How One Construction Worker Deals with Injuries Without Insurance

Walter White is a 40-year-old construction worker, and that’s not his real name. He doesn’t have health insurance, and hasn’t for years. We spoke recently about how that’s worked out for him.

Logan Sachon: You do construction work.
Walter White: Yeah, I’m an independent contractor, a mercenary, ha. I do everything. Some plumbing, some electric, any kind of construction, really.

LS: Which is a physical job.
WW: Oh yeah. I get hurt all the time. I get cut all the time. If I get cut, I use electrical tape, the glue seems to kill stuff, and it’s way cheaper than bandaids. Sometimes I’ll use those butterfly stitches if I need to, and then I’ll also use an antibiotic ointment. I get cut constantly. I’ve never stitched myself, though I did superglue a cut once.

LS: How’d that work out?
WW: Good. Healed up. 

LS: How long have you been without insurance?
WW: I haven’t had insurance for six years. I had it for four years, and I didn’t have it for nine years before that.

LS: When you had it, did you use it?
WW: No. Never used it when I had it. Never needed to. Never got hurt, never got sick, never got a physical.

LS: Why didn’t you get a physical?
WW: Why would I? If nothing’s bothering me, I figure that’s good enough. There’s no limit to the amount of tests you could have run on your body. Sound like fun to you? You like tests?

Last week I had an infected hangnail, it was swollen with pus, and I had to open and drain that.

LS: Uh, isn’t that unsafe?
WW: It was already infected! I drained it with a hypodermic needle, which I didn’t have for drugs, I have never injected drugs, but I found out awhile ago that they’re the best thing for popping things. Though I also learned that you should never pop a burn blister.

LS: How’d you learn that?
WW: At the time I was emptying a pot of spaghetti water, boiling water, and my sink was filled with dishes so I decided to empty it into the toilet and some splashed on my foot. I was wearing these thick socks and so it took a second to take them off and by that point my foot was totally scalded. I got this blister on my whole foot and up my ankle, and I popped that. And that’s when I learned you don’t pop blisters.

LS: What happened?
WW: It took forever to heal. I couldn’t wear a shoe for long time. Had to miss work. But that was before, when I didn’t research on the internet. I just wanted to pop it because it was so big and uncomfortable. But it hurt a lot worse after I did. So that’s my health tip: If your burn blisters, let the blister stay there. But that wasn’t even the worst.

LS: That sounds pretty bad.
WW: The worst was, I used to wear kung fu slippers to work, which I now know was stupid. My boss should have never let me on the job site wearing those. I shouldn’t have worn them. But I was doing ladder work one day, drilling holes in this steel beam, flexing my feet. And I got off work and went to happy hour and was totally fine. But in the morning, I got out of bed and and fell on my face. I couldn’t walk at all, couldn’t put any weight on my feet, it so painful. Turns out I had plantar fasciitis, which is when tissue on the bottom of your foot is inflamed.

LS: How’d you figure that out?
WW: How do you think I figured it out? The internet. The internet is my doctor.

LS: Do you have a certain site you use?
WW: I don’t have one site I go to. I probably spent 30 hours researching the symptoms and reading boards and posts, to confirm what I had and what to do.

LS: So what did you do?
WW: I had to stay off my feet for a month until they healed. It was really bad. I couldn’t work at all, basically had to just stay off my feet completely. That was terrible pain.

After that I got kind of a boot fetish. I bought like 8 pairs boots, trying to find ones with the best arch support.

LS: How’d you live during that time, without working? Did you have savings?
WW: My boss gave me some money because I wasn’t working. I didn’t do workman’s comp or anything. He just gave me some money to get by.

LS: Was there a treatment? Exercises you could do?
WW: No my feet just had to heal on their own. But when I tore my rotator cuff in a karaoke accident, I did a therapeutic exercise from the internet.

LS: Karaoke accident?
WW: It was kind of a stunt fall.

LS: So how do you treat a torn rotator cuff on your own.
WW: My whole treatment was based on the internet, and I ordered all my drugs from India. I used a pain pill that I learned about from a guy in Turkey.

