Hogan Gorman: From Waitress to Hospital Bed (With No Health Insurance!)March 8, 2012
According to the CDC, one in five Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills. With affordable health insurance often out of reach for the unemployed, those working part time, and for those whose employers don’t offer health insurance, many people decide not to shell out their limited, hard-earned cash for insurance — but what happens when, well, something happens?
We had the chance to talk to a woman who lived through just that — Hogan Gorman (@hogangorman), author of Hot Cripple: An Incurable Smart-Ass Takes on the Health Care System and Lives to Tell the Tale.
Hogan was making it in New York as an actress as a lot of people do — working nights in the restaurant business. Walking to the nightclub to start her shift, Gorman was hit by a car speeding in reverse down a one-way street. Smashing her head through the windshield and flying into the air, Gorman survived the crash, but landed on the pavement. Instead of the car’s passengers rushing to her aid, she was confronted with the driver’s wife screaming, “Stand up! You’re not hurt! I’m a doctor, and I know you’re not hurt!” (Her place of employment didn’t offer health care, so this wouldn’t be the first unhelpful doctor on her long and difficult road to recovery.)
The accident left Gorman with debilitating injuries to her head and back that caused constant excruciating pain, memory lapses, and blackouts. This book is her firsthand account of surviving a devastating accident, and what it’s like to deal with our nation’s medical and social welfare system.
Here’s her interview on The Dylan Ratigan Show:
Want to read an excerpt of Hot Cripple? Click “show transcript” below to read the first chapter of her book, and watch the video of her one-woman show here:
Reprinted from Hot Cripple by Hogan Gorman by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Hogan Gorman.
Be Careful What You Wish For
It’s March 4, 2004, and I am off to my own personal hell for the evening, otherwise known as my waitressing job. Every night I work I have the same ritual: I take a cab from my house to the Starbucks at Astor Place, which is a block away from the nightclub, to get my grande soy, no water, no foam, Tazo chai. That’s Starbucks-speak for tea. Tonight is no different. I stand in line behind a couple of NYU students and patiently wait my turn.
“You having the usual?” Robbie, my favorite barista, asks. I love that he wears eyeliner, and he smudges it to perfection.
“Grande soy, no water, no foam, Tazo chai,” he calls out. “You working tonight?”
“Ugh. Yeah. I can’t wait till I don’t have to waitress anymore.”
“I feel ya, girl. One of these days I’m gonna come in and have a drink,” he says with a smile, ringing me up for a much less expensive coffee.
“You better. Then I can buy you a drink for once. See ya, Robbie,” I say as I grab my chai and walk out the door. It’s a crisp March evening, the kind that says the worst of the winter is behind us and spring will be approaching soon. I have my favorite
Earl corduroy jacket on, which is a pleasant change after months of wearing winter coats. The cocktail dress and heels I wear as my work uniform are packed neatly in my bag, and I am enjoying the last few minutes of comfort in my Juicy jeans and T-shirt as I walk down the block to work. I don’t really feel like working tonight . . .
Who am I kidding? I never feel like waitressing. Oh crap, I forgot to do Aura’s little mantra today. I’ve been doing it at least a few times a day for the past week. I quickly look around to see if anyone is within earshot, and luckily the coast is clear. “Universe, I am ready for a change,” I mutter. For the first time I am really starting to believe a change is coming. I step off the curb and begin to cross Lafayette Street. The nightclub is straight in front of me, when . . .
I’M IN THE AIR . . .
EVERYTHING IS MOVING IN SLOW MOTION . . .
THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS . . .
MY HEAD . . . OH MY HEAD . . .
SCREECHING BRAKES . . .
I’M IN THE AIR AGAIN . . .
MY BACK . . . MY HEAD . . .
I want to yell for help, but nothing comes out. I’m in the far lane of traffic on my back. Everything is blurry. I hear people:
“Are you okay?”
“I saw everything. I’m calling nine-one-one.”
“Oh my God, it’s Hogan. Call her brother! But first call someone to cover her shift.”
“We’ve got to get you out of the street.”
