So on Sunday I went over to the Safeway after the churchfest. Needed to pick up some meat for Cassie, since we’re going to run out of chicken before I can make another big grocery run.
Didn’t expect to find any bargains, it being a weekend, but was pleased to discover $1.79 chuck steaks, very fatty, just the ticket for a dog. Plus I get the bones to make the next pot of stock, which I’m about to do with the carcass of the chicken she and I have finished off. While I’m standing there, the PA system delivers a pitch for the shingles shots Safeway has been peddling for the past while.
I’ve been eying the shingles shot for quite a while. Last time I asked, they said Medicare Part D wouldn’t cover enough of the $250 fare to matter—I would’ve had to pay around $200. But my doc at the Mayo has been urging me to get one…only not at the Mayo, where they charge over $300 for a shot.
Well, I thought, as long as I’m having to pony up $1,200 for a new crown, I might as well use up some more of the tax refund that bill is decimating. So I sidled up to the pharmacist’s counter and inquired.
It took the better part of an hour for the pharmacist’s sidekick to navigate Wellcare’s and Walgreen’s bureaucracies, which initially denied me. But finally, after I stood and stood and stood and stood, he extracted the deal: a $138 bill to me to cover the $250 immunization.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Charge as much as an entire month’s grocery budget for a shot targeted at people living on limited, fixed incomes. Great humanitarian impulse there, Big Pharma!
I haven’t wanted to be forced to pay such a ridiculous charge for a few grams of immune serum. However… Shingles is not something you want to enjoy. It is extremely painful. If it gets into your eyes, it can actually blind you.
If you’ve ever had chicken-pox, you’re at risk of getting shingles, which is really just a relapse of the same virus, which takes up permanent residence in your system. The older you get, the higher your chances of getting it. And the older you are, the harder it’s likely to hit you. It can lead to encephalitis, facial paralysis, and hearing or balance problems. It is extremely painful, and the pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, can last for many months, even years. I knew a woman who came down with shingles in her late 70s. Two years later, she was still in so much agony she was incapacitated. This had been a very active woman—she and her husband owned a bird sanctuary covering several acres in the Chiricahua mountains, not a pursuit for the idle.
Every year about a million Americans develop shingles; of them, 20% are affected by postherpetic neuralgia. After a bout with the virus, forty percent of patients over 60 develop this excruciating chronic pain.
So, even though I suspect the price is a huge rip, no one wants to go through what shingles victims commonly experience—described by one sufferer as “as a very bad burn being stuck with needles and spikes.” So I went ahead and coughed up the $138. I’m never going to be any more able to afford it.
So far, no untoward side effects. We’re told the vaccine is only about 50% effective. You still can get shingles, but supposedly the infection will be relatively mild. However, it reduces the risk of the horrific postherpetic neuralgia by about 67%. And that’s big.
What the heck. After the pharmacist poked me, she handed me a 10% off coupon for my next purchase in the store!
So, to the two big packages of meat, which the butcher had converted to hamburger and soup bones while I was hanging around the pharmacy, I promptly added an eight-pack of foamy-delicious canned Guinness draught! And threw in a big $10 canister of roasted cashews.
It was worth it.