Smooch from Chicago

A man stands between two lights in a dark urban setting

A few years ago, I got really sick with a case of strep throat that got out of hand. The infection spread throughout my entire body, drastically damaging my digestive tract. For about two months I couldn’t even drink water because it caused an unbearable pain throughout my chest and stomach. I literally lived off IV fluid and what little soup broth I could get into me.

My primary doctor hit the end of his rope and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He referred me to a gastro doctor for an endoscopy (i.e., camera down the throat). That same day, a Friday, I got a call from the gastro’s receptionist to schedule the procedure. She explained that this doctor was in surgeries all day Friday and Saturday and, depending on when there was time, that would dictate which hospital I would go to. She took my insurance info and we planned for Saturday evening. He was going to be at a hospital close to me and she said she would call me back with all the correct info.

A couple of hours went by and the receptionist called back with some bad news. This happened around my birthday, and I had just turned 26 two weeks prior. That Friday was the last day I was going to be on my parents insurance — it literally expired at midnight. With everything happening and me being away from work, I forgot to switch my insurance over to my work insurance.

I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t eat, I could barely move. I was literally crawling and stumbling through my apartment because I didn’t have the strength to walk without becoming super winded. I needed medical attention and I was about to lose the ability to seek it.

After hearing the complete shock, confusion, and silence of me not knowing what to do, the receptionist said, “Let me check something. I’ll call you back,” and she hung up. Thirty minutes later, she called back and asked me, “Can you be at this address at 10 tonight with someone to drive you home?” I said yes and got the info, and my roommate agreed to drive me to the appointment.

Ten o’clock rolled around and we found ourselves looking for this address. Turns out it was in one of the darkest industrial complexes on the South Side of Chicago. We finally found it, and we could only see a single light on in the lobby as we walked up to the door.

Things seemed weird. We walked in, and a male nurse came to the railing of the level at the top of the stairs. He asked me, “Are you Smooch?” I said yes, and then he came down and locked the door behind us. He led us upstairs and gave my roommate the remote for the TV in the waiting room, which was completely dark.

The nurse brought me over to the front desk and started doing paperwork with me. He had clearly never done this before. He called someone, put them on speaker phone, and started asking questions on how to process the paperwork. It became obvious that the person on the phone was the one who was supposed to be at the front desk.

I heard the front door unlock while we were doing paperwork and someone walked in. She came upstairs and started turning on lights and equipment. Up until this point, the only two lights on in this entire medical facility were in the lobby and the front desk area.

After finishing the paperwork, the nurse walked me back to a prep area. He had me get into the procedure gown and set me up with an IV. He mentioned we may have to wait a little because the doctor just finished with his last surgery on the North Side of Chicago and was on his way.

At this point I decided to look up the facility I was in, and I discovered that it wasn’t even supposed to be open on Fridays. The gastro who was doing this procedure owned the practice. He had called in a nurse and an anesthesiologist, driven to the complete opposite side of the city after twelve hours of surgeries, and bothered the front desk person on their night off — all to make this procedure happen before midnight so I could get my insurance to cover it. I never once met this doctor before and he had absolutely no reason to put that much effort into making all of that work for me.

The gastro eventually arrived. On top of telling me what was causing my issues and prescribing the medication that would fix them, he cauterized most of my damaged areas. I was able to eat actual food that same night after two months of nothing solid.

Once I came down from my high of the procedure and I was at home, I broke down and cried. I realized how much effort so many people went through to help me. I will never ever forget how much they did for me.