31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 3: Catacombs (2007)

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My thighs are in agony from spending a few hours crawling, crouching, shimmying and accidentally head-butting the ‘hidden’ parts of the Paris catacombs; but my brain’s nascent sense of furious sentience is shitting its own dirty protest at the 90 minutes I wasted on this repulsive waste of a film.

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Catacombs (2007) beat the marginally superior As Above, So Below (2014) to be the first American horror film set in the famous boneyard tunnels of Paris (though the latter used the truly claustrophobic layout of the tunnels, crawlspaces and uneven, rocky, watery territory to decent effect).

If I hadn’t actually gone into said catacombs this past weekend [more on that later], I’d not have had the factual inaccuracies to whinge about, and instead I could have just bitched about how every other element of the film is a complete and utter failure.

catacombs 2007 shannyn sossamon pink

First of all, casting. It’d been 6 years since lead Shannyn Sossamon had peaked in A Knight’s Tale. Her immature student sister is played by Pink. Yes, Pink. The singer, Pink, who delivers all of her lines in an unconvincing mumble-hurry through gurning faces so pronounced that they’d even look forced in a music video. Fucking Pink?! Our male French lead, a cataphile-cum-club-nite-promoter, bears all the markings of a Justin Timberlake specimen, only with more streaks of chin-fuzz. Truly a casting for the 2007 zeitgeist.

Frankly, the film is doomed from the opening credits: watered-down club rock that was dated even then, and a font that throbs, expands and retracts like a shitty music video, probably by Pink.

catacombs 2007 shannyn sossamon pink

the water down there was NOT clean enough to fucking swim in.

It gets even worse. Sossamon’s character Victoria, a meek piece of tissue paper with the dress sense and gait of a tramp, immediately narrates that everyone but her winds up dead at the end of the film. Spoilers! Pretty and shy and angelic Victoria is shown giggling while practising her French, but then we cut to two overweight, stone-faced French border agents manhandling her luggage, grilling her as if she’s a criminal and making fun of her for not speaking their native language. What a painfully infuriating fallacy. Take it from someone who knows – that’s actually the exact behaviour of American Customs, Border and TSA officers. Literally no other country’s airport staff presents themselves as such ignorant, violent, clueless, incompetent, power-tripping cunts.

catacombs 2007 shannyn sossamon pink

40-year-old student Pink takes poor Joan of Arc back to her trendily shitty student digs, where they get ready for an illegal rave in the catacombs that’s so secret that there must be some sort of Pink magical invisibility shield that masks the conspicuously massive queue of would-be clubbers, bouncers, neon lights and pulsating music. Perhaps they’re the same mythical construction workers who made the super-secret entrance more spacious than your average cellar door (compared to a winding, ten-inch-high slidey hole), cleared away the knee-deep water, raised the ceilings everywhere by at least 15 feet (so you can actually stand up in them), installed toilets, removed the iron poles and hooks that actually protrude from the ceilings, cleaned up and levelled the tunnel floors, and installed a fully-stocked, triple-decker bar. All of those things and more totally exist in these massively illegal catacomb limestone quarries! Fucking idiotic fuckering fuckfacers.

catacombs 2007 shannyn sossamon pink

There are parties that actually go on down there in the quarries, but they are low-key and not among the touristy catacombs themselves – anywhere you see immaculately-stacked bones, there would not have been space for a fucking rave. Yet at said stupid fucking rave, there’s a decadent red-and-gold lounge in which Justin Le Timbrelac tells a tale of a mad goat-mask-wearing Satanist who was raised in the catacombs to be pure evil. We know he’s the product of hell because we get a visual reenactment and the camera does that shaky blurry thing over reams of guitar thrashing backing music that clearly only the devil listens to.

[Actually, to be fair, it was exactly the kind of music I heard a few smokers listening to when we stumbled across a bunch of cataphiles in their so-called ‘cinema room’, so they’ve got me there.]

Earlier on, Pink is thankfully dispatched by said Goatface when the group is separated after a dazzlingly incompetent police raid – correctly identified by Pink as ‘catacops’. Though what I was unaware of was that French police raids apparently consist of blindly beating random ravers with billy clubs, causing panicked, fatal stampedes in a massive crowd in an underground location with no clear exits. The more you know!

catacombs 2007 shannyn sossamon pink

The rest of the movie is an experience in Sossamon’s unacceptable style of screaming. I’ve never known a wail so caustic to the ears, or one to be unleashed as its own form of horror for such a sustained period of any film – including the Texas Chainsaw Massacre dinner scene. Which is an interesting choice of mouth noise, considering her main objective is to find her way out of the catacombs without attracting the attention of Goaty McGoatface.

