Short Relief: A stitch in time costs about a grand

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

Early in life, my greatest talent appeared to be breaking glass.

I went through glass tables, glass windows, and glass doors, and I have the scars to show for it. I was a regular at the Englewood Hospital Emergency Room.

Fortunately, my across-the-street neighbors were a couple of doctors with four children. This was convenient for many reasons. Together with my two brothers, it provided critical mass of a variety of sporting activities, most of which involved a certain amount of physical contact.

When the inevitable injury occurred, it could often be treated on-site. On at least one occasion, one of the doctors sewed me up on the kitchen table. Free of charge.

Things have changed.

Sunday night after Thanksgiving, I was making turkey sandwiches from leftovers. I was slicing a roll with a sharp knife. I remember thinking, stupidly, that I would feel the edge of the knife as it approached the crust of the roll so that I could leave a hinge.

Instead, I felt just how sharp the knife was. I cut deep into the tip of my middle finger.

My standard response to such situations is to clean the wound and apply superglue. I cleaned the wound with peroxide but superglue was not up to the task. I spent about an hour trying to stop the bleeding by applying pressure before conceding that a stitch was required.

Thinking that any wait was likely to be shorter at Brighton First Care, I drover there, but arrived after it closed. The security guard checked his monitor and reported that the waiting room at Maine Medical Center was not crowded, so I drove to the hospital.

I walked past the security guard in his booth. It was relatively quiet inside. There were only a few people in the waiting area. It helped that the Giants-Packers game was on TV. Everyone was very pleasant. There were two people behind the reception desk, one of whom took my insurance information and had me sign some informed-consent forms. I did my paperwork and a triage nurse took my vital signs and assessed me. Everyone wanted to know how I cut myself.

It wasn’t long before they called my name and I was ushered to a treatment room in the back. Another nurse assessed me. A young doctor appeared and attended to me. His supervisor looked in and asked how I cut myself. On the theory that one needle stick was like another, I agreed that the attending doctor would not administer Novocaine because it was only going to take one stitch to close the wound.

He sewed me up. The nurse dressed the wound and gave me a tetanus booster shot that included a whooping cough vaccine as a bonus. I drove myself home.

On Dec. 2, I took the stitch out myself.

On Dec. 4, I got the bill: $943.86.

That includes $233.34 for the vaccine, $276 for the simple repair, $212.50 for the attending physician, and $188 for the nursing. The bill informed me that I did not owe anything at the moment, that once all insurance companies had paid their portion of the claim, I would receive a bill for any unpaid balance.

I can’t wait.

I am grateful that I have insurance through my work and am hopeful that it will cover most, if not all, of the bill. But I am struck by the current cost of a single stitch. How did it get that high? Maine Med is well-staffed, well-equipped, clean and orderly. Everyone I dealt with was pleasant and competent. I have no complaints about the care that I received (although I have been plagued by a persistent cough for weeks). My wound healed.

But if I had known in advance how much it was going to cost, and if I had alternatives, I would have at least considered them.

Sidebar Elements

Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.