LS: How much did it cost?
WW: Ordering from India was cheap. It was like $30 compared to $300.

LS: Do you go to the dentist?
WW: No. Once I busted my tooth in half. I knew my boss’s husband was a dentist, so I went to him. Instead of capping it he made a sculpture out of composite that he put on it. He charged me ten bucks. And last month I scratched my cornea, but my landlord is an optometrist and he took care of it for free. It’s all about connections, Logan. The more friends you make the more doctors you’ll know.

LS: Why don’t you go to the county clinic, or the free clinic?
WW: I go to the free clinics for venereal diseases only. I’ve just had chlamydia twice. But I do get tested, yes. It’s been years, but I’m a monogamist. The last time I got an HIV test the guy sat down and was like, “We’ll, I’m sorry to tell you, the test is negative.” I could have killed him.

LS: I don’t believe that happened.
WW: Why would I make that up.

LS: Well than that was extremely unprofessional. That’s never happened to me and I’ve never heard of that happening. And I have friends who administer HIV tests, and they’re always professional, trained.
WW: I’m sure they are. But he was giving me a dose of my kind of humor, so I took it.

LS: So are you worried about getting sick? Like, really sick?
WW: That’s the other thing about not having insurance. You can’t be a hypochondriac. You’ve gotta trust in your body to take care of yourself. I personally know people who are always looking for something that might be wrong with them. I’m kind of doing the opposite of hypochondria. Just trying to keep a positive mental attitude. I figure that will help my health. I’m living in la la land. (laughs)

LS: You do workout, in addition to your job.
WW: Yeah I do yoga everyday, for mind and body. Preventative care.

LS: But you also drink a lot.
WW: Life is full of contradictions.

LS: I know there has been some cancer in your family. Is that something you think about it?
WW: I’ve thought about it. I”m thinking about it now that you mention it, but I’m not worried about it. I’m not worried about it at all. Worry is a man with a hung head carrying a sack full of feathers he thinks is lead.

LS: What is that from?
WW: An ex-girlfriend’s dad told it to me, but it goes way back. I don’t know how far back it goes.

LS: What would you do if you had persistent stomach pain?
WW: Research on the internet. Change my diet. It would take a lot to get me to the hospital.

LS: Has your family tried to get you to go to the doctor?
WW: Sure. Lots of people have.

LS: But you don’t go.
WW: Why would I. Like I said, there are an infinite number of tests. Why start. But people should do what they want to do. I don’t make any judgments on what anyone else does. Some people probably can use medical care.

LS: What if you could get insurance for free or low cost?
WW: Of course I’d accept free insurance. Low cost would have to be pretty low cost since I’m pretty much broke right now. And I’m sort of living off the grid right now. My income is not steady. Sometimes I have a bunch of money and sometimes I have no money. I don’t want to have a boss and I don’t want to work for anybody but myself and a client, a client’s enough. I could take my old job back, but I don’t want it. I think I could do better on my own, ultimately. Once you’re committed to working for someone, you don’t have the same opportunity to do things on your own. You won’t have the time.

LS: Do you have anything else to say about health?
WW: I just wish everybody the best health. Good health and good luck to everyone. And we’re all going to die.

LS: Well, yes. But some sooner than others.
WW: Oh I totally agree. Can’t argue with that statement.

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41 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#22)

“Life is full of contradictions” is a pretty good defense of drinking.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@deepomega Everybody in life makes choices.

@deepomega I prefer “I’m not drunk… YOU’RE drunk!”

lemons! (#384)

I want to hang out with this guy for sure. Can he do a “Ask a Dude” on the Hairpin. I’d settle for that.

Slutface (#53)

@Dont Move to Finland +1,000

ghechr (#596)

I like this guy’s attitude. I, clearly, am more paranoid than he is. Even when I was a broke-ass student, I still had super high deductible medical insurance just in case I was in a car accident or some other freak occurrence. I did end up needing it due to a freak occurrence which, had I not had insurance, would have cost me about $100,000. YIKES

hellonheels (#1,407)

HOW did he even find the wherewithal to pop a giant burn blister?!? I recently burned myself rather spectacularly (pro tip: avoid pouring searing hot bacon grease on your fingertips when draining the pan) and I couldn’t even LOOK at the burns for days.