Hands lift me. I’m on the sidewalk. The car is ten feet away from me, and there is no glass in the back windshield, except for one small shard in the lower left-hand corner with my grande soy, no water, no foam, Tazo chai impaled on it.
“Oh my God,” I say. “My head took out an entire windshield.”
I can’t stop crying.
The people who hit me get out of a four-door Mercedes, two couples in their mid- to late-forties. The woman from the passenger side is running toward me. Now, one would assume that if you just hit someone with your car while you were driving in reverse at an uncontrollable speed down a one-way street, and that she is clearly injured, considering her head just took out your back windshield, you would be concerned for her life, right? Wrong. The passenger from hell starts yelling at me. “Stand up! You’re not hurt! I’m a doctor—I know you’re not hurt!”
By now there are at least ten people on the street that have come out of my place of employment and the restaurant next door. Two people get the crazy woman away from me, one person is writing down the license plate number, and another is trying to convince my only eyewitness to give him his contact information. I, on the other hand, am lying on the sidewalk and trying not to vomit.
AMBULANCE . . .
SIRENS . . .
POLICE LIGHTS . . .
You know those moments when something really horrible is happening in a dream? You’re falling off a building, getting chased by a serial killer, whatever? I am having one of those moments. “Wake up . . . this isn’t real . . . it’s just a bad dream . . . this could never happen to you . . . wake up,” I keep telling myself in an attempt to pull out of this nightmare.
“I can’t believe you’re alive. When I saw the car I was sure you were a DOA. Your shirt’s real funny . . . ‘Dump Him,’ that’s real funny,” says the EMT, as he straps me to a board and neck collar and puts me in the ambulance, but not before first hitting my head on the ambulance door.
Did your mom always warn you to wear clean underwear in case you were in an accident? I begin racking my brain to figure out if I am wearing the presentable part of my lingerie drawer. I am jarred out of my Victoria’s Secret conundrum by my brother, who enters the back of the ambulance with all the grace of a bull in a china shop. My brother always tries to hide the fact that he is losing his shit, but when he does he paces. It’s rather impossible to pace in the back of an ambulance, but he is somehow managing to accomplish this feat, and now I know that not only is this not a dream but it’s bad. “Thank God . . . Hoge . . . you’re alive. I got here as fast as I could, and I saw the car and the glass all over and I thought you were dead. Th ose people that hit you were laughing like it was a joke, and one of them told the police that you jumped on their car and elbowed their windshield out. I didn’t see you, and I thought they’d killed you. I was getting ready to beat the crap out of them when the cop told me you were in the ambulance. Fuck! Dude, you’re going to be okay, you’re going to be okay.”
At this point I start to hyperventilate . . . I’m not sure if it is because two people have just told me in the past five minutes that there is no way I should be alive right now, or the fact that it is really sinking in that I, Little Miss Never Broke a Bone in Her Life, just got mowed down by a car. The short, stocky EMT notices that I am gasping for air like someone in the last stages of emphysema and informs me in his thick New Jersey accent that I am in shock. He tries to help me regulate my breathing with his version of a guided meditation. “Slow, slow, breathe, breathe.” It is like Joe Pesci leading a Lamaze class.
In the hospital I am still strapped to a board and in a neck collar, so I can only see the ceiling. The ER nurse and the EMT proceed to make small talk, like two old friends catching up at a coffee klatch. They cover a variety of topics: what they had for dinner, Internet dating, and a recent vacation. Finally, after five minutes, the nurse acknowledges the fact that I am lying below them on a gurney in the hospital hallway. “So what have we got here?”
“Pedestrian, struck by a car going approximately forty miles per hour. Her head went through and completely shattered the windshield, and then she was thrown approximately ten feet, landing on the pavement and hitting her cervical, lumbar, and head,” says the EMT, as if he were reciting the daily lunch specials in a New Jersey diner.
In the emergency room I am staring at the fluorescent light above my head and listening to my brother pace. I have to say something to calm him down. “Hey, I’m like that girl in the neck brace in that John Hughes film . . . What was that film?”
