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Shingles Left Me Nearly Blind and Changed My Life Forever.

By: Christine T., Pinellas County

When I was younger, I didn’t believe the stories I heard about elderly people having to choose between buying groceries or medicine. I’m only 49 years old, but now I find myself in that exact situation.

In 2012 my grandson came to live with me and we both qualified for Medicaid. In 2014 my husband was approved for Social Security Disability, and I was suddenly dropped from Medicaid. They told me that it was because they counted his Social Security income as family income. So I went back to work so that I could pay for my migraine medications. I suffer from severe migraines and can’t work without my medicine. However, as a low wage worker my entire paycheck went to cover my medications. Ten pills cost me $120. When the prices of my medications went up, I tried to sign up for Obamacare, but there were no doctors in my area that would accept it. So that left me without health insurance.

In 2018, out of the blue, I got Shingles. It took doctors a while to diagnose me because I had a rare form called Ocular Shingles, or Shingles in the eye. I’d just received my income tax refund which is the only way I was able to afford the medications they prescribed. The eye drops were $400, and the pills were $200. I didn’t even know you could get Shingles in the eye, but the illness nearly destroyed my life.

My vision was great before all of this. Now, I’m nearly blind, and there are days where I can’t see at all. Other days it feels like I’m seeing the world through a pinhole. My quality of life has totally changed. I can’t be around bright lights. I’ve developed iritis in both eyes—which is like arthritis. I have no peripheral vision and was in a car accident because it’s hard to see. Doctors have hinted that I need to have surgery to repair my vision. But I don’t have the money to see a specialist. They also want me to have a CT scan, but it costs thousands of dollars which I don’t have.

You would think that after all this suffering I’m in the clear with Shingles. Well, I wish. I can get Shingles again and I’m terrified! People over 50 have the highest risk for getting Shingles. They can get a vaccine shot at their local pharmacy. Well, I’m 49 so I don’t qualify for the low cost, pharmacy vaccine. Instead I need to see a doctor and get a set of two shots which costs $1,300. Even the vaccine is out of reach.

Before this illness, I had good credit. Now I have unpaid hospital bills due to my visits to the Emergency Room. The Emergency Room visit are a joke. They can’t give me the help that I really need. Instead they would stabilize me and send me out the door with referrals to see specialists. Specialists I can’t afford to see. My vision is so bad that I can’t go back to work. I applied for Medicaid but have not gotten notice yet. I finally gave in and went to see a disability attorney, and they are helping me.

I think it’s a human right to have health care. It’s horrible that they didn’t expand Medicaid in our state. It’s better to have Medicaid than no insurance at all because they will cover medications and doctors’ visits. Through this I’ve learned that anything can happen to anybody. Anybody can have a medical emergency. It’s all overwhelming and scary to be without health insurance. Now they are talking about this virus. There has to be a better system.

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