The first in an occasional series of posts in which I can justify anything I do as anthropological research.
I’m sitting in a dentist’s chair opposite the window. I have a great view, because I’m 19 floors up in downtown Chicago. Opposite is Donald Trump’s controversial sign in giant letters on the side of a skyscraper. I’ve already filled out a host of forms, including a pointed reminder that I have to pay for anything not covered by my insurance, and we’re going through my family history for risk factors.
“Any history of cancer?”
“Well, my grandfather got lung cancer eventually…” I reply, “but he smoked all his life.” Satisfied, she notes this down as a risk factor, and I wonder how often he went to a dentist when he was my age.
We move on to my own health, and she asks if I have elevated stress levels. I say no, and then equivocate. I get stressed at work, I guess, but it’s mostly fun stress? “A lot of people with stressful jobs say yes, with a note that it’s work related”, she suggests. “I think I’ll leave it at no”, I decide. Having not bothered to go the dentist for years, I already know where this is going; if I’m going to do US healthcare, I want to start gently.
She leads me into another room where I place my head as instructed in the midst of a fancy spinning diagnostic machine. “WELCOME TO THE WORLD’S MOST ADVANCED DENTAL PHOTOGRAPHIC SYSTEM” boasts a somewhat sinister recorded message, before playing some classical music around my head. I smile at the absurdity, and the dentist smiles back, which is heartening. If someone in the 1960s had drawn a futuristic comic about a Space Dentist set on the Moon in the year 2014, they would have included this machine.
After much prodding at my teeth later, we’re ready to discuss my results. My teeth are great, but my gums are terrible, and there are helpful videos to illustrate what could happen if this situation is allowed to continue. Reluctantly, I concede in my own head that this seems legit. I’m going to have to start flossing – something which I’d previously dismissed as a conspiratorial joke between dentists. In the UK, when a dentist told me to floss, it was a bit like rebellious teenagers promising not to hold a wild house party when their parents left town for the weekend. Neither side really meant it, it was just something they had to say. But this woman really does want me to floss, and I’m a little scared what might happen if I don’t.
Then the dentist who runs the place arrives, and re-examines me, and agrees wholeheartedly with the existing diagnosis. (I suppose it would be awkward if he didn’t.) And if I agree to stick to my side of the bargain, I can come every three months over the next year to get everything deep-cleaned and fixed up. “Your mouth will feel better… your whole body will feel better!” he says brightly, which is going a little far for me – but as I say, the basics are sound. I don’t doubt that this is going to be good for me. I just want to know about costs.
Costs are handled by a third person, who comes in separately to talk about my insurance. (We’re almost two hours in at this point.) Their charge for all of this work over the year is $1000. She’s going to phone my insurance company to find out if they will agree to this fee. If they will, then they’ll pay 50% of it, after a $50 deducible. So already we’re down to $550, and I smile because I still have time to upgrade my insurance to a slightly-more-expensive but much-more-generous option, now that I know it’s going to be worth the money. Not everyone is so fortunate.
The nonsense of an insurance system is painful. There is no effective control on costs, and a great deal of needless waste and bureaucracy, for something which is fundamentally unsuited to an insurance model. Everyone needs medical care eventually. It’s not some rare event you can protect against by pooling risk, which is what insurance is for. That’s like having an insurance system for food, ‘in case you happen to get hungry’. And because I have a good job, I’m going to pay less than someone on lower pay with a worse job, which you don’t have to be a Marxist to realise is clearly ludicrous.
Equally as sad is that the relationship between the people in this room is all out of kilter. To be very clear: I have no doubt that I’m surrounded by good people who take some professional pride from their skill at stopping my teeth from falling out, and for that I am truly grateful. But due to forces beyond their control, we find ourselves in a consumer relationship. I have come to shop, and they are upselling. Only in this case my decisions are supposed to be life and death, based on claims I can’t possibly evaluate properly, which isn’t quite the same as deciding whether you can afford the smartphone with the better camera.
Fear works, too. When I got back to work, I also opted into vision insurance. I don’t have glasses, I don’t wear contacts – this is purely so that if I wake up and serendipitously decide I want an eye test, I can. More bloated costs, more waste, more fear. Just imagine what the US could achieve if it put its collective spend – by government, companies and individuals – into a real healthcare system.
The collective principle asserts that the resources of medical skill and the apparatus of healing shall be placed at the disposal of the patient, without charge, when he or she needs them; that medical treatment and care should be a communal responsibility; that they should be made available to rich and poor alike in accordance with medical need and by no other criteria…
Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide.
By. No. Other. Criteria.