He stops pacing for a minute to think out loud. “Oh yeah, remember when she tries to drink from the water fountain but she can’t move her neck, and keeps hitting herself in the face with the water? What the hell was it called?”
The guy on the gurney next to me answers, “Sixteen Candles.”
I must be losing my mind, or I’m dead and purgatory is a game show called Emergency Room Jeopardy.
I’m waiting, and waiting. My head is pounding. The pain is going down my arms and legs. My feet are numb.
Finally, the doctor, whose beady eyes and big front teeth put me in mind of a gopher, comes. He shines a light in my eyes and has me wiggle my fingers and my toes. “All right, I’m going to have your brother fill out your insurance information and then we’ll send you right up to X-ray.”
“I’m a waitress . . . I don’t have insurance.”
“Oh, no insurance?” he says with an exasperated look on his face, removing his eyes from me and staring at his clipboard. “Okay, well, someone will take you up . . . eventually.”
“Can I at least have something for the pain?”
“Here you go,” he replies, handing me a pill.
“What is it?” I whimper as he walks away.
The trivia whiz in the bed next to me fainted during dinner, and all the nurses and doctor are paying attention to him. “Can we get you something to drink, Mr. Smith?” “We’re going to give you more pain medication, Mr. Smith.” “We’re going to rush you right up for a CAT scan, Mr. Smith.”
The only person who pays attention to me is Andy the EMT, who keeps coming back to the emergency room to check on me between drop-offs. “Your shirt’s real funny . . . ‘Dump Him.’ So I guess you’re single. How can a girl like you be single?”
Note to self: Along with wearing presentable undergarments, add to the list: never wear a shirt that advertises your availability across your tits.
After Andy’s second visit, I ask my pacing brother if he thinks the EMT is hitting on me, which elicits a chuckle. “Hoge, you’re a cute girl, but you’re not looking too cute right now. You have streaks of mascara down your face, you’re strapped to a board in a neck brace, and your hair is doing this Don King thing.”
I slowly reach my hand up to the matted mess that I once called hair. “Oh my God, is this blood?”
With trepidation, my brother moves closer to examine, and then bends down and smells my head. “No, sweetie, that’s your chai tea. I can’t believe they haven’t even bothered to get the glass out of your hair.”
He returns to his pacing, and then gets a call and walks out of the emergency room. I’m not sure if he is doing it to obey the signs that say “No cell phones.” He’s never been one to follow rules, so I’m guessing he doesn’t want me to hear the conversation. It’s probably my mom. She is completely going to freak out. When my mom reads the paper she starts with the obituaries, and if she hears someone has cancer, she has them mentally buried and is already thinking of what she is going to wear to the funeral. People of Irish descent are big on potatoes, not optimism.
God, I wish she were here. I don’t care how old you are; sometimes you just need your mom.
A weepy moment ensues . . . which I am sure is exacerbating my mascara problem.
Trivia Whiz is back from X-ray and CAT scan. I decide to eavesdrop on the doctor’s prognosis (not that I have any choice, considering there is only a sheet separating us). “Okay, Mr. Smith, we got the results back from your CAT scan and everything looks fine, but we’re going to keep you overnight for observation. We have all your insurance information, and Bob is going to take you up to your room right now.”
I go back to focusing on my own pain, which is getting worse. My entire body is throbbing, and I’m getting stabbing pains in my head. Am I dying? Not that anyone would notice, mind you.
Most people are completely terrified of hospitals, and while I’ll admit that they smell sterile and their paint selections are rather limited to blinding white and that putrid Band-Aid color, I’ve spent some quality time at hospitals in my youth. Well, there is the obvious occasion—my birth—which I have no recollection of, but I have seen pictures and would like to thank my mother’s OBGYN, because although I was born a cone head, his skillful hands shaped my malleable skull like Michelangelo formed the David, and thanks to him I now have a head that in no way resembles an alien’s.
