Sun, 29 May 2011 12:35:47 +0000

The kid sucked at Super Mario, and I was sick of hearing it. So I turned to the GameBoy-wielding 8-year-old and said, “Hey, you’re not very good at that.”

He didn’t look up. “It’s ‘cause my eye hurts, so I can’t see.”

Made sense. We were at an ophthalmologist’s office. We’d been sitting in this muggy waiting room for two hours, going on three. The room was packed — standing room only. It felt like the 6-train after a Yankees game.

I tried to pass the time watching the kid trying — and failing — to jump Mario to the next cliff. But I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to save Mario.

“Hey,” I said, looking at the kid, “what’s your name?”


“Cool. Well Henry, can I help you out?”


I grabbed his GameBoy and I showed him a secret: “Take a running start with Mario and then push B. See?”

He grabbed his GameBoy back: “Everyone knows that trick. I told you: I just can’t see.”

Henry’s mother was up at the receptionist’s desk. She looked back at us and smiled. Then she turned back to the receptionist and said something about their insurance. I turned back to the GameBoy. Nothing had changed: Mario jump, Mario fall.

Then, with his head still buried in his GameBoy, he asked me, “Does your eye hurt too?”

“Yeah, all these lights give me a headache.”

He finally looked up; he inspected my eyes.

“That sucks.”

Then he looked back down.

By now, his mother was yelling at the receptionist. From what I could gather, they wouldn’t take her insurance. “My son needs to be seen,” she said. “He can’t see a damn thing. Can’t the doctor just tell us if his vision will be OK? It would just take a second.”

Finally, the doctor peeked his head out the door and said, “Alvin?”

But before I could get up, Henry’s mother lunged at the doctor. She pleaded with him to just look at his kid, just for one second. The doctor calmly asked if it was an emergency. It wasn’t. So he told her to sit down. He told her to wait for her appointment. But she explained the situation. She told him about their insurance, about Henry’s eye, about her fear that it was a serious condition. The doctor responded, “I’m sorry. You should go to a place where you’re covered. Or you’ll have to pay for it yourself.”

I don’t think he was a bad guy. It was just the system, I guess. It made me thankful I had insurance, thankful my insurance covered this. I wondered how much it would cost without it — a few hundred, probably.

The doctor saw me for two minutes, gave me a prescription and confidently said, “This should work. I know it will work.”

When I came back out to the waiting room, Henry was gone. The waiting room was eerily silent without his GameBoy repeatedly blasting Mario’s death out its tiny speakers. The receptionist shooed me out the crowded waiting room, saying, “You’re all good. Come back in a year!”


I’ve still been having eye problems, but a few days ago, I got a letter from my insurance company. It described my two-minute appointment, and listed the various medical procedures I underwent. I thought I just talked to the guy.

But then, at the bottom, it said none of the “procedures” were covered by my insurance. It said, for my two-minute talk, I owed $1,075.

I’ve been appealing the decision, phone call after phone call. It’s aggravating. I feel like I’ve been robbed, cheated. Eventually, I think insurance will cover this. I hope.

I also hope Mario got a running start and finally cleared that jump. It’s the ways things ought to be. Maybe it’s more complicated than that — maybe it involves money and Republicans and Democrats and other things Henry has yet to learn about. But, really, it’s not. Mario just needs to jump the cliff.