentic, knowledgeable doctor. After a half-hour wait with crystal-clear plasma reality tv to keep me nauseated, I was greeted by a physician's assistant. Mr. Assistant explained that they were stretched too thin to lend a doctor to my case. (I was later told that there was practically no funding left after paying for the building to pay doctors which explained my lack of seeing one.) Furthermore, they had nobody staffed who knew a thing about eyes. I asked kindly for Mr. Assistant to culture my eye so we could find out exactly what was bothering me. He told me that I didn't have the insurance and probably didn't want to incur that sort of expense and sent packing with a promise that I would not be billed for my visit since I was denied treatment. I received a bill two months later. Apparently turning away patients is a VERY lucrative business. I'm now considering investing every extra dime into a Doctor's Clinic with no doctor where we'll just run tests and refer people to other places... talk about recession-proof!

My voyage to end my woes of double-vision and snot-eye led me to the next ophthalmologist the city of Clarksville had to offer. At this point, I was finally insured thanks to my loving wife's minimal, second-rate policy provided by her employer after a full year of active duty as a customer service agent for a major cellular provider. Armed with my new, crisp insurance card, I entered my appointment confident a solution was near. My new contact for the medical industry was a funny, zany guy who I liked a lot. Again, we juggled medications for months. The problem with most optical medications is that you can't use them for long or you'll develop ANOTHER infection from the drugs. It's like these people that take one pill for their heart, which causes explosive diarrhea, so they have to take another medicine to counteract their asshole dropping out which raises their blood pressure which they need another pill for which causes blurry vision for which they take another pill which makes them lethargic which they take medical grade amphetamines for so now they just can't do a damn thing but sit in a chair all cracked-out and eat pills all day. I just don't understand. The boat left, and I wasn't on the boat. My new guy finally gave up and referred me to a 5th doctor...

Two weeks ago, I drug my feet into the last standing ophthalmologist in Clarksville. This sharp guy had just moved into a gorgeous new office located in a recently-constructed office facility next to the new hospital (why stay next to the old hospital? It's a ghost-town over there now.) Again, plasma televisions everywhere blaring day-time garbage (I went cold-turkey on TV about 5 years ago so just 15 minutes of it kinda throws my entire day off... I try to pretend that it doesn't exist and people actually read and live productive lives.)

After going through the usual motions, my last local hope and savior entered the room to help me. A bit of panic overtook me with the thought that I may never really find a cure. I got the dye treatment and blinding scan once again while the long-haired Christ-like doctor ummmed and ahhhed and his assistant took notes. He stood up quickly and announced "Mr. Hardin, you have floppy-eye syndrome!" I about fainted with laughter. Being an artist, I question my sanity on a weekly, if not daily basis. I had to ask him to repeat himself for I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

He explained that my eyelids were "loose and floppy" and that they flipped open while I slept, causing the inside of my eyelid to dry out and get infected. That made sense I suppose. My wife had mentioned in the past finding me sleeping with my eyelids flipped back like you do when your a kid to gross out your friends (especially affective when used in combination with the "finger goggles" and sticking the tongue out). I asked the doc what he could prescribe to help. He simply said, "Tape." Again, I laughed and he explained that I had to tape my eyes shut but that didn't work in 95% of his patients / I could try BUT here is also an over-the-counter night-time ointment I could goop in my eyes (which I'm using now.)

This all seemed fair enough and just as I was thanking my new informative idol for his help, he said gravely, "There's one other thing, I do believe there is an infection working in tandem with your floppy eyes. Have you ever heard of chlamydia?" I didn't laugh this time. I asked, "Now how would I have gotten that?" Now it was the doc's turn to laugh. "I couldn't tell you that Mr. Hardin! We do need to do a culture." A CULTURE! FINALLY! I became astounded with excitement. The past four guys simply put me off every single time I asked for a culture. Almost three years and finally someone is willing to find out what is really there instead of guessing.

Well, the culture came back a few days ago and I'll let you guess this time. Know what was in my eye this whole time? NOTHING. I'm certain this was a hustle just to get another buck out of me considering he diagnosed me properly and I wouldn't be a repeat customer. If the first doctor had of cultured me, we would have known there was nothing NOW someone PROPERLY diagnoses me and I still pay for the culture in the end. Sheeeeesh. So apparently for nearly three years I was being prescribed medications for my eye, costing thousands of dollars, which were just making me worse and drying my eye out more and more and more and making pharmaceutical companies thousands of percent profit (no kidding, this junk has a higher markup than crack cocaine or gasoline.)

So I'm using my $6 tube of night-time ointment and my $3 bottle of lubricating eye drops. Fortunately, the eye is one of the quickest healing parts of the body. After only a few days, I'm seeing an improvement and hope to be back to 100% vision and not have to draw with one eye open very soon!

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