In the end blah blah blah, I don’t give a shit; the end credits could not have come fast enough. I’d imagine the narrative might have made for a decent campfire tale, but in the hands of everyone involved here, it’s a B film that was made 9 years too late. It’s the sort of film in which a character non-ironically speaks the line, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” I mean, imagine if Urban Legends was made now. Is it the worst thing I’ve ever seen? Not quite. I once saw a homeless crack addict piss out something brown in broad daylight near my house.

0.2/5

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Questions That Need Answers

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It’s difficult to get answers on a lot of unfinished business I have left for the year. It’s like a list of New Years’ resolutions, but things that need to be done before the end of the year, and that aren’t fun and whimsical ways to kill a week.

1. What happens if you don’t have health insurance in Massachusetts?

The short answer is, you get fined. And if you refuse to pay the fine, then you might go to jail! If you’re on a high-enough income, you could afford the $600 a month program for a married couple that the MA Health Connector so helpfully recommends as the cheapest “Bronze” option (which doesn’t cover anything). This is the regular recommendation for “higher-earning families” because my husband and I make less than $1000 per year over the maximum income limit to be eligible for health insurance programs for low-income families.

Rents are disgustingly high here. Those income limits should be revised, but it doesn’t even matter – as a legal immigrant, I’m not eligible for low-income programs anyway! Regardless, I have no interest in going on “low-income” programs. There’s no shame in it, but it is such a ridiculously polarised view of personal finance – either you’re poor or you’re rich. Where is the fucking middle-class in America?

 

2. Why do I come down with flu-like symptoms every time it rains?

I have actually moved in with a friend of mine, thinking that the lack of heat and possible mould in her basement was making me sick. Everything I’ve read online seemed to point towards mould allergies (developing or existing) as the culprit. But I’ve since moved in with a friend, and she doesn’t have mould anywhere in her house. I am a wimp about the cold though – I tend to keep it warmer, but now that I’m sick, I can’t be trusted as a reliable temperature gauge, so I let her eat all my Nestle cookie dough. She’s so obsessed with it that hopefully she will get sick and know how it feels (just kidding). But I’ve been like this for a while, and the mystery is starting to get on my nerves. Usually I would see a doctor, but that is more of a privilege here.

In the only “developed” country in the world with NO commie pinko universal health care, the doctors most people see are WebMD or Yahoo! Answers. There is no NHS Direct website, no NHS hotline, and definitely no NHS, period. If I search “runny nose” and “sore throat” as symptoms I will discover I have everything from ragweed allergies to a CSF leakage. Most people get worked up into a panic because Dr Internet, the only doctor who doesn’t discriminate, is telling them they will all die.

My sinuses are worse than ever. It seems that the harder it rains, the more tissues I use up. Having gone through 2.5 boxes today, this proletariat is going to visit her doctor in the UK, where, as a citizen and still ordinarily resident of the UK, she is fully entitled to do so, for tests, consultations, medication and brand new organs if fucking necessary. Hopefully I can stick it out until then.

Behemot: In Soviet Russia, healthcare improves YOU. ...Because we spent $10 million reforming it in 2011.

3. Why do airlines jack up their prices willy-nilly?

I have always wanted an excuse to say willy-nilly in writing. But after four months of waiting around on my manager, I was finally given approval for some unpaid time off, so that I can go visit my family and friends for Christmas (and my birthday). I decided to wait until I could afford it.

The funny thing is, is that once you’ve saved up the right amount for a plane ticket home, the airline somehow senses this and doubles the price of your ticket. So instead of paying £372, I’m now being forced to pay £689. Thanks, Virgin Atlantic. Even though you offer seatback TVs and tiny little ice creams in the summer, the fact that I’m somehow saving money at this price by part-paying with air miles is too much for me to fathom. Though I do enjoy your cheeky advertising.

Sadly, I can’t afford it, and there’s a good chance that I might not actually be able to be with some of the most important people in my life for a couple of measly weeks. Which will leave me unemployed for 2 weeks, on my own, and unwell, with no medical insight. Merry fucking Christmas!

 

…Where Caring About Your Pet Becomes Almost as Expensive as Caring About Yourself

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my dad's adorable cat, Rani.

And I thought human health care was difficult enough to figure out.