At two, I took my second trip to the hospital. My mother had given me some loose change as a reward for graduating from diapers to big-girl panties. She was no dummy . . . She knew that if she bought me—a girly-girl through and through—the prettiest, laciest underwear, there was no way I was going to mess them. No coaching, no accidents, just me and my cute girl undies. I put my reward on my bedside table to spend at the candy store the next day. I awoke my mother in a panic that night, gasping for air. I had had a rather lucid dream in which I was a bubble gum machine and swallowed a penny in my sleep. Yes, easily potty trained but clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed. The penny was lodged in my esophagus, which required them shoving the Jaws of Life down my throat and extracting it. On a high note, the doctor gave my mother my prescription: Popsicles and pudding for a week, and no more change . . . I was upgraded to dollar bills.
In my third year of life, I had my third visit to the emergency room. We were over at my mother’s friend’s house so I could have a play date with her son, who had a hobbyhorse in the back garden with my name all over it. I rode that thing like Seabiscuit until the demon son pushed me off , demanding his toy back. My chin was split open, getting blood all over my favorite eyelet dress. And as I tore up the stairs to the house bellowing for my mother, with Satan’s spawn following, fearful that he was going to get in trouble, I turned around and gently pushed him down the flight of stairs . . . so it was a group emergency room play date. The little shit had a broken nose, and I was stitched up without the benefit of a plastic surgeon. My mother still feels guilty over that one, but I kinda like my little Harrison Ford chin scar.
My fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh trips to the hospital were due to my brother and his childhood affliction of croup, which caused his vocal cords to swell and make him bark like a seal. When vaporizers or throwing him in a steamy bathroom failed to open up his breathing, we would speed off to the hospital with my brother’s head hanging out the car window. I wasn’t allowed in the emergency room, so my mother would leave me in the waiting room to be watched by the inmates of San Quentin Prison, who were usually there after getting in a knife fight. I guess she figured they were adequate babysitters considering they were handcuffed and shackled. And after being forced to play Barbies with me, I bet they were pretty excited to head back to prison. My mother and newly breathing brother would eventually emerge from the emergency room, and I would say good-bye to my captive play- mates, promising that the next time they could be Barbie and not Skipper.
When I was a tweenie, my mother started working at a hospital as an administrative assistant (which sounded like a very fancy title to me). On a few chosen days in the summer I was allowed to accompany my mother to work, which was pure heaven. This job was much better than her last one: working for so-called tree experts, who would cut down people’s sick trees (or something to that effect; I was never exactly sure what they did). Here they helped sick people, and that was far cooler in my Teen Beat mind. I would help my mom file papers, draw rainbows and fluffy cloud
pictures for her coworkers, roam the halls of the hospital pretending I was visiting a relative, say hello to the doctors, go see the babies in the maternity ward, make several trips to the gift shop looking to increase my sugar level to get through the long, exciting workday, and drop in on my favorite medical librarian (who my mom informed me was far smarter than all the doctors) . . . and that was all before lunch, which was the best part of the day. In the hospital cafeteria surrounded by the doctors and nurses in their scrubs, I would sit with my mother and her friends, quietly thinking that this was the greatest place in the world, and surely the safest.
At the age of thirteen I had my one and only experience as an in-patient. I had joined a ski club. There was another girl in the club; her name ended in a y, as all cute girls’ names do. She had perfectly glossed Bonne Bell lips, her breath always smelled like peppermint as the result of her addiction to breath spray, she was ideally petite and cute at five-four, the boys had discovered her, and, most important, she was a great skier. I, on the other hand, was five-ten (taller than my principal and all the boys); I had just gotten my braces off , which caused me to constantly run my tongue across my teeth and chap my lips (no amount of Bonne Bell was helping me); and although I was athletic, I had yet to get off the intermediate slopes. But that wasn’t stopping me . . . I was going to beat this perfect bitch on skis if it was the last thing I did. So when she said, “Hey, Hogan, do you want to ski Devil’s Run today? I mean, if you’re up to it?” I took that as a dare, maybe even a double dare.
The accident involved me, an icy mogul, and four flips. My knee went one way while my skis and unreleased bindings went the other, and Little Miss Bonne Bell with a y elegantly plowed snow in my face as she skied past me. I rode back on the bus with a cardboard makeshift splint on my leg, a messed-up knee, and a severely bruised ego. By the time I got home, my mother had already arranged for a doctor from the hospital to come over and examine me on my embarrassing canopy bed. She also had some keen words of advice. “Sweetheart, the next time you’re jealous of a cheerleader type, why don’t you try doing something normal like spreading a rumor about her, rather than throwing yourself down a mountain.”
