Heh. Another morning of fun dealing with the Ministry of Social Services, or whatever they're called now.
I discovered two days ago when I bit into something that I have something wrong with a tooth.
Admittedly, my dental hygiene is not top-notch. I see dentists every few years at best - particularly since 2009, as I have had no regular income. I generally brush my teeth two or three times a day, but flossing is a pain in the ass. I don't have an especially high-sugar diet, and I get a fair bit of calcium - through yoghurt and through carbonated water, which contains the substance - but I know from past experience that this standard of care is insufficient; in addition to my wisdom teeth surgeries, I have had three root canals and one extraction - a molar that would have been quite expensive to crown but quite cheap to get pulled. I elected to do the latter. I figure I only have another thirty or forty years on the planet, at best, and can afford to lose a tooth or two along the way. Of course, in the weeks after any major procedure, reminded of the pain and discomfort and consequences of neglect, I make an effort to improve my mouth-care, but inevitably the standard slips. Some days I may forget to brush at all...
Anyhow, two days ago I had fairly severe tooth pain, emanating from a lower left molar, where I have previously lost one tooth and had two root canals. This morning I called the dentist's office and set up an appointment. I inquired if they knew anything about funding options - I have a very limited income, basically amounting to whatever freelance work I can scrounge, the odd shift at a used bookstore, and what my Mom pitches in. If I need a root canal or an extraction, it's going to be expensive.
The people at the dentist's office didn't really know much about these matters, but directed me to talk to the Medical Services Plan people.
I phoned MSP. I navigated their system - fifteen minutes wasted until I could talk to a person. Nada. They don't cover dental work, in any circumstance. Call welfare.
I have had previous issues with welfare. Though the last few years have been lean, I've been scraping by without their help. It's involved sinking back into debt and exhausting the money Mom and I had been living on, while I look after her, but dealing with them hurts my pride too much. Still, who knows, maybe they have a system in place to help low-income people who need dental work? No one else seems to (somewhere in there I phoned my doctor's office, and they also didn't have any other suggestions).
The Ministry's number, should you choose to call it, is 1-866-866-0800. They have perhaps the most arcane automated system that you can imagine, which is made worse insofar as my phone - a smartphone that I got on tab, when my old, much loved Samsung Intensity finally bit the dust - doesn't particularly like automated systems. Sometimes, when I press a number, the key - which isn't even a real key, just a number on a screen - weirdly sticks and generates a long tone. And even when I could get my phone to behave, the run-around is really quite frustrating. I would guess I spent 40 minutes just trying to get a person on the line that I could speak with - press this button, press that button, press pound to return to the original menu, press nine to go to the previous menu. Finally, I find myself in queue to talk to a real! live! person!- can't say how I did it; I wasn't expecting it to happen, it certainly wasn't a "to speak to an agent" function, since they don't have one of those. Anyhow, excited that I would soon be off the line, so I can get back to the work I'm supposed to be doing this morning, I set my phone on speaker so at least I can use my hands while I wait. Canned music plays.
Suddenly - ring, ring, and - "good morning, this is Judy."
"Good morning, Judy!" I say. I pick up the phone and press the key to take it off the speaker, so we can hear each other better. A long beep generates, one of these aforementioned smartphone/ stupidphone glitches. I say, "oh, Jesus - hang on a second" - because we can still hear each other - and look to see what I can do to stop this tone, but after about one second - as the tone subsides - I hear a click on the line.
She's hung up on me.
I think I actually laughed aloud.
Okay, so much for the phone option: I get dressed, truck down to the ministry office nearest me. I do NOT like going in there, and I do NOT want to apply for welfare benefits, but I want to know if there's any option in this circumstance; if there is, I might swallow my pride and take it, because money is scarce and dentistry expensive and my tooth hurts. Usually there are long lines and clusters of some seriously disenfranchised people - people with addiction issues, missing limbs, the very poor. It is not a scene I feel comfortable in. But I'm relatively lucky - there are only a few people in the office this afternoon. There are two people at the desk, talking to a receptionist. There is an old man standing, facing the reception desk. There is another window free, with a woman seated at it, but she is not looking at him. There is no number to be taken. I am not 100% sure if I am supposed to stand in line behind the old guy or not. Maybe he is just standing there? Maybe he's already been dealt with? If he is waiting in line, why is no one acknowledging him?
I look around, can see no signs addressing us to do anything else, so I wait in the line that may not be a line. The old guy stinks of tobacco. Dum-de-dum.
Eventually, the woman at the screen gets up and leaves and another woman takes her place. The new woman sits at the computer. She also doesn't acknowledge the old man. Minutes pass. Someone comes in and gets in line behind me. I consider turning to him and saying, "for the record, I'm not actually sure this is a lineup." But I don't.
We stand there. I study the hairs sprouting from the old guy's ears. There's a sign on the wall that says the office is scent-free, and I contemplate the irony, given the reek wafting from his pores. Eventually, the woman at the desk looks up, acknowledges the oldster, and he steps forward.
He explains that he has just applied online for benefits - something I am pretty sure was not an easy process for him, since he looks old, poor, and kind of rural. I wonder about that - now that all applications are submitted online, how exactly do people with no computer skills apply for benefits?
I hear the woman at the desk tell him there will be a phone call in a few days. He is told to wait for it. Good luck, I think. Next!
I step up. I explain my circumstance. I am not presently a client. I have a very painful tooth. I have limited income. MSP say they can't help, but I need to get this dealt with ASAP. What are my options?
Rather to my surprise, my throat constricts as I explain all this and I find myself in the odd position of crying and being angry at the same time. But I ignore it, and press forward. Just pretend I'm not in this state, okay?
The woman does a good job of that, and explains that there are no options for people in my circumstances. I can apply for benefits. It takes at least four weeks. There are no emergency options for medical need. If I am deemed eligible to receive benefits, I will be covered, but that process, as I know, takes time. I can apply online - her hand fingers the little slip of paper that they give you with the Ministry URL on it.
I'm in pain, I explain, and can't wait, so if I get the surgery done now, and pay for it - will they reimburse?
And there's no way to get fast-tracked so I can get this taken care of?
Despite my agitation, I more or less keep my temper until she says, as we near the end of the transaction, in her neutral, officious way, "I understand your frustration." No, I really do not think you do. After I (kinda) storm out, I consider going back in to apologize to her, afterwards, because I'm sure her position isn't an easy one, either - it's not a job *I* would want - but she has to understand that getting a bit angry is the only way I can sort of compensate for the pride lost by having gone in there in the first place.
I will scrape by. There's enough money at hand to cover an X-ray. There are payment options available at the dentist's office - dental surgery on the installment plan. Not the best start to the day...