EvelynGarcia (#849)

Can’t help but add that aside from risk of burning yourself, pouring boiling water into the toilet because your sink is full of dishes you don’t want to do can crack your toilet. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

This dude sounds really, really dumb.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

@Reginal T. Squirge I don’t think he sounds dumb. Aloof, sure. But really, he sounds like most of the people I know who can’t afford to go to a doctor.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Reginal T. Squirge I think he sounds like a guy who is surviving and doesn’t take a whole lot of shit. What’s really really dumb about that? Would you like him more if he was crying?

I don’t think I need to provide any further evidence than pouring hot water in your toilet because the sink is full.

Also, kung-fu slippers.

I’m sure he’s a really nice guy. And I think all people deserve proper health care. But he still sounds really dumb.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Reginal T. Squirge I don’t know what you do for a living, but sometimes when you work on your feet all day, you come home tired and do dumb things. Doing dumb things does not make you a really dumb person. I guess it also depends on where you live. I encounter guys like this all the time in my neighborhood, so I’m used to it and find this attitude kind of endearing.

But I might agree about the slippers.

nf (#949)

@Reginal T. Squirge Could you do this guy’s job? Not having health insurance is a bad decision and I guess pouring boiling water into a toilet is too, but I think it’s really shitty to just point-blank call someone stupid on the basis of a short interview.

probs (#296)

The Billfold finds some interesting people to interview, no doubt. Sounds like a nice guy. I’m going to start applying the “there’s infinite tests you can run, so why start” mentality to everything in life. Never take my car to the mechanic, never QA changes to the software I’m working on, pipe bursts in my apartment just flee the country, etc.

hershmire (#695)

At least get health insurance so you’re not a huge burden on your children if you do wind up with some horrible chronic disease that requires extended hospital stays. Jeez…

@cdarcy He doesn’t have kids. He’s a single dude making choices for himself. Not the same choices I make, but as @bgprincipessa pointed out —and a wise man before her—”everybody in life makes choices.”

hershmire (#695)

@Logan Sachon Then what family you mention in the interview that has tried to get him to the hospital?

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@cdarcy Maybe parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, uncles, 2nd cousins twice removed, step-grandparents…why does family always mean children?

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

@cdarcy It’s possible for people without children to have a family. Parents, siblings, cousins, etc.

hershmire (#695)

@aeroaeroaero Ok, parents, cousins, etc. These people obviously care about him and would be equally burdened by thousands of dollars of debt were he to be hospitalized.

@cdarcy Parents, siblings. Should have clarified.

aeroaeroaero (#1,422)

@cdarcy I guess if he died? Even then I’m not certain they would be burdened with his debt.

Why are you so angry at this guy? There are millions of people without health insurance in this country. “Get insurance” is not very helpful advice for this guy, and everyone else with this problem.

@cdarcy If these people are not his dependents or he is not their dependent…how would they end up burdened by his debt? Unless you mean emotionally.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@cdarcy Did you have the same rep from AFLAC come to your office and lie to you about this? Unless your family co-signs something, they are not responsible for these kinds of debts.They won’t be burdened by anything unless they choose to help him out. And this guy does not sound like the type who would do this.
Also, do you know how expensive an individual insurance plan can be? For some people, like this guy, it’s just not possible. If you have to choose between eating and paying for insurance, you choose food.

hershmire (#695)

@josefinastrummer @aeroaeroaero Eh, he can do what he wants. I’m just thinking of the anguish an uninsured relative in the hospital can cause. Yes, they wouldn’t be financially obligated to help him out, but they obviously cared enough to try to get him to the hospital once. Even the basic, emergency-only insurance with a $10,000 deductible could save a lot of pain later on.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@cdarcy Last time I checked for my state, those basic emergency plans are at least $100 a month, and maybe this guy just doesn’t have that every month? I hate that people think these basic emergency plans are the answer to “I can’t afford insurance”. Who knows what those basic plans even cover? If he had this insurance and went to the doctor for all the injuries listed, he would still be paying out of pocket. Like Logan said, it’s about choices.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

