Financial Lessons Learned from a Night in the ER

Financial Lessons Learned from a Night in the ER

I have always been accident prone. Like a real-life heroine in a YA novel featuring vampires and forbidden romance, my most benign character flaw is that I’m clumsy as fuck.

I guess I just never grew out of that stage of puberty where you walk smack into walls that have been there for your whole life and end up with bruises of mysterious origin all over your legs. I just don’t know where my ends are! I’m missing whatever survival instinct informs the human body not to grievously injure itself on a regular basis.

So I guess it was just a matter of time before I ended up in the emergency room, writhing and blinded by the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life.

You guys. I hurt myself really, really badly. And I’m going to be paying for it for a long time.

What happened

I spilled a crockpot full of boiling chicken broth on my right arm and hand.

The cord got stuck behind the microwave, and when I went to move it, the whole thing jerked out of my hands and spilled everywhere. I screamed, much like one would scream had one just been doused with lava, and collapsed like a drag queen doing her best death drop.

(It was probably a GREAT death drop, you guys. Not that I remember much of that moment other than the excruciating feeling of my own flesh searing away.)

I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, which soaked through with the boiling liquid. My husband heard The Crye of the Banshee, and ran in to rescue me. He tore the boiling shirt off me and thrust my arm under the faucet, which proved far too painful to be endured. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe steadily. And right around the time my husband mistook the degloved skin of my arm for a bit of cooked chicken skin, he decided to bundle me into the car and take me to the ER.

I think that’s when I fainted for the first time. I’m not really clear on the details of the timeline because I’d just melted most of the skin off my arm.

In the ER an awesome doctor and two nurses cleaned the wound, cut away a good portion of the skin, slathered me in goop, swathed me in bandages, and diagnosed me with second degree burns. Luckily, I’d missed my fingers, but the burns covered the complete circumference of my wrist. They told me I’d be looking at weeks of recovery before I could even begin physical therapy

Cool. Not like I need my dominant hand for anything in the meantime.

The monetary cost of a serious injury

I have insurance, which is sometimes pretty rad and sometimes infuriating. That’ll certainly help with my medical bills. But there’s not just a monetary cost associated with this kind of injury.

But yeah, there’s still a definite price tag associated with my lovely soon-to-be bad-ass scars. This is America after all!

At the ER that night, they asked to see my insurance card and then charged me $400 for medical care. I also paid about $1.50 for pain-relieving narcotics and $60 for a visit to my primary care physician the next morning. I needed a bunch of fancy gauze and medicated pads to cover the burns (look man I’m high af right now don’t ask me to get more specific than “fancy gauze”), which would have cost me about $80 to order from Amazon (because of course the pharmacy doesn’t carry such useful things), except that my friend who works on the ambulance brought me a bunch.

So let’s say that’s $541.50 out of pocket so far.

And a week after the accident, I’m scheduled to see my PCP again. Another $60. And I’ll need physical therapy to help with mobility in my damaged tendons and skin, at $60 an appointment. And I’m rapidly running out of magical healing goop and gauze, and I’m in too much discomfort to calculate that cost so let’s just say… it’s all adding up rather quickly.

Which is fine! … for me. I have an emergency fund. To read more about emergency funds and insurance, check out these excellent (if we do say so ourselves) articles:

I’m well prepared to cover this kind of thing out of pocket. My husband handed over a credit card at the ER and I got to comfort myself by thinking of all the travel points we’d be racking up through a payment I could easily pay off in a week.

But as we’ve discussed before, the average American has a real hard time coming up with $400 in an emergency. What happens to them? Do they go into debt to get the medical care they need? Do they choose between new shoes for their children, or sell the family car? What do they do?

The nurses indicated to me that my husband was right not to wait—that if we had waited to seek treatment, the injury could’ve been much worse.

There was a time in my broke-ass student life when taking the time to decide if I could afford a visit to the hospital seemed perfectly reasonable. I’m really glad I didn’t flay my arm during that time. But I know there are people who still make this deadly math every day. And that’s fucked up.

The hidden costs of serious injury

My livelihood is editing. I work for a publishing house by day, and by night I work with freelance clients.

So damaging my dominant hand in such a way that makes typing both painful and difficult is… not ideal.

And did I mention the drugs? I’m on the kind of pain medication that caused the president to refer to New Hampshire as a “drug infested den.” The kind he must have been on to believe he won said bastion of ornery New Englanders.

Thinking—about anything—is hard on this medication. But for the first few days after the accident I welcomed the no-thinking, no-feeling, no-caring oblivion like a nineteenth-century British nobleman-turned-poet in a shady opium den.

