How One Construction Worker Deals with Injuries Without Insurance

Walter White is a 40-year-old construction worker, and that’s not his real name. He doesn’t have health insurance, and hasn’t for years. We spoke recently about how that’s worked out for him.

Logan Sachon: You do construction work.
Walter White: Yeah, I’m an independent contractor, a mercenary, ha. I do everything. Some plumbing, some electric, any kind of construction, really.

LS: Which is a physical job.
WW: Oh yeah. I get hurt all the time. I get cut all the time. If I get cut, I use electrical tape, the glue seems to kill stuff, and it’s way cheaper than bandaids. Sometimes I’ll use those butterfly stitches if I need to, and then I’ll also use an antibiotic ointment. I get cut constantly. I’ve never stitched myself, though I did superglue a cut once.

LS: How’d that work out?
WW: Good. Healed up.

LS: How long have you been without insurance?
WW: I haven’t had insurance for six years. I had it for four years, and I didn’t have it for nine years before that.

LS: When you had it, did you use it?
WW: No. Never used it when I had it. Never needed to. Never got hurt, never got sick, never got a physical.

LS: Why didn’t you get a physical?
WW: Why would I? If nothing’s bothering me, I figure that’s good enough. There’s no limit to the amount of tests you could have run on your body. Sound like fun to you? You like tests?

Last week I had an infected hangnail, it was swollen with pus, and I had to open and drain that.

LS: Uh, isn’t that unsafe?
WW: It was already infected! I drained it with a hypodermic needle, which I didn’t have for drugs, I have never injected drugs, but I found out awhile ago that they’re the best thing for popping things. Though I also learned that you should never pop a burn blister.

LS: How’d you learn that?
WW: At the time I was emptying a pot of spaghetti water, boiling water, and my sink was filled with dishes so I decided to empty it into the toilet and some splashed on my foot. I was wearing these thick socks and so it took a second to take them off and by that point my foot was totally scalded. I got this blister on my whole foot and up my ankle, and I popped that. And that’s when I learned you don’t pop blisters.

LS: What happened?
WW: It took forever to heal. I couldn’t wear a shoe for long time. Had to miss work. But that was before, when I didn’t research on the internet. I just wanted to pop it because it was so big and uncomfortable. But it hurt a lot worse after I did. So that’s my health tip: If your burn blisters, let the blister stay there. But that wasn’t even the worst.

LS: That sounds pretty bad.
WW: The worst was, I used to wear kung fu slippers to work, which I now know was stupid. My boss should have never let me on the job site wearing those. I shouldn’t have worn them. But I was doing ladder work one day, drilling holes in this steel beam, flexing my feet. And I got off work and went to happy hour and was totally fine. But in the morning, I got out of bed and and fell on my face. I couldn’t walk at all, couldn’t put any weight on my feet, it so painful. Turns out I had plantar fasciitis, which is when tissue on the bottom of your foot is inflamed.

LS: How’d you figure that out?
WW: How do you think I figured it out? The internet. The internet is my doctor.

LS: Do you have a certain site you use?
WW: I don’t have one site I go to. I probably spent 30 hours researching the symptoms and reading boards and posts, to confirm what I had and what to do.

LS: So what did you do?
WW: I had to stay off my feet for a month until they healed. It was really bad. I couldn’t work at all, basically had to just stay off my feet completely. That was terrible pain.

After that I got kind of a boot fetish. I bought like 8 pairs boots, trying to find ones with the best arch support.

LS: How’d you live during that time, without working? Did you have savings?
WW: My boss gave me some money because I wasn’t working. I didn’t do workman’s comp or anything. He just gave me some money to get by.

LS: Was there a treatment? Exercises you could do?
WW: No my feet just had to heal on their own. But when I tore my rotator cuff in a karaoke accident, I did a therapeutic exercise from the internet.

LS: Karaoke accident?
WW: It was kind of a stunt fall.

LS: So how do you treat a torn rotator cuff on your own.
WW: My whole treatment was based on the internet, and I ordered all my drugs from India. I used a pain pill that I learned about from a guy in Turkey.

LS: How much did it cost?
WW: Ordering from India was cheap. It was like $30 compared to $300.

LS: Do you go to the dentist?
WW: No. Once I busted my tooth in half. I knew my boss’s husband was a dentist, so I went to him. Instead of capping it he made a sculpture out of composite that he put on it. He charged me ten bucks. And last month I scratched my cornea, but my landlord is an optometrist and he took care of it for free. It’s all about connections, Logan. The more friends you make the more doctors you’ll know.

LS: Why don’t you go to the county clinic, or the free clinic?
WW: I go to the free clinics for venereal diseases only. I’ve just had chlamydia twice. But I do get tested, yes. It’s been years, but I’m a monogamist. The last time I got an HIV test the guy sat down and was like, “We’ll, I’m sorry to tell you, the test is negative.” I could have killed him.

LS: I don’t believe that happened.
WW: Why would I make that up.

LS: Well than that was extremely unprofessional. That’s never happened to me and I’ve never heard of that happening. And I have friends who administer HIV tests, and they’re always professional, trained.
WW: I’m sure they are. But he was giving me a dose of my kind of humor, so I took it.

LS: So are you worried about getting sick? Like, really sick?
WW: That’s the other thing about not having insurance. You can’t be a hypochondriac. You’ve gotta trust in your body to take care of yourself. I personally know people who are always looking for something that might be wrong with them. I’m kind of doing the opposite of hypochondria. Just trying to keep a positive mental attitude. I figure that will help my health. I’m living in la la land. (laughs)

LS: You do workout, in addition to your job.
WW: Yeah I do yoga everyday, for mind and body. Preventative care.

LS: But you also drink a lot.
WW: Life is full of contradictions.

LS: I know there has been some cancer in your family. Is that something you think about it?
WW: I’ve thought about it. I”m thinking about it now that you mention it, but I’m not worried about it. I’m not worried about it at all. Worry is a man with a hung head carrying a sack full of feathers he thinks is lead.

LS: What is that from?
WW: An ex-girlfriend’s dad told it to me, but it goes way back. I don’t know how far back it goes.

LS: What would you do if you had persistent stomach pain?
WW: Research on the internet. Change my diet. It would take a lot to get me to the hospital.

LS: Has your family tried to get you to go to the doctor?
WW: Sure. Lots of people have.

LS: But you don’t go.
WW: Why would I. Like I said, there are an infinite number of tests. Why start. But people should do what they want to do. I don’t make any judgments on what anyone else does. Some people probably can use medical care.

LS: What if you could get insurance for free or low cost?
WW: Of course I’d accept free insurance. Low cost would have to be pretty low cost since I’m pretty much broke right now. And I’m sort of living off the grid right now. My income is not steady. Sometimes I have a bunch of money and sometimes I have no money. I don’t want to have a boss and I don’t want to work for anybody but myself and a client, a client’s enough. I could take my old job back, but I don’t want it. I think I could do better on my own, ultimately. Once you’re committed to working for someone, you don’t have the same opportunity to do things on your own. You won’t have the time.

LS: Do you have anything else to say about health?
WW: I just wish everybody the best health. Good health and good luck to everyone. And we’re all going to die.

LS: Well, yes. But some sooner than others.
WW: Oh I totally agree. Can’t argue with that statement.

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