Logan, I really liked this interview and this guy. He reminds me of the construction workers who helped me cross a plank over a new cement sidewalk last week while they made fun of my boyfriend. It’s nice to shake up the Billfold once in a while.

julebsorry (#1,572)

I really liked this guy, and this interview – he reminds me of some of my friends. However, because he reminds me of my friends, I really want him to know that what he’s doing is CRAZY irresponsible and he’s playing with fire. I have one friend who is just like this…couldn’t afford insurance, wouldn’t look up state programs they might be qualified for, said “I’m healthy, so what’s the big deal?”. Then, while jogging, she tripped over something that resulted in a compound leg fracture. She did eventually get care at a hospital, but had trouble getting followup care/PT and now walks with a limp (for the rest of her life! And she was only 27 when it happened!). No matter HOW healthy you are, something bad/unplanned can happen. That’s why you can’t wait to buy car insurance until after you’ve wrecked your car!

Another warning story on the importance of insurance – my husband’s HR messed up and didn’t register him for coverage. He only found this out when he called his insurance company, and they had no record of him. He’d apparently been going MONTHS without coverage. When he asked HR to fix it, they seriously dragged their feet. When he flipped out at them and said “what if I get hit by a car tomorrow?”, they told him he was being irrational. LITERALLY the next day, their head of sales was hit by a car while crossing the street, and had to be hospitalized for weeks. They got his insurance sorted pretty quickly after that. Moral – it often seems crazy to plan for the worst…until it happens (also why I’m pro-single payer, but that’s another post).

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@julebsorry But remember that, depending on the state, those programs can be next to impossible to get into and the care is still shit. Even if your friend was on state insurance or something similar, she would still probably have to pay out of pocket for PT and who knows what else. I read somewhere that the majority of people filing for bankruptcy for medical reasons are people who had insurance! That’s so scary. It’s not good enough to just have insurance, you need really good insurance. No way this guy, or probably your friend, or the 44 million without insurance could afford that.

And I hear you about the lack of coverage when you think you have it. I found out my co-workers and I had been without insurance for about two weeks when I went to have back surgery and was basically turned away until my insurance got figured out. That was one of the worst days of my life!

julebsorry (#1,572)

@josefinastrummer That’s why I’m pro-single payer, for sure. Solves both the “accidental noncoverage” and the “can’t afford it” problems with one neat solution, lol.

Argh! I can’t imagine what that would be like, especially in the States. Really interesting interview…

I’m actually working on a post about income, insurance and all that guff (my partner was just off work for a month due to physical injury, unpaid, so this is the kind of stuff that’s been weighing on my mind).

Megano! (#124)

You CAN pop a blister, but there is a very specific way to do it — basically, you prick it with a pin, slowly and carefully squeeze the liquid (pus?) out without breaking the skin, and then put a bandaid on it for like a day. Then BLAMMO! toes healed.
Love, someone who gets a lot of blisters.

selenana (#673)

Great interview.

“Karaoke accident.”

Were they Japanese construction worker slippers? Because J-construction workers wear the split toe flexible shoes. Also really baggy pants. There’s a weird construction worker fashion thing going on.

nonvolleyball (#305)

ever since I was nearly killed by a rogue appendix that burst without anyone realizing it, I’m constitutionally obligated to leave a comment in any internet thread debating the merits of health insurance. I beseech everyone to get emergency coverage, at the very least. I was a very healthy 27-year-old when I got appendicitis, & if I hadn’t been willing to go to the doctor when I did, I would literally be dead now…or, at best, alive & >$200k in debt.

get insurance.

Doesn’t homeboy know that health insurance is a basic human right? He better hope the IRS doesn’t see this.

googly (#2,724)

Take this precaution though: sunblock.
Skin cancers ain’t no fun.

Rama@twitter (#3,473)

he is a funny guy

James Thompson (#5,122)

I’m a construction worker and I have always found that it is much easier to prevent prevent injuries in the manual labor field than to try and deal with insurance and all of that. Although, I guess if you are already hurt, then you don’t have much of a choice.

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