The husband came with three cats, one of which we sort of accumulated together. We had been arguing outside of a hotel when I was visiting/staying in Salem, so when he came back in from smoking a cigarette, him bringing in this pretty much killed the petty argument we were having:

look at the drop of milk on her lil' nose!

Nothing was open at that time of night (it was maybe 2 or 3am) except the Hess petrol pump, which had no cat food, and certainly not something suitable for such a tiny runt. She couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 weeks old. It’s not like there was a cat food vending machine in the (non pet-friendly) hotel, so my husband bought the only thing he could think of: a small carton of half-and-half, even though dairy really is not something you should feed to a cat. But she was fine. She ate, pooped and slept just like any other kitteh. We named her Kashmira.

It’s weird how my mother once thought the same thing – just feed an abandoned baby animal some milk and it will persevere. Growing up on a large estate in India, her father would bring home all kinds of animals – once he’d rescued a baby deer after some business partners tried to shoot the mother (Grandpa wasn’t into hunting). The deer lived on their estate and actually lasted a whole year before one of his employees’ kids fed it dry pitta bread…and the poor thing choked.

But my mother was used to stray cats and accumulated rabbits, dogs and other pets. So when a bird’s nest had fallen off our roof one day (sadly crushing a lot of the babies), we had to take care of the surviving baby. It was a scrawny-looking thing, and we knew that its mother would never come back. Being July, we couldn’t leave it out there in the dead heat (yep, even in Britain it can get hot in July), so we kept it in a softly-lined margarine tub and called him Charlie (ignoring my protests for Tweety). My mother didn’t know what to feed him, so she would roll up a piece of kitchen towel into a ball, dip it in milk and drip it into the baby bird’s mouth. He seemed to take to it, but he sadly died a few days later. That was my first and last childhood pet.

And then came Rani.

the day we got rani.

We drove all the way to Coventry one summer to get her, which was, funnily enough, the same city in which I was born. Naturally, they named her Rani, which is Hindi for “Queen”. My name just means (lowly) “princess”. So naturally it was important that we take the proper precautions regarding her healthcare. Sadly, there is no NHS for pets in the UK, and, being a Persian, she was likely to be prone to health problems. She is a pedigree and a full persian, but yet doesn’t have that smashed-in-face look (the info in this link was so upsetting it made my mother cry). At 4 years old, she has no health problems, but she did have to have 9 teeth removed last year. The poor thing sulked under a blanket for the rest of the day after the surgery.

I believe this was covered in the pet insurance that my Dad took out. She’s covered for life, for all manner of crazy things, but he only pays out less than £15 per month. He uses Petplan, who also have operations in the US. I went to the US website and entered the same info that my Dad did in the UK, and I got this:

By choosing the cheapest deductible and the highest amount of reimbursement (I barely even know what that means), I still have to pay over $30 per month for the lowest, crappiest possible policy. Yet in the UK, if I want the bare minimum, I pay around what my Dad does, and it even covers him for things like if he has to cut short or cancel a holiday if Rani is sick, or even emergency repatriation if she gets sick or passes away while abroad. (I’m getting upset just thinking about this, even if it is such a cute thing to cover in a policy).

Many conversations I’ve had with other pet owners often revolve around how they had to put the pet to sleep because they couldn’t afford advanced healthcare or major surgery, or how they almost bankrupted themselves to pay for said surgery. It’s still something we need to look into before the cats get too old. Even my poor landlady has lost three of her dearly beloved pets this summer, and not even chemotherapy was enough to stave it off. At least they led long happy lives with an owner who cared for them so much.

Even the nearest animal hospital to Salem is actually in Hingham. Hingham! Their website proudly states that it was voted “Best of Salem/Beverly”, but, like supermarkets/malls/music venues, if you don’t have a car, you’re pretty much stuck for options. There are no vets, catteries, kennels or animal hospitals in Salem with a website, and the only place I could find where we could affordably get Kashmira spayed was called the Spay Waggin’, a travelling spaying…truck. Despite the fact that it’s a a legitimate program set up by the Animal Rescue League, it still sounds like some kind of tacky bestiality fetish club that Quentin Tarantino would make a movie about.

I am looking forward to visiting home this Christmas. I might just steal Rani and bring her back with me (the UK, the US and a few other countries are among a few places that allow you to travel with your pet without putting them in quarantine – unless they appear sick on arrival).

