June 8th was a perfect day to paddle. The James River was running 6 ½ feet at the Westham Gauge, an ideal level for an average whitewater guy like myself. Certainly big enough to make it fun, but not so high that I was fearful for my personal safety.
It started simply enough, my buddy Pat and I did the car shuffle and made our way back to the entry at these rapids known locally as Pony Pasture. We ran those and some lesser whitewater for the next 15 minutes and then paddled about a mile of flats that gave us time to talk and catch up— something we hadn’t done in a while.
The two of us go back a long way, both kindred spirits in the outdoors and long time climbing partners. Together we’ve climbed Kili (mountaineer-speak for Mt. Kilimanjaro), a bunch of peaks in the Cascades and way too many crags in the south-east to recall. Pat is also a very competent paddler who in a past life loved to run swollen creeks on bleak winter days.
I wish this story was about the majestic beauty of the river, or how those hours on the water re-sparked a smoldering fire that warmed my soul for distant travel to jungle streams or tall mountains and remote passes. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s about how a day on the water turned into a brief medical hassle that ended up costing me $1,801. There is no tragedy here, no lost limbs, there wasn’t even any blood. And while there was some physical pain, the biggest hurt was my pride and my wallet.
So Pat and I paddled through the flat water, next through Choo Choo rapids and a long series of Class I/II water before hitting the downtown Richmond rapids known as First Break and Hollywood. At 6 ½ feet, Hollywood is Class III/IV, not for the amateur, but we made it through without any problems.
The next section of real water is in the heart of the city and called Pipeline for the old sewage pipe that runs parallel to the river at this point. Pipeline presents the biggest challenge on the James River as I was about to find out.
Now I’ve paddled here too many times to count, but today I was in a new boat. It was a 10.5 Katana that I’d never paddled. I usually paddle much shorter boats and perhaps today was not the best day to demo a new rig. Anyway, at the first set of rapids, I went over a section that I’d normally just float through or turn around and surf. However, on this occasion, the hydraulic sucks me back and turned me over. Not a big deal, I rolled upright. Only to be thrown back under again. Again, I rolled upright.
As I was about to be rolled again, I reached out downstream to pull myself out of the hydraulic, placed by paddle flat in the water at an angle above my shoulder and started to pull. Yep, you paddlers are already shaking your head. The hydraulic threw we under again and this time due to the extension of my arm and the angle of the paddle my arm was yanked out of the socket.
Okay, so I’m in the hydraulic, my arm is out of the socket, and there was not a chance of me paddling out so I pulled my skirt and abandoned the boat. This is where the real fun begins.
With my arm out of the socket I swim out of the hydraulics and wait for boat to be spit out as well. Finally, I grab my boat and start to float to more even larger rapids. There was no likelihood that with one arm I was going to paddle any longer or even turn the water out of my boat. With the help of Pat and a couple of other paddlers we steered my boat towards the shoreline which we were able to make before the next set of rapids. And so began my medical journey with my right arm dangling 6 inches longer than my left.
This was not the first time I’d dislocated my right shoulder. It had happened about 15 years ago in a mountain bike accident. At that time I didn’t even know that I’d dislocated it until an hour later. This time, I knew it immediately but there really was not a great deal of pain. Sure, it hurt but it was more of a throbbing than a piercing pain. I couldn’t use the arm but it wasn’t like those football players you see running out of games screaming with the same injury. I suppose I didn’t pinch a nerve or something that might have made the pain much worse.
Anyway, my boat now on the shore, my right arm being held by my left, I began my walk down the pipeline to our car at the takeout and the wait for Pat to get there in his boat. Pat finally arrives, loads his boat and gear, my boat is still along the shore to be retrieved later, and we proceed to an urgent care center about 5 miles from the takeout where Pat drops me off. He wanted to stay but I’d hear nothing of it.
This is where the medical community took over and proved their complete ineptitude and excellence. At the urgent care center, the intake staff saw that I was in need of prompt attention and got me back in a room almost immediately. So far so good. Soon an orderly came in and asked what was wrong. I told him and he promptly left. Thirty minutes later, a doctor came in and asked what was wrong and I told him. He inspected my arm, agreed it was dislocated and said I needed an X-Ray. Again, all good so far. We get the X-Ray, the doctor examines it, says that I have a dislocated shoulder and that I need to go to the emergency room as there was nothing he could do to help.
I was flabbergasted! “Are you serious! You could’ve told me 45 minutes ago and I could have left then to the emergency room!” I was pissed and told that joker off as I dialed Lyft for a ride to the closest hospital. I didn’t even let that sap finish his recommendations— what a jerk. He just wanted to charge me for the visit and X-ray. Hippocratic Oath my ass, more like like ‘hypocritic!’
By the time I get to the parking lot, an understanding Lyft driver is pulling in to get me to the E.R. in all reasonable haste. I’m promptly seen by intake, and in less than 15 minutes a doctor, who happened to be a fellow paddler, promptly knocks me out with Propofol and pops my arm back in the socket. In less than 45 minutes after I arrived, I’m calling Lyft and getting a ride home.
What do you suppose all of this cost me? Well, it was more than I paid for my new boat which was still lying full of water on the banks of the James River.
At Buddy we have a good group medical health plan. It has a $2,000 deductible and 20% Co-insurance. The maximum annual individual out-of-pocket is $4,000. In today’s world of high deductible health plans, this is a respectable plan.
The hospital charged $4,586 for their services. Insurance covered $3,400, and I paid $200 while at the hospital: leaving me owing an additional $985.
I also owed the urgent care center $237 for their X-Ray and the emergency room physician practice $378 for their services. All told I was out $1,800 and some change.
Our research suggests that the average American does not have $1,800 lying around to pay an unexpected medical bill. And I have good insurance. If I had been uninsured or underinsured the cost cost have been as high as $5,500!
Yes, I’m a co-founder of Buddy and wish that I had been a Buddy client at the time of my accident. Buddy would have paid me $1,000 for my emergency room visit. That would have gone a long way in lessening the hole my day of paddling the James left in my wallet. Unfortunately, Virginia regulators have not approved us yet. I will be our first customer when they see fit to give us their thumbs up, hopefully in the very near future!
Play hard and safe my friends!