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What's Up, Doc?

I took my addicted self from private health insurance to MediCal—it wasn't that bad, until I visited the psychiatrist.

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By Amy Dresner

07/25/14

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After my divorce, I lost my posh Blue Shield health insurance. Gone were the Beverly Hills doctors with their designer waiting rooms, fresh cut flowers, expensive art and rich clientele. As I had a pretty…umm….colorful history, my psychiatrist suggested I apply for Disability MediCal. Despite my severe 20-year struggle with drug abuse, I was advised not to lead with or highlight my addiction.  

Although addiction is considered a “disease” it is not considered a disability. (My drug use was equally, if not more, disabling than any of my other issues but I don’t  make the laws.)  I was initially denied, but I appealed and won. I receive no monetary compensation, but I have free medical care and, since I can’t currently afford Obamacare or Cobra, I was more than satisfied.

Yes youth and beauty completely cancel out any biologically based depression. Look at all the happy well-adjusted models.

My experience with the MediCal system has not been that bad. Every test that a doctor has ordered (from MRI’s to EEG’s to mammograms) or any specialist that they have referred me to (neurologist, psychiatrist, gynecologist) has been approved. Granted I have to drive 45 minutes to a more…uh…..urban area (but fuck it, I like taquerias) and I’m usually the only white or English speaking patient in the clinic. The waiting rooms are small and cramped and reek of old 70’s bad design with linoleum, ancient fitness magazines and dusty fake plants. And you usually have to wait. . .  

My primary doctor is Russian and so is every single person who works in her office as well as every patient I’ve ever seen in the waiting room. Attempting to fit in, I said, “Well I’m part Russian Jew, I look a little Russian and I once dated a Russian electrician,” I smiled. Nobody was amused. “You must to learn Russian,” the nurse told me, “It’s good!” I didn’t hear her as I was mesmerized by her loud 80’s abstract sweater, huge plastic earrings and turquoise eye shadow. 

My gynecologist was pretty (like that should matter) and infinitely capable. EVERY doctor and I do mean every doctor tests you for HIV so that’s obviously a big government concern. The waiting room was unremarkable aside from the huge television blaring Spanish cartoons and a few questions on the intake questionnaire. “No I have not been abused,” I answered and “No, I do not have a gun in the house,” I scribbled as the odd choice of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” played over the sound system. 

My neurologist was terrific, despite the hour long wait to see her. She had actually trained under my previous doctor who had been head of neurology at Cedars which comforted me.   

My only real complaint has been with the psychiatrist to whom I was recently referred. Since I seem to be in the Russian medical mafia, my primary referred me to a fellow Russian doctor. Her office was upstairs in a shitty mini mall on Sunset. All the signs in the office were Russian and I smiled uncomfortably at a very old woman to my right and a skinny lecherous guy on my left.  

Finally Dr. Fedoseev (not her real name which was even less pronounceable) calls me into her office. She has orange red hair, a white lab coat and looks classically agonized in that old school Soviet Union way. 

“Tell me about your problem,” she demanded in a thick accent. 

“Well, I’ve had depression since I was 19 and have been diagnosed with all sorts of mental illnesses including borderline personality disorder and bipolar disease. I’m also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.”

“No, tell me your physical problem.”

“Oh…..uh I have epilepsy from my methamphetamine abuse.”

“Why you think that?”

“That’s what the tests reveal….hyperactive lesions.”

“When you start with seizure?”

“33”

“When you start drink?”

“19”

“See you not drink you not have seizure.”

“Uhh, that’s not really accurate. I was five years sober when I had my first seizure.”

“When?”

“At 33.”

“You drink now?”

“No.”

“How long?”

“17 months.”

“So like year and half.”

“Yeah no big deal,“ I thought.   

“Where you live?”

“With friends.” (To be accurate, I’m in sober living but they ARE my friends now so it’s not a total lie.)

“With friends? You are not teenager anymore.”

“Thank you. I’m aware of that and so is my Botox doctor.”

“Why you not have salary?"

“I’m a freelance writer. I just wrote a television pilot…I’m still getting on my feet from a divorce…..I’m not sure what this has to do with my depression.”

“Your ex-husband don’t give you money?”

“No. That’s a long story. Anyway, I’ve been way richer and much more miserable." I wanted to add, “I’m sure that’s not the deal in Russia but…” but I uncharacteristically stopped myself. 

“You have mood swings?”

“Sometimes, but not so much anymore.”

“You try Depakote?”

“Yes, I’m epileptic. Of course, I’ve tried Depakote. I’ve been on everything. It didn’t work for me, particularly the 30-pound weight gain.”

“You are young, pretty…..I don’t understand.”

“Yes youth and beauty completely cancel out any biologically based depression. Look at all the happy well-adjusted models.”

“You’ve seen psychiatrist before?”

“Yes every single one of merit here in Los Angeles, Paris, London, San Francisco and Boston…..for the last 23 years."

“You don’t seem stable.”

“Why would you say that? I’m more stable than I’ve ever been. I’m sober. I’m working. I exercise. I’m not engaging in any compulsive self-destructive behavior.”

“You seem high to me.”

I furrowed my brow. “I’m just feeling good today,” I said. 

“You haven’t seen HIGH or UNSTABLE,” I wanted to say. “But I can certainly put on a private demonstration for you and the LAPD if you’d like. ”

“Why you have disability?”

“Because I have a long standing history of mental illness, suicide attempts and epilepsy which you would have gleaned from my information if you hadn’t been so concerned about my juvenile demeanor or lack of salaried work.” 

“They have many new medication now: Brintellex, Vibryn….”

“That’s fantastic but why fix it if it ain’t broke?”

“Okay. I not change your medication right now. I write you a prescription for Prozac. I see you in three months. Good luck to you.”

“You don’t need luck if you’re good.” I said and I winked and pranced out the door. 

“Good luck to you,” like “God bless you,” is a more polite, equally condescending way of saying “Fuck you.” I realized later that I was wearing one of my standard holey t-shirts and that I had toothpaste residue in my hair which might not have given the best first impression. Still, I was aghast at her prying into my financials and making broad generalizations about the origins of my epilepsy. She never took a real mental health history. She never asked for a list of my prior medications. She couldn’t have been less interested in my suicide attempts or multiple psych ward visits. She didn’t want the records from my previous psychiatrists. She made contradictory statements to every neurologist I’ve had in the last 11 years. In addition, she insulted me, and minimized my sobriety and recovery process. For 17 months sober, recovering from a divorce, a nervous breakdown and a relapse, I’m doing fucking fantastic. I’m a goddamn walking miracle.

What's "miracle" in Russian?

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix.

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