And she’s never had any health problems since the dental surgery. In fact, just the next day, she was already up and about, prancing like a lunatic, and doing that thing where she pretends to be scared and runs away, but when you turn your back, she punches you in the leg and gallops off with her cat laugh and her trilling battle cry. Here she is in attack mode:

She’s so FLUFFEH!!!11

Why Being an Immigrant in America Means Being Ripped Off by Everybody

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When you emigrate, your life inevitably changes. If you’ve been spoiled with certain human rights, government programs and relatively small levels of corruption, you’ll notice the change of quality in your life if you venture outside of that comfort zone. And I’m not talking about a few family members who took a year out to work and travel around parts of South Asia, or to volunteer in some fairly dangerous parts of Africa. I really just mean America.

I speak only from the point of view of an English-accented immigrant with an ethnicity that is not terribly obvious to the average Yank. Both of these combined suggest that I must clearly be some exotic oil baron’s child bride with money to burn, but it’s almost wholly about the accent. Southern English accents mean you get invited to Sunday high tea at Buckingham Palace and therefore mean you are rich. The con men don’t see you coming; they hear you coming.

Renting:

I am currently renting a furnished “apartment” with the following problems:

  • There is no kitchen. There is a bathroom, and a living room with a couch, and a dining table with a kettle and a microwave. If you use both at the same time, a fuse blows. The miniature refrigerator does not freeze anything and often doesn’t even close.
  • There is only one heat source – an old-fashioned furnace that only reaches half of the living room. My bedroom is on the other side of the “apartment”, meaning it has NO HEAT. At the time of writing, it gets as low as -1C at night.
  • I previously shared the “apartment” with a cat who would piss everywhere. Every day, on the couch (in the only warm room in the house), there would be a few huge piles of poo or half the cushion would be soaked in cat wee-wee. This was my landlady’s cat, and she had no problem running her hand over the urine-patch (to see if it was urine) and then hand me back my change from the rent I gave her.
  • My landlady only accepts cash, and refuses to let my name be on the mailbox, or even have mail delivered without having “c/o [her name]” preceding it.
  • The basement was completely submerged after a rainstorm a few weeks ago, and three days later, after all the neighbours had cleared out their basements, she still hadn’t done it (as a homeowner, she should have had a sump pump). Now, there is some weird-looking white stuff all over the basement. It’s a little strange that I got sick soon after with flu-like symptoms, and only, only when it rained. Mould allergies can develop after exposure to mould, which happens after something like, I don’t know…flooding. And those allergies become hellish each time it rains. It also doesn’t help if there’s no fucking HEAT in most of the “apartment”.
  • This “apartment” (sorry) is actually a converted attic. The bathroom has a powerful vent but no windows. The light sources are few and far between and most of the closet space is taken up by her own things.
  •  I share this whole place with another person. Including the tiny, dorm-sized fridge.
  • I pay a “reduced” rent of $800 per month.

Now, she’s a nice lady (when she feels like it), but she knows she is overcharging me. She sees me as a meek, waifish foreign Brit and therefore I must be completely oblivious to when I’m being overcharged for something. Little does she know that paying well over £500 per month to SHARE with someone is rare, even outside of London, and even if it’s furnished. I could live in Cardiff in a modern, furnished flat with a washing machine (and heat) for less than that. Even the above stats show that $800 is ridiculous for a room-share, even in a full apartment.

Searching for a roommate situation on Craigslist will turn up results in the range of $400-$600 per month, and for that you at least get an actual kitchen and privacy. There are also an unsettling aspect about living here that I’d rather not go into, but suffice it to say that if I hadn’t been a desperate immigrant with nowhere else to live, I would have hotfooted it out of there a while ago with a landlord-face-shaped mark on a baseball bat.

And the reason I had nowhere else to go? Because no-one will rent to you without:

  • a glowing reference check (UK references don’t count)
  • a glowing credit report (they can’t check a UK credit report)
  • income verification that your rent will not exceed 1/3 of your income (no job yet? jog on)
  • personal references (don’t know anyone in the US? Then you’re obviously a serial killer)

This is for an estate agent, meaning you are left to the wolves of the “apartments by owner” section on Craigslist. Trawl through scams, negotiate with slumlords and know for a fact that the bathroom ceiling that is “being renovated” will keep caving in every 2-3 months of your lease there. It is Cowboy Country. And it goes without saying – definitely don’t try to fix up something beforehand while you’re overseas. Either they’re a scam and will steal your money (even if they live locally), or they’ll think you’re a scam.

