"I'm a number on their ledger," writes O'Malley, in this thoughtful memoir of consumer David versus insurer Goliath. "And they're dedicated to a new medical oath: This above all, do no harm to our financials."
O'Malley suffered major spinal trauma when a sleeping 17-year-old driver rammed her car one August afternoon. Unable to work, and at both physical and emotional distance from her young adult son, she finds herself in the early pages of her memoir to be a kind of surrogate aunt to a young immigrant girl and a surrogate child to an aunt of her own; her portraits of these characters, and indeed of most of the figures in the narrative, are marked by affection, warmth and knowing humor. But the tale takes on a dark cast as O'Malley soon stands accused of being a malingerer and denied long-term disability pay while enduring more and more physical distress in the wake of her accident. In quest of relief, she tries the expected route–namely, scheduling appointments at her HMO and undergoing tests to discover why her pain should persist months after the accident. What follows is a Kafkaesque sequence of misunderstandings and evasions, as, by her account, one specialist after another administers the wrong test, takes the wrong X-ray and eventually cuts into the wrong section of her spine. In the subsequent chapters, she becomes something of an authority on her pain, providing at least some rebuttal to arrogant doctors who, one by one, ask what fine medical school she attended to allow her any opinion in the matter of her own health. O'Malley's unhappy tale ends well enough, thanks to the help of a doctor on the opposite end of the country from the angry neurologist who becomes her bÃªte noire. Readers may be a tad frustrated, though, to discover that the real ending is a settlement whose terms she cannot discuss, inasmuch as she has discussed everything else so candidly.
There are many lessons to be learned in these pages–not least of them, to keep your eyes open for oncoming teenagers.