When you think of epic battles, you think of stories like the Trojan War. So, now that I’m fighting my own Trojan War, that’s how I frame what is happening in my own war-torn life. When fighting for my life, I amuse myself by thinking of heroes like Achilles and doomed Hector, and how their intertwined fates were governed by the gods who carelessly sported with their very lives. Applying for MediCal – the California version of Medicaid for poor and disabled and elderly people – is like that, only funnier.
Well, maybe not funnier, but with the same sense of helplessness to control your own fate while you are tossed about at the whims of remote gods no more concerned with your fate than they are concerned about the yellow leaves caught in the vortex of the leaf blower outside my door as I type. So not funnier then.
The first application, aka SAWS 1, was painfully researched, downloaded, completed and signed. This took months. The attachments to document residency, poverty and stupidity were carefully scanned in, printed and attached. The precious package filled with my hopes and fondest dreams was then mailed and promptly vanished into some divine haze never to be heard from again. It took two weeks for me to determine that it was MIA.
So, I applied online: carefully, painstakingly, playing a kind of death defying game of wits with the application form when it came to attachments. You need about a dozen and it takes half a day to figure out what. The system of the God, Cisco, will only accept a certain limit of megabits, which eleven attachments exceeds. But Cisco coyly declines to tell you when you reach the limit or anything helpful like that because the gods are above the petty concerns of even the most entertaining mortals. So send the application in several separate messages and hope they join up on the desk of the god assigned to determine your fate.
Merely following the clues about attaching documents to a screen where you can “choose” a file and clicking the “attach” button to attach the file is a challenge worthy of any heroic soldier. In fairness, the button should be labeled “possibly attach”, or even “possibly attach, but most likely not”. That took an entire afternoon, the patience of a god, and the fortitude only wine can provide. There were tears. There was profanity. There was heroic striving-and-failing. There was the uncertainty that constitutes the fog of war. Perfectly Homeric in a perverse way.
Meanwhile, back in the Greek camp, like Achilles sulking in his tent while the Trojans kick the Greeks’ asses, the “Client” on this application sat amid a miasma of piss and paranoia in her room trying to figure out how to answer her cell phone. Ever trying, ever failing, like a Beckett character once mused. If she had a heroic persona her heroic flaw, her Achilles heel, would be her ability to form coherent thoughts and then put them into remotely meaningful words. Every document she is asked to sign is a further nail in the coffin of her proof that I’m trying to kill her, only more slowly than I could do with a sword forged by the gods.
So the online application goes. Weeks pass. At lease online you can verify it was received. Which does as much good as Achilles’ Mom Thetis petitioning Zeus to protect their son against the chilling machinations of Mrs. Zeus who favors the Trojans. The system calmly assures me it will take up to 90 days to process an application, so I keep calm and drink wine in my tent.
Next we come to the part of my story that is like where Patroclus dons Achilles’ magic armor and only gets himself killed by Hector. I am not allowed to directly inquire about the status of the application because, although I’m the only person on the planet who has the foggiest idea what is going on, I might be, I dunno, blogging about the sorry ass state of the Client and/or the Kafkaesque state of the State. The gods genuinely intend to protect the privacy of dementia patients who can’t remember the last time they changed their adult diapers. Otherwise we might all descend into chaos, or cross the Styx into the underworld, or sink into drunken stupors in front of our TVs.
We have to submit a declaration form, aka MC306, wherein the Client appoints an “Authorized Representative” and by we I mean me. This of course, requires more signatures and attachments and painful struggles against the Trojan Wall of the online presence of The State DHHS. In the interests of trying to empower the client to not think I’m trying to kill her, we (meaning I) have to complete the form wherein the client’s son is authorized to communicate with anonymous bureaucrats instead of me. This adds another hilarious element to the process since the client’s son is as comfortable using his words as Patroclus is using Achilles armor: meaning not at all. It’s like the gods don’t give a shit.
One afternoon, we return home from a visit to Agamemnon’s camp to hear a voicemail from - - - - to call him about the application: more unspecified information is required. Of course, you cannot understand the person’s name. It’s like he – we think it’s a he – is covered with mist and is invisible. Like Priam when he ventures through the frontlines of the Greek army to Achilles' tent to claim Hector’s dead body: nobody saw him because the gods enshroud him in mist. After returning the call three days in a row and getting Zeus’ voicemail, the authorized representative is carefully coached by the true hero of this epic to leave voicemail asking - - - - to send us e-mail telling us what the fuck he wants if he’s not going to return our fucking calls.
So here’s where we get to the wooden horse part of the story. We get e-mail from DHHS (possibly from - - - - but not signed) saying we need more verification documents, let’s call them A and B. The very same day, we get a letter from a different bureaucrat saying we need more documents, let’s call them B and C. So, now we’re dealing with two different agents, via two different channels, for two different sets of demands. Is it any wonder the Trojans lost the war?