Employment

When you are an immigrant, it’s likely you won’t have a job when you get here. Even my father, a doctor, was told by the AMAthat he would have to arrive in the US and THEN get a job, whereas the GMC advised they would work with him to secure work (or at least a lead) before he arrived in the UK. So, he chose the UK (where, a few years later, I was born).

The best bet for fast work is recruitment agencies, but when you’re looking them up on Google, use the term “staffing agencies”. They are not like any agency in the UK. who are generally honest, take a relatively small commission from your salary and will see an end in sight for your temp assignment, in that you are either likely to go permanent after 3 months, or it was just a short-term role anyway.

Here? They post false job adverts “representative” of their job postings, interview you for the roles for which you’re not qualified, and when they finally do get you a job, they will take almost 3/4 of your income. And you will stay in that rich-poor middle ground for a very long time, listening to your c0-workers making jet-setting plans for the weekend and telling you you should go see a doctor when you’re sick, even though, as a temp, you do not have the free flu shots, cheap health insurance with great coverage and obscenely high pay that they do. But at least you can console yourself with the fact, because you do more work than they do, there is a certain comfort in being that stereotype for cheap, overworked foreign labour.

"That's preposterous! Zutroy here is as American as apple pie!"

Healthcare

I will never get tired of bitching about this one. Let’s say that you’re unwell, and you have a general idea of what’s wrong with you. In the UK, that often helps with accelerating a diagnosis, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of things. Here, you are put on an assembly line the moment you step in, and if you are dressed nicely enough, it’s clear that you are not just there to falsely obtain prescription drugs and they will place you in the “fast-track” process. It probably costs more, but either way you are still going to get that much-needed 20 seconds with a junior doctor/trainee vocational nurse. Do not be frightened if the hospital tries to sell you drugs, anyway – it’s just in their nature. Be flattered if they are trying to force the expensive ones on you because it means they think you are rich enough to afford it.

Just walking into a shop

Only in Salem could you walk into a barely-painted back room and be forced to contemplate the reality of fun but cheaply-printed hoodies being sold for $40, or a Christmas decoration that’s close to $30. They’re nice items, don’t get me wrong, but everything – everything – is so terribly, terribly expensive. I’d love to go local and buy a bath rug that looks no different than the $6 one in Target, but being forced to pay $35 for one is just taking the piss. Why? Because if you sound English, and dress English (even something like clearance New Look), you look like a tourist, and you are their slimy bread and butter.

And it doesn’t get any better when you go to the mall (the haven of mediocrity) – if you ask someone at say, Lush, for a good gift idea for a landlady you’ve only known for a few months, you will be directed to the $30-$40 gift boxes as opposed to the generic, safe-sounding, one-size-fits-all offerings. Why? Because you have an English accent.

Note that the accent does come in handy when popping into expensive department stores to use the bathroom, so make sure to posh it up somewhat extra. They won’t care that you have no intention of buying their overpriced Burberry imports and will be thankful that you graced the commodes with your Royal tinkles.

People Are Strange, When You’re Sick

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Today in the break room at work (which is so small that just two occupants have to shimmy like awkward pensioners on a first date just to make some coffee),  a co-worker who had previously been nice to me noticed I was still sick. He said, pretty sternly, “you shouldn’t be here.” I laughed it off and agreed, noting that I worked from home last weekend. He then said he was going to write a complaint to my manager.

WTF?!

And if THAT wasn’t ridiculous enough, he informed another person squishing into the room, “Watch out, she’s sick” and pointed at me. He then inched out of the room against the wall, narrating that he was trying to keep as far away from me as possible. Once he left, I attempted to make small talk with my fellow room sardine, but nothing was going to disguise my leperous shivering and bright red Ebola nose. The damage had been done.

I thought the other guy had been joking, which was why I was laughing it off (Brits = used to deadpan humor), but then I realized that this is the Land of the Charlie Sheen Was Somehow on The World’s Shittiest Sitcom for 7 years, so I quickly got to be simultaneously ashamed, embarrassed, upset and angry. So this is why this entire post will be littered with pictures of cute sick animals.

You see, being sick is considered a sign of being an undesirable, an untouchable. Whether it’s the an old adorable witch lady implying that my husband was of a weak mind to get a persistent cold (i.e. man flu), or toothless health insurance rejects in acid wash denim on the bus, sniffling, sneezing and coughing are an indication that you are simply just a lower quality human being.

