My right knee has been singing sad songs for a few months. The song keeps getting sadder…. a knee full of Sarah McLaughlin melancholy.

I finally accepted I would have to visit one of the local free clinics to see if they could assist me getting the surgery I need – knee replacement. 

Before looking for help at a free clinic, I tried to find an orthopedic surgeon who accepts Medicare patients and, as you know, I have been unsuccessful.

I soon learned that I am an unprepared and uninformed traveler in the world of Medicare. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

(Courtesy of Stephen Rhymer)

Before heading to the free clinic, I called the toll-free Medicare phone number to find out if there is a list of doctors who accept Medicare assignment. 

As expected, I got the prerecorded announcement and list of options, and I was put on hold. More than 14 minutes later, I was awakened by a live voice. I asked where I could find a list of doctors who took Medicare. The operator said she had no idea. She recommended calling doctors in my town till I found one.

Oy vey. 

So, back to the free clinics. Most clinics are geared toward the basics. You are in particular luck if you are a child or pregnant. I am neither. But after a few phone calls, I found one that might be able to help.

Before leaving the house, I said a prayer and meditated to get in the right frame of mind for this ad­ven­ture. 

Didn’t work.

It took about 15 minutes to drive to the clinic and a good 40 minutes for me to screw up enough courage to go inside. 

I never expected to be in this place. I thought about what my parents would say if they knew I had been reduced to free clinics and food stamps. What would my friends and colleagues think of me?

I no longer have any of the American Dream things my parents wanted for me and said I could have. I am so ashamed for letting my life become so pathetic, so desperate, so needy, so dependant other people and, worst of all, the public dole. 

Anyway. I took a deep breath and walked inside. And stopped dead in my tracks.

Take an image of any hospital emergency room at night or on weekends, then multiply it by 10. Sick children, sick adults, sick seniors, all with one thing in common – no health insurance. And all heavy with hopelessness. 

I checked in at the desk, filled out paperwork and sat down. Expecting a long wait, I brought a book with me: Ram Dass’s “How May I Help.” The title made it seem appropriate.

About 20 minutes later, a nice woman came to get me. I began to explain about my knee and my inability to find a Medicare surgeon to replace it. She looked at me and said:

“Honey, you don’t need to be here. You just need to know what the heck you’re doing.”

She explained that a list of physicians and surgeons who accept Medicare as payment in full can be found on Medicare’s Web site,  

Really? I told her about my 15-minutes-on-hold phone call. She shook her head and said that happens all the time.

Armed with information, I went home and hit the computer. Eureka! There was the list of orthopedic surgeons, as promised. Several offered website appointment-making.

Taking the path of least resistance, I asked for appointments online. Now I’m waiting for a callback. I’ll take the first appointment I’m offered.

At least for now, this time, this day, I feel as if I’m moving forward.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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