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.
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.