But reality has a way of creeping in on even the most numbing high. I had to dictate several emails to my freelance clients, delaying their projects indefinitely. And since I don’t get paid in full until I finish editing my clients’ manuscripts, that means my pay is also getting delayed indefinitely. Which is super convenient because did I mention the medical bills?

Then I had to contact my boss. Because I’m a new hire, my benefits don’t kick in until ninety days after my start date… around early April. So I don’t have any vacation time accrued yet. My boss was kind enough to give me the day off right after the accident, but now I’m expected to work… somehow. And that’s proving difficult.

I answer a few emails here, negotiate a contract there, take a nap, write a memo, go back and correct mistakes I made in the morning during my drug-induced stupor, and then take another nap. It’s not what I’d call “productive.”

In short, I’m paying for my injury in productivity cost and opportunity cost.

I’m a salaried employee with a successful side business. But what of the minimum wage workers who don’t have health insurance through their employers? What about those who can’t take a day off from their three part-time jobs without losing those jobs? What do they do when the medical bills are piling up and their income dries up like a desert stream in high summer?

The burden of an injury on a household

We’re a household of three (yes, the dog counts). My husband and I both work full-time and split the chores and shopping.

Or we did, before I decided to play fast and loose with kitchen safety. Now my husband Bear is forced to balance his full-time job, all the chores and errands, taking care of the dog, and caring for me, a human adult who before now was generally pretty independent when it came to things like showering, opening containers, and hooking her bra.

Every day Bear has to clean and rebandage my wound. He trained as an EMT, so at least he has medical expertise, but it’s still a lengthy and unpleasant process. This delays the start of his work day, and more often than not he has to stop by the store or a friend’s place to pick up some random medical supplies or food on his way home.

He’s stretched thin and there’s literally nothing I can do to help. I can’t change the bandages myself. I can’t drive because of the aforementioned rich Victorian person drugs. And it took me three days to figure out how to open the pill bottles myself.

But we’re a power couple. What if we had kids? Or elderly relatives relying on our care? What if my salary was the sole source of income for our household? How could we manage with the primary breadwinner or caretaker out of commission?

What is a temporary inconvenience to us could plunge an entire household into desperate financial straits. And if I haven’t made it clear yet, that makes me lucky… which is not fucking fair.

So there you have it: the truth behind Kitty’s mysterious tweets about how I hurt myself. My arm basically looks like Deadpool made sweet, sweet love to a zombie and then gave birth to a necrotic limb that he subsequently neglected and malnourished. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s going to take a while to heal.

And yes.

I’m on drugs.

43 thoughts to “Financial Lessons Learned from a Night in the ER”

  1. Listen…..I just bought a CrockPot last week after months of hemming and hawing over whether or not I would actually use it. THIS HELPS NOTHING.

    Also, not comparable in overall impact of injury, but I once dropped a a very hot oven rack on my arm while trying to re-position it and I still have the scar from the burns. I think about it every time I put something in the oven.

    1. I have heard so many oven-related burn stories since my injury. I’m starting to think we should outlaw these dangerous devices and just cook over an open flame. WHO’S WITH ME?

  2. Good god, ouch, how large portion is the burn? They make slower cookers so bulky, that’s why I got rid of mine. If I dropped my pot, I can either break my toes or break my floors. I’m glad it missed the fingers, fingers – are a big deal. Kudos to your power hubby!!!

    1. It in circles my wrist completely and covers the hand from the base of my knuckles to about halfway up my forearm. The worst part is my inner wrist right over the tendons. Still very raw and delicate.

  3. Well shit, Piggy! I’m glad you’re eventually gonna be alright and that you have both insurance and two supportive family members! Not being able to hook your own bra is the ultimate in loss of independence. When I got my secret agent tracking device (ahem, I mean my “birth control implant,” yes, that’s it…) my (luckily non-dominant) left arm was out of commission for a few days. Nothing like asking your roommate to hook your bra for you!

    Fun fact: I did ballet for 14 years. The reason I started at the age of 4? My parents were convinced I was so clumsy I’d end up being a danger to myself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. If only my parents had gotten me ballet lessons! They could have saved me!
      And yeah the bra thing has been a major inconvenience. So I’m just… not wearing one!

  4. Oh you sweet, steel-spined angel food cake, I’m so sorry! This is a very unfortunate turn of events indeed. We all miss you terribly and send all manner of happy, huggable, fluffy thoughts your way. Wishing you a speedy recovery. #thoughtsandprayers

  5. Ugh! I’m so sorry. So glad you have good drugs, an ample emergency fund, a supportive husband, health insurance, and all the things that make this (slightly) more bearable. Emergencies can happen to anyone, at any time, and having peace of mind to be able to financially handle it is so important. Hope the healing goes quickly. FWIW, your post was super coherent and lacking any typos or grammatical errors. Kudos to you!

