What It Costs To Fix a Hernia

I had a hernia resection on July 22, done laparoscopically with a robotic surgeon in attendance. The hernia had been bothering me for years but I only decided to take action the day I realized that I had three “testicles” in my scrotum because one of my intestines had blundered into the scrotum and taken up residence there… but that was after my gastroenterologist told me that I was way overdue for a colonoscopy but that he wouldn’t do one until my intestines were back where they belonged.

I went to three surgeons before I picked the one my primary physician had recommended, an Israeli with battlefield experience as a medic, who was listed as one of the top surgeons in the United States.

The first surgeon spent just two minutes with me during the initial interview. Never sat down, never examined me physically.  In addition, he was part of the Tenet Healthcare System, and I absolutely hate Tenet and everything it stands for. They kept trying to bill me $125 for an initial consultation.

The second surgeon was a house doctor at the JFK Medical Center. He was a young fella, maybe 35 to 40, very pleasant, talked with me for five minutes after a very cursory examination then passed me off to an assistant to discuss money matters, something she apparently knew nothing about. She claimed that they had to pass my claim through my insurance carrier despite the fact that they handle the same operation for people with the same coverage I have and therefore should know what the final co-pay would be.

After the initial consultation, it turned out to be impossible to talk with the surgeon’s office again, because the switchboard kept switching me over to Patient Services, which was when I found out that the surgeon was an employee of the hospital instead of a physician with privileges at the hospital. Long and distasteful experiences with Hospitallers (doctors who are directly employed by hospitals to interface with patients) has taught me to have nothing to do with them. (One of them killed my mother.)

When I tried to cancel the surgery, I found that it was absolutely impossible to cancel the surgery through the JFK Medical Center system. The date for the surgery came and went, and they started billing me for a surgery that had never taken place.

This is something that medical providers do to older people because, in their minds, old and senile are cognates for each other, inundating them with bills for services even though patients have already paid for the services or never received them. I have broken relationships with several doctors who claimed that I never covered the co-payment. Ever tried to get into a doctor’s office without making the co-payment first? Let me know how that worked out for you.

The Israeli surgeon was pleasant, thorough, and succeeded in making me feel that I was being heard despite the fact that he only spent five minutes with me. At least he poked and prodded me. They ho0ked me up for the surgery two months down the road, but when I called to say that the condition was getting worse, they moved me up to the day after the doctor in question was returning from vacation.

The surgery itself was painless. I wanted to do this awake because I wanted to watch the robotic surgery. No dice. I went at 10 AM. I was out by 2 PM. They didn’t even make use a wheelchair to get to the front door or if they did, I don’t remember it.

At first, there was no pain at all. I suspect that was because the painkillers administered during the surgery were still wearing off, which was why I was cautioned not to drive for 24 hours.

Sure enough, 24 hours later, the pains started in earnest.

Now, I’ve been shot, stabbed, broken bones, had a lung removed, had foreign bodies removed from my flesh, and so on and so forth…but I have never had a pain like this. It feels like someone is performing seppuku on you with a dull knife over and over again, sharp pains straight across the lower abdomen. The pains themselves are bearable, not more than pinpricks, really, but the constant, sequential repetitions of them turn this into the death of a thousand cuts…only without the blood.

I’m still in pain…but there’s more to that story…because it turns out that I had been nursing a gastric ulcer at the same time I was going through this whole process.

For several months leading up to the operation, I had been crossing foods off my diet as the thought of eating them started to nauseate me. Chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, and lamb became anathema to me, turning me into a de facto vegetarian. (I kept trying to eat meat until I found myself picking the chicken out of my chicken chow mein. )

Milk and cheese were next to go because I was no longer willing to tolerate the mucus attacks that followed the ingestion of milk products, which made me into a de facto vegan. Now, I am finding many vegetables offensive to my sensibilities, along with pasta and baked goods. If you’re not keeping track, that leaves approximately nothing.

Now,  on top of this eating disorder, it seems that hernia surgeries are known to put you off your feed for quite a while, but no one ever bothered to tell me that.

So, now, here I am, more than a month after the surgery, wasting away because food now disgusts me. (Note: I am not anorexic. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m 6’1″ and right now I weigh 175, The last time I weighed 175, I was in college.)

I think I am beginning to turn the corner, though. Pepcid AC is helping to ward off the stomach pains and that makes it easier for me to eat bland foods. With the gastric distress under control, it’s easier for me to cope with the remaining post-operative pain.

I happened to mention the pain associated with the hernia operation to two of my male acquaintances. Both of them instantly told me that their recovery time was really three to six months. Both of these guys have had major health challenges requiring repeated surgeries. Both men told me that recovering from the hernia operation was more painful than any of his five heart attacks or his quadruple bypass heart surgery.

When I went through my cancer surgery (remember the lung!), I never even saw the bill…because it was completely covered by the Harvard Community Health Plan. Now, I’ve never had anything to do with Harvard, so I have no idea how I ended up in the HCHP community. (When I had dysentery in Egypt in 1978,, I submitted the bill from the house doctor in Cario. It took them six months to decipher it. They called me up and said, “Sir, are you aware that this prescription called for an injection of camel urine.”

The Egyptian doctor told me that he was injecting me with camel urine. I shrank away from him until he told me that he graduated from the University of Chicago medical school.

I thought he was kidding about the camel piss….which worked incredibly well. Don’t ask me why.

HCHP paid the bill in full.  It was for $246. I remember the number even after all these years.

Now, here’s the kicker. This is the bill I received for services rendered.

So, according to this, I got a real bargain, $69.624.64 worth of care for a total of $250 which, adjusted for inflation, is ten times LESS than I paid for the camel piss shot….but this raises a question for me. It appears that Humana (my current carrier) paid out $4517.81 on my behalf….after the total cost of services was discounted by $64,856.83!

Now, I don’t believe that’s what this procedure really costs….but no one seems able to explain the mysteriously disappearing charges.

Maybe I shouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. I paid the $250.