Bewildered, panicked and disheartened, I watched my mother's eyes dart back and forth as she read the pharmacy's prescription cash price list, knowing she could not possibly dig deep enough in her faded purse to pay for her monthly medicines. In her early fifties, she did not qualify for Medicare, nor could we afford the COBRA payments that would extend coverage for our family since my father's recent layoff. We drove home, not saying a word, but I knew she was deeply distraught.
Her remaining medications had been squirreled away in a small metal box which she guarded like a long-lost treasure chest. She brought the box to the kitchen table, and with the aid of a paring knife, began cutting each tiny elliptical or rounded tablet into halves and quarters. She was on a mission. What she was doing seemed foolish. Less medicine was, well, just less medicine. But like many confronted with economic challenges, my mother was also doing what every person does when they know the "well is about to go dry." She was rationing.
Spring break was harsh this past year, and there was no doubt my family was looking for some vernal spark of hope in the midst of impending financial doom. As an undergraduate biology student and neuroendocrine researcher, I realized my mother needed her medications and ways to strategize a game plan for her future and to care for the rest of our family as well. Before the last week of her employer-subsidized coverage expired, she made an appointment with her primary care physician. And that morning was when I realized just how compassionate and amazingly resourceful one's physician can be.
My mother shared our family's tale of corporate injustice and, more importantly, the news that we would very soon be unable to purchase her medicines – those magical, precious drugs that kept my mother pain-free, walking, seeing and functioning. Quite frankly, they were her lifeline. Then my mother's doctor, who also happens to be mine, did something we never saw a physician do. She grabbed lined yellow paper from the small workstation in the examining room and spent 30 minutes hand-writing resources, websites, assistance program phone numbers and a wonderfully clever plan for the next eight months that would tide my mother over until our futures could crystallize into a saner pattern.
She reordered all of her prescriptions in larger quantities, and she mysteriously found prescription discount cards and shared them with us. In short, our doctor sent my mother and me home to face the leanest times of our lives armed with some of the best practical advice one family doctor could ever share with folks in crisis. It was almost as though our challenge in meeting the costs of care became our doctor's challenge as well. It wasn't a handout; it was creative compassion and a physician who took the time to help us navigate the detours through the costs of care.
This post originally appeared on the Costs of Care blog on March 17, 2014.