I Went on a Hike That Landed Me With $33,000 in Medical Debt



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THE PERSON: Bee F.

AGE AT THE TIME: 25

PROFESSION: Unemployed

THE BILL: $33,000

THE RUB: A few weeks after losing her job at a Utah prison, Bee went on a hike with her husband. One missed step led to a mountain of medical debt that changed her life forever.

A few years ago, I lost my job as a manager at the Utah State Prison. For the first time in my life, I had health care. I was able to go to a chiropractor and see a dentist. I was making pretty good money, too, about $20 an hour. The timing could not have been worse.

Three weeks later, I went hiking with my husband. I’d been wanting to work out more, but couldn’t afford a gym, so this seemed like a good idea. I’d just gotten to the point where the cement path from the parking lot turned into dirt and I stopped to take a look at this river that was in front of me. I didn’t realize it, but the dirt below me was very soft and loose. So when I took my first step, I slid. My foot got stuck under the root of a tree and twisted sideways, then my knee twisted 180 degrees the opposite way, and then my hip twisted the same way as my foot. And then I fell on top of it all. If you can imagine gravel in a sock, that’s what my leg looked like—and later felt like.

Long before the hike, my husband and I had a conversation that became relevant as I sat there with my shattered leg. We discussed when, in an emergency, we would call an ambulance. I’m still behind on student loans, and we didn’t want to add to our debt if we didn’t have to. We decided if something happened and nothing needed to be set and we didn’t require life saving services, we would take an Uber.

I remember sitting there and I just started crying—and it wasn’t because of the pain, because by then everything was in overdrive. I remember looking over at him, and I was just like, “Oh my god, we can’t afford this.” I just kept apologizing. He just looked at me and asked, “Is it ambulance time?” I told him yes, because once you get to that point, it’s pretty obvious. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life because in that moment, I knew that I was going to have so much trouble bouncing back from this.

After a bumpy 10-minute ambulance ride, I went through immediate surgery to get an Intramedullary (IM) nail, a permanent rod with locking screws placed in the center of the bone to hold it together and eventually support weight.

Recovery was rough. I spent almost a year after my injury not being able to walk, and we didn’t have stable housing during that time. We were staying with my husband’s family and he had to stay home with me in between working for DoorDash because I wasn’t about to ask his 60-year-old father to help me to the toilet. We had no choice but to start living off of the money I’d been saving for us to get an apartment. It wasn’t long before his family started to get upset that we were there longer than we thought we’d be.

About nine months after my surgery, the bills started rolling in. First was the ambulance bill: $1,639 for hardly a 10-minute ride. Next was the IM nail bill at $26,757. That was a really, really high one. I remember pulling it out and I just cried. Then, there was the surgeon bill for $3,048. Unfortunately, you can’t get life saving surgery and not get anesthesia. So the next one was the anesthesiologist for about $1,633. Then there were the bills for my follow ups and X-rays.

During recovery, I also contracted a UTI that got so bad it ended with a hospital stay because I couldn’t feel it initially due to the pain medication I was on. That also contributed to my medical debt.

Today, I’m $33,993 in debt from my leg injury alone, and I’ve still got other medical debt from a previous hospital stay. I haven’t paid any of it off. And because I haven’t been able to pay it off, my credit is absolute trash, so our dream of getting an apartment seems further away than ever. Plus, we completely depleted our savings while I was recovering and he had to be my full time caretaker.

Waiting for the ambulance, I knew I was going to have a hard time bouncing back from this, and I only wish I had been wrong. I have not had stable housing since the accident. Right now, I’m bouncing around between friends’ homes. I’m not sure if it’s my difficulty walking, being a woman of childbearing years, or what, but I can’t get a job over $14 an hour anywhere. And when I do get work, the environments have just been so inhospitable or unwilling to work with my physical issues that they quickly become jobs I just can’t do. So I do not currently have a job, but I have been actively looking. It feels like every step I’ve tried to take since my injury has been like five steps backwards.

I already wasn’t a fan of our medical system to begin with, and I’ve always been fairly left leaning. But I’ve definitely taken a lot more time and effort to look into how things in the medical field work since my surgery. I’ve also taken a lot of time to research politicians who aren’t going to make things in the medical field worse.

One night, I was feeling so depressed and defeated about this whole situation from beginning to end. My husband was sitting next to me, and I looked up at him and told him, “I wish you would have shot me out there. A funeral would have been cheaper.”

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