  6. I did something similar a few years back with boiling hot pasta sauce. Thankfully my idiot self only poured it on my shin, because I do live alone and having a weird limp isn’t a huge deal in the scheme of burn recovery.

    I wanna know what the hell they make those fancy bandages and wound pads out of. Why are they worth so much? It’s just cotton??? I went without them towards the end bc it’s just a leg, and I may have terrified a few children with my deadpool skin, so that’s something to look forward to.

    1. I cannot wait to have creepy looking Deadpool scars! I can’t decide if I want to call attention to it with bracelets and what not or just leave it there for all the world to see.

    2. They have a special coating on then to make it so no pad gets stuck in the wound causing an infection or weird skin problems. I cheaped out once – please learn from my horrible horrible mistakes (skin infection). You only need it to cover parts that’s ozzey tho so you can trim them down really small and cover the rest with regular pads in a pinch. (My natural state is graceful baby giraffe hyped up on speed so I have a fair few fun scars and stories, ALSO NOT A DOCTOR so pinch of salt please)

      1. What Lena said! I have a couple different layers. First the goop (read: silver sulfadiazine cream), then these petrolatum cloth strips that don’t stick to my skin, then these coated gauze pads that are also non-stick and smooth so there are no strings to get caught in my oozing wounds, then regular gauze wrapping to pad it since even the lightest bump is painful, and then coban to hold it all in place.
        All of which is expensive af. So, thanks to my paramedic and firefighter friends for stealing shit from work for me!

  7. That’s so awful/painful/expensive/inconvenient in every way. Good luck and best wishes. You have a tremendous attitude, you are one strong person!

  8. So sorry about your accident and sending good wishes your way as you recover! I once had a kitchen accident with a pumpkin, a knife and my finger that ultimately got me a “hand surgeon” (which I later discovered to be my very own plastic surgeon! Who’d have thought I’d have one of those?). It’s a pretty awful feeling to realize that you’ve maimed your own body, and it could have been avoided.

    Take it one day at a time. You have a lot of people here pulling for you!

  9. Oh god. I cannot imagine. Just reading this makes me want to scream. I didn’t realize that second degree burns would require physical therapy. And here I am, just thrashing around my kitchen every day, willy nilly, thinking that the only way that I can really injure myself is if I’m caught in a fire or something.
    I’m so glad for you that you have the money stashed away to pay for this sort of unexpected emergency. I hear you on the whole “it sucks” thing about some people having to choose between medical care and buying groceries. I have family members in that situation, and it is definitely…worrisome.
    All we can do is keep spreading the good word about why you need to take control of your finances and have an emergency fund and hope for the best. Get better soon!

    1. Let my horrible experience be a lesson to you! The physical therapy is because the tendons on the inside of my wrist were potentially affected by the burn (I will see next week when I visit the hand specialist). And also because the new skin growing back is very tight and they want to make sure it… loosens up and becomes more elastic like normal skin? I dunno man. I just do what the doctor tells me.

  10. Again, piggy nails the GIFs. My BFFZ has insurance and “generous” PTO (16 days to be used as she pleases). Her thyroid decided to grow a tumor. Tina the Tumor is luckily a benign little bitch, but has to be chopped out of her. And it will be $1200 for the surgery… WITH INSURANCE. On top of that, she has asthma and her meds are $300/mo. WITH INSURANCE. Now let’s revisit that 16 days of PTO… which of course will be used up quickly for surgery and the breathing tests. And so she’ll have to take unpaid leave.

    I have a healthy emergency fund, two incomes, and am pretty solid. HOWEVER, it just takes one major catastrophe to throw people in financial disarray (which you guys have covered well on this blog, mad respect!)

    Ok- I’m done ranting, this post was just timed perfectly with some real life BS I’ve be going through.

      1. How dare you! Actually I really appreciated hearing about your friends problems. For one thing it let me know I’m not alone in for another it vindicates my feeling that things are very delicate in personal-finance and the health insurance system and could use some major improvements.

  11. This sounds unbearably awful and painful! Best wishes to a speedy recovery with a bright future as a professional Deadpool cosplayer ahead!

    Also super impressed at your taking the time to write this whole thing in the midst of trying to heal and get your life back on track- it is an excellent reminder (as you both have said before) on how something like this can completely derail your life financially. It reminds me of a recent article I read (somewhere) about people increasingly using Uber instead of ambulances in emergency situations due to insurance or transportation restrictions, and the legal/ethical ramifications that the drivers must contend with.

  12. I am so sorry that you have to deal with this! At least when something similarly painful happened to me it was my knee and leg – I would have gone insane had I not been able to use my hands. Also, I am not gonna tell you how long it took me to fully recover because I am not trying to be demoralising here but I will tell you that the best thing you can do is follow all their orders to a T!