In England, I had worked as a temp and had also had permanent (i.e. yearly contract retail) jobs. The only thing that really differentiated temp from perm is that you could be let go without any notice (and leave without giving notice), and the pay was weekly instead of monthly. Sick days and holidays (including bank holidays) were paid in full,  but for a temp job, if your second day is a bank holiday, you probably won’t get paid for it. Rule of thumb was that for every month you worked somewhere, you earned 1.5 days each of bank holiday and regular holiday.

The last time I called in sick, it was to do with a pretty bad  virus. I was off for about 3 weeks, but I received sick pay. I was still living with my parents, and I was able to trot off to see my GP who prescribed some antibiotics for £7.

Here? As a temp, you do not get paid for any time off. Yes, the office is closed next Thursday for that land-stealing-murdering celebration day, so I am not allowed to come into the office to work. So I don’t get paid. My agency even makes a point of stating in their literature “we do not compensate for bereavement time”. Wow. So of course they don’t pay for time off sick, referring to it as “time off”.

Everyone at work who insisted that I go home was a permanent employee. They had got their free flu jabs a few weeks earlier, and no-one appreciated the South Asian British monkey from Outbreak walking around infecting everyone the week before Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to admit that the difference between someone like them and someone like me is that if I go home to “recover” for a few days, those few days take a big fat chunk out of my pay packet and I wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy food to starve a fever. And not only would I be out of pocket for the lost earnings, but I’d have to pay several hundred dollars for a two-minute doctor consultation, pointless blood tests and eventually, eventually, a $300-odd packet of the wrong type of antibiotic.

Meaning I’m basically out two weeks’ pay for being sick and staying home to “recover”.

So what other choice do I have? I have to turn up and face these looks of scorn from people who never have and never will be a temp. Healthcare here is a fucking privilege, apparently.

My manager and I were chatting about what it’s like in the UK. He was shocked that I didn’t have health insurance and considered it a huge gamble on my health. I did explain that I never had any health problems – not even allergies – and that, even now, in my 30s, I still don’t need to be on any kind of medication for anything.  I regaled him with legends of standardized 7-quid prescription charges, free doctor visits and the time my poor little brother had to undergo major surgery within days of diagnosis, all paid for by the NHS, by we the taxpayers.

I’m glad he understood that it’s just one of the major culture shocks for me, but I shouldn’t have to feel like a fucking leper every time I fill a bin to overflow with tissues. I lied to a few people and said “oh, it’s probably just allergies, they say you can get them at any time, especially when you emigrate”, but I doubt anyone was buying it. I looked like boiled shit.

It’s unfair that such a social divide exists based just on what is, in other countries, a basic human need and a basic human right. How can a labor department allow employment legislation that encourages sick people to come into work and spread their germs through an air-conditioned, air-recycled office, because they literally cannot AFFORD to be sick? The best I’ve heard is that you don’t have to worry about losing your job or falling behind on work, but, basically, if you got sick, it’s your OWN fault. Not a system that discourages people from looking after their health.

My agency, while very sympathetic, advised me that if I was worried about being off work for long periods of time, I could go on unemployment (something I never even did in the UK). I wanted to email back to let her know that, as an immigrant, I cannot be a public charge (i.e. go on welfare program) like that, much in the same way that I can’t just go on a low-cost state-funded health insurance program (as a colleague had suggested). So what the fuck are my options supposed to be?

I can hibernate under a blanket all I want, but it is not going to change the fact that I signed up for a much lower quality of life when I emigrated to America. I am so used to my own government looking after me that I’m now considering going to medical school when I win the lottery, just so that I can stay informed on and maintain my own health. Because if you’re an immigrant who can’t afford health insurance, not only are you going to be heavily fined by the government (it’s mandatory in MA to have health insurance), but you also can’t take advantage of the “low-cost” health insurance options. Bafflingly, there is no inbetween – either you can afford to pay $600 per month or you get welfare handouts. If you can’t do either, then you’re fucked.

This is why you read so many stories about ghetto bodegas selling antibiotics without prescriptions, so some random twat with a cold can waltz in thinking that Trimethroprim will make their nose stop running. And when they finally get a UTI or kidney infection, it’ll be a puzzling dilemma when those specifically-targeting antibiotics will be completely fucking useless. Add sites like Yahoo! Answers and Web MD, and everyone’s an qualified doctor.

So because I can’t afford to ask my doctor about [insert most recent drug advertised on TV], I get to be a living exhibit of how sick people are useless, draining anomalies and should just be left to die. Same goes for disabled people – if you are an amputee or have a functioning larynx in a customer service call center, or have ever, ever, ever had any history of depression (which is the same type of  workforce liability as paedophilia or serial killing), you had better jog on. And if you can’t because you’ve got no legs, then fuck you, you should probably just hurry up and die, because you’re so useless to society.

