Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs. ~ Joan Didion
Once upon a time, I was a young mother facing a mountain of medical bills. And we didn't have medical insurance at the time. I had given birth to my 12-pound son by emergency c-section. He and I were in the hospital for almost a week. There were the room costs, the nursery costs, the operating room costs, the anesthesiologist bill, my doctor bill. Bills, bills, bills. Dear Hubby was the sole breadwinner and made less than $5 per hour. We had a two-year-old daughter. We were young, desperate, and very scared.
Luckily a friend of ours worked at the small town hospital where I'd given birth. She was able to provide us with some paperwork to fill out to help us with the hospital bill, as long as we qualified. Boy, did we ever qualify! On top of everything else, our son had picked up staph infection in the hospital and was a very sick little baby. The hospital 'forgave' us our entire bill.
Which left us with all the doctor and anesthesiologist bills.
As Christians we felt compelled to pay off those bills, even tho the amounts seemed astronomical, especially my doctor's. We barely had two nickels to rub together but I sat down and wrote letters to the anesthesiologist's and my doctor's business offices, telling them we had no medical insurance but we would pay every penny owed to them because we were Christians, no matter how long it took. This was back in 1978. The anesthesiologist's amount was something like $275 and we got that paid off fairly quickly...within a year, I believe. The doctor bill was closer to $1000. Some months I was able to send $5, some months $50...$10 here, $20 there. Slowly, slowly it dwindled down. And finally I came to the point where I wrote out the final check and sent it off. Our son was almost 5 at the time, and we'd moved from that town, eventually landing in Portland where we lived until earlier this year. As we moved, I could've easily not sent my forwarding address to them. I could've skipped town and never paid off that debt. But pride and a strong sense of right versus wrong kept me true to my word. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction, dropping that envelope into the mailbox.
The funny thing is, a week or so later I got a card from my doctor's office in the small town. A Thank You card, from the office manager. She wrote and told me how the whole office had been aware of what a struggle it had been for us to pay off that bill. And when they received the final payment, how good it made them feel. She said it restored their faith in people, a person who actually kept their word and did such a thing. She said it didn't happen like that very often. She wished us the best, on all their behalf.
I sat and stared at that card in amazement.
You see, we go about our lives making simple decisions, to do what's right. And we go about our business and faithfully send off that money, figuring it's just going into the doctor's bank account and the amount due is a little less each time the bill shows up regularly in the mail month in, month out. You have no idea what kind of an impression something that seems so mundane to you such as paying a bill might be making on someone else. An entire doctor's office, for instance.
And then you sit there with the proof of what it has meant to those people held in your hand. And you feel very humbled, because it is a testimony to them what God has done for you in your life. Made you honest. Made you a person of your word.
And 33 years later, it is a memory that is still very precious to me.