Kind words from an unexpected stranger

The other day I made a phone call to one of Ellis’ healthcare supply office. We’ve been their customer for seven years and never questioned their bill. They became a part of our family through the years.

I signed the contract, a scroll-like document, for all the supplies we needed at home when Ellis got discharged from the hospital at one-month-old. I led the way holding a baby carrier and the hospital volunteer pulling a red wagon filled with medical supplies to help load into the car. Here’s my list of supplies: feeding pump, pole, tube feeding lines, bandage tape, dark glass jug of MCT oil to mix with formula, gauze, scissors, IV bags, syringes, charger, oximeter machine, weight scale, pole, and a thick binder of instructions and phone numbers. I felt like I had undergone a super accelerated and condensed nursing program to bring my kid home.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ellis quietly sat in her car seat looking around at the outsides for the first time.

Something about that first month and going through traumatic situations together, we have been two peas in a pod. Since the time I held her on my knees looking at me in the ICU, with wires and tubes coming out of her, I have been lost in love as a protector and mom. We stayed together always. Even when admitted to the hospital, she would freak out if I was not on the bed with her. Nurses, exasperated with her crying, would just get an adult bed and have me lie down with her. It was better than the chair, but even a small baby takes up a lot of bed space. I always had cold butt as it stuck out to make more room for her in the middle.

That’s the backdrop for my story. Needing to reorder supplies monthly, it became an unquestioned part of our lives. We ordered religiously for the first 5 years of her life, but it’s been sporadic for the past 2 years. Lots of changes in diet, routine, and stomach upset that made us reconsider supplemental night time feeding of extra caloric formula. Also, to hear the whirring of the pump throughout the night keeps me in a state of half awake/ half asleep mode. Then, if you don’t follow close instructions, you end up with formula spills, stomach upset that leads to throw up, beep sounds from the pump, extension line wrapped around the kid during sleep, changing all the bedding in the middle of the night, wiping the carpet with damp towel so floor doesn’t smell like vanilla milkshake, or washing face and hands from the throw up debris.

Current goal: get all of her nutritional needs by oral eating. This is a lot to ask for these heart kids because their heart works overtime in pumping blood, burning calories quickly. Weight gain is painfully slow. When she says “I’m hungry,” I panic. I feel that if she does not eat something right at that moment, she will pass out. I see that as a reflection of myself as a good parent. It’s irrational, I know.

Well, it just came to my attention that I was not aware of the fine print from the company. We receive lots of hospital bills, insurance company letters, packets of Explanation of benefits, and duplicates of hospital bills that are overdue, insurance pending, or payment not processed yet. The paperwork is confusing and interpreting the deductible, out of pocket, maximum, OMG, it’s baffling for lay people like me who do not fully comprehend the billing terminology.

Anyways, last week I received 10 separate bills in one day from the collection agency. It was kind of funny as I handed Elliot the empty envelopes to recycle. I didn’t realize our bills were this overdue. I assumed that we weren’t being charged for months we didn’t order supplies, which were quite a few months. Well, I forgot that we were renting the pump. Fine print: If you have the pump, you pay for the monthly supplies whether you order or not. Had no idea.

Spoke with the customer representative, billing department, blah blah blah. All the same thing. I don’t know where my anger was directed: me or this company. I couldn’t believe my oversight and complacency; I couldn’t believe their fine print and the continual repeat that this is their policy. It seemed unethical to not update parents of this billing practice from time to time. When your kid has a chronic illness, a lot of things fly straight through your head and forgetfulness runs rampant. You’re too tired and too worried.

I was exasperated and asked to speak with the supervisor. The lady asked me, “for what?” and I got majorly pd off. But there’s Ellis looking at me as I’m talking on the phone; she knows it’s about her because these phone conversations begin with confirming patient’s name and date of birth. Ugh, can’t get too mad on the phone or she may think I’m mad at her. She may think she’s to blame for my frustration.

All these things are going through my mind, and in the middle of it, Elliot calls “Mommy” like 5 times asking me if he could eat the peanut butter-jelly sandwich on the counter and Ellis announcing that says she needs to poop. Adult reality and kid reality; my mind felt like mush.

Ok, I’m taking too long here. I didn’t have the bandwidth to carry this conversation further. I called the collection agency to settle the debt. I needed to be over with this or it’ll hang over my head the rest of the day, the week.

I’m so mad that I’m sobbing on the phone as I tell the collector our account number and all that confirmation info. The guy must’ve thought I was nuts or either being dramatic to get a lower settlement. I explained the situation and asked what final settlement amount he could offer. I thought he may assume I’m not sincere with my story, so I had to explain that I was going to pay the bill but that this whole situation upset me tremendously.

I never expected to hear words of comfort from a debt collector: Don’t be too hard on myself.; It’s understandable how I could’ve not known in the middle of all this medical drama with your kid.; It’s a shame I wasn’t notified about this during a service pause.; He apologized that I was going through this but that now I know and can decide whether to continue business with them.

I cried more thinking how God comforts me through unexpected people. He knows the big toll caretaking has on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when I feel the day is too long to bear, He sends surprises in is perfect timing. Knowing that He cares so much to convey affirming words to me made me sadder with gratefulness and humility that He acknowledges a flawed person like me.

It was a surreal conversation. You don’t usually think of a debt collector showing this kind of thoughtful understanding to a collectee. His kindness made me cry more. Settled the debt, cancelled the account, and cried because I felt relieved to have this behind me.

The kids asked me why I cried. I explained that I was mad at myself for a stupid mistake of mine. I apologized to Elliot that I was short with him when he was just asking about a sandwich. Ellis shakes her head side to side like a grown up, saying “Mommy, it’s ok. Everyone makes mistakes.”

p.s. I am posting this without further edit. It takes so long to edit that it may keep me up through the night. I’m not upset anymore and have made peace with the situation. The medical supply company is just doing their business and I have the choice to change providers. No hate…I’m over it now.