8 Million Stories: Got Scope?

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The hospital Bill
for Beth Israel was $2,500.Well, what choice was there? I had had to
go: I’m 50, that means time to have my entire digestive system examined
by a scope that my gastroenterologist fondly refers to as “Jack Black.”

Fine, I was expecting that, and my insurance company would
surely pay for some of it. But that was before things got
complicated—before I began getting bills from different companies
involved, peripherally, in my colonoscopy.

First, the letter
from the doctor who did the deed: $1,300. I was shocked, but not
enough, apparently, since, within a day came another bill, from the
anesthesiologist, whom I met for exactly five seconds when he asked:
“Could you please count back from 100?”When I ripped open that envelope
I again had to count backward from 100, this time to keep from passing
out: “Please remit $1,400 as soon as possible or we will undo your
colonoscopy.” If I had known that I would have brought a mallet.

that was just the beginning. Soon a flurry of other letters came: from
the lab, $550 for analysis. Of what? The horse race? I didn’t have
anything analyzed, unless my therapist was involved somehow. But I’d
already gotten that bill.

Next, a bill for the anesthesia itself. $250;
$45 for the bandages; the hospital’s administrative charge for letting
me store my things in a locker. I received a separate note from the
janitor—asking for a tip.

I was starting to feel like carrion from a
nature movie, where every species within a 10-mile radius arrives to
take a bite.

All of this for 15 minutes of the doctor’s time, and a
morning spent at the Beth Israel endoscopy suite, modeled after the
Port Authority Bus Terminal. And I won’t go into the prep, for which
someone should have paid me. No, better writers than I have
rhapsodized about the colonoscopy prep. I think if that stuff had been
extant in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare would have written a five-act
tragedy about it (“King John”).

What’s worse, on the morning
of the procedure, I discovered that I had not been put on the schedule
at all.Why? Because my name is Karl Greenberg. And the
anesthesiologist’s name is Carl Greenberg. So they thought I was he,
and legally I’m not allowed to perform anesthesia on myself (though I
often do), so they took me off the schedule. I found myself begging to
get put back on the list: “Please, I did the prep and everything.”

have to reschedule.”

“No, dear God, no; I can’t go through that again.”

“But you’re Dr. Greenberg.”

“No, I’m not. I’m not even a doctor, though
I do have a master’s.”

“In what?”


“Can playwrights perform anesthesia?”

“In theaters, yes, though perhaps not operating theaters.”

put me back on the book but said the procedure would have to be
performed on the loading dock.

Now I’m trying to put my gigantic bill
in perspective. After adding the figures, I have discerned that I could
have rented a 12-passenger Gulfstream IV jet—fueled and fully
staffed—for an hour, maybe two, with drinks thrown in. I could’ve had
the colonoscopy on board.

And wasn’t I supposed to be covered?
Where the hell, in all of this, was my insurance company, Mutual of
Flatbush? So I phoned them. And was promptly put on hold. Music.

few days later, someone came on the line and explained that if I had
read the fine print, requiring the use of a scanning electron
microscope, I would have known my plan, “Good Health,” only covers
partial sedation.

“Do you remember the procedure?”


“Then we can’t cover it.”

“Why the hell is that?” I ask.

you only have the ‘Good Health’ plan. If you had purchased our ‘Best
Health’ plan, we would have covered the entire procedure and then taken
you to John’s Famous Pizzeria for a post-colonoscopy reception.Would
you like me to upgrade you? It includes unlimited minutes.”

was beginning to wish, at that point, that I had done the procedure
myself at home with a bicycle pump and a crock pot.

This, in a
nutshell, is a still-life of our medical system: Me, frozen beside a
beautifully arranged bowl of fruit and a pile of medical bills, stuck
on the phone with my insurance company, weeping because I didn’t read
the fine print in a circular they had sent out two years ago. And me,
repeating endlessly, “How the hell was I supposed to know?” And the guy
on the other end saying, again and again, “Well, we sent out a circular
two years ago along with a coupon for a discount on Vlasic Kosher Dill

God help those with something really serious, like
eye bags, trying to deal with these people between debilitating rounds
of plastic surgery. It’s times like this I wish I had Joseph Welch on
the line with me to say, as he did once to Joe McCarthy, “Have you no
sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Karl Greenberg is a humorist, journalist and monologist who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.