I made a cup of coffee and stood next to the dining table looking at the pile of letters. There had to be twenty of them, neatly stacked but with a slight twist towards the top of the pile; the start of a spiral staircase that went nowhere. Soft morning light angled in across the table, highlighting the fan of crisp white envelopes. I sipped my coffee and stared at the table. I felt warm. I was wearing my own clothes for the first time in a month. Being home again had taken some getting used to. Everywhere I turned there was light, perspective and colour. The angles weren’t regimented and shadows seemed to fall easily across the carpet. I spent some time just walking around, experiencing the freedom to move without having to push the chemo trolley along beside me. I’d find myself standing in the bathroom, holding a towel in front of my chest, dripping water onto the mat. After several minutes I’d become aware I had been staring at myself in the mirror. That happened frequently over the first few weeks. I could not walk past a mirror without looking at myself. The person staring back was a thinner, colourless impression of what I thought to be my real self. I doubted it was me, so I always looked again. I started opening the envelopes, making piles in front of me of invoices and the claim forms that had been sent with them. Torn envelopes I put to the side. I recognized most of the names. Hospital, pathology, radiology, x-ray, CT scan, ambulance, specialist; they all asked politely for attention. Besides the names, everything was written in a language I did not speak or understand. The codes and shorthand meant little to me. I knew what x-ray and CT meant, but little else. There was not one complete sentence in the whole lot. At the bottom, though, it was pretty clear what things meant. I had no idea how to go about paying for it all. I tried to complete a Medicare claim form, but gave up. Two way claims, in- and out-patient services, components of hospital and medical charges, out of pocket charges. And there were some invoices I did not recognize at all. I had never been to Monash Medical Centre. Why did I get a bill from them? And what was Southern Health? It was too much. The disconnect between how I felt being home again and how I felt sitting in front of thousands of dollars worth of bills was extreme. I left the pile on the table and walked away. I rang the health fund. The polite, friendly voice seemed to speak to me from a great distance away. I explained that I had just returned home from a month in hospital and been confronted by a pile of bills. I heard sympathetic murmurings from a long way away. So I went for the jugular… I have cancer…not a lot of energy…feeling a bit confused…don’t know what… “Look, just sign a claim form and put the whole lot in the mail, attention to Jane. I’ll do it for you, OK? Now sit down and have a good cup of tea, won’t you. Just relax.” As I put the phone down I realised I had just commenced playing a completely new game. It seemed I would be a quick learner.
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