Home Journal Issues Journal Index Blog Search Contact Us Help

Volume 2, Issue 3
Autumn 2006:

Trimming Toenails

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Autumn; 2(3):a5

Attic Window
Photographer: Barry Penchansky
[Larger Image]

I sit on the porch swing and look out over the front yard. A slight breeze rustles the leaves of our Japanese maple and delicately stirs the wind chime suspended from one of the branches. Goldfinches twitter about the birdfeeder beneath a faultless blue sky. The August air is cool enough to allow you to appreciate the warmth of the afternoon sun. It is hard to believe that yesterday was filled with thunderstorms; the weather has changed so completely.

Kai comes over carrying a travel cage filled with three ferrets. He produces a small hooked pair of scissors from his pocket and asks me to help him trim their nails. "I'll hold them," he explains the procedure, "while you grab the paw and nip the nail tips."

Kai is my next-door neighbor once removed. He fell apart after his wife divorced him, living in a number of different places before returning to the vacant white clapboard house across the street. He works three jobs to support himself and pay his ex-wife child support for their two kids. Now his family consists of two dogs, a cat, six ferrets, and an iguana.

Kai reaches into the cage and pulls out a sleek ferret. He speaks softly to the animal as he cradles it in his arms, then holds it by the scruff of the neck while I gently steady a paw and cut the tip of one of the long white curved nails. The ferret opens its mouth and yawns. Kai smiles. "They always yawn like that when you clip their nails."

We talk while we work. I ask him how his recent vacation week went with his kids. He took them fishing on the Housatonic River. "It was tough at first. I didn't have my medicine along. Every day I was on edge, with a tremendous tightness in the back of my neck. I thought I was losing it. But I fought it off okay. Now I'm feeling a lot better."

"How come you didn't take your meds?"

"I maxed out the prescription benefit for the year. Instead of my $10 co-pay, the bill came to $250. No way could I afford that. So I just didn't pick them up."

"What were you taking?"

He tells me the names of the medications.

"You shouldn't stop those abruptly; you could go into withdrawal."

"I know. That's what happened." Then he adds: "I called my therapist for advice on what to do 'cause I couldn't afford to buy the pills."

"What did she say?"

"She went off on me over the phone. 'Whadda you expect me to do, give you free drugs from my medicine cabinet?' Then she said she was going to bill me for the last two appointments I missed — $110 each."

"What! She can't do that. It's illegal to bill a patient for services not rendered."

"Yeah? I didn't know. I called her before to tell her I couldn't make it, but she got all huffy. I always paid her my co-pays. I don't know where I'm gonna come up with that kind of money."

"You shouldn't have to. Like I said, it's illegal billing practice."

We finish with the first ferret's feet. Kai returns it to the cage, and pulls out another ferret. He strokes the animal to calm it down, then we repeat the sequence.

"I'm done with her anyway," Kai says. "Not going back, not taking any more medicine either. I don't think I need it anymore. I only called her to ask her what she thought I should do."

Gently I reach for another foot and proceed to nip the nail with the scissors. The ferret lets out a big yawn. "What did I tell you — happens every time."

"What ever happened to that other guy you used to see?"

"The psychiatrist? I saw him every couple of weeks for three years. Never said anything to me. Just gave me prescriptions — 'Try this, try this' — but nothing worked. Then he took me to court."

"He took you to court? I never heard of a doctor taking a patient to court. What happened?"

"He said I owed him $1500 in back bills. I paid my co-pay every time I went to see him. Turned out they were sending in the wrong diagnostic codes, so the insurance company kept kicking out the claims. I didn't know until he told me three years later. One day he just refused to see me anymore. Then I got the summons to court."

"They didn't make you pay, did they?"

"I settled it with him in the hallway. Otherwise I would have had to wait all afternoon to see the judge. I couldn't afford to take the time off from work without pay. So I agreed to give him $10 a week."

We are working on the third animal's claws now. It begins to yawn just like the other two. I finish up, and Kai puts it back into the cage.

"Well, that was a new experience for me — manicuring ferret feet. I'll have to add it to my résumé."

Kai laughs. "You never know. It might come in handy some day."

He picks up the cage and sticks a finger through a hole in the mesh. A small pink moist nose pushes back out.

"They seem to be easy-going animals," I comment.

"They're all the family I got now. If I wouldn't have them and the dogs, I'd go crazy."

He walks down the front steps to the driveway. I watch him cross the street and disappear into the white clapboard house, another victim of our modern healthcare system gone awry.

Return To Top