Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pain Management and Elevator Music

Shoshana recently started a stage of chemo called Delayed Intensification. In some ways, this stage is considered to be the most difficult, the most intense. Not only does she have four chemo drugs that she has seen before, including frequent vincristine, she gets a new one called cytarabine which causes a lot of nausea. After the first day (Friday) in which she got three chemos, including vincristine, her pain once again got out of control. We brought her back to the hospital on Monday morning because we couldn't give her any more pain medicine despite her obvious discomfort. And the pain medicine we have been using for a while wasn't working as well as it used to.

I told the team that the plan had to change or she wasn't getting any more vincristine. Unfortunately, that would mean a much higher chance of relapse, but she would not be the first case that simply could not tolerate the side effects of vincristine. After many conferences with the chemo team and the pain team we decided there was another option: we increased her gabapentin sharply for three days around the second weekly dose of vincristine (and other drugs, but the big problem is vincristine).

And, as we all know, she doesn't tolerate medications like most people...

We realized she was "off" when she didn't sleep most of Saturday night. Thinking back she had begun shivering the night before complaining of being cold. The on-call fellow said to bring her in to the ER for possible gabapentin toxicity. Once she got there, however, they decided it might be sepsis instead. Her temperatures had been normal, labs were normal, blood cultures wouldn't come back for a few more days. Since there was very little to do at that point other than go back to the lower dosage of gabapentin they sent her home. She was pretty hyper all that day and didn't sleep from 10am to 10pm until I gave her a small dose of melatonin (per Dr.'s orders). She has been doing relatively well since then; the insomnia has resolved and the hyperactivity has made way for a more "normal," silly, super-active Shoshana. Which generally means she is feeling good.

Oh, and that ER visit was the first time I was at work while anything new was going on with Shoshana. I was on my phone a lot. But I somehow still managed to see a lot of patients.

Other than the gabapentin toxicity this last weekend went rather well. Her pain was generally a secondary issue to whatever else was going on. We are hopeful that with a tweak of the gabapentin dosage she will have decent pain control this weekend without going all hyper and insomnolent for a few days. By the way, the typical reaction to too much gabapentin is sleepiness. The same goes for Benadryl but she reacts to that with hyperactivity too.

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Operation: Harass the Insurance Company

On a related note, we have been working with a second home health agency to take our case since the first is a rather small company which is having difficulty filling our needs. I found out on Thursday that the second agency's petition to be an exception to the "in network" rule was denied.

Now... why is the claim denied? Because someone didn't do their job.

I was on the phone with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois off and on Thursday and Friday trying to get things figured out. Bouncing around departments, many minutes on hold, lots of phone tag and I thought I understood the problem. They somehow got the idea that there were 40 other home health agencies to choose from in my network. I heard that and nearly choked. I doubt there is a 25 mile radius in the United States, let alone the world, that has that many home health agencies, let alone that will take pediatrics, let alone Shoshana's complicated case. Not only that, the request was filed several weeks ago, at least one week before our main day shift nurse put in her three weeks notice. By this time she was doing her last shift and most of the next week was not covered due to her absence. How did it take that long to be denied in the first place?

I tried in vain to motivate the insurance people to make this a top priority because when I don't have a nurse I have to use an ambulance for transport and Shoshana will be admitted quicker and discharged slower without a home health nurse.  This is expensive, people! How is getting a nurse on the case not a priority!

They do nothing.

Monday rolls around and I'm on the phone from 9am to 4pm either on hold, talking to someone, bouncing around departments or waiting no more than an hour for a call back. Oh, and in the middle of this saga our case manager nurse decides to stop answering my calls or responding to my voicemails. Thanks for nothing Marie.

By the time the business day is coming to a close Marie's supervisor FINALLY understands what I'm asking of her (she got hung up on a separate issue) and says I need to talk to a totally different department but now it's too late. And I snapped. What I'm trying is not working and now you're putting my daughter at risk! I had gotten the impression earlier that day that they were not interested in doing their job so I had to do their job to find out the truth about why the "out of network" claim was denied. I asked her to write this down and make sure it is forwarded to the complaints department. I also gave myself permission to use some colorful language if I thought it would help to get my point across.

Did you know that there are 44 other home health agencies in my area? I didn't. Neither did my agencies. Because they don't exist. Because someone at your company just punched numbers into their search engine, saw there were 44 hits, and denied the claim. Never mind the fact that some of the hits aren't even home health agencies. Never mind that there were many entries for the same company (four for Gentiva, seven for Multicare, for example). Never mind that THEY DON'T TAKE PEDIATRIC PATIENTS! Out of 44 hits I made 22 phone calls. Some of them only did visiting nurse services such as infusions or wound care, one of them no longer exists, several of the phone numbers on the search engine were wrong so I had to find the numbers myself, and almost all of them don't take peds. Not only that, none of them could suggest an agency that does take peds! My search brought up two relevant hits. One agency is in Bremerton. As in, across the Puget Sound. You need a ferry. To make a two hour commute. I know this because I almost went there a few times for work. The second one is in West Seattle. But do we really have to start the process from scratch when we've already made so much progress with Alliance? They have a nurse waiting to take our case! In the meantime you are putting my daughter at risk for serious complications and you are putting your own pocketbooks at risk! How are you not motivated to fix this? Why am I doing your job?

I unload my chest and took a breath.

I thank her for taking that down then tell her that I expect a call from that relevant department first thing in the morning. That means 6:30am my time. I don't care. This has to be fixed!

They don't call.

Once the heckticness of the morning dies down I call the supervisor again. Miracle of miracles, the out of network request has been reopened and bundled with the review of "medical necessity" already scheduled with the medical director. So if the medical director decides that Shoshana does still need regular home nursing then they will automatically approve Alliance to do some of that work. Hallelujah! It's totally going to be approved, by the way. I'm sure we're going to have several of these medical necessity reviews simply because Shoshana's is a complicated, expensive case. Just for reference: by the time Shoshana came home in December from her three month inpatient saga her care cost just under $1 million.

Let's summarize: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois worked on a case for four weeks, came to a half-assed assessment of the situation, and didn't follow up with anyone. I called constantly for three days before finally getting to the right people, asking exactly the right questions, listening to them repeat themselves over and over again, redirecting their thought processes, and pushing our issue through to the medical director. Oh, and listening to their poor excuse for on-hold music.

BCBS: 0
Me: 298578384846390240

After all of this I feel like I've been in a three day wrestling match and I have the worst elevator music stuck in my head. It was lame, cliche, pathetic, without pride. It looped every three minutes with three unrelated fragments. This could be used as a torture device. It nearly made me hang up from the sheer pain of it.

Enough of that. Let's listen to little girls laughing. Abi had been carrying around Shoshana's "stomp shoes" most of the day and was getting very angry when it wouldn't stay on her foot. So mom put them on and the girls are super cute!... and then Shoshana throws up. This stuff happens really fast. But let's just laugh at the girls for now.


1 comment:

  1. Those shoes are rad. And the girls are so cute! Loved seeing Shoshana crawling around on the floor like a normal kid!

    Sounds like you've been through some rough stuff the last few weeks. I'm really glad you unloaded on that nurse--probably did you some good! And this is a good result too. Hoping there are no more speed bumps between you and your new home health carer!

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