Memo from 1990: if you want to mess with your mind, watch six episodes of Twin Peaks in a row. It’s good, though! And creepy. And slower-paced, but also more suspenseful than a lot of equivalent shows today – with much less sex, and much more intrusive instrumental music. It also means that Nolan and I can now retroactively understand a whole bunch of Simpsons references.
In more recent productions, we also saw Edge of Tomorrow at the
cinema movie theatre this week. (For a mere $6.50, folks! This was exciting in its own right.) As usual I concur with Abbi – this is really pretty good, and worth seeing, even if it does star Tom Cruise.
This week I also reached two important landmarks in my American journey. Number #1: health insurance! This will make me significantly less bankrupt if I have the misfortune to be hit by a truck and survive. Number #2: my first July 4th, Independence Day! Which we celebrated with a suspiciously French-style picnic by the beach, before going back to Kristina’s for hot dogs, corn on the cob, a bevy of neighbourhood fireworks and patriotic songs. God bless America, etc. etc.
So my sense of time is all disjointed right now due to the ‘everything is new’ feeling, which makes piecing together a blog post about what’s been going on harder than normal. Of course, the working week is still the working week of – y’know – going to work, which is a comforting routine to have. I know some people found the idea of relocating without a resting period strange, but actually it’s been nice to get into ‘normal life’ mode as quickly as possible. And work is cool, anyway.
Some of the highlights beyond that: there having been far too many ‘Dominic celebrations’ recently, birthday drinks on Thursday night consisted of an utterly lovely and relaxed gathering outside Motel Bar. Thanks to those who made it happen, and everyone else for your birthday wishes! I am now 25, which feels imposingly significant, as in ‘halfway to 50’. But at least I have gained 6 extra hours from the timezone switch, which are mine to bank for as long as I’m here.
Nolan took me along to a house party on Friday night, at which I was surprised to learn that ‘naming all 50 states’ is not actually so straightforward for citizens either. (Although props to the girl who could rattle them off in alphabetical order without so much as taking a breath.) And then on Saturday night I was honoured to be invited along to Todd’s birthday – Todd being a beloved Grouponian – which included these very fetching coasters. Not pictured is any drink actually encased in said coaster, because by the time Leah, Alex and I left the second bar my phone was definitely dead. But it was a good night.
There aren’t really many bad points right now, Chicago being a pretty friendly and relaxed city with lots of things going on. It’s been easy enough to catch a train or a bus downtown and enjoy the final day of the Blues Festival, or grab some tasty food, or just wander by the water:
The drawback is really that when it starts to rain, it really rains, so the British ‘oh well, it’s raining, that’s a shame, let’s carry on anyway’ spirit doesn’t work. Having the admin hassle of applying for everything from scratch can be tedious (top candidates for tedium are ‘getting a Social Security number’ and ‘opening an account with T-Mobile’ – the latter in particular has turned into a marathon of phone calls with unhelpful customer service agents). And there’s been a fair bit of turtling*, too. But overall, I am settling in, and the next big challenge will be finding somewhere permanent to live from August. Hello, Craigslist…
*Note: I’m not using this to mean mean any of the things described on Urban Dictionary.
Believe it or not, Chicago is beautiful and sunny right now. Hurray for summer!
Some random thoughts:
- I am living with Nolan and Brett for a couple of months. Nolan and Brett are wonderful, and very tolerant of having to pause the TV every few seconds so some new aspect of Americana can be explained to me. They also showed me Wayne’s World.
- I can literally watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on TV. In the right timezone. This has been a long time coming.
- Target is great.
- Going to work with a bunch of people you already know makes for a very nice transition. On Friday night, I went to see Benno at the Art of Adaptation Festival in a cool little theatre with Grisel, Shelby, Jonathan and Agata. This was prefaced with Mexican food and followed by beer… so I’m having a good time.
- At the same time, being new and uprooted is a great opportunity to do random things. Last night, I got talking to two random guys sitting outside a bar, and ended up in their back garden round a fire while they practised their country music on the banjo and the guitar. Onward for adventure.
Thank you to everyone who came to my Deportation Party on Sunday night, and/or those who made a fuss at work today for my last day in the London office 🙂 The photos below are only a snapsnot, because so many wonderful people were there!
Let’s see now. I’ve given blood. I’ve packed… ur, mostly. I’ve caught Maya for a long overdue catch-up, had blue cheese pasta in Joshua’s new flat and had my last Indian takeaway tonight. I’ve even stolen some teabags from the kitchen for an emergency supply in case I get tea-withdrawal upon landing.
Time to fly!