Two days later I was scheduled for arthroscopic surgery. You would have thought the Queen of England had arrived at the hospital. I had flowers waiting in my private room, all my mom’s coworkers came up to greet me, and the nurse informed me that I wouldn’t have to eat the normal hospital food; they would let me select from the daily specials in the cafeteria. This was way better than summer camp.
The doctor who would be performing my surgery was the leading surgeon for the 49ers football team, which was impressive— until I met his resident, Dr. D, who was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my thirteen years of life. He was Calvin Klein– model gorgeous, and I needed to make him mine. Sure, there was the slight age difference of about fifteen years, but math really wasn’t my thing, except when calculating that I would be in the hospital for a week. Seven days times twenty-four hours in a day equaled 168 hours to make Dr. D fall head-over-stethoscope.
The morning of the surgery my mother arrived bright and early, panicked, as only a mother can be, that her baby girl was going under the knife. I, on the other end of the spectrum, was relaxed because I was going to spend the morning in close proximity to that paragon of male perfection, Dr. D. That is, until the orderly arrived to prep me for surgery. He was a rather large black man with a smile that made you feel like you had just gotten enveloped in sunshine. “Hello, darlin’. My name is Lou, and I’m here to get you ready for surgery. Now, I’m going to give you a sedative.”
I liked Lou; he was the kind of person that you just wanted to know because no matter how blue you were, he would make you feel better. I needed a friend like that in my life, I thought, as he gave me the tranquilizer. Until he said the words that struck horror in my thirteen-year-old heart: “Now, little lady, you need to take off your underwear for surgery.”
“No way, man! The underwear stays!” I said with the proper thirteen-year-old roll of the eyes. No way did I want Dr. D to see my business. He would think I was a slut like Debbie Morris, who was so easy-access she probably didn’t even own underwear.
My mother interjected, “Sweetheart, you need to go into the bathroom and take off your underwear.”
“Don’t you embarrass me in front of this nice man. You go into the bathroom and take your underwear off for Christ’s sake.”
“FINE,” I replied with venom as I whipped off my panties and threw them out the bathroom door, where they unfortunately landed on Lou’s head.
“Hogan Gorman!” my mother exclaimed, trying to sound stern to cover up her laughter.
“It’s okay, ma’am. I have a daughter about her age,” Lou offered, as he wheeled my gurney into the elevator. “And don’t you worry, little lady. You’ll be feeling no pain in a few minutes.”
“Yeah, Lou . . . I don’t give a fuck what they do to me.”
“Jesus, Hogan! I have to work here,” my mother said, dying of embarrassment.
The next three days were a blur, but apparently I was doing my best Linda Blair impersonation until my mother demanded that they cut off my Demerol after I threw my lunch in her face. Once I was lucid and coherent, my mother took great pleasure in recapping the past few days. “I was in the cafeteria today and Sue the recovery room nurse shouted across the room, ‘Hey, Ann, how’s your little foul-mouth doing? She was very entertaining in surgery.’ And I think you scared the hell out of Dr. D.”
I was quite positive I had scared the hell out of Dr. D, and I doubted that being commando in surgery had anything to do with it. I would make a mental note at the tender age of thirteen that drugs turned me into a vulgar, dirty whore. I did, however, like the hospital. I felt protected under the watchful eye of health care professionals. They were smart and caring and reliable, and all they wanted was for me to get better.
Whoever was in charge of such things at the hospital knew my mother was a struggling single mom, and they miraculously never charged her for my week stay, the surgery, or the two months of physical therapy. It pays to work at a hospital; they take care of their own. The only person that charged her was the anesthesiologist, who my mother lovingly referred to as “that asshole” for the next year and a half that it took her to pay him off.