On my way to work this morning, I looked out of the window of my shuttle bus and saw a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair struggling to push herself up the steep pathway. She had to use her walking stick to give herself leverage and use her clearly painful legs to manoeuvre. No-one bothered helping her at all,and this was a shuttle bus stop that not only served my company’s shuttle, but one to a very big hospital. They just watched her. Fucking assholes.

It’s a difficult decision for me to stay home tomorrow, but I’m really only doing it out of shame and embarrassment doled out by the permanent employees whose cringed faces I have to see every time I come near them. I will never get over this culture shock of being forced to have complete disregard for my own health like this. When you’re sick, you really and truly are alone over here. No-one has any clue what they’re talking about and there are absolutely no resources available to help you. Luckily to get myself well soon, I have lots of English tea, Pot Noodles, Toffee Crisps and a picture of some cute cats:

Failing that, I could just wait until I get home for Christmas and just go see my GP, from whom I have every right to receive free care. And I didn’t even have to be the British-born British citizen I am to benefit from it.

Welcome To America; Just Don’t Get Sick Here.

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A few weeks ago, my husband had a tooth infection and had to go to the emergency room.

The pain was so bad that I couldn’t comprehend why he had just put off going. He wasn’t a child (although his appetite and intelligence suggest otherwise), so it’s not like any teeth that would fall out were going to grow back.

We took a cab ride to the hospital, then checked in at reception, who told us to wait in a grim-looking seating area with weird-smelling seats and a giant tank full of angry, bitter, fighting fish. Even they didn’t want to be here.

We then went into a tiny Triage-type room that was actually for “registration”, where they asked if we had health insurance. No…we don’t. A non-doctor, non-nurse looking prepubescent with a clipboard asked a few standardised questions (what is it with you people and the standardised tests?), then told us to wait in an adjacent room. Someone resembling slightly more of a medical professional started asking a few more questions, took my husband’s blood pressure and again asked us if we had health insurance.

We were then merrily advised that we were eligible to be put into the “Fast Track” lane. Wow. What did we have to do for that? Turn up when no-one else was there? Why is it Fast Track? Did we win a prize? What about the fish?

no, none of the fish looked like this. but the fights would have been cooler.

About half an hour later we finally got to go through another set of doors and play another round of Soporific Musical Chairs. Another tweener in last season’s Juicy pink velour knock-off tracksuit asked us if we had health insurance and I was beginning to wonder what the hell they kept writing on all those fucking clipboards.

After waiting for another 15-20 minutes, someone who might have been a doctor (but never formally identified himself) came out to brutally inject some anaesthetic into my husband’s gums for an incision after lying to him that it wasn’t really going to hurt much. He then left him with a hollowed-out PEZ dispenser to suck out the underlying pus, blood, saliva and blood from his tooth.

Pink velour tracksuit chav girl came back out with another new person who also asked us whether or not we had health insurance. Resisting the urge to smack her in the nuts, I advised her that we didn’t, but her job of clearly avoiding the related paperwork was meant to be much easier by advising me that we could get on a few state health plans.

It was then that we both told her that, as I am an immigrant, I am not entitled to go on any of those state-funded plans, because I cannot be a public charge. This also applies to my husband, which prompted her to brain-fart out “Wow, yeah, you’re the second or third person who’s said that this week”.

Although I wasn’t surprised that she was clearly unable to distinguish between the numbers two and three over the course of 7 days, it was still shocking that she couldn’t seem to perform this clearly minute, granular, one-note job she had, which was knowing her shit about health insurance plans. Because if she didn’t know this, then how were we supposed to know?

There is nowhere you can go to get any decent information on something like this. I wonder how many immigrants (legal, illegal, out of status etc) know that they are not eligible to go on these kind of programs. I haven’t tested what happens, so I don’t know if I would get “caught out” for even applying to them, but it seems that the only information that I can get has been from my immigration lawyer. Why is that? Are USCIS just waiting for people like me to make one wrong move and then they’re out?

The fact is, I was spoiled by growing up in a country with generous benefits systems, but I was lucky enough to never have the need to use them.  But there I was surprised that, even though I knew I wasn’t getting free healthcare, but that there was nowhere for me to go (like NHS Direct or CAB) to just get…information.