If this isn’t enough, the list of things that constitute verifying documentation of A, B and/or C takes a four page attachment to the written letter. Which would be helpful if only the list corresponded with the category of documentation required, which it almost does, but the with an element of whimsical uncertainty where you have to guess or pray that you match the item required in the letter with the proof to satisfy it in the attachments to the letter. The Client can’t simply apply to get welfare, she has to have adequate paperwork to support her worthiness due to her poverty, stupidity, and incontinency.
For example, we are asked in writing to provide “Liquid Asset verification” (again). Like a true Homeric hero, I am not distracted and do not kill fatted calves to the gods bearing messages that we havesubmitted verification - twice. It’s best when the gods speak to listen even if they’re mumbling. The closest category on the 3-page “ACCEPTABLE VERIFICATION SOURCES LIST” is something called “Property/Resources” followed by a quarter page block of text which, among other things, specifies in no particular order: bank/Financial Inst Stmt, Bank Statement, Cancelled check, Cancelled check, Life Insurance Policy, Insurance Policy/Statement. Do these people even read their own crap? Like some immortal gods playing with mortal soldiers they toy with us.
So, now let me digress in this summary to provide some detail about the attempt to comply with this divine order. Authorized Representative has to ask Client if she has a birth certificate. This takes several days because Authorized Representative has the attention span of a toaster with a broken sensor that keeps popping up before the bread even gets warm. Then, Client needs several more days and reminders and free food and laundry service to get to her file drawer and begin looking. So, after a week, here’s what happens.
Achilles: Did you find your birth certificate?
Client: To a certain extent.
What Achilles Said In His Head: Who knew or even suspected that there are documents that officially certify birth to a certain extent? Certainly not this doomed hero.
Client: (waving at a pile of documents on her side table with a pile of documents in her hand and nearly knocking a pile of documents out of the portable safe where she keeps documents that are important to a certain extent) What?
Achilles: (After waiting a suitable time to see if any of the documents in any of the piles offer an explanation. They do no.) Did you find your birth certificate?
Client: I found Authorized Representative’s Father’s Birth Certificate, and there’s some stuff about Mom and Pop. I still can’t find the Prudential Insurance policy.
Achilles: Ahhh. So that’s what you meant when you said you found your birth certificate to a certain extent.
WASIHH: Tell me then Muse, hast mine fate ever been dictated by the gods before my birth? I am destined to die young, but at least heroically? Strangely, I find this little consolation.
Authorized Representative: The Prudential Insurance policy is in the folder in your top dresser drawer. I think this diversion is relevant to our conversation because I always find it helpful to distract you from your own plight.
Achilles: (Interrupting Authorized Representative whose conversational gambit is the equivalent of waving a conversational raw steak in front of a figurative starving polar bear to distract her from attacking) Did you find-- oh never mind. Give me the papers that document your birth to a certain extent.
Imagine my surprise when the papers included Client’s original yellowing and crumbling birth certificate from 1918. It has come down through the years in about the same shape as the Client only smelling much less like pee.
So yesterday, I anointed myself with oils, fortified myself with wine, and donned my armor consisting of wrist braces to minimize the carpal tunnel pain, and submitted myself to the psychic pain of facing the proprietary web-based secure e-mail channel to importune the gods of the bureaucracy. I spent the morning scanning in more documents, converting them to .doc format which is marginally more successful at attaching to email than .docx attachments. I faced my destiny as bravely as any hero except maybe Paris.
In a mere 5 hours, I was able to engage the on-line application and attach the carefully labeled and titled verification documents to establish A, B and C. In this time, I also copied, labeled slightly differently and attached verification documents for A, B and C to be mailed. I know I risk the wrath of the impersonal gods by giving each slightly more than they asked for. But the birth certificate validating immigration status was just too good to waste on only one god. This gambit is as likely to forestall further inquiries regarding Client’s immigration status as the aspirin I just took to forestall the tension headache.
In what I hope was not a dramatically foreshadowed picture of my own doom, we mailed the forms when we were en route to the Wal-Mart adjacent Red Lobster in the nearest mall to celebrate the Client’s 93 birthday with cheesy biscuits and watered down cocktails. The staff at this place is perfectly attuned to people that come in for dinner at 15:00 and early bird specials on cocktails. Two-thirds of our party entered on walkers. Good Times. Our waiter Mitch was delighted to know it was Client’s birthday bless her little heart, as was his own personal busboy, at least two manager types and the waiter who actually brought our dishes. What seemed like this relentless parade of restaurant employees clearly determined to accomplish their mission to have happy customers insisted on telling us how glad they were that we shared this special fucking day with them. At least I hope they were restaurant employees.
Like The Iliad, this story began in the tenth year of a war. Unlike the Iliad, the current war has yet to conclude. I cling to the dubious comfort of knowing that once we wrap up the Trojan War, Ulysses can start his odyssey home. Another ten years and one Cyclops to go.