Back in my present-day emergency room and thinking of asshole doctors—Where is the doctor? I just got hit by a car, people. What happened to the bedside manner of yesteryear? I want to be given Popsicles and pudding for a week, I want to get stitched up, I want to play Barbies with prisoners, I want some drugs, I want my mom to still work at a hospital, I want to be surrounded by her coworkers that gave a shit, I WANT SOME MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. This hospital is terrifying the hell out of me. It’s like McDonald’s: over a billion served, with inadequate care and goods that could kill you. This is McFucking crazy.
Finally, after several hours, they take me to Radiology, where three guys almost drop me while moving me from the gurney to the table. They x-ray and CAT-scan my neck and back only. “Are you a dancer? You have the body of a dancer,” one of them asks as they start to wheel me back to the ER.
“CAT-scan . . . head,” I mumble.
“Sorry, we only have orders from the doctor to do your back and neck, so we’ll take you down to the ER and you can talk to him.”
When the doctor finally shows up, I tell him that they didn’t CAT-scan my head, and he says, “Oh, do you think we should?”
I am starting to wonder if this guy got his medical license out of a Cracker Jack box. I muster all I have left and shout, “HEAD, WINDSHIELD, CAT SCAN, NOW!”
I wait another hour.
The doctor returns with the CAT scan results and his everpresent clipboard. “Okay, well the CAT scan showed you do have trauma to the head. It’s hard to tell the extent of the damage right now, but you definitely have a concussion. You should get that neck and back looked at by a specialist. Now I’m going to put this neck brace on you and you can go home.”
“Home? Home? You want me to go home? That other guy only fainted and he’s not going home,” I say, truly stunned, before the reality hits me with almost as much force as the car. “Oh . . . I get it . . . he has insurance.”
The doctor doesn’t answer me. He won’t even look at me when he puts on the neck brace. His parting remark is, “Now, the pain will get worse over the next few days. All right, good luck.”
My brother manages to get me home. I decline his offer to spend the night. I haven’t slept in a bed with my brother since I was eight, and from what I remember, he kicked me in his sleep and I woke up with his elbow in my face. With the amount of pain I am in, I don’t want to subject myself to any more bodily harm.
I gimp into my apartment and hear the phone ringing. Even the ring sounds panicked, so I know immediately that it is my mom (who, incidentally, always introduces herself on the phone as if I wouldn’t recognize her thick Midwestern, slightly nasal voice after a lifetime of hearing it). “Ohhh . . . sweetheart. It’s Mom. Your brother called me. Oh, honey, I can’t believe this happened. I tried to get online to book a ticket, but you know me and computers. I was so upset, I almost threw the damn thing out the window. But I called Pam, and she’s going to book me a ticket for tomorrow night. I mean, Christ, I’ll grow wings and fl y if I have to.”
“You don’t need to come. I’m all right,” I eke out before I burst into tears. I don’t know if I’m all right, I just don’t want her to panic. I don’t know anything right now. It’s all too surreal, too strange. “I just want to go to sleep.”
“No, honey. Didn’t they tell you at the hospital that with a concussion you shouldn’t go to sleep?” I tell her no. “He didn’t? Piece of shit! I want to kill that fucking doctor. Well, sweetheart, why don’t you turn on the TV to something that will keep you awake? . . . Fox News, you always yell at the TV when that’s on.”
“I’m injured enough; I don’t want to be lied to.”
“Well, I could just stay on the phone and talk to you all night so you don’t fall asleep. Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”
“You have to work, and you don’t have the money. I’ll be okay.”
“Don’t you worry about that . . . as you say, ‘Work can kiss my ass.’ So, if you decide you want me, you just let me know and I’ll be on the next plane.”
I need to get off the phone. The more I talk the more I am panicking her and myself, and I can’t keep this stiff-upper-lip thing going for another minute. “Mom, I’m gonna go now. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she responds, her voice crackling with emotion.
I hang up the phone, and for the first time tonight, it is quiet. There are no sounds of screeching brakes or shattering glass or sirens, no beeping medical machines, dismissive doctors, or worried family members. There is just me and the sound of my crying as I hug my baby blanket like a two-year-old and quietly hope that this is just a bad dream.