Help Ed Pay Huge Medical Bills

As many of you know, I recently spent 24 days in the hospital. I won't go into every detail of the medical situation, but here's a brief rundown.

I have a condition called sarcoidosis, which was diagnosed about 4 years ago. At the time, it was only affecting my respiratory system. But over the past year and a half, I have become anemic and my liver and spleen are severely enlarged. I was sent to the ER by my doctor because a routine blood test showed that my calcium levels were high enough that it could cause heart failure. After a week of testing, which included three CAT scans, a full bone survey (one possibility was bone cancer, which was thankfully negative), two ultrasounds, a bone marrow biopsy and a liver biopsy, the diagnosis is that the sarcoidosis has been attacking my liver. That is what caused both the anemia and the high calcium levels. I won't bother with the technical details on why it causes those things.

We have a treatment plan now but it will take some time to take full effect (reversing the effects of the sarcoidosis requires prednisone, which I will be on for at least six months) and even longer to assess how much damage has been done to my liver.

Now the bad news: I actually have good insurance (thanks, Obama -- seriously, I'm self-employed with preexisting conditions, without the Affordable Care Act, I might well be dead). But there's a 30% "co-insurance" rate for hospital stays, which means I have to pay 30% of the cost of everything. The bills are only just starting to trickle in, but the average cost of a single night's stay in the hospital is just over $2100. After 24 nights, that's a $50,000 bill, 30% of which I have to pay out of pocket (and that doesn't include all of the testing and lab work, or the fees from all the doctors who saw me (I had 6 different specialist groups working on various aspects of this at different times). Thankfully, there is an annual cap on out of pocket expenses at $6000, which is still way more than I can pay.

My monthly medication costs have also gone up considerably because of new prescriptions with higher co-pays, from less than $100 to more than $300. That's mostly because a couple of the new meds are still under patent and there are no generic versions. 

My readers have always been incredibly generous, not only to me but to causes that are important as well. When I have made an appeal to you to support, say, the Humanist Service Corps or other such organizations, you've always come through. And when I asked for some Paypal donations soon after landing in the hospital, many people did donate, which I appreciate immensely. But if you can do more to help, or if you missed the opportunity the first time and are able to do so, I need to ask for more help. I hate doing it. I'd much rather ask you all to donate to good causes, and much rather do so myself, than for this.

And I have to remind myself, as I have preached to others for so long, that this is exactly why we build communities. A community has built up around my blog, which has always blown my mind. We have many different types of secular, atheist and humanist communities that I have had the great privilege of being able to travel and speak to and get to know so many good people in the process. And one of the big reasons we build those communities is precisely for situations like this, when we can come together to provide support for those who need it. We do that in a thousand different ways, from service projects large and small to just reaching out and being available to each other when we have problems.

I watched over the last two years as those communities, both local and national, came together to help my friend Jeremiah Bannister's family when their beloved daughter Sami was fighting brain cancer. I felt privileged to be able to help and so did many others as we donated not just money but time as well. We cooked meals for them, took care of their other children while the parents had to be at the hospital, cried with them too often to remember. But while I love being able to do that for others and know that it's just what we're supposed to do if we are able to, I hate asking for help for myself when I need it. But after nearly a month in the hospital, and still not being out of the woods yet, I have little choice. So if you can help, I thank you in advance. And if you can't, please share this on social media in the hope of reaching others who can.

The good news is that, since leaving the hospital, the treatment plan laid out by my doctors has been working well. The prednisone has been beating back the sarcoidosis. My calcium has returned to normal and my kidney function has improved, as has my hemoglobin production. We won't really know how serious the long-term effect on my liver is yet. There's a good possibility that I will need a transplant at some point down the line. I'm working with five different specialists along with my regular doctor to continually monitor liver and kidney function. This will be an ongoing process that will need to be managed for the rest of my life. But for now, things are headed in the right direction. It's just the cost that is the problem.

I will post medical updates here as they happen so you can all know what's going on with me. Thank you so much for reading this and for lending a hand if you can do so. And just for being such a wonderful support system for so long. I can't offer any rewards for the help, I can only offer my sincere gratitude and a promise that I will pay it forward as often and as generously as I can once I'm through this health crisis.

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Ed Brayton 
Grand Rapids, MI