Letter of Dispute

In which our heroine is the victim of a heinous crime. Sort of.

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After my debit card was stolen one night, a couple of years ago, I posted this letter in the “lost & found” section of Craigslist:

Dear whoever stole my debit card on Tuesday night, out of the ’90 Toyota Corolla on NW Flanders, you know who you are, and I have a question for you: Why did you do that? Why did you withdrawal $442 from my account? Were you high, or hungry, or desperately ill, or, better yet, do you have a friend who was hungry, or ill, or needed desperately to get high?

Portland Teachers Credit Union tells me that next you bought two $62 Amtrack tickets and then spent $8 at Burgerville. That seems like a lot for one person at Burgerville, unless you got a milkshake or something. I know I always want one, but I am on a tight budget and so can’t afford those kinds of luxuries.

You see, my friend, if you thought you were sticking it to “the man,” you were sadly mistaken. That baby blue ’90 Corolla may look like a cherry ride, but the title is not in my name, and that apartment it was parked outside of? It’s my sister and her boyfriend’s. Tuesday night I was fast asleep in a borrowed sleeping bag on a hide-a-bed, dreaming my little confused dreams, while you were ripping me off below.

Admit it, my friend: Unless you are incredibly hard up, you don’t come off looking very good. I mean, are you starting to see the face attached to the sloppy signature on the back of that debit card? I’m no saint; in fact, I’m sort of a middling human being myself, but can I just tell you a little bit about my day leading up to the point where our lives collided?

I was staying at my sister’s place because it’s close to Oregon Health and Sciences University where I went at 3:30 to get my blood drawn. I was doing this because I’ve had chronic vulvar pain for a year and a half, and I’m forced to go there for pointless things like this all the time. By vulvar pain, we’re talking like for most of the last 500 days, my vulva has felt like someone ran a cheese grater over it, doused it with alcohol, lit it on fire, and then ground splinters of glass in it. I am not making this up. Why would I do that and then post it on Craigslist in the lost & found section disguised as a letter to the person who took my debit card on Tuesday night?

So I’m certainly not blaming you for this, but when I got to the lab, although I had called five times and spoken with several nurses in several departments to make sure my orders for blood work had been “put in,” my orders from the pain clinic had actually been “lost.” The well-meaning receptionist at the lab had the work re-ordered from another doctor at the Center for Women’s Health, but I was concerned they were not the right work, as no one could find a record of what had been ordered originally. The receptionist told me not to worry because although doctors have different specialties, they know what they’re colleagues are thinking. I did not tell her that last month, because one doctor misdiagnosed me, another doctor almost froze all the nerves in my vulva permanently.

So I popped into the Center for Women’s Health, where a nurse confirmed the tests the lab was about to do and bill me for were the wrong tests. In fact, I was supposed to have fasted for the tests I needed, and (oh-no!) the lab closed at 5:00. We proceeded to have a conversation about these rather common lapses in care and misbillings that occur at OHSU. I should tell you I am now much better my friend. It took 13 doctors, 32 medications, and four useless months in physical therapy to discover how to treat my mysterious neuropathic pain problem, but I am cured. It is a miracle and I am grateful to the doctors and nurses who helped me out, but I have some observations about my experience that I think could help OHSU help women with similar conditions. The nurse agreed with me and went down the hall to find a patient advocate to listen to me. I was surprised. Really surprised. I waited.

And I waited. Apparently some care went into creating the physical atmosphere at the center for women’s health. It’s painted feminine colors like lavender and dusty pink, and the walls are hung with art meant to convey vague feminine anguish, such as one painting in particular of a faceless women in pastels that I have spent some of the worst moments of my life gazing at. However, despite the appearance, there is nothing soft or intuitive about the care in the office. It seems to me to be populated by only the most boldly indifferent health care workers. So I was surprised someone was going to talk to me about a year and a half into this nightmare. The nurse told me to wait.

So I waited until 7:00, when a messenger explained apologetically that the patient advocate could not get off the phone that night and that I should call her sometime, but not tomorrow because she was very busy. So then I went back to my sister’s place. She has a black lab named Wally who I wrestled with. He is very spazzy.

I hope I don’t sound too crazy going on about my vulva like this. There are lighter sides to this whole extravaganza. My sister wrung the experience dry of off-color jokes. Once, when my brother drove me to a Stanford gynecology clinic, the receptionist mistook him for my “partner,” and the look on his face was priceless. What else have I gotten out of this? At the center for pain management in July, I ended up getting a prescription for Oxycodone, which was delightful. I highly recommend it if you’re ever lucky enough to come upon a glove compartment full of it. And I don’t know if you have an interest in women’s health, but before all of this started, I couldn’t be asked to read a book like The Vulvodynia Survival Guide: How to Overcome Painful Vaginal Symptoms and Live an Active Lifestyle, but now I can almost quote from it. Although that makes me think of a funny story: In March I really wanted that book, but I didn’t think I could afford it, what with all the doctors bills, so I wish-listed a used copy of it on Amazon, and then agonized over the eventual $8 purchase. Funny, huh?

So that brings me back to what this is all sort of about: money. My credit union will cover all but fifty bucks. Also, they’re revoking my debit card privileges like a paternalish smack-down. Can you believe it? I’m supposed to get a call on Monday from this woman called Heather at the credit union, and I’m really going to try to plead my case. Anyway, I don’t hold you entirely responsible for the loss of my debit card. I know I shouldn’t have left it in the car. I think it’s fair to say however, that you owe me $50. Please send it to me when you have it. Friend, my debit card may be gone, but my faith in humanity is not.

Yours in truth,

Emily Maloney

P.S. If Karma exists, there is a possibility you could be reborn as a human who has to seek extended care at OHSU’s Center for Women’s Health. If you happen to run into my incarnation, and I’m a human again, I will buy you all the books on women’s health your heart desires. • 22 October 2007

When Emily Maloney is not traveling the globe, she lives at home with her mom in Oregon. Her column Emily’s World appeared weekly on The Smart Set. She can be reached at emilymaloney@yahoo.com.

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