My thoughts on having to pay for healthcare could be an under-edited novel in itself. So for now, I’d rather focus on the quality of what I’m supposed to be paying for. I’m used to getting value for money, in fact, very much value for very little money. So when I pay the following:

  • $300 for antibiotics
  • $149 for a doctor’s consultation

I expect the following:

  • correct antibiotics that work
  • more than 2 minutes of doctor-patient time compared to the 4 hours spent in the hospital

I don’t want to pull out (heh) the “I studied Biomedical Science and was raised by a fastidious doctor-type parent” card, but most of this should be common sense. On one of my first visits here, I was battling a a bad cold that had clearly developed into a secondary chest infection (green glowing yellowy phlegm), and I told reception/registration/triage as such.

It didn’t matter. They ignored any mention of my travel insurance or my offer to fetch up my medical history, and forced me to do the following:

  • blood test
  • urine test
  • blood pressure
  • doctor’s consultation

If I had gone through with chest x-rays or any of the other tests they’d suggested, my bill would have been much larger than it was. It doesn’t matter if you know you don’t need a urine test or a blood test – they are not going to “treat” you if you don’t do as they say.

And what happened? After spending hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket, it turned out they had in fact prescribed me the wrong type of antibiotic. Spending nearly $300 on Doxycycline for a chest infection.

10 excruciating days later, I went back home, saw my GP and got the correct prescription for twice the amount of Amoxycillin tablets for £6.99. Cleared up in 4 days, good as new.

I’ve been lucky, because certain other things would have bankrupted me. I’ve never been in a serious accident, I don’t have any chronic illnesses (I never even take paracetamol, really) and I have no allergies. But imagine I was in a car accident and had to take an ambulance. Do you know that would cost me?

Around $700.

Granted, losing your life costs more, but to be living in a developed country that puts such a hefty price tag on something like this is appalling. Ambulances are typically only used in life-threatening emergencies, or something as urgent as going into labour. How can someone be made to think, “My 11 year-old in septic shock isn’t that young to die from her condition instantly, but she might not be old enough to survive the 40-minute drive in rush-hour traffic”.

So what’s the alternative? Just don’t bother thinking about it? It seems that you really and truly are on your own when it comes to healthcare over here, unless you latch onto a partner who already has it, or get it as a “benefit” through your employer. So I guess this is why I’m constantly running into people on the bus/train who have half their teeth missing, are talking to themselves for lack of mental health care, or just generally look like the wrong side of death.

It does make me wonder why something so fundamentally important isn’t as free as, say….banking. And I know it’s because health providers, healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical companies can’t profit in the same way as banks do. They have to make their money somewhere, and picking out possibly-rich-looking-posh-sounding people like me is an excellent way to do it.

When my husband got his antibiotic prescription, they forced him to take two whole pills of Vicodin. Yep, that stuff that tons of celebrities are addicted to. He said outright that he didn’t want it, but she said he “couldn’t leave” without taking it. When we got home, he was anxious, irritable, nervous and had to go for a walk. At 1am. He took half a dose the next morning and refused to take the rest.

After a few weeks of work, I’m now eligible to receive health insurance as a “benefit” (i.e. not an intrinsic human right) to stop myself from dying. I still have to pay for it though, and the state in which I live (Massachusetts) imposes yearly fines on people who do NOT have health insurance. That’s right – if you don’t pay for health insurance, you will pay even more in fines!

My best practice is to try not to be sick in the first place, or stop myself from getting sicker. I’ve already nipped one persistent cold in the bud, but now I have to face another, thanks to commuters who don’t cover their mouths when coughing, and co-workers who don’t wash their fucking hands after going to the toilet.

I tend to eat what I crave to stave things off (and no that does not include ice cream, unless you want to add to that ball of phlegm in the back of your throat). Things like real fruit ice lollies, orange juice, chocolate-covered pretzels, tomato pasta, spicy Quorn curry and…egg drop soup:

Egg Drop Soup (1-2 servings)

2 eggs

pepper

soy sauce

water

vegetable stock

cornstarch (add gradually to get the consistency you want)

Bring water to a boil, stick the rest in, and KEEP STIRRING the egg for as long as humanly possible until long strings start to develop. It may look like a cyclone farted in the cosmos, but it really is delicious. Keep an eye on it and don’t overcook. The cornstarch should thicken it, and the end result resembles something a bit like chicken and sweetcorn soup.  You can add a bunch of spices, but this is the one my mother made me when I was sick. Great, now I’m homesick (again) as well as actually sick. A-choo.