    More importantly though, I am wishing you the speediest of recoveries and tell your husband some random person on the internet thinks he’s awesome!

  13. Agh! I’m so sorry about your injury!! That sounds like it hurts like a bitch. I once burned, like, a very small section of my finger and it felt like the end of the world (#DramaQueen).

    But it’s really not until you need the medical system that you realize how effed up it is. I had surgery earlier this month after an annoying six-month health ordeal. The whole thing is gonna set us back, like, $6,000 after insurance. And dealing with docs and insurance? It’s nearly as bad as whatever’s wrong with your body.

    Anyhoo, I share your frustrations and I hope that you get on the mend soon!

  14. I’m so sorry this happened. It sounds so awful (and ack, I confess that I’m always afraid something like it will happen every time I have something boiling in the kitchen). Best wishes for your recovery and thank goodness everything was well set up so that resulting financial trouble could be minimized.

    Ugh, the American medical care system is just so deeply broken, I get angry and sad every time I think about it. I had an accident of my own last year and although the injuries themselves were relatively minimal (and basically all dental) I ultimately spent about $4,000 all in to fix it because dental insurance, alas, is not that robust. My family’s from Taiwan, and while there’s a lot that isn’t great over there (weak labor law protections, low wages, and a huge rich-poor gap), the national healthcare system at least means nobody ends up in financial catastrophe because of medical issues.

    1. Tell me about it. I don’t understand how so many other countries can grasp the concept that a medical emergency should not be a bankrupting experience, and yet ‘Murica is all “There’s no other waaaay! Nothing we can do about it!”

  15. I am so sorry! I got third degree burns on my leg and foot when I was a kid. Luckily I was a child and did not have to worry about the finances of it. Take care of yourself, get all the rest you need and continue being the most fabulous Piggy you can be.

    1. Oh and vitamin E for the scars! However, my scar looks really cool and it further shows that I am a Bad ass bitch!

    2. Oh shit that sounds horrible. My doctor was telling me all the worst burns she’s seen have been on small children. Can’t imagine how painful that must have been for you! And thanks for recommending vitamin E! I’m looking forward to the sick scars, so long as they don’t inhibit use of my hand.

  16. I am so sorry! As someone who also is very clumsy (like to the point of pausing during the first paragraph and thinking….did I write this?), this has instilled an appropriate level of concern for my own future bodily harm. Gonna go double-check the emergency account and make sure my hubs knows which local ERs are in our network.

  17. Holly shit, Piggy. I’m so sorry.

    I am also kind of amazed that you’re thinking of others at this time, and how they’d deal with this situation if they didn’t have insurance, funds, multiple streams of income, a helpful significant other…

    That’s pretty badass.

  18. I’m so so sorry, Piggy. I wish for you the speediest recovery. <3 your attitude.
    I almost had a boiling hot oil accident in Organic Chem lab once, luckily the beaker tipped away from us into the sink instead. Best of luck with your recovery.

  19. Damn girl. Owwwwieee doesn’t even cover it, does it? My sympathies and hopes for a speedy healing process. You’ve made me more grateful today, because a sibling has your ‘condition’ (the klutz syndrome to be gentle) and not myself. *phew* I suspect this event makes you the tiniest bit sad you’re not back in Europe where socialized medicine and coverage make the whole thing easier – on the pocketbook if not physically. Take care and rest up. That’s possibly the best remedy.

  20. I’m sorry…so, so sorry!
    Firstly because of your horrible injury but more so because I laughed (hard) while reading your post…and please understand it was not at the aforementioned but rather because you are really funny!
    I sincerely hope you have recovered fully by now?!
    Thanks for being so light-hearted about your experience!

    1. No apology necessary. And thank you! I’ll be honest: while I have now fully healed, I really wish the scars were a lot worse. I feel like I earned some badass scars instead I got what looks like a weird birthmark. :/

  21. I did that once, but on a much smaller scale. I use a steeping back to make chicken stock in the crockpot and lost my grip while trying to drain it once. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing a shirt at the time and definitely burned my boob. I don’t know who was more upset, me or my SO…

  22. Since you are such a klutz I am also going to recommend you stay away from mandolin slicers as well.

    They leave a very large gash in your palm and you may have to GET STITCHES IN YOUR MUSCULAR TISSUE and as well as stitches on top of the skin. This follows a numbing shot that you will get in your hand and tetanus.

    It happened to me ::shudder::

    1. Oh that sounds like a delightful new tradition to incorporate into next Thanksgiving!
      Seriously, that sounds horrendous. I hope you’ve made a full recovery!

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