Saturday, June 23, 2012

Medical Reimbursement & Cancer's Return

It’s time to complete the benefits election paperwork for both of our employers. We have stacks of paper from his job and from mine. The pile has moved from kitchen counter to dining room table to the living room floor and back to the kitchen. I remind him, “We have to talk about this.” and “How much should we put in the medical reimbursement account this year?” I’m avoiding it too, pushing the task to him, noting my particularly unfeminist separation of duties.

This has gone on for a month.

Last night, annoyed that the pile of papers is back in the living room, I nag again “We have to turn those in on Monday—let’s decide how much to put in this account.” In my head its all about the number—how much should we designate pre-tax to allow for medical expenses next year? My internal juggle –I assume—is about making sure we have enough to cover dental for two adults, eye care for two sets of aging eyes, and enough for deductibles, co-pays and prescriptions. It’s a calculation.

Why is this so hard? Why are we procrastinating?

My annoyed voice bothers him so at 11pm we get out the calculator and paper and start in. “OK, so if we each need new glasses this year, and if we assume we each need a crown and a couple of cleanings, and what about any medicines?” But as we talk my stomach starts to hurt. Really hurt.

And then I realize that what we are not talking about is this: What if cancer returns? How do we do that calculation? How do we guess at those huge copays and the multiple prescriptions? But really, how do we talk about this seemingly money thing, which has nothing to do with money?

My stomach hurts. I take a breath. I say to him, “This is all about cancer.” We choose this number now, but on your next test in July we’ll know for sure if the cancer is back. Then what? And the “what” isn’t about the money. I tell him that we talk about cancer and don’t talk about cancer. It’s always out there. Out there in the tests and the meds and the lingering neuropathy, and it’s out there in the obituaries of people younger than us who “endured a brave battle with lung/breast/colon/brain cancer.”

But this simple form that asks for a single simple number has yanked cancer into our living room hard and fast and frightening.

We sit up and talk. The number was easy. The conversation was not. But we’re not so far apart in our numbers or our beliefs about what to do if and when. “We have great sex,” we say, “and we can have great cancer and even great death.” We can do this.

It is intimacy of the most devastating kind and the most real. 

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